Embattled B.C. mayor wants to get on with business

Embattled Saanich, B.C., mayor wants to get on with city business

  • Jan. 22, 2015 7:00 p.m.

By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

VICTORIA – The beleaguered mayor of a Vancouver Island community says he’s putting personal and business distractions behind him and wants to get on with the job of running the District of Saanich.

Richard Atwell said in an interview Wednesday that he apologized to his wife for having an extramarital affair and he welcomes an investigation by British Columbia’s privacy watchdog into his allegations that spyware was installed on his work computer without his consent.

Atwell, 44, said he’s faced a personal and political onslaught in recent weeks, but with the support of his family and the public he will get through this trying period.

“I’m tough. I’ll get through this,” he said. “(With) a lot of public support. I have a lot of family support. I’ve got my wife behind me.

“We’re just going to rely on the authorities to help get some of the answers that everybody’s looking for now, and the business of the District of Saanich continues.”

Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she’s been watching developments in Saanich and decided to investigate whether the use of Spector 360 software in the district complies with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Denham’s decision follows a Jan. 12 news conference where Atwell admitted to an affair, alleged his municipal hall computer was bugged and said Saanich police had stopped him four times on groundless suspicions of drunk driving.

Atwell said he was pleased that Denham was investigating his claim.

“It’s something that affects all municipalities, all our government bodies.”

The mayor said he no longer uses the district’s computer, but is still able to conduct his civic duties with his own devices.

Atwell said he took his concerns about the legality of the software to Saanich police last month, but police told council that an investigation found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of municipal staff.

Atwell said he has no plans to resign as mayor or step down as chairman of the Saanich police board, but he acknowledged his first few weeks as mayor have been a learning experience.

“It’s almost uncharted territory where you’ve got the chair of the police board involved in a personal matter,” he said. “You’ve got the mayor of the municipality being potentially spied on covertly by the municipality.”

Atwell has also asked the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to investigate how details of a domestic dispute he was involved in on Dec. 11 became public.

The Victoria Times Colonist, citing sources it did not name, reported on Jan. 6 that Saanich police were called to the home at about 11 p.m. after receiving a 911 call.

Atwell originally denied the report of a dust up with a man at the home of a female acquaintance, saying at a news conference he called later that he wanted to protect those closest to him from harm.

“I called 911 as a complainant looking for help, and at no time did I commit any criminal act,” Atwell told reporters, adding “but I do have concerns about the way the investigation was handled and how details of the incident became public.”

Atwell said Wednesday he’s trying to keep his personal life private, but did say he’s receiving support from his family.

“I’ve got a strong family and I have a very good wife. We’re trying to keep this a personal matter. I’ve apologized to her,” he told The Canadian Press. “Things are good at home. The exact details of all of this are a private matter. All I can say is we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

The mayor contacted The Canadian Press after the phone conversation and said he would not grant permission to use segments of the interview where he spoke of his personal life.

However, the interview was conducted on the record and The Canadian Press told Atwell it was proceeding with the story.

Atwell defeated long-time Saanich mayor Frank Leonard last fall, pledging to bring change to the largest community on Vancouver Island, but his unilateral decision to immediately fire chief administrative officer Paul Murray caused concerns because it cost taxpayers $480,000 in severance.