One community member is crying foul after Sidney’s Town Crier endorsed incumbent mayor Steve Price.
A letter to the Peninsula News Review alleged that Town Crier Kenny Podmore violated a code of ethics by endorsing Price. Letter writer James Finley believed Podmore, the Town Crier and former Sidney councillor, should remain neutral.
In an email to the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers, based in England, Finley wrote “there must be a code of ethics in local governance that disallows such blatant abuse of power.” He cited the code of conduct for Oakville, Ontario’s town crier, where there is a stipulation that the crier is the official ambassador and should be non-partisan.
The Chief Administrative Officer of the Town of Sidney, Randy Humble, wrote in a statement forwarded to the PNR that in his opinion, “I really do not see where the terms have been violated.”
Humble wrote that the Town of Sidney does have a Terms of Reference for the Town Crier, which states that “there shall be no political attendance or cries,” but it does not specify what Podmore can or cannot do in his personal capacity.
“There are a small number of people (and not all residents) who are out to remove Mayor Price and will stop at nothing,” Podmore wrote in an email statement from England. “I worked with Mayor Price for six years as a fellow councillor and admire him for what he does (and continues to do) for our beautiful little town. This is why Kenny Podmore, a loyal and dedicated citizen of Sidney, endorses Steven Price for the Mayor of Sidney.”
“I am unaware of any code of conduct that prohibits a private citizen from making such an endorsement,” said Podmore. He added he was not a part of any crier association.
Finley contacted Elections BC, who forwarded the matter to the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. They replied that “there is no prohibition on campaigning by municipal employees, or by volunteers such as Mr. Podmore who receive an honorarium.”
Podmore was a first term councillor in 2008, and served alongside Price and Cliff McNeil-Smith, who is Price’s opponent in the Sidney mayoral race. McNeil-Smith said in an interview that Podmore was not an employee of the Town, and as such, “freedom of speech permits someone to be a part of a campaign.” McNeil-Smith said it was important to avoid perceived conflicts of interest, which he why he did not seek Podmore’s endorsement.
Podmore’s honorarium was set at $3,600 in January 2018. At the meeting when the honorarium was set, Mayor Steve Price said that the Town “has been abusing the good nature” of Town Crier Kenny Podmore, who attends many events on behalf of the community. Price suggested that council’s discussion noted that at $100 per event, Podmore has still been giving the Town great value for the money.
According to the Town of Sidney, Podmore was first appointed Deputy Town Crier in 1998, working alongside Bert Stevens. Podmore was named the Official Town Crier in December 1 2003, which he has done to this day.