Port Moody city council voted 4-3 Tuesday night in favour of a motion that embattled Mayor Rob Vagramov return to his leave of absence until he resolves a charge of sexual assault.
The vote showed just how divided council was on the matter. Dozens of speakers from both sides of the argument made their cases over whether Vagramov should stay or go.
In a statement, Vagramov said he took the public input seriously and that he was “taking all of this into consideration.”
However, he also said he was “not as enthusiastic” about the motion against him, brought by Coun. Dianna Dilworth, which he described as an attempt “to cling onto the 3-3 veto power that has stonewalled City Council for the past six months on the issues that Port Moody’s public voted for last fall.”
Vagramov sparked controversy upon returning to work last month from a voluntary leave amid the allegation.
At the time, Vagramov’s lawyer said that he would be seeking to resolve the allegations through an out-of-court alternative measures process, and that he believed that the charges would ultimately be stayed or withdrawn.
Dilworth said before the council meeting Tuesday that until the cloud over the mayor has been dispersed, he has no business being at city hall.
“I’ve gone out and I’ve asked residents, ‘Are you comfortable with the mayor on council?’ I’ve now heard from over 200 of those residents who say, ‘I’m not comfortable with him sitting in his desk until such time as his legal issues are resolved,'” she said.
“I’ve got 200 pieces of correspondence backing up my motion, and I expect to see dozens, if not hundreds of people down here at the meeting.”
Dilworth’s motion also called on Vagramov to resign if he is not exonerated. Council voted down that idea.
No legal mechanism exists under B.C.’s Community Charter and Local Government Act to force a sitting mayor or councillor to step down, even if convicted of a crime.
Councillors next plan to ask the province to come up with a process for dealing with elected civic officials facing a criminal offence.
Vagramov, for his part, has maintained his innocence regarding the assault allegations, which relate to an incident alleged to have happened in 2015 when he was a city councillor.