The Regional District of East Kootenay was unanimous in their decision to send a letter of support to the Municipal Insurance Association of BC (MIA) on behalf of Gerry Taft. Mr. Taft approached the RDEK board of directors to pen a letter to the MIA to support his case that he was acting in his capacity as mayor when he made a comment on a Facebook page that led to the local mayor being sued for defamation.
On Thursday, May 4th, the District of Invermere’s mayor was found guilty of making a defamatory statement and was ordered to pay $75,000 in damages. Mr. Taft is appealing the MIA’s decision to not use liability insurance to cover him during this trial.
“The municipal insurance has said no to coverage for the lawsuit originally and that it was prior to going to court. So I proceeded, went to court, paid my own legal fees out of my own pocket with no support from the district or from municipal insurance,” said Mr. Taft. “Through the whole time I disagreed with their lack of coverage and it’s my opinion that I wouldn’t have been sued if I wasn’t mayor and that I do think municipal insurance should kick in.”
According to Rob Gay, chair of the RDEK, the MIA is an organization that municipalities and regional districts are part of and the MIA provides them with liability insurance.
“I feel I’m always wearing the regional district hat when I’m out in public and I think that was fairly common around the table. The mayor of Kimberley, the mayor of Elkford, when they’re at social events, or when they’re grocery shopping, or when they’re getting a haircut, if people ask about municipal business they’ll give them their view and their position as mayor. So that’s what our letter was, we can’t argue with the court and the judge determined Gerry Taft’s guilt but we did want MIA to have a second look at it,” said Mr. Gay.
With the letter of support from the RDEK, Mr. Taft will ask for the MIA to reconsider their decision that he was not acting in his capacity as mayor when he made the comment online. The letter provided by the other regional directors will go towards Mr. Taft’s case for the MIA.
“The letter that we’re providing would be some of his support. That his board supports that … when he made his comments, he had his mayor’s hat on. That’s all we’re trying to do, get a ruling on that,” said Mr. Gay.
Mr. Taft stated that one of the comments the municipal insurance made in their statement regarding lack of coverage was that Mr. Taft didn’t make the comments in his office.
“I don’t actually have a physical office as mayor and I think there’s a real disconnect between what might happen in a large city and what happens in a small town,” said Mr. Taft.
At this point Mr. Taft has paid $35,000 in legal fees for his own defense out of his own pocket. The judgment of $75,000 plus award that could exceed $150,000 has yet to be paid.
“Fundamentally and philosophically it seems wrong that someone should potentially lose their house or lose property or 15 years of community service and a potential $200,000 cost should come out of the pocket of an individual just doesn’t seem right to me,” said Mr. Taft.
Mr. Taft expressed to the Pioneer his intention to approach his own Council, hopefully at the upcoming council meeting on Tuesday, September 12th to ask for a letter in support stating they believe he was acting in his capacity as mayor.