The article that follows was originally published on July 14 and had additional material added July 18, 2019. It is my personal opinion, not necessarily the opinions of the Cortes Radio Society, its’ board, staff, volunteers, or membership.
By Roy L Hales
Regional Director Jim Abram recently accused me of unfairly targeting him, and by extension I would include Director Brenda Leigh, in my posts and radio program. This is a fair question. The legal petitioner’s lawyer claim his clients were “put up to” that frivolous lawsuit, but there is no definitive proof that Abram and/or Leigh were the instigators. Similarly, Director Leigh may have been receiving phone calls and emails from disgruntled Cortes Islanders for the last decade, but this does not prove they warped her ability to carry out her duties. While there are times neither of these two appear to like Director Noba Anderson personally, they are not required to. However they also appear to be continually opposing Anderson as she attempts to carry out her duties as Regional Director of Cortes Island. As Abram and Leigh are the Chair and Vice Chair of the Strathcona Regional District’s four member Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC), can EASC treat Cortes fairly?
Based upon their recent voting record, for grants-in-aid (GIA) and appointments to Cortes Island’s Advisory Planning Commission (APC), I believe this is still very much a question.
After The Election
Everything changed after Anderson was re-elected on October 20, 2018. One of the first indications of this came from a Campbell River Mirror article, last November, suggesting the SRD Board should delay implementing the results of Cortes’ recent referendum on whether to have a referendum on hall tax funding.
“Area C Director Jim Abram said it was not realistic to try to get the questions to referendum and have them included in the 2019 budget cycle.“
“’The bylaws are not complete, they’re not ready,’” he said. “I don’t know why we’re so intent on doing them right now.’”
“Area D Director Brenda Leigh echoed this, saying the SRD board should take into account opinions from those opposed. She said she had heard concerns from Cortes residents via email.“
The Legal Petition
On January 2, 2019, fourteen Cortes residents filed a legal petition designed to remove Anderson from office.
This document is also a slap in the face to many of the island’s volunteer organizations, some of whose members made donations of between $20 and $100 (each) to a GoFundMe campaign set up for Noba’s father (after his cabin burned down). These donations were interpreted as gifts to Director Anderson, for which their organizations allegedly received “gifts and grants in return.”
It very quickly became apparent that this document is based on gossip rather than research. Many, perhaps most, of the facts are erroneous! When the case finally reached court, the plaintiff’s and defendants lawyers submitted a joint statement acknowledging that, “there is no basis for the declarations sought by the petitioners.”
Last March someone posted an allegation, on Cortes Radio’s Facebook page, that the SRD was involved in the GoFundMe allegations. I was initially dismissive of Paul Ryan’s statements. I am one of that FB page’s administrators and at one point barred him from the group because of his persistence in making what appeared to be unsubstantiated allegations. (One of the better known petitioners, Bertha Jeffrey, was quick to come to his defence.) I only recently discovered that Ryan is the current Chair of the Quadra & Cortes Islands Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC), which Abram also serves on. Ryan held that position as early as 2010 and was also one of Abram’s appointments to Quadra Island’s Advisory Planning Commission in 2004.
Jim Abram’s association with that the FAC goes back to 2002, when he chose the four members to serve alongside him in the Quadra Island contingent.
Serving Consecutive Terms
These three most likely did not more than two serve consecutive terms together because the “BC Ferries – Ferry Advisory Committee Terms of Reference” states:
“Members are expected to serve a term of four years, for a maximum of two consecutive terms. NOTE: a member can serve for greater than two terms under extenuating circumstances; however, they would be expected to only serve one year into the next term.“
Never-the-less Abram, Jeffery and Ryan presumably know each other very well.
SRD Involvement With The GoFundMe
In reference to the GoFundMe campaign for Noba’s father, Ryan wrote on Cortes Radio’s Facebook, ” … An elected official cannot accept ‘gifts’ from her constituents. She [i.e. – Director Anderson] was warned about this from the SRD while it was going on and she refused to stop! That, in itself, is enough to cause her to lose her position.”
He insisted this comment was based on “verifiable documentation from several directors!”
When pressed to substantiate this allegation, Ryan replied “My pleasure! I would suggest you contact Jim Abram.”
In the same stream of Facebook comments, his former FAC colleague Bertha Jeffrey wrote, “Noba “… should have declared the income especially when asked by the SRD and did the honourable thing and returned the funds. And take down the Go Fund Me page. She refused to and that is what the lawsuit is about.”
Jeffrey refused to explain what she meant by this statement.
So Who Is Behind The Petition?
SRD Chair Michele Babchuk did not reply to my request for clarification – which is understandable as the legal petition had not yet been heard in court.
Since then, even the petitioner’s lawyer acknowledges there is “no basis” for that lawsuit and Director Anderson was not in a conflict of Interest.
He claims, “My clients were put up to this” – but would not name the lawsuit’s real instigator.
What Was/Is Normal?
Never-the-less the Legal Petition continues to haunt any Cortes Island decisions by EASC and the SRD Board.
So what is, or should I say was, normal?
Let’s go back to 2018. In a recent interview Director Anderson told me about the strained relationships within EASC, but this is not readily apparent looking at that year’s grant-in-aid applications. They appear to have been processed with little friction. Every application Regional Directors brought to EASC was carried and met a similar response when approved by the SRD Board.
Impact Of The Legal Petition
Cortes matters were treated very differently after the legal petition was filed. While applications from Director’s Jim Abram, Brenda Leigh and Gerald Whalley seem to be rubber stamped, Director Anderson encountered fierce opposition whenever she attempted to bring something forward.
Only one Cortes application was accepted and only with much difficulty. On March 13, EASC considered a Klahoose Nation application for a grant in aid to assist in hiring a researcher to catalogue artefacts, burial sites, and culturally significant sites currently held in government records. After Director Leigh mentioned a phone call she received from a Cortes resident, the committee passed the application on to the Board without a recommendation. When it became apparent that a vote was going to be taken, Leigh recused herself “for legal reasons.” Abram was absent. Director Adams also recused himself because he believed the matter should come through EASC. The motion was carried, with no opposing votes recorded in the minutes.
Encouraged, Director Anderson presented seven more applications to EASC. This time her colleagues were better prepared. No one seconded the application, which might have killed the matter if Chair Babchuk had not been sitting in the back of the room.
This led to two intense battles at the May 22, 2019, board meeting. Appointing Cortes Island’s Advisory Planning Commission was once again deferred, but it is of interest to note that Whalley joined Anderson in opposing the motion. The struggle around Cortes’ seven grant-in-aid applications was more intense. The matter was finally deferred to closed sessions – where it was defeated.
After Anderson Was Vindicated
One would have thought that Abram and Leigh would have changed their attitude after the Supreme Court of British Columbia court found the legal petition has no factual basis. Instead, two days after the court made its ruling, they resisted a motion to resurrect and approve those recently defeated seven Cortes grant-in-aid applications. After losing that vote, Abram and Leigh recused themselves “due to outstanding legal issues” when the board approved Cortes Island’s Grant-in-Aid applications. (The only director voting against this motion was Whalley.)
What Is EASC’s Function?
Abram, Leigh and Whalley found some support within the SRD Board. A growing number of directors believe Cortes matters should come through EASC, not against EASC’s wishes.
As Whalley explained at another meeting , “The problem with making a motion such as this at the board table, and overriding the Electoral Area, is in effect it makes the electoral area useless. We discuss an issue, we make a recommendation on it and at any time a director can say ‘who cares what EASC says, we will bring it straight to the board’. That’s what we’ve tried to avoid all these years.”
A valid point – If EASC were functioning properly.
Another Cortes GIA Attacked
Earlier that day, May 12th, EASC voted down another Cortes Application. There was no discussion. From Whalley’s remarks later, it is apparent he did not even know what he was voting against. (He thought the Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI) wanted $7,000 to hire a bus driver; FOCI actually sought funding to employ a Transportation Coordinator to “fundraise the required money to initiate pilot projects, further studies, work and implementation, liaison with professional consultants, contractors, government and the community of Cortes Island and/or Quadra Island … manage budgets for all activities”) However Whalley and Director Leigh killed the application, or at least thought they had.
This matter was brought before the rest of the SRD board two weeks later:
Director Anderson told the board, “ … What happened at the Electoral Area Committee is I spoke to them of the timely nature, because the intent is to start this summer. There is a very different kind of [scene?] in the summer and we do need to be around. The vote was called and I was the only one who put up my hand. There was no other discussion at all from my [three] colleagues. When the vote was called in opposition, director Whalley and director Leigh put up their hand in opposition. No discussion [the motion died].”
After a lengthy debate, the SRD board sent this application back to EASC for reconsideration.
Am I Targeting Director Abram & EASC?
Director Abram believes I am targeting him; I question why he and Director Leigh are so adamantly opposing Director Anderson and, by extension, Cortes Island’s volunteer community. This struggle has been in the public arena for at least seven months, nine if you include their previous statements in the Campbell River Mirror (See articles of Nov 28, 2018 and Dec 8, 2018). They can no longer use the legal petition to excuse their actions. So what are the “legal issues” that lead Abram and Leigh to repeatedly recuse themselves from voting on Cortes Island grant in aid applications? Am I targeting Director Abram? I think it would be more accurate to say he and Director Leigh are making themselves targets.
Top photo credit: The wrecked wooden twin-screwed ship at Squirrel Cove, as it appeared in 2007 – by A.Davey via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
- I initially wrote that Abram also recused himself at the June 12, 2019, board meeting. This was incorrect: there is no reference to Abram in my initial report of that meeting and the minutes state he was absent.