To the residents of Electoral Area B:
SRD Press Release
The Strathcona Regional District (SRD) Board received several items of correspondence relating to Cortes Island matters at the regular meeting held on February 13, 2019. The Board directed that the matters raised in this correspondence be referred to the SRD Board Chair and Chief Administrative Officer for response and that the response be advertised to the broader Cortes Island community.
The 31 items of correspondence received include over 100 questions. The majority of questions can be grouped into four key categories, namely: correspondence to Board Directors, the hall tax referendum, allegations against Electoral Area B Director Noba Anderson and into the Cortes Island 2018 election investigation. Within each category, the questions align under several key themes which are addressed below.
1. Correspondence to Board Directors
- How is correspondence from constituents to Elected Officials handled by the SRD?
- Why isn’t the Electoral Area Director privy to correspondence from residents within their constituency?
- Should correspondence received by any member of the Board be referred to the public record?
- Does SRD have a code of ethics?
Any person may write to any public elected official at any time. Where correspondence is directed to the Board at large, it will be received at a Board meeting. Where a person has communicated directly with a director on the Board, the author may have an expectation of privacy and the director is not required by any statute or regulation to bring the correspondence to the attention of the Board or any other director.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA), gives any person the right to access records in the custody or under the control of a public body provided the request is inline with the Act. This includes any emails received by an elected official as part of his or her official duties. A Board member is not bound to disclose information contained within correspondence except as required under FOIPPA.
Information management is a rapidly changing and complex field. To keep up with best practice, the Board has hired an expert in FOIPPA legislation and implementation as it applies to local government to provide information and recommendations to the Board. These will be considered by the Board and may influence future policy and procedures.
The SRD established a code of conduct for directors in 2018, Bylaw 330 – Director Code of Conduct.
2. Cortes Community Hall Taxation
- What is the administrative process for the hall tax proposal and why was this process chosen?
- When will this proposal be brought forward for referendum?
- How will halls be funded as a result of the Board’s decision to delay the hall tax?
Board appreciates that the proposed hall tax on Cortes has a long history. In order to tax residents of Electoral Area B for the purpose of providing a community hall service and/or funding towards community hall(s), in accordance with the Local Government Act, the Board must obtain consent of the ratepayers for a new tax through a referendum, alternative approval process or by petition.
A tax to fund halls on Cortes Island was first proposed in 2010, however it failed to obtain public consent through an alternative approval process. In the last year the Board has received much correspondence from Cortes Island on the issue of community hall taxation and it has become clear that many residents are in favour of the idea and many residents are opposed. However, there remain many residents who have indicated that they would like to see the details of the proposal before making up their minds.
Since it was clear that the community was divided on the issue, the Board resolved that a cost- effective and efficient way to get a better sense of broad public opinion on the matter was to have a question on the October 2018 ballot, a non-binding referendum, asking whether residents were in favour of the Regional District preparing a bylaw to establish a service for funding community halls on Cortes Island on the condition that the bylaw would require the approval before it is adopted. 443 people voted in favour of this versus 191 against.
In accordance with this result, it is the intent of the SRD to proceed with preparing a bylaw for this proposed service, however, there remains work to be done. Under legislation, all new services must have a bylaw that identifies: the maximum amount that residents should be taxed, the service area to which the new service and tax applies, how the tax will be collected (i.e. by parcel, assessed value or a combination of the two) and what the money is to be used for (i.e. staff salaries, capital projects, operational expenditure on the halls, etc.). Once this information is known, a bylaw can be prepared and, following approval from the Inspector of Municipalities, a vote can be scheduled to obtain community approval.
The Board’s decision to temporarily defer this matter has no consequences for funding halls in 2019. The financial plan is in the final stages of completion and it would not have been possible to go through the legislated processes required in time to be included in the 2019 financial plan.
If a referendum is held this year and a service bylaw approved, it is anticipated that the new service will be in effect for the 2020 financial planning process.
3. Allegations against Electoral Area B Director Noba Anderson
- Why wasn’t the public notified of this matter?
- Is SRD neutral in relation to this matter?
- Is the SRD preventing the Director from carrying on with her duties?
- Have there been in-camera discussions related to this matter?
- By what process was an investigator appointed?
- To whom does the investigator report?
- What is the cost of the investigator and who will pay?
- Will Director Anderson be indemnified by the SRD and have her legal costs covered?
- If Director Anderson’s legal costs are covered by the community, will she be further liable?
Fourteen residents of Cortes Island filed a petition to the Supreme Court of BC on January 2, 2019, seeking an order that Noba Anderson be disqualified from holding office citing issues related to conflict of interest.
This is a matter raised by private citizens (not the SRD) through the court. The SRD became aware of this matter at the same time as the public, through a story in the media in early January and the Board remains neutral on the matter. Director Anderson is the elected official for Area B and continues to participate in meetings as a valued voting member of the Board. Normal business, such as the Board’s budget deliberations, which includes Electoral Area B, continues to proceed.
Matters discussed at an in-camera board meeting are confidential until such time that the Board agrees to rise and report on any matter.
The SRD has no comment in relation to an investigation or whether Director Anderson’s legal costs will be covered by public funds. The SRD cannot provide legal advice as to whether Director Anderson may be found further liable if community members decided to pay for her legal costs. All Directors should be familiar with legislation regarding the receipt of gifts and their obligation to disclose any direct or indirect pecuniary interests as affirmed through their oath of office.
4. Cortes Island 2018 Election Investigation
- Who made this claim?
- What is the outcome of the investigation into voter fraud?
- Are the scrutineers, assigned to monitor the vote, politically neutral?
- If scrutineers made the claim, why did they not follow process and raise the issue on voting day?
- How are the costs for the investigation to be paid for?
The SRD is aware that the RCMP are investigating the 2018 vote on Cortes Island and has provided the RCMP with information as requested. The SRD is not privy to the names of complainants to the RCMP, and therefore is unaware whether the complaint was filed by a voting scrutineer. Voting scrutineers are appointed by candidates in the election, not the Regional District. However, the Regional Board will be advised of the outcome of the RCMP’s investigation when it has been concluded.
5. General questions
- Is the SRD paying too much attention to a minority of Cortes residents?
- Why did the Board suspend Cortes business?
- What are the consequences of the Board’s decision to delay proposed Advisory Planning Committee appointments and the First Responder Service?
The Board fully supports democratic process and recognizes the rights of citizens to challenge their elected officials in a court of law. The Board’s mandate is to serve all Cortes Island constituents, regardless of their position. Director Anderson is the elected official for Area B and continues to participate in meetings as a valued voting member of the Board.
At the regular meeting on January 24, 2019, the Board directed that three matters on the agenda pertaining to Electoral Area B be deferred until the implications of the legal petition filed by the Cortes Island residents is fully understood by the Board. These matters pertained to the proposed community hall service, first responder service and appointments to the Advisory Planning Commission.
It is the responsibility of the Board to fully understand the legal petition brought forward by the Cortes residents and any implications that the Board must consider. The Board is working expeditiously so as not to prejudice any Board decisions, Electoral Area B initiatives or legal proceedings underway. Normal business, such as the Board’s budget deliberations, which includes Electoral Area B, continues to proceed.
There are no consequences for deferring the First Responder service and APC appointments at this time. The First Responder Service was intended to go ahead for public approval and inclusion, if approved, into the 2019 budget however it was at the direction of the Area B Director to run this approval process concurrently with the proposed hall tax. The purpose of the APC is to provide a forum for valued local advice on planning applications on Cortes Island. The APC has no decision-making authority and it is not mandatory to have this commission. The Area Director can continue to hear thoughts on proposed applications from her constituents on an informal basis while the matter is deferred.
On behalf of the SRD Board, I would like to thank the residents of Cortes for their interest in public governance matters. I trust that the information provided herein has helped answer many questions and I look forward to moving ahead with Cortes Island matters and serving the people of the SRD.
Michelle Babchuk, Chair