Originally published on Cortes Radio
By Roy L Hales
There were fifteen of us. The fact we were directly behind our Regional Director Noba Anderson added another dimension to someone’s suggestion we would watch her back, but this Strathcona Regional District Board Meeting seemed less tense than the one a month ago. The highlight for Cortes listeners was a motion that SRD staff respond to 32 Cortes Island emails.
32 Cortes Island Emails
Regional Director Claire Moglove of Campbell River made the motion: “This is a very unique situation, I think. I was on this board for six years prior to 2014, and this is the first time I have seen a situation like this. Cortes Island is a small community and, when you read the correspondence, it is tearing this community apart.”
Several of the other Director voiced their support. John MacDonald of Sayward stressed the need to answer as soon as possible. Charlie Cornfield of Campbell River added, “I’d like to see the responses too,” and made a second motion which also passed. A communique responding to the substantive issues will be released into the larger community.
“The SRD showed a little bit of movement towards us, and that was definitely an improvement. They are going to answer our letters someday. They didn’t put a time frame on it, but they did move that way,” says Howie Roman, Cortes Radio’s station manager.
“I would certainly, personally, want to thank Director Claire Moglove .… She is the Director from Campbell River and she is the one who specifically put the motion forward to respond to Cortes Island and answer all of the questions they are able to answer and I am going to send her a thank-you,” said Cortes Island resident Cec Robinson.
Cortes Residents At The Meeting
Chair Michele Babchuk greeted the Cortes delegation collectively. Although the SRD Board most likely still do not realize that close to half of Cortes Island’s adult population have signed the open letter expressing our concerns, they appeared to be more receptive than has previously been reported.
There was a very pregnant moment when, at the end of a discussion of budget matters, Chair Babchuk asked the Cortes delegation if they had a presentation to make. The room erupted into laughter when she added, “I mean on budget matters.”
During the course of the meeting, some Directors said they found specific allegations in the Cortes emails offensive.
Many Cortesians suspect that the SRD inadvertently encouraged 14 Cortes residents to file a legal petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The stated intention of this document is to have Cortes Island’s Regional Director, Noba Anderson, removed from office.
She had to recluse herself from discussions of this topic, because of the pending litigation.
Director Anderson also had to withdraw herself during discussions about the SRD’s decision to not allow a presentation from the bearers of an open letter form Cortes Island.
Decision To Not Let The SCCA Make A Presentation
However, Anderson could question the SRD about their decision to not allow a presentation, in favour of holding a referendum on the island’s proposed hall tax, by the Southern Cortes Community Association. Though this is a community initiative, not Anderson’s, and has temporarily been put on hold because of the lawsuit.
The rationale behind the board’s refusal of this hearing is that, “Delegations are not intended to be opportunities for debate, discussion, or questioning of the Board regarding its policies or decisions.”
Anderson said, “I [checked?] the procedures Bylaw, assuming I would find that language there … and I didn’t – which just lead me to wonder where does that language come from? Because I think it should be the board that drives the determination of under what circumstances we receive or deny a delegation.”
She added, “In my ten years of sitting here I’ve only known one occasion when we’ve denied a delegation and that was when they were expected to litigate against the board.”
“I think it is really important, as much as possible, to hear from people who wan to speak to us, especially at times when a community is particularly upset and engaged.”
Director Anderson pointed out that the Southern Cortes Community Association’s initial request for core funding was made nine years ago
“I would like to know how we could hear from this really critical organization.”
David Leitch’s Answer
Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch defended his decision to bar the SCCA, saying, “The wording within that guideline predates me.”
“Everything that the Board has, whether it is in policy, guidelines, or as practise: is always determined by the will of the Board. If the board want to change the specifics of guidelines for a delegation, written into a policy, guideline, or a bylaw, all they have to do is make a motion to change that.
Mr Leitch said he did not think the two Cortes delegations were appropriate.
“It is my feeling that it is not the business of the board to sit and receive questions from the public questioning decisions they have made. I have not once seen a delegation that represented that. There are questions within those two delegations that the board could not answer. There are many opinions. There are editorial that are not based on fact and ultimately questions that the board could not answer.”
He added, ” I am ultimately responsible for approval of the agenda, working with the Chair.”
Chair Babchuk added “There was a discussion about it and it was my choice to take Mr Leitch’s recommendation.”
The 32 Emails
Most of these same “offensive” sentiments reappear in the 32 emails that the Board has just ordered Mr Leitch to answer.
According to Director Moglove, 103 questions are raised in these emails.
“Some are statements with a question mark at the end, which are I think are statements of frustration over what has happened. Some are rhetorical questions, that cannot be answered, Some really cannot be answered because of confidentiality and the legal provisions under which we act. But I do think there are enough substantive questions in the block of correspondence that requires a response.”
They fall into specific categories:
- process related to referendums
- policies related tp correspondence
- legal petition and the SRDs role, if any
- the SRDs role, if any, in the allegations raised against Director Anderson.
- Director Anderson’s legal costs.
Suggestions For Moving Forward
Director Anderson said she will try to work with the Southern Cortes Community Association to see if they can bring forward a presentation that does meet the threshold.
She added, “I do think it would be appropriate to review the section in our procedure bylaw about delegations, because the language that comes in our brochure is not reflected in the boards policy.”
Everyone’s Right To Speak In A Democracy
Charlie Cornfield said, “I always think it is everyone’s right to come and speak to the governing party. … To me that is all part of democracy, whether it is questioning a decision that has been made or providing input to a decision to be made.”
However, he does not think it is the best time for the SCCA to make a presentation right now because the board has just passed a motion saying they are going to come up with the answers.
Top photo by Andrew Writer via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)