Sechelt’s mayor and councillors tackled tough questions about things like the community forest, spending, lawsuits and staff turnover at the Dec. 12 table talk event at Buccaneers Restaurant in Sechelt.
Mayor John Henderson started with an opening speech Tuesday night that spoke to the hot button topics currently being faced by the District.
“We’ve rocked the boat on occasion, for sure, and I don’t apologize for that. This is something that I think is how you engender change, how people grow and ultimately how we make it an exciting community with an opportunity for people to create jobs and make it just generally a better community,” Henderson said.
He said council was elected to make decisions.
“I get a lot of things recently from some people [saying] ‘hey, you’re not listening to us’ and underlying that I believe is ‘you’re not agreeing with us.’ Well that’s fundamentally different,” Henderson said.
He said council is spending about two hours a week in-camera dealing with issues surrounding the sinkhole found in Seawatch Lane, which the District “had to respond to.”
He pointed to the Sechelt golf course as another issue that “called for action.”
“We were advised by the operator that the company was insolvent. We took action based on all that and it was the right decision,” he said, noting he’s hopeful the issue will soon come to conclusion in the courts.
Speaking to the recent senior staff turnover at the District, Henderson said former chief administrative officer Rob Bremner and corporate officer Jo-Anne Frank were let go in order to “change the direction of Sechelt.”
As for the other senior staffers who left of their own accord, Henderson chalked it up to regular turnover in municipalities.
Finally Henderson addressed the community forest, saying council is “very satisfied” with the direction the community forest is taking.
Once Henderson had his time on the floor, he and councillors Alice Lutes, Mike Shanks, Darnelda Siegers, Tom Lamb and Chris Moore welcomed people to their tables for quick 15-minute question and answer periods led by the citizens.
Coun. Doug Hockley was absent as he was celebrating his 46th wedding anniversary off-Coast.
The first people to sit with Lutes grilled her on her recently publicized breach of the community charter.
Lutes warned a senior staffer via email that he might be fired after discussion at an in-camera meeting. After an investigation uncovered the infraction, she was censured and stripped of her appointments by council.
One person asked how she could atone for what she did and how the public could now trust her.
She said this is her fourth year on council and that she had been privy to a lot of sensitive information in that time that never got out. She also explained the original email that started the investigation had no information about the senior staffer’s potential firing; rather, it talked about the fact no women had applied for another open position. Lutes also said she never directly answered the staff member’s question if he would be fired, rather told him to “watch his back.”
The answers didn’t appease some at the table who pushed for a public apology.
By the end of the night, Lutes said she planned to release such an apology in the hope of appeasing some and putting the issue behind her. (See her letter on page 9.)
Questions arose at Lamb’s table about the staff turnover at the District.
He said the senior staff members who quit may have been “disgruntled.”
“If you’re an employee and you don’t like where you work, you have the option to leave. It’s your choice,” he said.
He also talked about the need to up the commercial tax base and Sechelt’s unwillingness to sign on to the Coast-wide economic development partnership.
“We won’t sign on if the regional board’s involved,” he said, noting the proposed structure had about 20 people on the board. “The way it was organized, it would take five years to make a decision.”
Shanks was probed for legal costs and freely shared them with his table.
He said since council was sworn in last year, they have spent $725,000 on legal fees, far over the $350,000 budget.
He was also asked his view on the Lutes issue, with citizens noting he was the only councillor to vote against releasing the information to the public.
“From my personal opinion, it boils down to inappropriate in-camera meetings, inappropriate discussion of topics in-camera, some of which can not be reported,” he said.
At the end of the night, Shanks spoke to the entire crowd about the situation in his wrap-up.
“So I guess I come from a different perspective, and my main issue has been throughout the year in terms of our conducting of business on the basis of parliamentary procedure as a governance model and how decisions are made,” Shanks said.
“Many of our members of council have a business background, and I believe that they are of the opinion that the corporate governance model of governance is appropriate for municipal government. I don’t believe that’s the case, and that’s where we seem to run into most of our issues,” Shanks said.
He mentioned the forthcoming apology from Lutes, but noted council should perhaps follow her lead.
“From my perspective there are a lot of other issues that we should be apologizing to the community for, and I guess I’ll get grilled over that, but it’s my perspective,” he said.
The table talk event was put on by former organizers of For A Better Sechelt (FABS).
FABS was a campaign organization started by a group of business people that dissolved after the 2011 election. During the election, FABS was focused on seeing a new council elected. They hosted several table talks where constituents spent time face-to-face with new candidates.
Former organizers of FABS created the recent table talk event to find out what the new council had accomplished, and to ask questions of council members in person.