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Pender Harbour residents voice concerns over health centre voting change

Concerns are growing among some residents in the Pender Harbour area about changes in membership and voting structures for the Pender Harbour and District Health Centre Society.
The Pender Harbour Health Centre Centre

Concerns are growing among some residents in the Pender Harbour area about a change in membership and voting structures for the Pender Harbour and District Health Centre Society. That community based non-profit organization operates the Pender Harbour Health Centre located on Francis Peninsula Road, just off Highway 101.

Membership changes then voting changes

In April, 2021 a special meeting notice was sent out to all society members, estimated at about 150 at that time, that the group would no longer be charging a membership fee, but required individuals to apply to be members. During an Aug. 30 interview with Coast Reporter, centre chief operating officer Susann Richter said “a small number” of members attended that meeting.

She said the current membership of the Society is at about 80, including those who had previously purchased lifetime memberships and others that registered after the special meeting.

At the society’s 2021 annual general meeting (AGM), held Nov. 28, a motion was passed to restrict voting memberships to no more than 20 individuals: the eight current members of the board of directors and 11 other members of the society. Past practice had been all members of the society could vote.

The minutes of the AGM indicate it was hosted on Zoom. It was attended by between 11 and 15 individuals, including the eight board members. Board chair Les Falk told Coast Reporter, also on Aug. 30 that there was a quorum at the Nov. 2021 AGM. Nine votes were cast in favour of the voting procedure change and two voted against.

Residents concerned

Resident Jack Dennis, a member of a group of residents concerned about the voting change said he disagrees with the board’s view, as the centre was built and maintained by the community and that all who want to have a say in decisions affecting it should be allowed to do so.

“COVID fell right into their hands, because there is absolutely no way that would have been changed if there had been an in-person meeting,” said Dennis.

Falk stated that the change in voting structure is allowed under the Societies Act and was proposed to allow a more “business-like” decision-making and approach for the centre’s operation. By securing a smaller number of voting positions, he said the society is looking to get “active member participation, which there has not been in the past.”

“Having a voting membership that is active within the clinic and knowledgeable about its operation, provides a base of knowledgeable individuals for the appointment of new directors, when they are needed” Falk said. He said that board-member recruitment had been an issue for the group in past years.

Next steps

Falk said, “We requested applicants for the 11 voting member positions be submitted by Aug. 31. We have received some and are confirming that they still want to put their names forward.”

Richter said that she was unable to confirm the number of applications received, but stated that as of a board meeting held on Aug. 30, it “would be accepting all who have applied at this point in time.”

Discussion of the voting and membership changes could be raised as an issue for discussion at the next society AGM. According to Richter the society’s 2022 AGM will be scheduled in late October or early November, and it will be publicly advertised in local print media. She stated “non-voting members still have the rights set out in the Societies Act, and they can express their concerns.”

“People are furious, and if they think they are going to have the next AGM at the clinic, they are crazy. I have already advised them to have it at the Legion or the community hall, because there is going to be a deluge of people there,” Dennis stated.

Falk, who said he has been on the board for eight or nine years, says that many of the society’s meetings were not well attended by non-board members, with often fewer than 10 members of the public showing up. Dennis reported a different view. He said that prior to 2019, he helped out with society AGM’s by setting up the chairs in the centre’s lobby, and stated over 50 seats would be filled on a regular basis.

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