City council approves borrowing for upgrades

Chords rang true at the Rouge Gallery’s Valentine’s Day performance; meanwhile, down the street at City Hall, discord reigned as council held forth on a $6 million loan (approved), $250,000 on downtown engineering (approved), a parcel tax review panel (that fell on its face last year), and a five year financial plan for our town that squeaked past first reading.

  • Feb. 17, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Chords rang true at the Rouge Gallery’s Valentine’s Day performance; meanwhile, down the street at City Hall, discord reigned as council held forth on a $6 million loan (approved), $250,000 on downtown engineering (approved), a parcel tax review panel (that fell on its face last year), and a five year financial plan for our town that squeaked past first reading.

At one point, after much gavel banging and repeated warnings for Coun. Laurie Charlton to come to order, Mayor Greg Granstrom ejected Charlton from council and threatened to call the RCMP. After a two-minute recess – the second cool-down of the evening – Charlton apologized, Granstrom accepted, and the meeting resumed.

Later, Coun. Jill Spearn advanced a notice of motion to inquire into the cost incurred by following up on Charlton’s “excessive freedom of information requests.”

Not to be outdone, Charlton’s coup-de-grace was a notice of motion in the final minutes of the public meeting in which he accused CAO Victor Kumar of libel and officially recommended that he be fired.

To begin at the beginning, the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) expired on Feb. 10 with only 19 of the 247 dissenters required to trigger a referendum.

Consequently, council passed Bylaw No. 2493 at Monday’s meeting to authorize borrowing “not exceeding” $6 million to finance the potential Columbia-Washington infrastructure upgrades.

Before the vote, Charlton spent two minutes on his well-known opinion that “we still have no clear idea of exactly what work will be done … We should hold off on finalizing this bylaw until we get a clear description from staff as to what, exactly, is planned.”

Spearn, “exasperated,” said, “for clarification to the community, [this bylaw] is so that we can engage in an engineering project that, without the engineering design, is absolutely impossible for [city staff] to predict.”

Ten minutes later, as the mayor prepared to put it to a vote, Charlton used two minutes to say, again, that the upgrades may be unnecessary and the costs are unknown without an infrastructure analysis.

Granstrom asked, “Councillor, how do you propose to get that information without doing the engineering?”

The bylaw passed 5-2, (Coun. Andy Stradling was also against,) and council moved on to authorizing $250,000 towards the engineering and design for the corridor.

For six minutes Charlton returned to the notion that the upgrades were unknown, unnecessary, and undefined. Granstrom attempted to intervene on a few occasions, most significantly to say, “You’ve been speaking for quite some time now, if you would get to your point that would be great.”

Charlton replied, “Well, if you would quit interrupting and let me finish.”

A couple minutes later, council voted 5-2 to commit the funds.

Things got hot when debate moved to the Ophir Reservoir parcel tax roll review panel. Before this parcel tax can be imposed the first time, council must appoint at least three people to a quasi-judicial review panel.

Charlton, Granstrom, and Coun. Kathy Moore were appointed to the panel last year to adjudicate complaints, but they failed to authenticate the tax roll. According to a public memo by CAO Victor Kumar, two of the panel contravened procedure in two ways, first by introducing a late amendment to the agenda – “a [panel] member cannot make a complaint and purport to adjudicate on that issue” – and secondly by attempting to “investigate” an alternative method of calculating the parcel tax. It is Kumar’s opinion that “one or two panel members are confusing [the zoning bylaw with the application of tax.]”

Legally, Kumar said, the panel must “apply objective standards,” and “follow procedure,” but “the 2010 review panel prejudiced their independence,” confusing their “quasi-judicial function” with their “policy decision making function.”

Granstrom was sure to point out that the formula contested by the panel “has gone to the BC court and was upheld in the Court of Appeal.”

Charlton took strong issue with Kumar’s wording, but first took two minutes to say that there were “errors in the parcel tax roll” that needed correction.

When pressed by Granstrom to highlight these errors, he raised the O’Flanagan’s complaint, the one that has already been through the courts.

“The funding formula has been adjudicated and appealed,” Granstrom repeated. “We, as panel members, are not the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Charlton said the complaint was not about the formula, but about “the number of developable units” – interestingly, a number specifically defined in the formula.

When Charlton turned to an attack on Kumar’s memo, Granstrom asked Charlton to conclude, but to no avail.

“What we have here from the CAO are libellous allegations directed at the review panel,” Charlton said.

“You call those libellous?” Granstrom asked.

Granstrom allowed Charlton half a minute to claim that there was no substantiation in the memo, at which point Granstrom tried to stop him again. When this failed, Granstrom called for order and banged his gavel continuously as Charlton blitzed on for forty more seconds, stopping only when Granstrom, in frustration, called a two-minute recess.

Ten minutes later, the question was called and the motion to convene a new three-person panel of former council members was passed.

Immediately following the vote, Charlton jumped in with commentary. “You’re out of order,” Granstrom said, but Charlton persisted.

“Councillor, if you’re not going to obey the rules of order, I’m going to ask you to leave the meeting. I’m dead serious sir.” Charlton relented.

Moore made a motion that, prior to the panel meeting, that council gather to discuss the parcel tax issues. This led to further contention until Granstrom called a vote and refused Charlton’s request to speak to the motion, a decision that was sustained by the other councillors.

Nevertheless, Charlton commented freely after the vote, this time blaming the 2010 panel’s failure on the mayor’s “bullying tactics.”

As Charlton held forth, Granstrom said, “Sir, if you cannot act within the rules of this building…”

“You should practice what you preach,” Charlton retorted.

“Sir, I’m asking you to leave,” Granstrom concluded. “This meeting will not continue until Mr. Charlton leaves the meeting. I’ll get the clerk to phone the RCMP please.”

Spearn said, “Well, that’s a waste of taxpayer money. This is stupid.”

As Charlton did not move, a recess was called, and Granstrom suggested that an apology was in order.

Thirty seconds of silence later, Charlton said, “I’ll apologize to the chair for my outburst,” to which Granstrom immediately and cheerfully responded, “Thank you,” and reconvened the meeting.

It was not the end of the excitement.

Saving the real fireworks for the final minutes, Charlton put forward a notice of motion that Kumar’s memo “calls into question the integrity and conduct of two members of council” and “contains unsubstantiated allegations that constitute libel.” Therefore, “be it resolved that the employment contract of Victor Kumar be terminated for cause, effective immediately.”

Granstrom took the notice and asked, “Are you done, sir?”