This past Monday Grand Forks City Council really put in the hours. Over 9 of them spread out from 9AM in the morning to past 9PM in the evening.
It began with the Committee Of The Whole meeting at 9AM. That was supposed to become the public input session at 11 AM but by noon they broke for lunch but were not even close to where they were supposed to be an hour earlier.
The afternoon session began with the remainder of the COTW session and around 2PM the public input session began. And ran right through the rest of the afternoon.
At 5PM I got to leave but council was trapped in an In-Camera meeting which they were still in when I returned at 6:30PM.
Before I get around to the Elephant In The Room I should tell you about all the other things that happened on Monday.
The Kootenay Medicine Tree had it’s hour plus before council. That’s at the start of the day. A family came all the way from Penticton to support them. And not just any old druggies – a former RCMP officer was among them. They brought their very ill young child to show as proof that there is medical efficacy to Marijuana. Of course the RCMP was present as well and shared their knowledge with council and the public. The Mayor made a minor gaffe and you can read more about that below.
The Art Gallery and the Boundary Museum showed up to tell council what they are doing with their financial support.
The public got to give their input to council on the 5 Year Financial Plan – they just had to stay until the middle of the afternoon to do it.
Needless to say that by the evening session of the regular meeting, where they actually decide on taking an action and vote on things, they were showing signs of fatigue. Kind of makes you wonder how well their brains are working when they get to this point, doesn’t it?
I used to have a tee-shirt with an excerpt from a news item about our very own BC legislature going into middle of the night session (1983 Vancouver Sun, Marjorie Nichols). The headline was “Zombies On The Road To Anarchy“. I could have used a title like that about this session. Maybe it would be better titled “Zombies On The Road To The Lawyers” because that’s what they decided to do in regards to the water meters. So until they have advice Councillors will not be talking in public about the contract with Neptune regarding the water meters. (or at least they shouldn’t be)
And there was the ironic decision: They voted to send some sort of letter of support for the Medical Marijuana Dispensary but rejected allowing a music festival sponsored by a Medicinal Pot group (the Pain Society) where Pot might be dispensed. The lineup sounded great but who knows if the groups they touted would be really be coming. Their appeal to an older audience would have fit with the Boomer age demographic that dominates the dispensary’s membership.
While she could see value to the community in some things Councillor Ross appears to have a bee in her bonnet when it comes to car shows. Taking a stand and planting your banner firmly on your position is Stating Your Point. But calling further attention to it by digging a hole borders on … Cheeky. Which was a term she used to refer to the petitioners who came asking for some financial support with a banner.
One of the things still needing to be done was appointing representatives to various committees and groups. This led to a short spate of councillors volunteering themselves for this or that. Councillor Krog voluntered to be the city’s representative to Barbados (he was being tongue-in-cheeky).
At the previous council meeting I tried to caution the Mayor about calling the controversial water meter program illegal in pubic and he suggested that “unless he was totally wrong” that word had never been used. Well he was wrong – he did use it. And this time I felt the need to caution the Mayor again over another wrong headed suggestion he made in a public meeting. If you had followed his advice regarding fetching your friends medical marijuana when they were unable to, you would be putting yourself in legal jeopardy of being charged with ‘trafficking’. In his ‘defense’ he is naive about this whole area. But in his position as the Mayor his words carry more significance than they do if I or you had said them. (Just not enough to get you out of a jam when the police stop you)
Strangely though, his reply to me was “Unfortunately we’re not able to discuss legal issues here at the municipal level …” and promptly move on. Why do I say ‘strangely’? Because the previous hour long discussion had contained explanation of a number of the legalities surrounding the topic of Medicinal Marijuana. The discussion that had just taken place, that I was referring to and he was part of, was about ways to skirt the blocks to receiving medicines that legalities throw up. I was merely pointing out an actual legal implication to the Mayor’s own suggestion (supported by the RCMP officer visible to the mayor standing close by me agreeing that I was correct). But all of a sudden ‘legal issues’ are not discussable?
Is this not the same Mayor that, in the previous council meeting, conducted a process of quasi-legal discovery and then made a declaration on the illegality of the water meter installations even though (as far as I know) he has no Legal Authority to do so. None present, none explicit or implied.
I would suggest that from my point of view his interpretation of what gets discussed, or not, and when feels a bit arbitrary.
Did Neptune install Hot Water Meters by mistake? Ok , that’s a joke – but the Hot Topic of the water meters has lost all humour … and now council has voted to gag itself until it talks to the lawyers about it. And my first prediction is coming to pass: this continuing fight over these meters is beginning to cost us tax payers more money. I cannot say how much this will cost but Councillor Krog has been to the dance with the city’s lawyers before and his advice was it will be expensive.
But for those who can’t stop watching as council and the public wrestle about these meters the block buster item was earlier in the day when one of the public read out the substance of a letter shared with him by our Mayor. I’ll talk about that sharing in a while but first let’s get to the letter.
In the previous council meeting, Jan 12, when the Mayor was discussing this topic with the Building Inspector, the name of Zachary May was mentioned. Mr. May is the “Senior Codes Administrator, Compliance Advisor – Energy” in the provincial government department Building and Safety Standards Branch. Mr. Kopan, the Building Inspector, said that his communication with Mr. May last October confirms that the way the city went about using certified installers was okay.
When the Mayor hears this he asks what is the position of the person giving this advice? And when told which part of the government they are in, “BC Board Of Appeals”, the Mayor states that “The Board of Appeals can’t make any rulings on Plumbing Code”. He then goes on to qualify the document being quoted as an Appendix to the plumbing code and not actual ‘code’ itself. And therefore does not hold weight. A short while later he declares the meter installations “Null and Void” and “Illegal”.
Now even though he has diminished the significance of Mr. May’s authority (in this situation), by stating that Mr. May cannot make any rulings on Plumbing Code, it would appear that our Mayor decided to contact Mr. May directly anyway. And then he chose to give the results of this communication to a member of the public to use as ammunition while arguing against the program in public meetings.
Whose side is the Mayor on in this? I thought that the Mayor’s constituency was supposed to be the whole population of the town, not some vocal special-interest group with an axe to grind with the previous city administration.
But let’s deal with this response that the Mayor got. In this letter apparently Mr. May is saying he didn’t say what the Building Inspector says he said! I had a long conversation with a the member of the public that shared Mr. May’s response to the Mayor with all of us. He’s quite angry and feels that this is proof of lies and would love to see a number of people taken to court over it!
My own feeling is that as a tax payer I now have contradictory ‘hearsay evidence’ attributed to the same person from both sides in this argument. That’s not good enough for me to say if legal action should be initiated against any one. I’d like Mr. May or someone higher than him, to come and sit down with our council and set the record straight. Before it all goes too far. And I’ve sent him a letter asking that. (see bottom of this article) And I’ve stated my request again in the video at the end of this article.
Now let’s get back to that letter from Mr. May to the Mayor. And how it gets introduced into the public meeting by a member of the public, not the Mayor.
That’s becoming a pattern of behaviour. The group that wants the water meter project killed includes the Mayor and Councillor Butler apparently. To get items pertaining to this on record without having someone on council raise the matter they appear to employ someone from ‘the public’ who is in their group to do the job. Then everyone can speak to the topic just raised. Sometimes it’s a letter that the group has one of its members send in. And other times it is a communication that is shared with a stalking horse in the group to bring before council. Like the recent letter from Mr. May. Now that council has opted to officially keep their mouths shut while they consult with the lawyers we’ll see how this strategy works. But by the next meeting council may have had its answer from the lawyers …
One final thought on that response to the Mayor from Mr. May: I haven’t got mine yet but I do know that when I get an email from a city staffer there is verbiage attached to the end of it. A legal disclaimer that says “This message is intended for the addressee(s) named and is confidential. The message must not be circulated or copied without the prior consent of the sender or the sender’s representative Corporation or the Corporation’s F.O.I. Officer” IF the Mayor’s letter from Mr. May also had similar language regarding confidentiality I would ask: Did the Mayor get Mr. May’s permission to share that letter with members of the public? If he did not then by doing so has our Mayor put himself and/or a member of the public in legal jeopardy by his actions?
You may think I’m picking at nits with this BUT these are the sorts of details that lawyers love and the rest of us hate. And they are the sorts of details that an experienced politician would have knowledge of. A career of learning and mistakes would cause them to be aware of the proscriptions on their words, behaviours and actions because of details like these. Sadly I suspect such knowledge is lacking in our current Mayor and the cost of his accumulating his wisdom on our dimes worries me.
My letter to Mr. May: (I can share this with all of you because I’m the sender)
I’m writing you to ask for your help on behalf of the people of Grand Forks.
I’m sure you’re somewhat aware that in the recent year gone by Grand Forks has implemented a residential water meter program. We’ve all been told that various people with the City, both elected officials and staffers, have been in touch with you at various times in the past year. To ask questions and get guidance regarding this project. And we are told that various people within the community have contacted you to ask questions or complain.
This project has been quite controversial and became the single biggest issue in our recent municipal election. And as a result of that the city council membership has changed and some on this new council appear to be open to reviewing and examining the whole project. And one of the actions coming out of this was a question posed to you apparently by our current Mayor Frank Konrad. This apparently resulted in an email response from you. Said response appears to contradict the advice that the city’s staff and administration said they received from You last year.
I, and the residents of Grand Forks, know all of this because the Mayor has chosen to share this in a public meeting with the whole world. This is all in reaction to another public meeting conversation he had with the city staffer responsible for getting your advice in the first place. And I might add that at that first meeting our new Mayor declared the water meters and their installation ‘null and void’ and ‘illegal’.
Imagine if you will the consternation us taxpayers in Grand Forks are going through right now. For those who opposed the project there’s vindication of their cause and some yearning to seek redress in court. For those who supported it there’s anger at money wasted because the project might never get completed. And many people on both sides are feeling like someone has been lying to us. There’s concern that this will lead to very costly legal implications for our small city, tarnished or destroyed careers and make a shambles of our local government as it grinds to a halt while obsessed with this issue.
At this point voices on both sides of this argument are saying they have You (via your words) on their side.
Please consult with your supervisor, or whomever you have, to and consider appearing before our city council to set the record straight once and for all time. Without an unambiguous answer to this both sides will continue using you and your words as props for their argument. Failure to do so in a timely fashion may result in dire consequences for our town, it’s tax rates and sense of community spirit as it bogs down in the mire of legal wrangling.
An email reply from you is just not enough – only an in person presentation will be.
For your further information here are links to the recordings of the live webcasts of city council meetings I referred to along with the times at which pertinent discussion arises.
City Council regular meeting of Jan 12, 2015
1:17:55 Beginning of discussion on water meters
1:21:21 Building Inspector introduced
1:22:20 quotes from ZM letter
1:24:24 Mayor declares the meters and their installation Null and Void and Illegal
Committee of The Whole meeting Jan 26, 2015
1:48:12 Discussion on Water Meter Project
1:58:19 Member of public reads from ZM letter to Mayor Konrad
UPDATED: Adding linkage into article