Special/Secret/Illegal Meetings? – Take Your Pick

When is Enough, Enough?

When the public’s confidence in an elected government has been shattered, when the public is continually misled, misinformed and lied to, when the public is continually brushed aside, when the public is purposefully kept in the dark by the very people elected to represent them, when elected officials object to accurate records of public meetings, when minutes of meetings are editorialized and/or sanitized to reflect political agendas, when protocols and policies are willfully ignored, when the public asks extremely relevant questions to major issues and are completely ignored, when laws are prepared and rammed through for no other reason than political expediency, when the rights of citizens to freely speak their minds is interfered with, when experienced consultants’ sound advice is completely ignored at a time of crisis, when laws are proposed with thinly veiled, agendas, cleverly hidden in small print, when those entrusted with the public’s trust have broken it, it is time for someone to call for resignations. And, just before you jump to the conclusion I am referring to either the Federal or Provincial governments, I am not.

I have sat in witness of all of the above well documented occurrences over the past few months. I have been increasingly appalled as event after event has unfolded. This is not about a couple of honest mistakes, or oversights, which anyone can make, apologize for, and be forgiven for. The arrogance and disrespect for the public has become endemic. And, no one is taking responsibility for any of it.

The latest prime example came the week of April 18th. In a rush to make no less than 50 amendments, apparently the result of a legal opinion, to what can only be seen as an over-reaching poorly crafted Riparian Area bylaw, a “Special Meeting” of the Local Trust Committee was called.

My investigation into the background of the “Special Meeting” resulted in the following presentation made to the Local Trust Committee yesterday, May 5th:

Madam Chair – I rise to a point of order.

On Monday morning, April 18, 2011, at 11:12 AM, a “Special Meeting” of the Local Trust Committee was called by Regional Planning Manager Leah Hartley.

The meeting date was set for Wednesday, April 20th at 3:00 PM, and according to RPM Hartley, the sole notice of the meeting was posted on the Islands Trust bulletin board at 11:12 AM or shortly thereafter.

Apparently only one member of the public and a Driftwood staffer, who happened to be in the Trust office on the Tuesday afternoon before discovered the notice. The Driftwood had not been notified of the meeting, however, it managed to make a late insertion under “News Briefs” in the edition that came out the following morning. If neither of those two members of the public had seen the notice, not a single member of the public would have known the meeting was going to be held.

Madame Chair, you explained the statutory requirement of having to post notice 48 hours in advance of a special meeting had been met.

However, when I asked you why the Trust hadn’t used their electronic “meeting notification” system to send out the notice to the public, at no cost to taxpayers, you referred the question to RPM Hartley. That question has today been answered by Ms. Hartley – “Posting of meeting notices on the website or circulation through the electronic system is a courtesy.” Evidently it was a “courtesy” to the public which was not extended in this case.

To uninformed members of the public this may sound like a staff oversight. The only problem with that assumption is that it ignores the fact this had already happened twice before within the past three months. Two other “Special Meetings” had been called, the public were not informed of either, the meetings were held, and, NO members of the public or press were present, at what were supposed to be “public meetings.”

First Special Meeting

The first “Special Meeting” was called by way of a Resolution Without Meeting (RWM) on January 27, 2011.  RWM’s are official resolutions of the Local Trust Committee, and there are legislative requirements to be fulfilled to ensure legitimacy. The RWM’s must be made available to the public. The Jan. 27th RWM is posted on the LTC’s website (at http://www.islandstrust.bc.ca/ltc/ss/rwms.cfm ).

After the first “Special Meeting” (Jan. 31st)  there was an outcry – why wasn’t the public properly notified? The effective answer? “Hey, not our problem, we gave you the statutory notice. If you aren’t checking the bulletin board in our office every day, that’s not our fault is it?” The notice for that particular meeting, scheduled for a Monday morning at 10:00 AM, was posted on the Friday afternoon. So, if you didn’t happen to be in the office between say 3 and 4:30 on Friday, or between 9 and 10 Monday morning, you wouldn’t have seen it. In other words, the public was effectively given less than 3 hours opportunity to notice the notice.

Subsequently, did the Trustees instruct staff to ensure notifications of any future Special Meetings were sent out electronically and as quickly as possible? It is obvious from RPM Hartley’s reference to “courtesy” no such direction was recommended or given by the LTC to staff.

Second Special Meeting

The second Special Meeting (Feb. 21st) held less than 3 weeks after the first, followed the same modus operandi. No electronic or public notice, no members of the public or press present. However, absent from this meeting was a RWM calling for the meeting.

And, in all three cases there was nothing remotely resembling an apology for not keeping the public reasonably informed. Instead, the consistent excuse which has been given is the Trust had met the statutory requirements. I submit not only is this is clearly not good enough, but, it is in fact a falsehood.

Bylaw 391

The requirements of calling a Special Meeting are clearly stated in Bylaw 391 – “A Bylaw to establish Procedures for Meetings of the Local Trust Committee”  see http://www.islandstrust.bc.ca/ltc/ss/pdf/ssbylbaseadmmtg0391.pdf

I am familiar with this Bylaw, as I was one of the Trustees who adopted it on March 31, 2004.

Paragraph 6 states –  “Any two members of the Local Trust Committee may call a special meeting by giving notice of the day, time, place and purpose of the meeting to the third member of the Committee by telephone or written notice delivered to the trustee at least 48 hours before the time of the meeting, and by posting the notice at the place specified in Section 3, except that notice to Local Trust Committee members may be waived by unanimous vote.”

This clearly indicates that only “any two members of the LTC may call a special meeting.” It does not allow for a staff member to call a special meeting. It does not allow for one Trustee to call a special meeting.

Therefore, it is my understanding, directly from RPM Hartley’s explanation to me today, that she called the meeting.

Therefore the special meeting held on April 20th was ultra vires of Bylaw 391.

Trustee George Ehring said “We didn’t have any more notice ourselves. We gave as much notice as we could.” This supports Ms. Hartley’s representation Trustee Ehring was not involved in calling the meeting.

(Trustee Torgrimson has stated she was out of town.)

Further, since there is no record of a RWM for the Feb. 21st special meeting, it is not unreasonable to assume that meeting was ultra vires as well.

If my accusations are correct, and I stand to be corrected, it follows that any resolutions which occurred at either of those meetings must be struck down. Further, any matters which flowed out of either the Feb. 21st or April 20th meetings must be struck as well.

Paragraph 7 of the Bylaw states,  “If the Chairperson is not one of the members calling the special meeting, the members calling the special meeting shall, prior to doing so, advise the Chairperson of the calling of the meeting and consider the Chairperson’s representations, if any, regarding the calling of the meeting.”

In my email exchanges with you, Madam Chair, you were unable to answer the question “Who called the special meeting,” so, I assume it was not you.

Since it was RPM Hartley who evidently called the special meeting, the statutory requirements under this section were not met as well.

It is not good enough for anyone involved, staff or Trustees, to plead ignorance of the law in this matter.  Am I to believe no one has read the Meetings Bylaw?

I therefore, hereby request you, as the Chair of the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee to (a) call for an immediate independent investigation into the propriety and validity of the calling of the two special meetings of February 21st and April 20th, and (b) the suspension of all matters and issues flowing from those two meetings, pending the outcome of the investigation. Those matters include the proposed riparian area bylaw before you today for consideration.

Thank you.

Eric
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One Response to Special/Secret/Illegal Meetings? – Take Your Pick

  1. Donn Tarris says:

    There is no excuse for not using email and the radio as extra fast modes of communication for what surely must be “emergency” meetings of the trust – although it eludes me as to why this particular one would have required such short notice. Am I missing something?

    I can’t speak for the majority of the island’s residents, but judging from participation on the Salt Spring Exchange as well as the number of facebook members on this island, it would appear that the computer is playing a big part in how people here connect. For myself, it plays a vital part in how I first find out about issues and then how I can perform the research necessary for me to make up my own mind how I feel about something.

    There’s nothing like a town hall meeting, but in its absence I would hope the trust makes far more use of the internet to keep us all informed, especially with regards to when important meetings are being scheduled.

    In the absence of notice, with the resulting low attendance by the general populace, I would like to see a form of quorum used. If only we could nationally, provincially, and locally make it so that nothing could be decided unless a true majority of the relevant populations cast a vote, and that a “no show” constituted a vote for “none of the above” or not in favour. If this were the case, this latest election would have resulted in a minority government that would still have to coax out the no shows to pass anything bigger than selecting the TP brand for the government washrooms…

    I say NO to secret meetings at any level of government. I especially say NO to meetings that profess to be public and then go ahead in the absence of public participation, as happened during the debate preceding the decision to cut back the school week to four days. I was one of two or three members of the “public” present, I would hardly call that a public debate. If you call a public meeting and no one shows up, cancel the meeting and go back to the drawing board. Obviously something is missing.

    Donn

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