Conflicting Interests

(Editors Note – Please subscribe to follow this story as it unfolds. I will be updating it periodically. If any reader has any factual corrections or additions to the information, please send them to ericbooth@shaw.ca . As always, I stand to be corrected on any fact.)

Once upon a time, way back in 2005,  just weeks before the Islands Trust election, I wrote, and circulated Island wide, an 8 page article (2005 Election ) outlining how I believed a small group of people on the island, if elected, would use political power to further their self interests. Here is a snippet from the article:

“Trust is a funny thing. You can work your entire life building it, and yet, one slip, and you can lose it all. I’ve even heard a rather coarse joke about it. An apology for an error in judgment can sometimes restore trust, but, if the event which caused the loss of trust is not an isolated case, and is shown to be planned – for example the Liberal adscam scenario – it is unlikely even those who were held in high regard before the scandal, will keep their cherished standing in the community. The higher up you are, the further it is to fall. Backroom politics, elitism and deal making are abhorrent to most voters.”

I wrote how group, after group, after group had been formed by the same small group of people, and I named names, including those of George Ehring, Christine Torgrimson, Gary Holman, Peter Lamb, Marion Pape, David Borrowman, Jean Gelwicks and Maxine Leichter. I questioned why what to me was clearly a political springboard meeting for Lamb and Ehring to become Trustees, had been sponsored by the Salt Spring Conservancy (of which Mr. Lamb was the President at the time), with funding for it clearly, and inappropriately, running through the Conservancy. (I must have struck a nerve, because Lamb actually tried to have Canada Post stop the distribution of the article.) I also revealed how this small group of people were the main objectors to the incorporation of Salt Spring.

I spoke out against “the small, self-interest groups on this island whom I believe, while all, very well-intentioned, continue to misinform Salt Spring on issues ranging from water to development to environmental impact to local governance to taxation. The fear mongering and misinformation tactics I have witnessed over the past few years have a tendency not to provide the truth or balanced, creative solutions to the challenges and opportunities we face, but rather tend to unnecessarily split this community apart on issues, time and time again.”

And here we are, six years later, almost to the day, and the cows are evidently coming home to roost. A civil action has been launched by 15 Salt Spring Island electors, against Trustees Christine Torgrimson and George Ehring, and CRD Director Garth Hendren (Petition ) The filed petition to the Court alleges conflict of interest by the three in the funding of, and the inappropriate participation in, two recently formed private societies – the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council Society and the Salt Spring Island Water Council Society.

So, what’s the big deal here? The answer is rather simple. Cronyism, conflict of interest, inappropriate participation, improper process, and lack of accountability and transparency are not the qualities for which we elect politicians to protect our tax dollars and due processes of governance. Period. This is not about climate change, potable water or good intentions and/or roads paved with them.

Take a moment to view the video of the September 1, 2011 LTC Meeting (link below). Keep in mind while you’re watching it that Torgrimson and Ehring, in their private capacities are Directors of the Water Council Society. Listen carefully and see (a) whether they give any indication or declaration of their involvement in the Society, (b) whether the word “society” is even used, (c) how Torgrimson refers to the Water Council in the third person as “they,” (d) how Torgimson deflects the Chair’s request for the funding request effectively to be in writing from the Water Council, (e) how Trustee Ehring seconds Torgrimson’s motion, and does not utter one word of discussion, (f) consider that since this item was not on the agenda, it should have been coming as a surprise to Ehring, but, likely, since they are both Directors of the Water Council, they had already discussed this outside of the public realm, thereby breaking the public meeting rule of a meeting of a quorum of the LTC held behind closed doors to discuss and move an item forward relevant to the LTC.

http://www.imaginesaltspring.com/video/septLTC/septLTC_water_funding.html

The history of this scandal, like all good scandals, is convoluted, and as I mentioned, had its “roots” nourished 6 years ago. Over the past 3 years questions of transparency and accountability have been steadily rising.  I have witnessed Trustees Torgrimson and Ehring balk at, and ban, the video taping of public meetings. This change in accepted practice began in February of 2009, when I was denied the right to video the Local Trust Committee meeting. This was the 2nd LTC meeting at which Torgrimson was a trustee. The question as to why any elected official would be concerned about having a video record being made of their decisions, actions, deliberations, comments, etc. was beyond me. Having been a politician myself, I believe politicians are elected to represent the public’s interest, not their own private self interests or whims. During my term of office I had never taken any exception to anyone videotaping our meetings. Any whiff of a conflict of interest should send you running out of the room, as it did me on three occasions.

Luckily, members of the public and press eventually forced the LTC to allow limited video taping of meetings. Lucky for the public that is, and unlucky for the Trustees, given that video tape from two recent LTC meetings will now likely be used as evidence against them in a court of law.

I have been trying to understand the how, why, and who of the SSI Climate Action Council Society and the Salt Spring Island Water Council Society. Here is what I have been able, to date, ascertain:

(a)     on December 14, 2009 Ehring and Torgrimson formed an ad hoc Local Trust committee, which they named the Climate Action Coordination Committee (CACC). To the best of my knowledge none of the CACC meetings were ever held in public, and no minutes of the meetings were reported through the LTC. The initial members of the CACC (Peter Lamb, Gary Holman, Elizabeth White and Marion Pape) were evidently hand picked by the Trustees with no public input or notification. CRD Director Hendren attended the formative meeting, but, in my opinion, Hendren, Torgrimson and Ehring were technically ex-officio members of the Committee. Islands Trust staff also attended. By early January Leslie Wallace (now running for CRD Director) was chosen as the paid CACC Workshop Coordinator, and Margery Moore (I-SEA) was added as a member of the CACC.

(b) February 6, 2010

A community “Climate Action Workshop” was held at Salt Spring’s Gulf Islands Secondary School. The announcement encouraged the public to attend. There had been no mention that this “workshop” would subsequently be deemed to have met the “community consultation” requirements prior to considering an amendment to the OCP. It was attended by Ehring, Torgrimson, Malcolmson and Lamb. The ‘welcoming address’ was given by Trustee George Ehring, which included the following:

“This is not a meeting of the climate deniers… is this happening, or that it’s not caused by human intervention or that it’s the stars or the moon or something else..…that’s not it…that’s not what this meeting…if you came to debate the science with us you’re in the wrong room. I’ve been asked to say that as politely as I could but [obscured by laughter] if we’re here to save energy, that’s one of the ways we’re not going to waste energy.”

Thus, Ehring, Torgrimson, et al, made it clear that anyone who disagreed with their belief in manmade global warming were thereby summarily dismissed, along with ANY scientific argument to the contrary. In doing so, they evidently disagreed with about 15 million Canadians. According to the latest Angus Reid poll half of Canadians (48%) say that that global warming is not a fact and is not mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities.

(c)     the CACC was “morphed” into the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council (CAC) sometime in June 2010. The announcement of the formation of the “Council” was made at the June 2010 LTC meeting by Trustee Ehring, and, the public record shows there was never again a mention of the CACC, leading one to believe it ceased to exist at some point, although evidently not officially disbanded through LTC resolution.

Trustee George Ehring: One of the things that’s going to flow from that [OCP changes for climate change], working with the two of us, together with Regional Director Garth Hendren, we’ve made terms of reference for what we’re calling the Climate Action Council.

The first meeting of that Climate Action Council will take place later on this month and its principle objective will be to try to articulate those specific things that individuals and community organizations can do on the island to begin to reduce in a serious way our greenhouse gas emissions. This may be the most important kind of fight, that we as a community may take on, collectively, that we’ve ever faced….so we’re going to form a Climate Council…more news will come out about this later on in the month..I’m not going to get involved in the details about it, the group hasn’t even met yet, but I do want to say we’re in the process of forming that and it will be to work with you, in the community, to develop strategies and plans for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  

It is clear, according to Ehring (a) terms of reference had been made for the Climate Action Council by himself and Trustee Torgrimson, (b) the first meeting of the Council had not yet been held, (c) Ehring, Torgrimson and Hendren were considered the founders of the Council.

In retrospect it is clear that (a) the Council was going to be an independent body and therefore not accountable to the Local Trust Committee itself, (b) Council members were to be hand selected by Torgrimson and Ehring, (c) the Council was replacing the function of the Climate Action Coordination Committee.

The CAC, as founded by Ehring and Torgrimson, was  described by Islands Trust staff, an “ad hoc coordinating arm of community organizations.” In fact, when a member of the public asked Trustee Torgrimson about the meetings of the SSI Climate Action Council, she was told by Torgrimson that the CAC was “an independent community entity” and that the “inquiry” posed a “protocol and policy matter that the Council will need to discuss.”  This response was in spite of the fact that Council was being publicly funded by Trustees Torgrimson and Ehring, and chaired by Torgrimson reportedly in her capacity as an elected Trustee. Subsequently, in her capacity as Chair of the CAC Torgrimson reported, “Council meetings are generally open to the public for attendance and observation. Upon occasion, the Council may invite public participation in their meetings, which shall be managed by the chair….As far as releasing the other members’ names, I’ve not received their permission to publicize their names, so I am not comfortable with passing on that information at this time….”

I find this exchange to be quite remarkable. A publicly elected official, evidently sitting, in her capacity as a Trustee, as Chair of an “independent community entity,” funded by taxpayer dollars, the membership of which she was not “comfortable” to divulge to a member of the public, and meetings which were not completely open to the public…can anyone else see what is starting to be wrong with this picture?

(d)     The CACC was subsequently morphed into the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Society (CACS) (a registered, private, not-for-profit society) on April 20, 2011, but, curiously no mention of this was ever made by either Trustee at the time.

The listed founding Directors of the CACS were Christine Torgrimson, Peter Lamb, George Ehring, Clare Cullen and Daniel Ruane (who is listed as the primary contact for “Transition Salt Spring” of which Marion Pape, Eizabeth White, Margery Moore, Gary Holman, Leslie Wallace, Andrew Haigh, Clare Cullen, Nomi Lyonns, and Peter Lamb are all listed members).

(e)     According to the bylaws of the CACS, it has a limited membership of 17 people, all of whom are considered Directors of the Society. And, while the CACS website lists the organizations who are supposedly members, it does not list the actual individuals who are Directors, it being noted an organization, or elected position of a local government, cannot be a “Director” of a not-for-profit society – it has to be a person, an individual. Thus, most of the actual membership of this private society remains unknown/unreported to the public at this time. However, what is known is that the paid Coordinator of the CACS is Elizabeth White.

The following is from the Salt Spring Climate Action Council Society website (http://climateactionsaltspring.ca/about/ )

About The Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council

The Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council was established in May 2010 to coordinate the development and implementation of a Climate Action Plan for Salt Spring Island. The council consists of representatives of the following agencies and organizations:

Capital Regional District
Islands Trust

Institute for Sustainability, Education and Action
Island Pathways

Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance
Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce
Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission
Salt Spring Island Water Council
Salt Spring Island Conservancy
Transition Salt Spring
Earth Festival Society

Youth representative, Gulf Islands Secondary School
and up to four members at large with specific expertise and/or interests related to the Climate Action Council’s mandate.

The Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council is a British Columbia not-for-profit society.

(f)     Curiously, the CRD Transportation Commission (CRD TC) is listed as a member of the CACS, however, the minutes I have reviewed of the CRD TC, to September 2011, indicate they have not decided whether they will accept an invitation for one of their members to become a Director of the CACS. It is also unclear whether Society Act requirements, with regard to notification of the Province of all Directors has been met by the CACS.

(g)       Meanwhile, also unannounced by the Trustees was the morphing of the Water Council, which former CRD Director Holman had founded, into another private not-for-profit Society – the Salt Spring Island Water Council Society (WCS) on July 4, 2011. The founding Directors of the WCS include Ehring, Torgrimson and Hendren. The paid Coordinator of the WCS is Peter Lamb, ex-Chair of the former Water Council. According to CRD documents, Lamb’s current hourly rate is $30/hr.

(h)     Both the WCS and CACS addresses of record are Lamb’s. As with the CACS, it is unclear whether Society Act requirements, with regard to notification of the Province of all Directors has been met by the WCS.

From documents I have reviewed, it is clear:

(a) Ehring and Torgrimson, in their private capacities, were two of the founding applicants of both of the private societies;

(b) Ehring and Torgrimson in their private capacities are current Directors of the Water Council;

(c) Ehring in his private capacity is current Chair of the Water Council;

(d) Torgrimson in her private capacity is a Director and current Chair of the Climate Action Council;

(e) Ehring and Torgrimson, in their capacities as Island Trustees, voted to provide funding to the two private societies they helped found, and of which they are Directors;

(f) Lamb (now ex-Chair of the Water Council), is now the Water Council’s paid “Coordinator,” and, was one of the founding applicants of the Climate Action Council Society;

(g) Hendren in his private capacity, was one of the founding applicants of the Water Council;

(h) Hendren in his private capacity is one of the Directors of the Water Council;

(i) Hendren in his capacity as CRD Director evidently provided funding through the CRD for the Water Council Society.

Clare Cullen and Chamber of Commerce.

Clare Cullen, as I mentioned, is a founding Director of the Climate Action Council Society. Her signature appears on the Society application papers dated April 4, 2011. At that time she evidently represented herself as the Chamber of Commerce representative, and did so apparently until a CACS meeting sometime in August 2011 when, according to CACS Chair Christine Torgrimson, in an email to Chamber President Robert Steinbach, Ms. Cullen “announced near the end of the meeting that she was stepping down as a representative of the Chamber because for her own reasons she does not intend to renew her membership in your organization. Incidentally the Council unanimously agreed that Clare should continue as a member-at-large representing small business interests.”

There are two problems with this revelation.

1. According to Chamber of Commerce sources, Clare Cullen ceased to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce on March 31, 2011, four days before she signed the Society’s application papers on April 4, 2011. Further, I understand from Chamber sources she had never reported to the Chamber on any meeting of the Climate Action Council Society. So, it appears Ms. Cullen possibly misrepresented to the Climate Action Council Society, from its formation, which she evidently participated in, through to the August meeting, that she was the Chamber of Commerce representative.

2. How on earth did the Society deem Ms. Cullen to be representative of “small business interests” on Salt Spring?

In the aforementioned email, Torgrimson also stated:

“The Climate Action Council provides notice to its meetings to individual member/directors, including those who represent organizations. We do not send meeting notices to organizations, as their representatives are the member/directors, not the organizations themselves….it is common for a transition in member/directors, and particularly those representing organizations, to take some time to accomplish. Our practice has been to contact the organization and informally work with them – ofthen over a number of months – to find an appropriate Council member to represent them at the table….There is no obligation on the part of the Climate Action Council to include a representative of the Chamber among its members…I would like to invite you personally to attend that meeting and inform members of the Council in what ways the Chamber of Commerce demonstrates that it “has an active interest in climate change issues,” as our membership rules require, and what the Chamber has been doing, or plans to do, with respect to those issues….If the Chamber is interested in having a new representative on the Council, I would ask that you send that request in writing…along with the name and background of your proposed representative and information about their and the Chamber’s commitment to climate action.”

This clearly shows that the CACS is just one more private, selected members only club, formed by the very same small group of people that I named and warned the community about in 2005.

CRD Transportation Commission

On April 12, 2011, at the CRD TC meeting, the adopted minutes indicate at “7.15 Climate Action Council request to meet with SSITC – deferred.

This request technically came from the Climate Action Council and not the Climate Action Council Society, since the Society was not registered until April 20th.

However, since the CRD TC meeting, minutes continue to show no representative has been appointed to the Society.

And yet, as noted above, the CACS website lists the Transportation Commission as a “member” of the Society.

When we go back a bit in time, we find that Andrew Haigh and Nomi Lyonns were appointed by the CRD Transportation Commission, along with Director Hendren to be representatives to the Climate Action Council prior to it becoming a private society. It appears that Haigh and/or Lyonns were accepted into the Council Society as representatives of the CRD TC, without the CRD TC having ever passed a resolution to that effect. In fact, the Commission has been consistently deferring the matter.

Salt Spring Housing Council Society

Another mystery surrounds yet another resolution which occurred at the October LTC meeting.

On October 6, 2011 Torgrimson proposed the following resolution, “That the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee dedicate $4,000 from the LTC Local Expense Account (65230) to the Salt Spring Housing Council Society to support capacity-building workshops and/or training opportunities for local affordable housing advocates with a progress report delivered on or before March 15, 2012.” The motion was carried unanimously.

I have done a thorough search at the Societies branch and can find no such entity as the Salt Spring Housing Council Society. I tried a variety of search terms and came up empty handed. I Googled the term, and came up with nothing. It appears the resolution is the first mention of this Society in the public record.

The question I have of the Trustees is this, “Who are the Directors of this purported Society, when was it formed, did you participate in its formation?”

CRD Director Hendren

In my opinion, Director Hendren is a hapless victim of going along with the flow. When he was first elected he canceled funding of the Water Council. The hue and cry from the “usual suspects” pressured him to reinstate the funding. Now, here he is, three years later and caught up in the funding of 2, maybe 3, private societies. On this island, politicians need to be able to differentiate between what “the community” thinks or wants, and what small, self-interest groups, made up of the same people, so vocally say they want.

Where Is This All Headed?

The allegations of conflicts of interest and meeting behind closed doors, outside of the public’s view, which are contained within the Petition filed, appear to be a damning indictment of how our public officials have evidently overstepped clear ethical boundaries in pursuit of their own self interests.

I know all of the accused are “well intentioned” people, and, I know all three are intelligent human beings.

This begs the question why have they acted the way they’ve acted?

The answer is as blindingly clear to me now as it was in 2005. There are those among us who believe so passionately in their self-interests, they feel they are “superior” to others. They believe societal, ethical, moral, and/or legislative laws of transparency, process, accountability, conflict of interest, meeting behind closed doors, cronyism, etc. shouldn’t apply to them, because they are doing what they believe is their own good gods work.

What they have either never realized, or have forgotten, is that they were elected to do our work, under our laws and regulations, in what should be an open and transparent manner to us. Their paychecks for the past three years have been written by us, and, they are accountable to us.

I urge each of them to carefully consider the available options before deciding to have us start paying their legal bills at $500/hr+ each to defend what is, at very least, an indefensible perception of wrong doing.

Thus, I believe their real trial has already begun in the court of public opinion, and, we are about to witness just what they really think of us and the trust we have placed in them.

Stay tuned and subscribe.

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One Response to Conflicting Interests

  1. jeff goguen says:

    commendable clarity – astonishing elitist machinations. Let’s start the Own Salt Spring protests today!!!

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