How can our differences be irreconcilable when we are both supposedly on the same side?” asked alternate director Charles Weber after finding out his position as Area H regional director’s right hand man was terminated. Last year, Weber was approached by Area H regional director Brad Hope to become his alternate and was sworn in by the regional board of the Okanagan Similkameen to do just that. Since that time, Weber had attended many meetings and events with Hope and on Hope’s behalf. It wasn’t until recently that something seemed to go terribly wrong.
“Brad asked me to sit on the aquatic centre referendum committee,” stated Weber, “and I was happy to do so as I had made it very clear to Brad when he asked me to become his alternate that I wanted to work on a recreation project as there was some buzz about an aquatic centre back then. When the time came, recreation director Lyle Thomas confirmed my seat on the committee and we started meeting in May, 2011.”
The aquatic centre committee is made up of a diverse group of individuals from within the community. Town Council worked with Hope to compile a list of potential committee members based on their demographic, past efforts as volunteers, committee experience and availability. The group consists of representatives from the health industry, youth groups, school district, seniors, town, Area H, businesses, swim club and young families. The committee also includes two members of the Princeton and District Recreation team, Nadine McEwen and Lyle Thomas and pool manager Carol Mack. All three have experience in the recreation field that has been invaluable to the volunteer team. Thomas lived in Three Hills, Alberta where that community held a referendum for its own Aquatic Centre facility and in the end built and now operate its facility. The population size of Three Hills was 3,300 plus in 2008. Thomas was a big part of that process. Nadine McEwen has worked for years in the recreation field, first in the Lower Mainland then, in Princeton. She has aided in the expansion of local recreation through her hard work and continued dedication to Princeton’s youth. Engineer John Akerley, also came to the team with a wealth of knowledge on the process of large municipal facilities including feasibility studies. Each member has had something to add to the committee.
The mandate of the aquatic centre committee from day one was to “inform, educate and encourage people to vote.” “The politician’s were at that first meeting,” stated Weber. “They spoke of their desire to stay at arm’s length, so that they could not be accused of swaying public opinion. Our regional director was there. This referendum was supposed to be by the people for the people.”
The committee has worked closely with the RDOS staff team of Mark Woods, Cathy Cowan, Warren Everton, and Diane Vaykovich as well as, with the architect Bruce Carscadden and consultant Bill Webster. Regional Director Hope attended the July 21, 2011 board meeting and stated that in his opinion the financial figures were inaccurate. No board member was provided with a copy of the figures in question before or during the meeting. Chair Dan Ashton offered town of Penticton’s facilities manager Dave Lieskovsky to review the figures in the FAQ brochure against Hope’s calculations. Lieskovsky’s response follows, (Attention Lyle Thomas) – “As per our phone conversation and subsequent emails, I must admit I am unable to review all of the documents that you sent and provide you with input within the timeframe provided. I must say though, that you have an extremely experienced and respected consultant on board with Bill Webster. He is likely the best you will find in all of B.C..”
Mayor Randy McLean also, attended the same meeting as a regional board member and gave an impassioned plea to the board to let the aquatic centre committee do their job. Hope made a motion “THAT the RDOS Board rescind Board Resolutions B331/11, B332/11 and B333/11 from the July 21, 2011 Board Meeting regarding the Princeton Aquatic Centre.”
Later that motion was postponed.
After that board meeting, the aquatic centre committee held an emergency meeting to review the actions of Hope. “Brad never brought his concerns to the aquatic committee at any time between May and July,” said Weber. “The first many members heard that Hope felt there were any disparities was at the emergency meeting. He had emasculated the committee with his actions and the committee was very clear on that.”
“Brad talks a lot about transparency and used that as part of his platform during the last election, but where was that transparency? If he had concerns, he should have brought them to us,” Weber continued. “He had two months to do that. Then, he gave us his word that if we had a third party consulting firm’s opinion concur with the present financials in our FAQ (frequently asked questions) package and feasibility study, he would let the numbers stand as is. We got that third party consult out of a reputable Victoria firm and it made no difference. Brad was back at the board meeting two weeks later with a new strategy. This time he wanted the vote split.”
Director Hope held up several documents at the RDOS meeting and stated that he had over 800 rural resident signatures asking for the vote between Area H and the Town of Princeton be split. “To my knowledge, none of these signatures were ever verified by the regional board,” stated Weber “and the only Area H member of our committee who was approached to sign the petition said the group garnering the signatures was ill-informed on the facts when questioned. There are ten committee members who come from Area H. As committee members, we have been out in the community a lot since this whole process started and not one of us had heard any outcry for a split vote. How was director Hope the only one who had heard this? And why did he not come to us? We asked him outright at the July 21 emergency meeting if he was pushing to have the vote split and he denied it. Then, bam he was back in the board room on August 4 asking for the split vote.”
“Brad talks a lot about reaching a consensus,” said Weber. “Consensus is a model where at times members agree to disagree, that’s democratic. What Brad has done is autocratic and despotic.” Weber points to Hope’s disbandment of his advisory planning council last spring. “Every other regional district in the Okanagan Similkameen has an advisory planning council except ours. Brad is accountable to no one.”
“My decision to make this change comes about as a result of our divergent views on the process of the upcoming Princeton aquatic centre referendum,” stated Hope in his letter of dismissal to Weber. “While we are both fully in agreement that Princeton is in need of a new facility, we differ greatly on our concept of the democratic process.”
“Brad was right about that,” stated Weber. “Our views on democracy are very different. I believe an advisory planning council is a key ingredient to the democratic process for each regional district. Democracy is about consensus. Brad has no advisory council to communicate with and did not feel it necessary or important to include the aquatic centre committee in aquatic centre issues. How is that democracy?”
Weber attended the July 21 RDOS board meeting and the August 4 meeting. He spoke to the board as an aquatic centre committee representative at the August 4 meeting about the lack of communication between Hope and the committee and about the committee’s mandate.
Hope stated to the board, “rural residents I talked to unequivocally want a separate vote.”
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Weber continued. “This is not the feedback we had been getting and there are sixteen of us.”
The board voted to split the vote. Hope’s words after were, “let the healing begin.”
“Brad’s next step was to continue to delay the release of the FAQ package,” said Weber. “Even though we had jumped through all the hoops he had asked, he still said the numbers were wrong. Healing…what healing? Eventually, he agreed to send out a partial package to Area H residents with less information.” Yates, Thorn and Associates out of Victoria, B.C. reviewed the feasibility study, anticipated operating expenditures, cost estimates, comparisons and referendum brochure that the aquatic centre committee had compiled for public viewing. Bob Yates stated, “We have reviewed the operating budget data presented and would agree that it reflects what is likely to unfold. The same is true for the capital budget, and the community made a wise choice to delay beyond 2008 with its very high price construction market. The information presented is extensive, well presented, and provides voters with a clear understanding of what the facility will cost.”
It is the aquatic centre committee’s mandate to present the worst case scenario in the financials. “That 361 figure is ludicrous. We have to present the facility as one we build, staff and run without ever letting anyone enter the building to use it,” said Weber. “This process is frustrating. We should be able to add in estimated revenues off the top. No one in their right mind would pay staff and utilities on a facility they are not allowed to use. That $361 per parcel is not a real number, but one we are mandated to present. $250 is the more likely figure, but we can’t just say that. There are also many other factors we cannot include in the financials such as the potential decision to shorten the hours per day or the number of weeks per year to accommodate non peak demand times to minimize cost of the facility. There is so much we cannot put in.”
Regional Director Hope has announced the date of the official community plan on the same day as the advanced poll for the Aquatic Centre referendum. “In spite of the fact that this scheduling conflict was pointed out to Brad in time to change the date, he refused,” added Weber. “I sat on the official community planning council and an email was sent to Brad notifying him of concerns that the two separate issues could be confused. The OCP open house is hasty and being rushed through. I suspect Brad wants this all pushed through before the upcoming November election. He needs three readings by the board to do that. This is not about the best interests of Area H, but about Brad’s best interests.”
Weber concluded by stating, “We need transparent governance. There is too much at stake. Area H is the largest regional district in B.C. with Jura Ranch holding the largest single land title. It is all about positive stewardship. There are more kids in Area H enrolled in our school district than from the town. The cornerstone of a thriving community is young families. We need to think about our future and keep the economy of the area vital and vibrant. Brad has refused to hear anything the committee has had to say. Instead, we are being repeatedly blind-sided by a man who is accountable to no one. I think our rural community deserves better.