PERSPECTIVE: Mayor Granstrom's take on the swimming pool controversy

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
February 2nd, 2012

On Tuesday, Mayor Greg Granstrom met with Andrew Bennett to discuss the process that led to the swimming pool grant application. The following transcript has been abbreviated to the mayor’s answers that directly relate to how the swimming pool grant application was prepared and passed.

Granstrom:  By resolution of council we proceeded with the grant application.

Bennett: That resolution was on Dec. 19. When was the grant application made available, when was it announced?

Granstrom: End of September.

Bennett: There were at least six regular meetings between then and Dec. 19. Why wasn’t council informed in that time that there was this grant?

Granstrom: Council was informed.

Bennett: In what context?

Granstrom: Information package.

[Note: Council receives regular “information packages” in addition to “agenda packages” prior to regular meetings. Currently, the press is only supplied with agenda packages, as these pertain directly to public meetings. Information packages contain additional information for councillors.]

Bennett: The information package—there was one line in an information package. Why wasn’t it on the agenda for council to discuss?

Granstrom: There were other items to be discussed on the agenda.

Bennett: This was a grant application for upwards of $400,000 on any recreation facility in the city. I know the CAO maintains [the swimming pool] was the only viable project, but when you read the grant application and you look at all the available projects, there were at least ten I could rattle off that would have suited. This seems like the perfect opportunity to get council input to decide what the public wants to spend their grant application on.

Granstrom: Council made a decision to proceed with the grant application for the pool.

Bennett: No it didn’t, not prior to the…

Granstrom: Council made the decision. Of course they did.

Bennett: They did, on Dec. 19. But they did not make the decision to proceed with that grant application from September, when it was announced. They made that decision five business days before the grant application deadline.

Granstrom: Council had the opportunity to not move forward with this application. They decided to move forward. That’s the answer to that question.

Bennett: Are you saying council was given the opportunity to proceed with another grant application on a different project, had they wanted to?

Granstrom: Absolutely.

Bennett: They had five business days to change the entire application.

Granstrom: It wouldn’t have been a change to an application, it would have been a different application on a different project.

Bennett: That is correct, and …

Granstrom: I know it’s correct.

Bennett: And the councillors, who were “flabbergasted” I might add, according to Jill Spearn, at the process, said the only reason they voted for this was because they did not have an opportunity; they thought there was no longer any time for it to be put towards a different project.

Granstrom: There was a resolution of council to proceed with this grant application.

Bennett: Was there a resolution of council to proceed with the $25,000 spent on the design long before council even knew there was a project?

Granstrom: The design is supported in many ways: by the budget, by the financial plan, by the OCP, by zoning, et cetera. Council is definitely the ones who make those decisions. Those are decisions of council.

Bennett: Okay, let’s look at the financial plan. Are you aware of Community Charter section 173 that there are only two ways that the city can spend money. One of those is that it’s included in the financial plan.

Granstrom: Correct.

Bennett: Was the $25,000 that was spent on Stantec and Matthes in the financial plan?

Granstrom: Yes.

Bennett:  Yes? I believe it’s not.

Granstrom: I’ll get you the information if you want.

[Bennett disagrees that it’s in the financial plan, since that’s how it was presented to council on Jan. 3, but Granstrom maintains it’s in the financial plan.]

Granstrom: It’s in the 2011 budget as well.

Bennett: How could it be in the 2011 budget when the Rossland Swimming Pool Society was not even part of the city then?

Granstrom: There is a budget item that has been used in the past, for example on the Columbia project, that is used for engineering and consulting services. There is a line item, I will get you that line item.

Bennett: Can that be used on projects that have not been approved by the public or by council?

Granstrom: There is no project here.

Bennett: There is a project, there is a design for…

Granstrom: There is a concept for a project. This is no different than any other grant application that’s been done.

Bennett: This is no different than any other grant application that’s been done? The Columbia upgrades have followed through a long process of years of public consultation and council consultation before anyone was hired for a design.

Granstrom: The initial, conceptual, class D estimate was done by WSA engineering.

[Note: The WSA reports were authorized by council after they were informed that the Ministry of Transportation was going to repave Columbia Ave.]

Bennett: You say this is a normal and an operational issue. Can the CAO spend money however he chooses?

Granstrom: The CAO has his authority delegated by council. The CAO’s authority is delegated by bylaw.

Bennett: And when was this project approved by council?

Granstrom: The CAO’s authority is delegated by bylaw, and I can get you a copy of the bylaw.

Bennett: I think the public has a right to know how its money gets spent.

Granstrom: Me too.

Bennett: I think what we have here is a situation where money got spent, but people weren’t asked. You apologized to council for “dropping the ball.”

Granstrom: That’s not true.

Bennett: Could you please define for me what “dropping the ball” meant?

Granstrom: I meant that there should have been more information provided on the application.

Bennett: If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?

Granstrom: Provide more information.

Bennett: On what date?

Granstrom: As early as possible.

Bennett: And when would that have been?

Granstrom: As early as possible.

Bennett: Okay, the application was available in September and the pool was transferred to the city shortly thereafter. When should council have been informed about this?

Granstrom: As soon as possible.

Bennett: So, in October?

Granstrom: As soon as possible.

Bennett: Was October as soon as possible?

Granstrom: I’m not certain it was as soon as possible. As soon as possible is as soon as is possible.

Bennett: We have dates in front of us, and we could talk specifically about dates. On Nov. 4, Matthes Architecture was…

Granstrom: I don’t have dates in front of me.

Bennett: Well, I’m telling you them. On Nov. 4, Matthes Architecture was at the swimming pool doing a review. Could council have been informed as soon as they had finished their review?

Granstrom: If it was possible.

Bennett: Why would it not have been possible?

Granstrom: I don’t know. I’m saying, as soon as it was possible. I don’t know how else to say that.

Bennett: Okay. I think most people feel money has been spent outside of the proper context. What is problematic here is that in order to make people feel that it was spent properly, they’re going to need the facts in front of them.

Granstrom: Absolutely.

Bennett: Okay. If this grant does go through, and the city gets $4 million—the best case scenario—the city will still have to spend $1 million to bring it to $5 million. At that point the city will have to spend, it is suggested, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on maintenance fees to sustain the facility. These are issues the public never got to discuss because it never came to them. How do you think the public is going to feel about this project if all goes well and the grant comes through?

Granstrom: If the grant were to come through, there will be public input at that time.

Bennett: If public input comes out strongly against a four season pool, and all they want is upgrades, the grant as it’s currently written doesn’t allow those changes to take place?

Granstrom: Not true.

Bennett: This grant could not be spent on upgrades to a one-season facility, since it’s been written for a four-season facility.

Granstrom: There were three stages to the grant application. The grant application was presented by resolution of council. One of the stages is upgrades—there’s three levels—secondary level of upgrades, and the full grant application, all of which are supported. This is a grant application. If the city were to receive the money, it would have to go to the public to get their blessing, period.

Bennett: Why was the grant application made for $4 million when $400,000 was the suggested maximum out of a $30 million “pie” that’s being made available to all of B.C.?

Granstrom: The grant application specifically states that it’s possible to apply for more than the $400,000. I’ll get you a copy of that.

Bennett: I’ve read the entire grant application.

Granstrom: There you go.

Bennett: It’s quite clear it says, please limit yourself to $400,000.

Granstrom: Then it says, however …

Bennett: It says however, but why would it strategically be considered a good idea? It would seem to diminish the chance of getting the grant substantially.

Granstrom: I disagree.

Bennett: On what grounds?

Granstrom: I disagree that that’s a fact. I think it’s not fact.

Bennett: So do you think that applying for $4 million increases our chances of getting the grant?

Granstrom: I don’t think that it lessens them.

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