TIMELINE: The history of the swimming pool controversy

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
February 2nd, 2012

September 2011: The Rossland Swimming Pool Society (RSPS) approaches the city to see if the city will take over the society, as detailed by RSPS board member Aaron Cosbey in a recent interview.

Oct. 7: A one-liner in the information package to council announces the “healthy communities” grant. It’s tucked in amongst BC Hydro and Fortis BC announcements, the declaration of October as Family Friendly Month, the Rossland schools notebook publication by VSS and NOL, and information bulletins on backyard burning and the flu shot. The line reads, “Item: Ministry of Community Sport and Cultural Development; Subject: Province supports healthy communities with $30M program; Recommendation: Grant to be submitted for pool upgrade; Response required: No.”

Oct. 11 and Oct. 24: Regular council meetings come and go in which the grant application is not on the agenda. At this point, councillors presumably missed the importance of the one-liner in the information package and so are unaware that the grant is an excellent opportunity to advance any number of recreational facilities in Rossland. Consequently, other options than “pool upgrade”—skatepark, greening the Emcon lot, trails and bike paths, school playgrounds, arena upgrades, and so on—do not get considered.

Late October: Matthes Architecture Inc. begins its review of the swimming pool to consider “an upgraded design…to enclose the entire Building to create a year round recreational facility.” This is followed shortly afterwards by Stantec Ltd. who prepare an engineering report to define “structural, mechanical, and electrical requirements as related to the proposed renovation design presented by Robert Matthes Architect.”

Nov. 14, Nov. 28, Dec. 5: More regular council meetings pass with no mention of the grant, the pool, the work being done by Stantec and Matthes, or the cost of it.

Late November and early December: The rumour mill catches wind that something’s up as the city sends out letters to local societies and institutions to request letters of support for the grant application. The Telegraph calls the mayor.

Dec. 9: The Rossland Aquatic And Leisure Centre? Hey, why not! Mayor considers grant to create four-season pool.

Dec. 12: Regular council meeting where the pool is still not on the agenda. In “members reports,” Coun. Kathy Moore reports that Tourism Rossland had been asked for a letter of support but they “wanted to hear more about the potential for the pool” as they were “unsure how to support it when they didn’t know what it was.”

Dec. 19: First council meeting in which the grant is discussed, and councillors feel pressured to pass it without modification because the grant deadline is only days away. RSPS board member Aaron Cosbey observed the meeting and commented recently, “I have no axe to grind, not at all, but the whole thing floored me. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a dereliction of duty by the new members of council, though I understand they were still getting a feel for their role, and unacceptable behaviour by the mayor. His role is a facilitator of discussion, not a driver of an agenda.”

Dec. 21: Multi-million dollar plan for an indoor pool rammed through Rossland council in a last-minute bid for provincial money

Dec. 28: Deadline for the grant application.

Jan. 3: Committee-of-the-whole meeting in which Coun. Kathy Moore has to ask three times before getting an answer on the cost of the pool renovation design by Stantec Ltd. and Matthes Architecture Inc. The answer: approximately $25,000.

Jan. 5: COMMENT: Who authorized $25,000 in architecture and engineering fees for a pool design council knew nothing about? The CAO must go!

Jan. 9: Regular council meeting in which the mayor apologizes for “dropping the ball” and promises to “fully brief” council in the future, but asserts, “I don’t really want to discuss it. I don’t want to discuss it.” No mention is made of the $25,000 price tag.

Jan. 10: Andrew Bennett writes the mayor to ask for a clarification on the apology and to ask why the process broke down, what should have been done differently, and whether timely council consultation and debate could be expected in the future. No response is received.

Jan. 10: Andrew Bennett writes the councillors to ask why they voted the way they did on Dec. 19 and whether their opinions had changed since; he also asked about the unofficial closed meeting in which the CAO cautioned councillors about the media. Coun. Kathy Moore responds immediately, but no other responses are received.

Jan. 11: More questions than answers as Rossland’s mayor apologizes for failing to consult with council.

Jan. 18: Andrew Bennett writes council again to lay out the severity of the problem. Key issues raised include:

  • The “united front” the CAO recommended in his unofficial media-relations meeting appears to be a wall of silence, which is troubling coming from a council that promised greater transparency and communication.
  • The $25,000 payment to Stantec and Matthes appears to be illegal. Except in emergencies, the Community Charter limits expenditures to those in the financial plan, but swimming pool designs are nowhere to be found in the 2011-2015 (current) financial plan.
  • If this design was an “emergency” expenditure, many meetings had passed without retroactively amending the financial plan, as required by the Charter.
  • By section 191 of the Charter, council members who vote for resolutions that spend public money contrary to the Charter are personally liable for the amount.
  • The “delegation bylaw” gives the CAO a certain amount of power to spend money without council authority, but not on things like designs for special or capital projects. These require council authority—not to mention that CAO Kumar promised, in a 2009 interview with Andrew Zwicker, “I have the delegation to do certain things with that, but in the interest of the public I will bring that back to council so they are aware of what is happening.”
  • The letter concludes: “By the facts I report above, here’s how I interpret the situation: There have been secrets, democracy has been stifled, discontent has been raised, and the powers of delegation were abused. If you have another interpretation, both myself and the Rossland public would like to hear it as soon as possible.”

Jan. 18: The mayor responds, “Please advise a time and date to sit and discuss your concerns.”

Jan. 18: Coun. Tim Thatcher responds, “I feel e-mails don’t relay the true message most of the time and are misunderstood. I am willing to talk anytime you are available.”

Jan. 18: Coun. Jill Spearn responds, “I too was surprised, no flabbergasted at the process of this grant application and the project design overall. I spoke strongly against it at council, as it was not in order with our plans as a community, nor were we given any time to understand why this was coming forth in such short order, let alone the design concept or the financial implications. I did, however vote on submitting the grant so that we could potentially upgrade and renovate the ‘old girl,’ that being the fond facility we call the ‘pool’. I am hoping that we will receive some monies for the pool and put it to good use for our citizens, attend to some well needed renos and even mechanical upgrades. My vote was for that reason and I stand by the majority vote of council.”

Jan. 18: No other responses are received. Scheduling conflicts prevented a meeting with the mayor until Jan. 31.

Jan. 31: In an interview, Mayor Granstrom states firmly that the $25,000 was “in the budget,” but does not have the documents with him. Later in the day, the CAO wrote that the expenditure was made under Consulting Services, “a line item of $40,000 allocated in the Community and Planning Department for carrying out the general assessment and preliminary engineering of infrastructure within the City.”

Jan. 31: In email correspondence, CAO Victor Kumar explains his side of the story. He claims the $25,000 was for a pool “assessment” rather than a new “design.” The CAO is permitted to use his delegation powers to purchase infrastructure assessments without council approval, but designs for future projects step outside these bounds into the realm of special and capital projects that require council support.

Feb. 1: The city finance manager said the “consulting” line item in 2011 had been charged $7,662 for a road inventory in addition to $5,157 for Matthes and $19,183 for Stantec. By these numbers, the total of $32,002 is well below the $40,000 budgeted, even after the final Stantec bill of roughly $2000 comes in later this month.

Feb. 1: This does not match with invoices and previous expense reports, however. By Sept. 30, 2011, the revenue and expense report shows the “consulting” item had already been charged $21,265. Furthermore, after HST, the invoices for Matthes totalled $5,676 and Stantec’s totalled $20,036. The sum of all three—$46,977—would exceed the $40,000 consulting budget if it weren’t for the fact that two of the invoices totalling $8,226 were not charged to the consulting line, but to a “pool security fence” line item instead.

Feb. 2: The correspondence continues.

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