COMMENT: A timeline on the arena issue—What did council know, and when?
As we look back at how the arena scandal unfolded, Coun. Jill Spearn said that she felt “blindsided” by the recent surge of public resentment over the scandal and the way council dealt with the situation as they became aware of problems over the last year.
Was council blindsided?
The big question of ‘who knew what and when’ remains unanswered in terms of city staff. We can say with some certainty that the mayor knew in September or October, 2011, but chose not to tell council. By January of 2012, Coun. Kathy Moore had found inconsistencies and informed council of the potential for a problem. In July, although the auditor’s reply to Moore’s complaint supported some of her concerns, council chose to not pursue the issue.
Council ignored the problem until the public was informed by local media in November and December, and public pressure culminated in a town hall meeting at the beginning of this month. Here we draw out this timeline to show clearly how the issue was handled by council.
January, 2011—Media tour of the completed arena renovations
How did no-one in the City notice that $185,000 in projects were approved without a paper trail and in violation of the City’s purchasing policy until many months after the project was completed?
No official explanation has yet been offered, except the auditor’s suggestion that processes—which were already in place—need following.
Nor has it been explained how Ward’s ownership of both ADA Co. Inc and Alberni Design Associates—both companies that took contracts from the city—was overlooked.
October, 2011—The mayor learns about the problems, but keeps it to himself
Mayor Greg Granstrom claimed last week that, although “mistakes were made,” he was unaware of any problem until the same day that Ward resigned, presumably after Ward was tipped off that other city staff had discovered the arena anomalies.
“I can not recall the exact date,” Granstrom said, but it was likely sometime on or before Oct. 3, 2011, which city staff report as Ward’s final day of work and the day he submitted his resignation.
Granstrom told council that Ward had resigned “for personal reasons.” He argued last week that since Ward had resigned, he felt the issue was resolved and so, presumably, council did not need to know about it.
January, 2012—Coun. Moore learns about the problems, but meets resistance
Coun. Kathy Moore researched the arena upgrades following Ward’s sudden departure, however, and began to unravel the threads. In a recent interview, Moore said she asked for an in camera meeting on Nov. 28, 2011, to discuss the issue, but the mayor and CAO denied this request.
Moore continued to ask for an in camera meeting as her research mounted more indications of potential wrongdoing. On Jan. 9, 2012, Moore said a “last minute” in camera meeting on personnel issues was added to the agenda but, Moore said, “the discussion was not fruitful.”
“I realized my concerns were not going to be addressed,” she said.
Nevertheless, Moore’s efforts became more insistent when she discovered, to her consternation, that Ward had been hired by ISL Engineering to manage the $5 million-plus downtown renovations: in a sense, Ward would continue to be paid by the city, albeit via ISL.
March, 2012—Coun. Moore enlists the auditor, council resists
Consequently, Moore wrote a letter to the auditor to request a more thorough investigation of the arena upgrades than would normally be done by the audit tests.
“I got a lot of flack from the CAO, the mayor, and the rest of council about my right to do so,” Moore said. “I paid for a legal opinion to verify that I was within my rights.”
Council decided to await the regular audit before deciding whether to proceed with a forensic audit. A regular audit only checks whether invoices match the accounts and that a paper trail exists, not whether the work was done, was appropriately valued, or was performed by a legitimate company.
The auditor responded in April but, Moore said, “It did not address my concerns in a meaningful way. It was just a financial audit, which was inadequate.” So Moore contacted the auditor to request that he answer her “specific questions, just as [he] had done with other complaints in the past.”
June, 2012—Auditor responds to Coun. Moore, council does nothing
In June, council received the auditor’s more thorough response, one that corroborated many of Moore’s concerns. Regarding her other concerns, the auditor pleaded insufficient information and resources—it not being a forensic audit—to comment.
Council deferred discussion of the auditor’s letter until the subsequent in camera meeting. When it came up, “I was asked to leave the room,” Moore said, because the discussion was focussed on council’s reply to three citizens—Moore among them—who had registered complaints with the auditor.
“When I [returned and] asked when we would discuss the substance of the auditor’s letter, I was told there was no time,” Moore said. “I spoke with a couple counsellors after [the meeting] and was told it was over, the issue was done, no further discussion was going to happen.”
“I regret that I did not make a motion at a subsequent meeting to have it on an upcoming agenda, but I was suffering battle fatigue at this point,” Moore said.
Furthermore, the auditor’s reply to Moore was classed as “confidential” and withheld from the public. The Rossland Telegraph appealed this decision to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) in Victoria, as did former councillor Laurie Charlton.
December, 2012—Auditor’s letter to Moore released to the public
On Dec. 11, 2012, council declassified the auditor’s response.
On Dec. 13, Al Boyd of the OIPC wrote to us, “I determined that it was not in keeping with sections 12 or 22 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) for the city to have refused to provide you with a copy of those records.”
“Given this,” he continued, “I have been in contact with the city…to request that the city reconsider its decision to totally withhold the requested records. Eventually the city did agree to release the records with the exception of some portions.”
When we reported the substance of the auditor’s letter, which supported allegations made a month earlier by Laurie Charlton and the concerns raised by Moore, it provoked a strong public reaction.
Citizen Les Anderson was inspired to organize a town hall meeting on Jan. 4, 2013, for the mayor to respond to residents’ concerns.
January, 2012—Public reactions
The town hall meeting on Jan. 4, which we fully transcribed, provided fodder for a number of pointed commentaries, listed below. Each has received a strong and widespread readership, indicating the degree of community interest this issue has generated.
Rossland Telegraph editor Adrian Barnes weighed in after the meeting with THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH: Some first thoughts after last night’s meeting, in which Barnes noted “the mayor’s repeated use of passive constructs: ‘Mistakes were made,’” to avoid implicating anyone.
“Speaking as an English teacher,” Barnes wrote, “this sort of thing [passive constructs] is always a warning sign: bad writing to follow; BS rather than honest facts; someone hasn’t done their homework.”
Lesley Beatson asked, Does the mayor have the trust of Rosslanders? She concluded, “I attended the meeting to hear an explanation of how a scandal happened and what might be done to prevent any sort of recurrence, but I left feeling that the leadership of our community is in the hands of someone who does not have the capacity to do the job.”
Ken Holmes wrote that the Mayor’s claims of closure ring hollow, giving a thorough analysis of the “superficial” audit, the same one the mayor had relied heavily upon during the townhall meeting to say the issue had been “audited to the nth degree.”
Holmes called for an immediate and thorough investigation: “There is a need to make sure this cannot happen again. It’s fundamental that in order to put something right, you first of all have to find out what went wrong!”
Rosa Jordan, responding to commentary regarding Jason Ward’s teaching career that went up in smoke when a marijuana grow-operation was discovered at his house, brought it back on topic with The Jason Ward sideshow, or, is there fire where there’s smoke?
Former Rossland CAO André Carrel gave some background on the history of the gradual distancing of Rossland’s citizenry from democratic governance—as he percieves it—in From Constitution Bylaw to Delegation Bylaw–a short history of democracy in the Mountain Kingdom. Carrel has consistently noted that he thinks the root problem is the “Delegation Bylaw.”
Adrian Barnes, in his editorial We should all want the same thing here, jumped off Holmes’ analysis of the inadequacy of the audit to argue that “no one should want the full story to come to light more than Mr. Granstrom, given that he appears to be the guy left holding the bag after various parties left town.”
Leigh Harrison, in An open letter to Rossland city councillors, wrote “I am baffled by the Mayor calling a public meeting and then having nothing specific to say.”
He continued with a list of concerns, including that “the mayor seems to have unilaterally decided, presumably with the advice of the former CAO, that [Ward’s resignation] put an end to the matter.”
Harrison addressed the councillors, “I gather you were all kept in the dark and even misled about this situation. I do not understand why you have all remained publicly silent about this serious breach of your rights and duties as councillors?”
And he concluded, “I can’t help but see this contempt for Council as being a logical outcome of Council having delegated its powers so completely to the CAO.”
Even though many letters found their way to council inboxes, the Jan. 14 regular council meeting agenda was published with ‘nil’ under “requests arising from correspondence.” Rosa Jordan asked, Are Rosslanders ‘nil’ in council’s mind?
Finally, Rev. Keith Simmonds wrote Turning to the light in civic discourse. He avoided the details but remarked, “the conversation, the engagement, the places it’s taken people to. Now there’s something worth consideration.”