Council votes 4-3 against an apology to Rosslanders

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
January 17th, 2013

Council has refused to offer an apology for the manner in which they handled the Jason Ward affair since information about $185,000 in untendered contracts given by the former building inspector to his own, possibly fraudulent company came to the mayor’s attention in September of 2011, to council’s attention in January of 2012, and finally to the public’s attention in November of 2012.

[In a separate article, we have written a timeline of events—a who-knew-what-when’—to allow readers to make their own judgement about how council handled the situation]

“I think it’s time for us to be completely honest about our role,” Coun. Kathy Moore said to council at the Jan. 14 regular meeting. Moore’s efforts to uncover the reason for Ward’s unexpected resignation and for large anomalies in the arena project paper trail are the main reason this issue finally came to the public’s attention two years after the fact.

“I think we dropped the ball and, if the buck stops here, as the elected leaders of the community we need to say, ‘Hey guys, we blew it, we’re sorry.’ Then we’ll be able to go forward and communicate to the citizens the steps we’re willing to take to resolve this.”

Moore said she really appreciated the actions announced by the mayor to respond to a public uproar at the recent revelations, but “it’s important to clear the air, and to let the citizens know that we accept responsibility.”

“I think that’s where we’re at now,” Mayor Granstrom replied. “We’ve got the ball rolling, right?”

Moore commented, “I don’t think it was our finest moment, and I think the community would appreciate knowing that we heard them at that meeting [on Jan. 4].” At the meeting and since then, many citizens have called for the mayor and council to apologize—”at a minimum,” as one resident put it.

“Things could have been done better,” Granstrom conceded, but he and the majority on council strongly resisted the motion to apologize. He said he wanted to wait until he had “further information.”

He continued, “As I mentioned earlier, I’m having discussions with the RCMP, so we have to be a little bit careful of what we say. Not that we can’t be open, but we have to remember: if there were to be an investigation, we can’t cloud the investigation with statements.”

Nevertheless, Moore made a motion that the mayor, on behalf of council “issue a general statement about the steps we’re taking and an apology to the community for the way we handled this.”

Later, Tracey Butler asked for the motion to be worded more specifically, and Moore offered that council “apologize to the community for the way we handled the arena project as wrongdoing became apparent.”

She explained, “I think we’re going to do a good job [communicating to the community] what we’re going to do now, and I really appreciate that. But I think a missing step is for us to come forward as a council, and say, without going into the details, ‘Hey, we’re sorry, we didn’t handle this well.’”

Coun. Jill Spearn

Coun. Jill Spearn said that the past week has been “stressful” as she answered citizens’ emails. Spearn said she “likes to believe people are trustworthy, honest, and work with integrity,” so “when we sat around and things were brought to us by the CAO, who is no longer here, about Jason Ward…”

Here the mayor interrupted and called a point of order.

“I felt like I got blindsided,” Spearn began again, “and all last week I felt terrible because I thought some of the remarks and emails from people were, frankly, unfair and incorrect.”

“I’m feeling we’ve been bashed on this,” she said.

“A public apology?” she asked. “I don’t mind apologizing to anyone, if there were oversights or we potentially made some mistakes,” Spearn said, “but I don’t think we can collectively take responsibility for this issue, for something [we] did not understand, or did not have information, or didn’t have time to go and ask 400 questions to make a centimetre.”

“There’s people I’m disappointed in,” she continued. “I’m disappointed in myself, perhaps. Perhaps I should have been more assertive or asked more questions. You learn from your mistakes, as I certainly have from seven years on council. You learn from things you maybe should have pursued more but didn’t.”

“Is that wrong?” she asked. “It depends on who’s making the criticisms. It’s a consistent group of people who want to get these questions answered, and I don’t blame them for that, because they didn’t get information. But more importantly, we didn’t have the information.”

Coun. Moore responds

Moore said, “As the person who has been trying to get this thing in front of council since November, 2011, I do not feel that council did its due diligence on this issue. I do not feel we discussed the auditor’s second letter in any depth.”

“If you discussed it while I was out of the room and you [the rest of council] tried to figure out what to say to me in that little namby-pamby letter, fine,” she continued, referring to a written reply to Coun. Moore, signed by the mayor, that said, “there were some lapses in the procedures relating to the tendering of some components of the project which have since been rectified.”

Moore continued, “No-one ever asked me why I was bringing this up? What I had learned that made this a problem? No one ever asked. And still, to this day, none of you has ever asked. So to sit there and say, ‘Oh I was blindsided, I didn’t know;’ you didn’t know because you didn’t want to know.”

“It was wilful blindness on everyone’s part,” Moore said.

Mayor Granstrom interrupted: “The reason we are discussing this now is that you made a motion. That would have been the same reason we would have had a discussion on any council matter: you made a motion and it was seconded.”

“If council at the time didn’t feel it was a motion worth seconding, then so be it,” Granstrom said.

Moore replied, “If the second letter from the auditor was not enough to get it discussed, to generate some interest in council, then I think we let the community down.”

“I appreciate we’re going to talk about all the steps we’re taking,” she said, “I think that’s great. But I think there’s another little piece of it. It’s not that hard to say, ‘You know you guys, we’re sorry, we didn’t do as much due diligence on this as we should have.’ That’s all I’m saying. That’s all that people wanted to hear at that public meeting,”

“They wanted to hear us say, ‘Oops, sorry, we won’t let it happen again, and here’s why: we’re going to do this, this and this. And that isn’t all about inspections,” Moore said. “It’s also about looking at what our policies and procedures are within the city, how we run the city.”

“Personally, without an apology,” Moore concluded, “I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons of accountability, or responsibility, or an appreciation of the importance of the truth.”

Coun. Spearn responds

“I want to disagree a little bit about that,” Spearn said, “because frankly I had a rough week last week, and the reason is because you do this soul-searching, and you do this answering of emails, and to me, I have felt the consequences hard.”

“And so, saying sorry, to me, is minor compared to the consequences that I would expect most people around this table have already felt,” Spearn said.

“It’s about what the community needs,” Moore commented, “not what we need.”

“My suggestion would be,” Spearn said, “that you [the mayor] put together in words, some kind of public announcement that we are doing what we said we’re doing to ameliorate this situation, as we understand it now.”

“That’s the intent,” Granstrom said, “and we can do that when we get more information. And that’s not very far away.”

Coun. Kathy Wallace

“I think there is an assumption,” Coun. Kathy Wallace said, “on Coun. Moore’s part, that the people who were at that meeting were representative of the community. I do not agree that they are.”

“I am hearing a very strong voice from this community,” she said, “that they do not like the media attention that this has generated, and et cetera. When I hear this presentation that ‘We’ve let the community down,’ there are a lot of people in this community who don’t hold that perspective.”

“At this point in time, no. I do not think this action [an apology] is necessary, and I do not support it,” Wallace said.

Coun. Cary Fisher

“There’s a lot that she says that is true,” Coun. Cary Fisher said about Coun. Moore. “There’s no doubt about that.”

“There’s also a lot that is perception by people without all the facts; [they] jump to conclusions,” he said. “As more information comes out, we’re going to find out exactly what went on. The problem for all of us [is] you’re stepping on your own toes trying to avoid having discussions about staff, when you don’t know whether they’re true or not, at different levels.”

“When you make an assumption that you should apologize for something,” he said, and paused. “This could take two years, we don’t know. When you step out and do something like that, I think we’d probably be doing the community a disservice.”

“As uncomfortable as it is, and as painful as it is, and while you [Coun. Moore] were right to keep pushing the issue, there are other reasons too to be careful and to tread lightly in situations where, had you been wrong and we stepped over the line, we get sued on a number of different levels.”

“I think, the way it’s unfolded,” he said, “at the end of the day there is a root of the issue that is being lost here. At some point I feel like you [Coun. Moore] are vilifying the rest of council. There’s a root here you haven’t really spoken to, and perhaps you’re afraid that there is a possible liability or litigation that could be directed towards you, but it’s easier to say things about us.”

“I would agree with everything you [Coun. Moore] have done so far, pushing so far, but I also think there are three sides to every story,” he concluded.

Final vote

Coun. Jody Blomme and Coun. Tim Thatcher voted for Moore’s motion to apologize. Spearn, Fisher, Wallace, and Granstrom voted against.

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