COMMENT: What lies beyond the Golden City blame game?

Rosa Jordan
By Rosa Jordan
February 5th, 2013

It’s easy to blame, and why shouldn’t we? A few people ought to be blamed. For starters, let’s blame one Victor Kumar, who when offered the job as Rossland’s CAO made it a condition of his employment that Council pass Bylaw 2473 that turned over virtually all council’s powers to him.

Let’s also blame that particular council (circa 2009) for having hired a CAO without properly vetting him and then, as quickly as humanly possible, for voting 6-1 to approve a bylaw that gave him unprecedented powers to hire, fire, spend money, and approve development permits with zero oversight.

A little further down on the blame list are citizens who had not only wandered around quiet as grazing sheep when their right to hold a referendum on controversial issues was taken away from them, but who, after that, paid so little attention to what their municipal government was doing that they didn’t evennotice when Council handed off its powers to an unknown new CAO.

We have not only all of the above to blame, but throughout 2010, 2011, and 2012, there were senior members of city staff who may have known about Kumar’s antics and if they did, kept quiet about it. We cannot be sure of that, but we do know that among senior staff, at least one accepted (or gave himself) lucrative untendered contracts while others accepted astonishing salary increases.

Now everybody has been blamed. That’s as it should be.

Nobody who was in any way responsible for this mess should be able to get away with saying, “Hey, I’m sorry!” Not that everybody has said that, but what would it change if they did? We’d still have an expensive mess on our hands, wouldn’t we?

Muttering around town about what to do now has basically two focuses: (1) what can we do to punish everybody involved and (2) what can we do to change the system that brought all this about?

Taking #1 first. citizens are already being punished financially, and that’s going to go on indefinitely. Victor Kumar gets off scot-free because he’s gone. Ditto Jason Ward, although he has not gone so far that he can’t be nabbed if subsequent investigations turn up reasons to nab him. Other senior staff members are still on the payroll drawing mind-boggling salaries. Councillors, like most Rosslanders, will continue to pay extreme taxes for Kumar’s extravagances (both the ones we know about and the ones we don’t.) Plus they’re getting beat up in the press for having been asleep at the wheel.

So maybe–not sure but maybe–we want to drop the blame-and-punishment discussion and focus on the second issue: how to change the system that brought all this about.

Many of us have requested that the Delegation Bylaw be abolished or at least greatly amended so that council will once again be responsible for the things it’s supposed to be responsible for. That may well happen this month, so there’s a great first step.

The Mayor said at the most recent council meeting that an inspection of arena work is being undertaken, and that there has been consultation with the RCMP. We don’t know where those will lead, but at least it’s a start. More significantly, council voted to invite the BC Auditor General to investigate and make recommendations for how to improve things.

We as citizens want more than that? Like, would you like to have your Referendum Bylaw back so when you feel council is on the verge of making a wrong turn, you can get up a petition, take the issue to referendum, and if it passes, council will be obligated to act according to the will of the majority? That of course would be real democracy. You can’t get that kind of democracy by blame alone, or even by investigating past mistakes. You can only get that kind of democracy by deciding you’d like to live under a truly democratic system, and organizing with like-minded citizens to bring it about.

In Rossland? I’d laugh and say, not a chance.

Except that we did it once before, didn’t we? Is there any possibility, any possibility, that we could have such a system again, and again get the kind of positive nationwide coverage we got then? Anybody up for taking the lead on that one? Or shall we just mill around blaming our shepherds for having let a wolf into the barn?

Rosa Jordan is a Rossland-based novelist and writer.

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