Accusations and questions: Fletcher Quince challenges Kathy Moore to answer publicly
Fletcher Quince sent Mayor Kathy Moore a lengthy e-mail, published it on Rossland Bhubble as well, and asked that she respond publicly. Moore decided the Rossland Telegraph would be an appropriate forum to make her answers public, and submitted the document including Fletcher’s questions and her answers. The editor agreed to publish. Readers can decide for themselves the relative value of Quince’s questions and Moore’s responses.
Fletcher Quince: In 2010 we met at the Old Firehall following a talk about Earth’s carrying capacity. Informative at the time, for over a decade now we have been knowledgeable that an event like COVID-19 was not only highly probable, but would carry with it significant social and economic implications. Reflecting on this, it continues to vex me how persistently you have, and indeed still do, encourage the community’s assumption of financial and social risk to support a Tourism-centric development model.
Kathy Moore: Supporting tourism is just one part of a multi-pronged approach that successive councils have worked on to help our community thrive. Council has also supported our regional economic development office, the Lower Columbia Initiative Corp’s, efforts to improve business retention and efforts to recruit businesses to relocate; we support Rossland’s participation in the Federal Northern and Rural Immigration Pilot program to bring in skilled labour. We supported improving internet with broadband which supports organizational efficiency and makes establishing and running businesses downtown more inviting. Tourism may be one obvious, but not the only focus, of Council’s efforts.
FQ: In early 2014, after serving as Chair of the Innovative Education Task Force for a few months I approached you over concerns surrounding the membership’s direction of funds. You maintained at that time many people in a rural community where in a conflict and there was nothing to be done about it. Then $25, 000 of public money was burnt up supporting members initiatives, and the IETF (or Monashee Institute as it became) disbanded. This was about short term gain for the vested parties, rather than the establishment of a durational structure.
KM: I recall we had a task force for a short while, but I believe the intent was that an initiative would come out of it that would be self-supporting. I don’t recall off the top of my head who was involved — the Sustainability Commission and maybe Simon Fraser University? That was six years ago, and I don’t have that information at the tip of my fingers. The $25 K sounds like the entire Sustainability Commission budget, so it is unlikely to have been used exclusively for the Innovative Education Task Force. Or maybe it was part of a request to CBT for funding. Are you somehow holding me responsible for work that you did that, while well-intentioned, was ultimately unsuccessful? I’m unclear on the question or the players; who got the short-term gain? I do recall loving the concept of the Monashee Institute. But other than approving a grant application, I don’t believe I had a role in its success or demise.
FQ: Around this time, you may recall I undertook for the first time to represent residents before council at the Public Hearing to remove from the Official Community Plan those restrictions preventing Red Resort’s from using the City Reservoir for Snow Making. As those impacted observed, trenching had already begun on the backroad the week before, and residents were concerned that Council had already committed to the modification prior to the Public Hearing; essentially making a farce of the built in safeguards within our representative democracy by failing to maintain due process in the interests of efficiency just before an election.
KM: Sorry Fletcher, I don’t recall the exact timing of the trench work in 2014 vs the council meeting. Council held a Public Hearing in July of 2014 (before I was elected Mayor) to amend the OCP as the old language prohibiting snow-making dated back before Ophir reservoir was constructed and our water capacity greatly increased. Here is what the staff recommendation said. Notice there are lots of provisions to ensure the safety of our domestic supply which included:
THAT Snow making infrastructure be built with capabilities for complete shutdown if reservoir
water levels drop below 1.5 metres from the spillway elevation at Star Gulch Reservoir.
2. THAT a design review of snowmaking infrastructure be conducted by City Staff prior to
approving construction of proposed works.
3. THAT as development progresses, future water demand should be monitored to confirm that
actual demand on the system continue to meet the City objectives for water supply.
4. THAT a water meter be installed to monitor the volume of water used for snowmaking.
5. THAT a nominal fee be charged for the use of raw water for snowmaking until the City has
established a rate structure for raw water use (snowmaking, irrigation, car wash, etc);
6. THAT the City monitor operational costs associated with this project and charge fees if
FQ: By the end of 2014, when you asked me to run as part of your slate I declined for two reasons (1) you put development above the interests of residents and due process, and (2) your ability to differentiate and adequately maintain the separation between personal, and public, interests. That said, I commend your enthusiastic leadership of the previous council while overhauling the Corporation of Rossland during the first 3 years of your first term as Mayor, such that, in 2016 when I accepted the role of Chair for the Fire and Emergency Services Review, I believed you were genuinely interested in addressing the issue. Instead, I witnessed a weakness of political will in which the information was buried for a year prior to its being publicly rejected as not in the interests of the regional partnership. You are quoted at this time as believing “for any real changes to happen, the rest of the partners would have to also be concerned about this.” Now costs for Fire Services in the Region have ballooned to the point were reserves are being used to subsidize it, and it is a major issue for the Regional District as a whole; so much for saving costs through prevention. But it is not just about costs, when politicians would rather ignore a life safety issue than address a systemic and durational problem, they simply postpone to those who follow the responsibility of addressing an increasingly entrenched system.
KM: Fletcher, I never asked you to run at all, much less as part of “my slate”. For one thing, a slate is a group of people who get together to create a common platform. I did not have any such meetings or common platform with others. As I recall, I was thinking of not running for council at all, and you were thinking of running for mayor. At the time, I would have preferred you over Greg for mayor. Then, after I took a long, solo, contemplative motorcycle trip I decided that I really liked local government and I wanted to stay. The only way I could do that was to run for mayor. We had a conversation about that, and I felt badly that I had told you I wasn’t going to run, then changed my mind. The slate comment was something that Greg and Jill were saying, but it was baseless. Jan Micklethwaite wrote a handout that she called “Jan’s picks” (or something like that). Other than agreeing to let her name me, that was the extent of my involvement. I believe she asked the other candidates that she liked as well. I spoke to most of the new candidates to get an idea of who they were and what their motivations were, but never discussed a “common platform”. That is a big city thing, not seen in little towns like Rossland as far as I have experienced in my 12 years of local government service.
· Your comment that I am unable to separate personal public interests is just factually untrue and really, Fletcher, that is libel. You have absolutely no basis for making such statements and that you do so with innuendo and insinuation is very low. And you have done it more than once! You and Martin Lundh have linked me with Red, Josie, CBT and Thoughtexchange in ways that make me question your ability to think clearly. Or, and I hate to say it, makes me question your honesty. Why would you make this sort of thing up?
· As for fire service: that is a low blow too, and wrong. Yes, I have been incredibly frustrated with the situation with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) and their approach to the issue, but I was not the one to bury it. I gave a presentation to the RDKB board based on the work you and the Fire Service Task Force did and asked for their questions, their discussion and their action. I got nothing back. I continued to ask. Councillor McLellan battled at the RDKB, and Councillor Morel tried to continue the fight this term too. Please remember, Rossland has one vote and we lost; every time. It is true, in the end, in a meeting where I subbed in for Councillor Morel, I just gave up. At least for now. Sometimes you have to know when to fold ‘em and try again when people enter the situation who may be more amenable to change. To accuse me of burying it is so wrong and it shows you lack a rudimentary understanding of how the RDKB works. Each member has one vote. One member cannot dictate over the others. If the others don’t see the problem, (and I have no idea why they don’t), blaming me is shooting the messenger (or our RDKB director, several of whom have tried to change this — all the way back to Councillor Wallace). Yes, the quote you attribute to me is true; the partners would have to be concerned, and other than Trail, they have not been. It’s ironic that you now quote the “life and safety issues” because that is exactly what the fire chief and the other directors fall back on –They claim that any reduction in our fire service costs will equate to a life and safety issue. It’s debatable and worth investigating but there is not a majority at the RDKB board table interested in pursuing this issue at this time.
FQ: (A) What is the City of Rossland doing to address the ongoing rise in Fire Services costs, and (B) has it undertaken the accusation of the equipment necessary to satisfy coverage requirements for the Emcon Development?
KM: A) Answered above. Sadly, our best efforts have come to nothing at this time, but we continue to look for opportunities.
B) The fire service is responsible for determining required equipment needs for the various municipal and regional district partners. I have not heard that the Emcon site will require any more equipment than was needed for the Josie, due to its height. But I am not the RDKB director. You can ask Councillor Morel if this has come up as an issue but until and unless the Emcon project is a sure thing, it may be premature.
FQ: Question 1: Observing as I had a systemic failure to follow due process, the placing of private interests over the public good, and a failure of political will to address issues of primary concern resulted in my running in the 2018 election. Stemming directly from the aforementioned observations, was our disagreement surrounding your efforts on behalf of ThoughtExchange while acting in your role as Mayor. While I had concerns surrounding you promoting a historic campaign donor as a public representative, when I asked Elections BC for clarity they said you could “act as an agent on behalf of a company” as long as you received no renumeration and did not access the information. They were not willing to comment on how you could act as an agent for that company, while concurrently orchestrating a meeting as Mayor in which you casted the deciding vote in support of their Vice President’s development project in Pinewood. It remains difficult for me to differentiate here between public stewardship, and providing advantage in support of a mutual agenda.
KM: Neither I nor Council have failed to follow due process.
· Everyone runs for their own reasons. I have to say, if these are yours, they were misguided. The last two councils have had very high ethical and moral standards. You are imagining demons, dragons and evil doings where there are none. But given how energetic you are pursuing your “platform” I doubt there is anything I can say to deter you from your chosen tactic, however, I don’t believe it is a winning one.
· Oh my, Fletcher, you are really heading into deep water here. I am not an “agent” for Thoughtexchange. I don’t even know what you are getting at with this. In 2014 they did run an exchange for me for free during the election, which asked something like “what are the major issues facing Rossland today.” I listed the value of that as a contribution on my campaign finance report, filed with the Province. I shared the results with the community. Any work they have done since for the City, including the recent Covid-19 exchange, they have done at no charge as a good corporate citizen in their hometown.
· You honestly think there is a connection between the Pinewood project, me and an employee of Thoughtexchange?? That some how I acted dishonestly and unlawfully? And for what? So Thoughtexhange would like me because one of their employees’ partners is the developer? Do you think someone paid money to me and to the rest of council to influence our votes? (because remember, I am only one vote). Does that actually make any sense to you? No, there was no connection, and once again that is libel. You may not agree with Council’s decisions but that doesn’t make them wrongful or illicit.
· I think you need to learn a bit more about conflict of interest in the municipal setting. There was no conflict here. At first as I was reading this, I was struggling to figure out what you were talking about. It appears from this letter and previous encounters that mistrust and paranoia is the underlying foundation for how you operate and see the world. In that case, nothing I can say or do can change that, but I am sorry that is the world you inhabit.
FQ: Question 2 – You and ThoughtExchange never released the information collected for processes 2 and 3. (A) You committed to providing it, so why was the decision made not to release this information? and (B) Were you aware that the first and second perspectives people thought were important in the setting of strategic priorities for Council were (1) concerns surrounding reliance on a tourism based economy, and (2) the cost of Fire Services?
KM: Fletcher, we have done a number of Thoughtexchanges? Are you referring to the one in 2014 or another one done in more recent years? The results usually come out as one report so I am not following your question.
FQ: Question 3 – As a result of having challenged you directly on the need for full disclosure, and not simply an economical use of the truth in good governance, you made the following statement “your remarks have certainly recalibrated my impressions of you and what sort of characteristics you will bring to council should you be elected”. Since I have heard some of these characteristic through the grape vine, and have asked you publicly for clarity on this comment once, again, what sort of characteristics were you referring to?
KM: OK, since you asked: Fletcher, I have always found you to be a fun, entertaining, bright guy and a bit of an eccentric; an out-of-the-box thinker. I liked those qualities, but I admit, perhaps I was mistaken in having that impression of you. Now it seems to me that you have become more paranoid, narcissistic, and conspiracy-minded. I can only surmise that you are spending too much time in your own echo chamber of like-minded folks. I will be blunt, if I were asked to endorse you for a seat on council now, I would not. I just don’t think you would be a productive, contributing member. Your conspiracy theories would be a distraction. I think you have an overly confident view of yourself that makes you much less open to learning from others. Now, you are unlikely to agree with me, and that is fine, but you asked, and I answered in a response to you that I would not have made in this forum except that you specifically asked for my responses to be made publicly.
FQ: Of course, it is easy to exempt oneself from due process and accountability for decisions through reliance on Staff Recommendations, but this approach fundamentally undermines the reason for representatives in a democracy. When the executive is allowed to provide fully formed recommendations to the legislative body for approval it allows for personal preference, and lobbying of unelected and unaccountable individuals, to replace public debate and the genuine engagement that are central to a healthy democratic process; including public debate about what is in the best interests of those represented, not those informing the decision.
KM: I have never exempted myself from either “due process or accountability through staff recommendations.” Fletcher, I appreciate that you are an idealist, but you are off base. Council is an elected body, meant to be representative of the community. We do rely on staff to present us with their professional expertise and we take it in to account as we also review other factors that staff may or may not be aware of. (That is our political role). That is key to good decision making. At the same time, it is not the job of the Mayor and Council to micro-manage staff. That doesn’t mean we don’t hear from the public and consider what they have to say. By the same token, as you see on social media, it is a very small group of the public that want to engage in minute detail on most council decisions. And none of them have spent anywhere near the hours that staff does to prepare the reports and that Council does to come to a decision. Granted, some are diligent and dive into things, but others just helicopter in with an opinion about something, based on incomplete information. Now, before you jump down my throat, just think about it. I am not faulting or insulting anyone for that. Everyone has busy lives, and most are satisfied to elect a council they think will best represent their interests and leave them to it. It’s just the truth. If this council messes up, we will admit it and address it. And if you or others think that’s not good enough, well, luckily there is another election in the not too distant future. This Council makes its decisions based on what we determine is in the best interest of the community. Again, you as an individual may disagree, and that is your right, but that doesn’t invalidate our decisions or make us corrupt or incompetent because you disagree with them. We are a group of elected folks, each of us has just one vote, including me, and the majority rules. We were elected to make the decisions and we do. We try to get as much info as we can. Sure, we rely on staff, but not exclusively. And sure, we may make mistakes, (dang those human frailties), but we are good people, trying really hard to do a difficult job in a sphere where a lot of people hold diametrically opposed views.
· I agree, in the past there was a time when staff reports couldn’t be trusted. Believe me, I lived through it. I can’t begin to tell you how many extra hours I spent doing my own research in the face of obvious bias and as you say, outside influence. That has all stopped. We have a really good, competent and ethical staff. That is not to say that we don’t ask questions and look into things on our own. We do. I can see where someone on the outside might still be really mistrustful of staff and imagine a malign influence on Council but that is just unfounded now. To not recognize the changes does a huge disservice to the staff we currently have at the City. Also, it serves to undermine their morale and who knows, perhaps encourage them to find a different job in a less poisonous town. I think we have come a long way and I would have thought that you understood that. I am sorry you do not.
FQ: So in 2019 when Mook Thai made its application for a Live Entertainment Endorsement at the Old Firehall I was amazed to see it denied given the historic precedent and community need for this venue if Art really Mattered. In this instance, a small business took on risk, and ventured to return a much-loved venue to a community’s cultural landscape only to be denied, without debate, based on a staff recommendation. Essentially, staff decided it did not wish to deal with complaints associated with underlying issues that had nothing to do with CoR. Amazingly, this was a decision that benefited non-resident investors, rather than a local business and the community; made without any debate at the council table. The very definition of gentrification, and failed representation.
KM: I had a lot of regret over the decision about Mook Thai’s situation. I too really wanted the venue to come back. I loved the Old Firehall and was a regular patron. I tried very hard to see a viable path forward. There were a lot of issues with the building, including the incredible expense to make it sufficiently sound-proof to be feasible as a shared music and living space and finally the serious lack of any cooperation between the parties. It was ugly but unfortunately, I have to stand by Council’s decision. Believe me, we don’t love all the decisions we make; sometimes there are no perfect outcomes for all involved. There was discussion, but Council couldn’t see a solution. By the way, complaints would have been handled by the liquor board not the City.
FQ: Question 4: When council makes a decision based on a Staff Recommendation it assumes legal liability on behalf of the electorate for that decision. If facts are taken as truth, this gives rise to a fundamental obligation that information presented to a legislative body and the public be accurate and complete: (A) How do you ensure staff is not influenced towards a specific point of view prior to making recommendation to Council? (B) Is there a process for reviewing recommendations for completeness? and (C) Since recommendations are made prior to public hearings, how can they be complete?
KM: Well, hiring competent and honest staff who are skilled in their field of expertise is a good start and one that Rossland only recently got the hang of. I’m not sure if you are using the term Public Hearing correctly. Public Hearings are required only in a specific set of circumstances. If you are, when we have a Public Hearing it is during the process before we give final reading. That means anything we hear in the Public Hearing becomes a part of the official record on that matter and can be incorporated into our decision. If it is something compelling, we can send the matter back for further amendments or additional information or endorse or not endorse whatever is before us. By time we adopt it, we feel pretty confident in the wisdom of our decision.
· In their reports, Staff tries to anticipate all of Council’s questions. Of course, this isn’t always possible. When Council gets our agenda package, usually on Thursday afternoon before a Monday meeting, we review it, and anyone who has questions puts them to staff and copies all of Council. This is where staff can see if they have missed something and we will get the answers prior to the Monday meeting or sometimes at the meeting. These emails are not for discussion but for sharing info for clarification only. It is usually more for clarification of details than for anything major. Decisions are all made in the council meetings. I know some mayors try to round up yay or nay votes ahead of time. I don’t do that, but by asking questions all councillors can be properly informed and prepared.
· If you are referring to Public Input before a council meeting which can be on any topic, the same thing can happen. We hear what is being said and it may cause us to ask more questions of staff or modulate our decision in some way (or flat out change our intended vote). The old adage for councillors is “an open mind is not an empty mind” is true. We are taught to come to meetings with an open mind, ready to be changed based on what we hear at the meeting; that could be from another councillor, staff or the public. However, that doesn’t mean if we hear any dissent we change. It has to be something compelling and we consider it along with all the rest of the material we have studied. I think that causes confusion in the public because they may think that just because they come and express an opinion, we will automatically change our minds on an issue. It doesn’t work that way, nor should it.
FQ: Looking back in 2020, there is a long list of projects that have developed opaquely and then sprung fully formed as recommendations that needed immediate approval: Water for snow making, Development in Paradise and Pinewood, and the Nowhere Special Hostel are just a few. Certainly, lip-service is paid to process, and meetings that must be held, are, but in the wise words of a presenter at the Pinewood Hearing: “What is the Rush?”
KM: I disagree. None of our projects “have developed opaquely and then sprung fully formed as recommendations that needed immediate approval.” Everything the City undertakes follow prescribed Provincial legislative process.
· Water for snow-making has been a contractual agreement with Red since 2014. The contract was just updated to raise the price. That the City can shut off the taps for any reason, or when the reservoir hits a certain level are clauses included in the contract. There has never been a threat to our community water supply by this contract. It’s just ill-informed opinion to say otherwise. The process has always followed legislative regulations.
· The others you mention are reminiscent of the old question: “If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it?” Just because you weren’t there doesn’t mean all of those projects leapt fully formed out of the ether. Ironically, none of those you mention were decided in 2020 — they were all on agendas in prior years. They all followed proper procedure according to the Community Charter which is what governs municipalities. Believe me, the pace of government is quite slow. You would have had to have come to the council meetings or at least have read all the agendas to be fully informed. Plus, all of those were covered in the media and Council newsletters too.
FQ: The world is on lockdown, the economy is in the tank, mass tourism seems a dead industry, and unregulated accommodators put the community at risk while driving a housing crisis, and yet, there is still this unadulterated drive to move forward at all costs with the Emcon Mixed-Use Development. In order to put development ahead of residents, you appear willing to bypass regulatory controls, change information between meetings, and then criticize people for not staying informed. To ensure shared perspective, and a transparency of process let us review the Information chronologically on this project.
KM: You are losing me a bit here, but I will try:
o Short-term rentals (STRs) are well-regulated in Rossland. Thanks to the work by a citizen committee composed of councillors, stakeholders and some members of the public who had nothing to do with the tourism or accommodation industry, we found a good solution. We have quite a few conditions and requirements, including caps (no more than 5% of residences in old town Rossland can be STRs), zoning, off street parking, business license, only one per block, inspections, council approval, and more.
o What regulatory controls are you referring to? We have not bypassed anything.
o “unadulterated drive at all costs?” I have said repeatedly that the Emcon project could get halted for any number of reasons outside our control. Council has decided that this project is in the best interest of the community, so we are not putting up any artificial roadblocks. However, if the budget spirals, if we can’t get a contractor to do it for an affordable price, if our partner pulls out etc., these would be reasons that could stop or slow the project. We are moving forward steadily step-by-step, hardly “unadulterated drive at all costs”– but steady “step-by-step” doesn’t have the same panache or sound nearly as exciting as “unadulterated… at all costs!”
o The mixed-use project will provide 37 units of affordable housing for people who work in Rossland (or retired from jobs in Rossland). That sounds to me like we are putting residents front and center.
o Well, we are going to disagree about interpreting asking people to stay informed as criticizing them. People who are interested should want to stay informed. We put information on our website, I frequently reference it. It’s a mere click away. I consider that a gentle suggestion: be informed before posting an opinion. Common sense, actually. And, as with any project, information changes as the project moves along. This is a big complicated enterprise. I can only imagine what you’d be saying on social media if this project was sprung “fully formed” (as you accuse above) thus ensuring no information was changed! Fletcher, you cannot have it both ways.
FQ: In February 2018 as Mayor you wrote an email to Rossland businesses requesting they provide letters of support for the City’s “Expression of Interest to BC Housing and CBT to create workforce housing on the EMCON Lot. The intent is to create rental housing that will be affordable for workers in our community- both seasonal and permanent.”
Question 5: (A) which businesses provided letters supporting this proposal, and where can they be accessed? (B) Is the intention still to allow this to be used as seasonal housing? and (C) Appreciating the LCAHS has established criteria, why is it creating new criteria for this project?
KM: I think this is a misunderstanding of intent, and I can see how that happened. The units will be rented to people who meet the eligibility criteria set forth by Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society. The prospective tenants must work in Rossland, or be retired from jobs in Rossland, and the leases will be for a year. For example, there might be someone who works at the Grind in the summer and at the ski hill in the winter. Or there might be someone who works at Ferraros all-year round. As far as I know, they would both be eligible. Thus, seasonal and permanent workers are eligible. The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society can give you more information about their eligibility criteria for their housing project.
· I don’t know off the top of my head who sent letters of support for the grant application two years ago. I’d have to look for that. It’s probably in an agenda package around that time if you want to check.
FQ: Although City Staff and Council had determined their preferred option, in March 2019 when this project was officially brought to the Community’s attention City Hall was a side note in what could be commercial space. Then one day before the October 29th Open House, promotional material released states City Hall has become the Main Floor anchor and a necessary investor. Given what the information to date, and how much ‘public engagement’ was yet to be done at that point, this prospect appears as incredibly certain. In the FAQ’s released 4 days prior to this meeting the documents state “a possible funding strategy could include long-term borrowing – which could take the form of either an Alternate Approval Process (AAP) or official referendum.”
KM: As a point of correction: In the early stages, remember, this project has been going on for many years, Greg Granstrom was mayor. Development of the Emcon lot was mentioned in 2016 in one of my newsletters and had been in our strategic plan prior to that. I started talking about it more in newsletters when we began to get grant funding for the planning stages, all long before 2019. All of those are official communications. Perhaps it is fairer to say that 2019 was when you became aware of it and we held our first Open House.
· We had talked about a business or doctors’ offices going in there and had reached out to several. Terry Van Horne, Executive Director at the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corp, was looking for a ground floor partner, but there was no serious interest in taking it on. In order for the housing project to move forward, the ground floor needed to be something other than housing or daycare. City hall needed more space. It is a good partnership. We owned the land and we saw a means of generating tax dollars off several city owned properties that, before now, have not generated any revenue. We will get tax revenue from the housing project, we will get tax revenue and sales proceeds by selling the old city hall building and we will get additional tax revenue by selling other surplus property. I’ve been all over this and it is in the reports on our website, so won’t repeat myself further.
FQ: Regardless, according to the City Spaces Report on the Oct 29, 2019 Open House, 62% of respondents “expressed either opposition to the inclusion of the proposed town hall, had reservations, concerns or questions over the cost, potential for cost overruns, potential impacts on taxes”. The majority of participates resisted moving forward without the city addressing financial and design concerns. Obviously an AAP would have resulting in the need for a referendum, thus in the December promotional material this option was not even discussed; although 2 of the 3 FAQ’s explained why citizens needn’t worry about financing or taxes.
KM: As you stated before: “a possible funding strategy could include long-term borrowing – which could take the form of either an Alternate Approval Process (AAP) or official referendum.” If we borrow we would need to do an AAP, if the project failed at that stage, then we would go to a referendum. If it failed at that point it would be abandoned. As would the housing project and the $6m of grant money and the opportunity for a shovel-ready project as we exit the pandemic which would support local businesses and residents.
· You conflate terms here — not everyone who had concerns or questions was opposed. They wanted more info and they got it. For many people that was sufficient. For others, not. I have heard from many people who are in support.
FQ: Question 6: For clarity: Is the tax payer writing a blank cheque from the reserves or is there a plan B if the City finds out it cannot complete the project for $3 Million and needs to borrow?
KM: If we need to borrow, we go to the public. It is required in legislation.
FQ: Throughout the Open House, Rezoning, and Public Hearing multiple people spoke about the need to ask taxpayers permission to expend a significant portion of the community’s reserves, however, due process is more than overcoming resistance by defining upfront costs. In essence, the City of Rossland is intending to spend at least $3 Million, while entering into a 50 year commitment with a 5 year old Non-Profit; such that it will be assuming the financial risk associated with ownership of a $15 Million property. Yes, BC Housing will support its build and operation, but this goes far beyond the rhetoric of ‘operations’, and is a significant assumption of liability, thus taxpayers have an additional right to full disclosure and valid engagement.
Question 7: Given the majority of participants were concerned about the inclusion of City Hall in the project, how do you justify your rhetoric: “We haven’t heard any complaints or compelling augments against this project”?
KM: You are spinning here a bit. Again, some people were opposed but many people merely had questions and many of those were answered to their satisfaction.
· BC Housing has an equity interest in the housing project. BC Housing is a Provincial corporation. The Province is very unlikely to fail. The City is not responsible for the housing portion of the property. Not now, not in the future. The City will be not be “assuming the financial risk associated with ownership…” The City’s responsibility would extend to the City Hall only.
· We did not hear anything at the public events that made Council think the project is a bad idea. We heard people’s concerns about traffic, not liking a big building, concern about how we allocate the reserves, fears that the project will go over budget, concerns that we don’t need a city hall. All of these and any others that you have mentioned, are valid, but they were answered to Council’s satisfaction. We believe that the need for affordable housing in our community and the need for an adequate city hall are compelling reasons to move forward. We also were convinced by the financial info that was put forward that this is the best choice for our town and taxpayers. We are charged with thinking for the long-term good of the community.
FQ: During your post Development Permit commentary you went to considerable trouble to explain why “an upset commentator” didn’t require access to requested information. What that “commentator” was actually doing was demonstrating that when information was requested at a public meeting, the Mayor condescended to make the individual look unprepared, and move forward with the meeting, when in fact the information was not available. Projecting personal perception of other people’s emotions into the public realm, or calling them jerks for dissenting, is a two edged sword; simply look at the treatment of Greg by your supporters in 2014.
KM: Fletcher, if you are referring to your own question, as I recall it was regarding wanting info about operating costs of the new city hall. I told you to look on the website because it was in the report. To paraphrase, the report said something like; “the operating costs are expected to be similar to existing and previously budgeted operating costs for city hall due to energy efficiencies.” I felt you were pressing your question as a major “gotcha” moment. Based on your comment here that you what you were “actually doing was demonstrating … the Mayor condescending” I guess my instincts were correct. However, I apologize if my words hurt your feelings or seemed unprofessional. It was not my intent. I certainly don’t recall calling you or anyone else a jerk. If I did, I sincerely apologize because I try really hard not to be rude, no matter how rudely I am treated. Again, I am only human.
· Not sure what you are referring to about Greg’s treatment in the 2014 election, but he was judged by his record, nothing more as far I know.
FQ: When you voted to allow access to the reservoir in 2014 council failed to follow due process. In taking credit for changing what was, into what is, while repeating the same folly of pushing through a development agenda without honest public engagement means I cannot observe a difference. Regardless, undertaking to irreversible change the existing elements of the community, is essentially modifying its defined values. And Rossland, as community has far more value to its residents than it does to tourists. In Rossland right now, we as a community need to create strength and resilience, not divisiveness, but that does not mean simply acquiescing to Plan A. And just as a note, when there is an official community plan that says Not Here, it is not NIMBY.
KM: There doesn’t seem to be a question here. This is your opinion and you are entitled to it of course. You are not entitled to your own creative facts: As I have said before, we follow Provincial legislative procedure which is due process in the municipal sphere. I would say, a lot of people in this town appreciate the ski hill and those who understand that selling water for snow-making has no negative impacts on town, do not oppose it. I’m unclear on how supporting a process that helps our ski hill remain viable is “essentially modifying defined values” of Rossland. Ironically, by providing water without threatening the water needs of the City we are helping the ski hill be resilient and sustainable. I see these as core Rossland values. It’s magical thinking to believe the ski hill can survive without tourists. I’m sure there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be living here without the ski hill.
FQ: In reviewing your April Council Connects newsletter, the Level of Certainty associated with the Emcon Mixed-Use Development moving forward is interesting. Certainly, a lot of work has been done, but was it the right work for the community? You have worked hard, certainly you have reformed, but did you accomplish what the community wanted? or what you thought it did? Maybe the community would prefer you take the step of solving a public health risk, while resolving a housing crisis and get rid of the short-term rentals who haven’t already read the writing on the wall. If Red and the Josie need housing, the city should not be supporting the use of public money to build it when public money has already been spent once on building the Hostel; a further for Profit venture competing in a stagnant market.
KM: These are questions about which you and I will probably come to different conclusions. I believe the work we have done was the right work for the community. I’m not sure in what way “I have reformed” but I am curious to hear it. As I said before, Council makes our decisions with the best interest of the community in mind. Not the loudest voices. Think about it, some of the really big decisions from women’s suffrage to civil rights have been made over howls of opposition. But they were the right decisions. Please don’t think I am comparing the Emcon project to those momentous events, but hopefully you get my point.
· Flat out: The City of Rossland is not the entity to solve the public health risk of a global pandemic (nor world peace for that matter). We follow the guidance of the Provincial and Federal governments. Full stop.
· Council’s regulation of short-term rentals is one step towards solving the housing crisis. As you say, current events may do them in, or maybe not. I just saw a tourism forecast that projects rural short-term rentals are likely to recover more quickly than urban offerings, but at this point, everyone is guessing. Market forces combined with the odd pandemic now and again are likely to have a negative impact on short-term rentals, but it’s not the City’s issue. Partnering to achieve 37 units of affordable housing for local singles, families, seniors is another strategy for addressing the housing need. And by the way, the community has been very much in support of the housing project, so yes, we are doing what is wanted. It’s the City Hall plan that some resist but as said before, the two are linked.
· Again, your opinion about the use of Columbia Basin Trust money is your own. My understanding is that CBT did not use grant money, the hostel was an investment by their for-profit real estate division. I don’t know the intricacies of how CBT’s grant side and the investment side work, so I’m not qualified to speak to it definitively. CBT uses public money in a sense because it is money paid to BC by the US government for the impact of the dams. But it is not out of our little pockets here in town. If you oppose how the CBT uses its payments from the USA, your argument is with them, not with this Mayor and Council. In my experience, CBT has been an overwhelming force for good for the entire Columbia Basin region and we are lucky to benefit from their resources. The hostel offers a different product than Martin has at the Rams Head, or the Josie or any of our other hotels or short-term rentals. The hostel in town has been full of low-income workers, rather than visitors (or at least that was the situation when I spoke with the manager last season. Not sure about 2020.)
FQ: Question 8: (A) How do you anticipate community health and safety will be maintained/ influenced by a continued reliance on the Tourism sector? (B) Does council appreciate this project fundamentally undermines the ability for actual developers and property owners to develop and utilize their properties? and (C) Is it justifiable to build below market housing, in a depressed economy, when you are without certainty of its need over the short or long term?
KM: A) I assume this question is related to the as-yet-unknown impacts of Covid-19 on our town. I have no idea at this point. No one does. With the 14 Resort Municipality Initiative mayors meeting every two weeks, that is our hot topic. How can we re-open safe, smart and strong? How to we protect our communities and our visitors? The overall feeling is that tourism will recover slowly, more social distancing will be maintained, more sanitation will be required. This is a whole new ball game and we are all learning as we go along, from small towns all the way up to the Federal government. We also are required to follow Provincial and Federal guidelines, so it is not entirely up to us in any case. It a very good point, and one that is being talked about a lot.
· B) While this sounds noble, the reality is no private developer has shown any interest in building low income housing. Pretty much across the Province the only affordable housing projects are government collaborations. There just isn’t enough profit in these sorts of projects to be interesting to private developers.
· C) You have a point, given the pandemic our whole world is upside down, but we have been in housing need for some time. In some regards, we could see an increased need as people decide to flee the urban areas to relocate to a safer town like ours. Or local people who are already here may suffer a decrease to their income and need a less expensive housing option. It’s really hard to say at this point. It could go either way. But risk is different than uncertainty and don’t see this as a big risk at this time. We can stop the project if we need to.
FQ: Personally, I find the whole failure to regionalize the administrative body in the Lower Columbia incomprehensible, and something that will inevitably require a top down process to resolve since everyone appears afraid to give up control. From a historic perspective the situation resembles minor nobles fighting over fiefdoms, but one of these fiefdoms wants to spend a third of their reserves building a new castle as a testament to the ongoing failure to cooperate. Rather than invest in something that should be phased out, you are forcing taxpayers to assume increased liability, without following due process. This is not a trivial endeavour, and you have absolutely no idea whether this can be done on budget.
KM: This is an interesting topic too — amalgamation of our 5 small towns and two electoral areas has been talked about a lot, but mostly in the past. There was just no headway. Just so you know, it is very unlikely that the Province will step in. Their position has been that it is up to the local communities to reach an accord. We had some serious conversations about it when I was first elected in 2008. During one of my first trips to the Union of BC Municipalities’ (UBCM) annual convention we had a meeting with the Province. Council thought, through Mayor Greg’s conversations with all of our other local mayors, that everyone was on board. As it turned out, Trail was not. The Province absolutely would have to help, and they have shown no interest: There would need to be sunset clauses and provincial financial assistance to make amalgamation palatable for those who would be the losers. From amalgamations in other jurisdictions, the cost savings are surprisingly small. One reason is because mayors and councils are so modestly paid. You wouldn’t need 5 Chief Administrative Officers and 5 Financial Officers of course so there would be some savings at the senior management level, but to centrally run our area you would still need a lot of the existing staff and equipment, reservoirs, sewer lines, water treatment, sewer treatment facilities, etc. etc. — it goes on and on. All the big-ticket items would remain. The benefit of course is that you would have centralized decision making and probably a ward system which would leave Trail with all the control because they have the biggest population. The probable outcome is that the other communities would be satellites to Trail. Now, that could be a cost saving benefit as perhaps pools, arenas, programs, facilities, and libraries in the outlying areas would close (or not, depending on need). Not so great for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as those in the outlying areas would be required to travel more for services. Initially I was a big fan of the amalgamation idea, but I am less so today as I learned more about how it would look at our local level. Not because I want to protect my “little fiefdom”, but more because I like the amenities we have here, and I am sure we would lose most of them. BUT our taxes might be less so, of course, it depends on your priorities.
· This doesn’t even touch on the other side of the tax implications, which is why Trail wasn’t interested. They did not and do not want to share Teck tax revenue. If you consider that Teck pays about 63% of Trail’s tax burden you can see why. Meanwhile Teck, Mercer-Celgar and any other big industrial tax-payer throughout the Province is trying hard to reduce what they pay to the municipality they call home.
· You probably don’t need me to say that I disagree with your characterization of the Emcon project as a “new castle and a testament to our ongoing lack of cooperation.” But I do agree that if there was one city hall for the whole region, we would not be building one in Rossland. It would be in Trail and THEY would need to build a new one with all of our tax dollars because their existing building is not be big enough to handle a newly expanded region’s administrative staff. Hard to know exactly how it would look, but fun to think about.
FQ: Question 9: If it cannot be, what is Plan B?
KM: We will consult, discuss, and adapt. Responding to change is the job of local government.
FQ: Provided your advice, I will encourage people to reach out to Columbia Basin Trust and B.C. Housing about the City of Rossland’s handling of the Mixed Use Development, and to sign in support of requiring CoR to undertake an Alternative Approval Process, at a minimum, before moving forward.
KM: This is certainly your right.
FQ: Having chosen to withdrawal from any forum where you do not control the information, and given I would appreciate a public response to this letter, I’ll leave it to your determination of how.
KM: Why so hostile? Put yourself in my position if you can: There are only so many hours in the day; to go on a site where you are regularly attacked by people and you don’t even know who they are, is just ludicrous. I will speak with anyone who reaches out to me on email. (As I have with you here). Social media can be a very nasty place. I do seriously worry that good people won’t step up to serve their community as a councillor or mayor, because they just don’t want to be subjected to the nastiness. When people say that to me, I always respond that I get far far more positive feedback in person or in email because it is true, and very gratifying. But understandably, those comments rarely surface on social media because most people don’t want the target on their back. There are plenty of good questions to ask and there are plenty of civil ways to ask them. The attack and divisiveness mode is just not one that I choose to engage in. It’s not healthy.