Tag Archives: nanaimo

Defamation drama at Nanaimo Council

At Monday’s Council meeting, the Financial Officer presented a report detailing Nanaimo City Council’s spending for the first six months of 2016.  (The elephant in the room – defamation – got exposed.)

This year, not only did Council vote themselves a raise but they voted to increase their expense budget from $75,000 to $118,000.

According to the CFO, the Acting Mayor approves Mayor and Council expenditures, and in in turn the Mayor approves the Acting Mayor’s expenses. They were told that they can reallocate their expenses between accounts, except legal fees.

Council talks legal expenses:

Bestwick: …why are other agencies not filling out this expense form?…Who checks their expenses? If we fill these forms out in seven days why don’t they?

Brennan: …each councillor received a budget of $13,500 for their expenses but my budget was only $8,500. I didn’t understand that so I contacted staff…I was told that there was $5,000 allocated to each councillor and I was told that I was not entitled to that. The reason I was given was that there was a council motion that attributed $5,000 to each councillor but that motion did not include ME!

So (big frown) …I have not challenged that… I was fighting a losing battle on it…the other council members were awarded an extra $5,000 for legal fees…

Mayor: …careful what you say…

Brennan: …That’s why I didn’t get the extra $5,000 as it was for legal fees…

Yoachim: …when you get boxed in you have to defend yourself…before hiring the current CAO there was no process of hiring…we can get the real story…so it’s not that we five councillors tried to gang up on Councillor Brennan…I hope the story can come out…when legally possible…to say people got extra money…and why I had to get a lawyer to defend myself…

Mayor: …stick to it [expense questions]…

Fuller: …for any other legal challenges against the City do we pay the person making the challenge? Do we do that with any other legal challenge? Is it a practice to pay ahead?…

CAO:…the general practice is for the CAO to provide corporate advice and to retain a legal firm…we have 5 to 8 legal firms on contract at any time…we have a whole list of lawyers available…when council needs legal advice the CAO makes lawyers available…The practice should be to go through the CAO and they [council] will get legal advice for those that need it…an allegation of leaked information from a meeting was made…the minutes for these in-camera meetings have been released now…the legal advice was that there was a breach of confidentiality…

Councillor Brennan requested advice for legal help because she was asked to make an apology…and she requested legal help to do so…and she did…but she requested more informaton from the lawyer…she has been informed that she can apply for the legal money if she wants to…Councillor Brenan has been given that advice verbally and in writing….and it is up to Brennan…also Brennan has made several requests to have this reversed but that is not up to myself or the CFO to make…that’s up to council to reimburse Brennan or not…Brennan would have to make that request to council…the lawyers represent the corporation…some councillors would be better served by having [their own lawyer]….Councillors had to [get legal help]…Mayor McKay retained his own lawyer as well…we are going into 8 months of this [legal mess]…the retention of lawyers is a process that we will have look at…Brennan and Mckay have had their own lawyers…and councillors had to get their legal advice…it is up to council when they want to depart from using corporate lawyers and use their own…

Mayor: …this is the first time we have been told about the ablitiy to [shift the money between accounts]…I appreciate that…we had an all day meeting and were charged $22.66 each [for May 27, 2016 lunch]…we get free food here tonight at the council meeting so why the charge for the once a year lunch meeting?…

Bestwick: …we get inquiries about transparency, about spending money…here we are..airing our laundry…$22.66 for lunch? …it’s not a big deal…if we want to change the policy we put a notice of motion and give everyone two weeks’ notice…get some work done..be careful what you ask for!…it shouldn’t warrant this time…we are wasting your time and our time…

(Clapping from the gallery)

Pratt: …what we are doing is really important…there is real controversy… I have taken advantage of the learning opportunities…I don’t need to be ashamed of anything…I have an issue with the telephone bill. Everyone is at $800 or $900 and we are halfway through the year and we are allocated $1,000 each? That needs some adjustment…

Hong: …this is great…we have a budget…there wasn’t one before…we got paid already for the whole year for the internet so that’s not going to change…that’s how it ususally works…

Should the City pay legal fees for defamation by Councillors?

Councillors opted to increase their legal budget from $15,000 to $60,000 this year. Between January and March 2016, the City of Nanaimo spent approximately $130,000 on legal costs.

According to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, a letter was sent to the City naming five councillors. Councillor Fuller explained, “If it went to judicial review then those monies were there for us to possibly deal with defamation.”

Should taxpayers be paying for a councillor’s loose lips? In the case of the Mayor of Calgary’s defamation case (he called a builder a ‘mob boss’) he is paying for his legal costs. Calgary Councillor Chu also was sued for defamation and he is paying his own legal fees.

 Legal Fees (Jan - June 30, 2016)Law Firm
TOTAL14,585.40
Fuller
3,593.34
Cook Roberts, LLP
Bestwick
3,593.33
Cook Roberts, LLP
Hong
3,593.33Cook Roberts, LLP
Yoachim
3,593.33Cook Roberts, LLP
Kipp212.07
Cook Roberts, LLP
McKay
0
Brennan0
Pratt0
Thorpe0

4 Questions on expense reporting

  1. Why is the Mayor and council approving their own expenses?
  2. Why are expenses allowed to be shuffled between accounts?
  3. Why are the internet and call display costs so high?
  4. Why are the expenses for many items the same amount for each member of council?

The chart below shows that for 6 council members most of the expenses were for legal fees or internet/call display.

Comparing 2015 and 2016 expenses

Councillor2015 2016 (Jan - Jun 30, 2016)Biggest Expense of 2016
TOTALS65,607.0342,950.64
Kipp2,123.761,051.49
54% on call display/internet
Thorpe2,038.221,729.7942% on call display/internet
Fuller1,008.684,706.9676% on legal costs
Yoachim6,851.87
4,831.6674% on legal costs
Bestwick3,039.474,844.8174% on legal costs
Brennan7,116.685,072.5980% on conferences
McKay28,302.376,025.7873% on conferences
Hong7,759.076,088.6959% on legal costs
Pratt7,366.916,582.8782% on conferences

Nanaimo Councillors spend on conferences, call display

The City of Nanaimo released the expense report for Mayor and Council for the first six months of 2016. So far, Nanaimo Council expenses total $41,243.07 with half of that spent on attending conferences:

 Annual BudgetTotal Expenses (Jan - June)ConferencesConferences Attended
TOTAL$118,000$41,243.07 $ 21,024.50
Yoachim13,500 4,831.66200.911
Bestwick13,5004,844.81241.301
Kipp
13,500
1,051.49253.411
Fuller13,500 4,706.96253.411
Thorpe13,500 2,038.221,093.702
McKay15,0006,025.784,428.52 3
Brennan8,5005,072.594,045.71
4
Hong13,5006,088.695,092.87 3
Pratt13,5006,582.875,414.67 7

Councillors who attend conferences are not required to present to Council a report on what they learned. Why is Brennan’s budget $5,000 less than the other councillors?

In April, Mayor and Councillors voted themselves a raise.

Internet Usage

Why doesn’t the City give a fixed reimbursement for internet usage per month?  If the City needs to send councillors documents, either provide a DropBox account which can be set up for free or get them to download the information to their computers.  Therefore, there is no need for a councillor to be connected to the internet to read a report.

Call Display

It looks like a lot of councillors want to know who’s calling before they pick up the phone. A regular council-watcher? Let it ring. Is someone pestering Councillor Bestwick? His reimbursement for call display was twice the amount as everyone else. Council has been reimbursed almost $7,600 for six months of call display and internet charges.

Why is the City even compensating for call display in the first place? Most phone companies provide call display free as part of a phone package. For mobile phones there are several caller ID apps that are free including Hiya, Truecaller, Holla and Extreme Call Blocker.

Councillor Fuller gets five stars for not claiming this expense!

 InternetCall Display
Total
TOTAL$6,534.87
$1,059.28
$7,594.15
Kipp 448.71
114.64
563.35
Fuller
770.40
-
770.40
McKay 667.68
114.64
782.32
Brennan
744.72
114.64
859.36
Thorpe744.72
114.64
859.36
Hong757.56
114.64
872.20
Bestwick 680.52
256.80

937.32
Pratt 860.28
114.64
974.92
Yoachim 860.28
114.64
974.92

City Management and Consultants

When can we look forward to seeing a similar expense report for the management at the City?  Also, the BIG question is how much has been spent to date on consultants during this Council’s term?

$2.3 Million dollar roundabout, Core Review, Trees

At Monday’s meeting Nanaimo Council was presented with two options for the intersection at Rutherford Road and Nelson Road for the new development in Linley Valley West:

  1. traffic lights $1.68 million
  2. multi-lane roundabout $2.3 million*

Council voted to proceed with a multi-lane roundabout to be phased in with a connector road linking Rutherford Road and Linley Valley Drive. For now the roundabout will be one lane.

How much will it cost? Who is paying?

The $2.3 million cost for a phased in multi-lane roundabout does not include the $850,000* the City had to pay the developer for the road allowance. The multi-lane roundabout option is more expensive and has greater impacts on adjacent properties requiring the purchase of two parcels of land and one land exchange.

From a capital cost perspective, this multi-lane roundabout is about $470,000 more than traffic lights. That is because of the extra construction and earth work required.

The developer is contributing a total of $230,000 with a time limit on $20,000 for design costs and $50,000 for land.

Council discussion

Pratt: …so we would save $60,000 with traffic lights…I was just in Edmonton and they are getting rid of their multi-lane roundabouts because they had too many accidents and found they didn’t work…why we are not looking at the cheaper option?..

Hong: Did we buy the land? How much was it?

Staff: $850,000

Hong: …so that’s…($3.45 million)

Bestwick: …let’s get it done…I prefer to do it all at once…

Thorpe: …I like the phased in roundabout…
Fuller: … I like the phased in roundabout, that way we have an option to work it out later…
Brennan: …I support the phased in roundabout…
Yoachim: …I’m a fan of roundabouts…

Kipp was absent.

Roundabouts vs. Lights

splitter island before roundabout
splitter island before roundabout

Roundabouts were developed in England in the 1960s to increase road capacity and the concept spread to Canada in the 1990s where they gained a new name, traffic circles. Roundabouts can handle as much as 50% more traffic than an intersection that uses traffic signals but it is dependant on the skill level of the drivers.

How will pedestrians and those with disabilities fare in crossing this new intersection at Rutherford Road and Nelson Road? Are they planning for a splitter island, and if so, how much would this cost?

Last stand of trees gone

Look past the old vacant gas station lot at the corner of Island Hwy and Norwell Drive and you will see a significant stand of trees. They will soon be gone.

The City has approved plans for a 36 unit apartment building at 3690 Country Club Drive.  Council approved variances Monday night which include 21 less parking spaces and a reduced front setback.

3960 Country Club Drive, Nanaimo- last treed lot in the area - gone soon
3960 Country Club Drive, Nanaimo- last treed lot in the area – gone soon

Nanaimo Core Review

Core review will be a line item on every council meeting agenda going forward so people can speak to the topic. This suggestion was brought forward by Councillor Hong.

The City is hiring a Senior Strategic Planning and Policy Advisor, a full-time permanent position that reports directly to the CAO.

A river runs through it: Beban Plaza sewer upgrade

There used to be a creek that ran through what is now Beban Plaza at the corner of Bowen Road and Northfield Road. The creek was buried and routed through a sanitary/storm sewer pipe in the 1970s.

Now the sanitary/storm sewer needs to be replaced. The problem is that the pipe is located underneath Beban Plaza which causes a maintenance and liability risk for the City.

The work involves replacing 370 meters of 900mm pipe and replacing it with 270 meters of 250mm sewer pipe.

The work is expected to start in September 2016 and be completed by November 2016. Total cost of the project for the City is approximately $840,000.

Eleven mature Douglas Fir trees and a group of mature cottonwood trees are to be removed.

The green line on the picture below is the proposed new sanitary/storm sewer pipe which will bypass Beban Plaza. Purple dots indicate the areas where trees will be removed. Green dots show trees that are to remain standing.

Mapping of Nanaimo creeks and waterways and providing proper protections need to be a priority. Unfortunately, the City of Nanaimo has axed the Environmental Committee. In addition, at most council meetings, Nanaimo grants variances which impact waterways and wetlands.

In 1930, Frank Beban and his family purchased an existing farm of 160 acres. He died in 1952 and the house and property were bequeathed to the City of Nanaimo as a park the following year. What if all the land had been kept as a park? Would the creek still be there?

Beban Plaza Sewer upgrade
Beban Plaza Sewer upgrade to begin in September 2016

 

Enviroment and Grant Committees Axed

At the July 11th Nanaimo Council meeting it was announced that there would be a reorganizing of the Council committees.

Environment and Grant Committees Axed

The big news was the elimination of two standing committees — Grants and ACES (Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability).

The six new committees are:

  • Finance and Audit
  • Public Safety
  • Culture Heritage and Social Planning
  • Parks Recreation and Wellness
  • Public Works and Engineering
  • Community Planning and Development

Proposed changes to committees include:

  • Nanaimo Culture & Heritage Commission (NCHC) – amalgamate with SPAC (Social Planning Advisory Committee)
  • Parks Recreation and Wellness –  add ACES members
  • Planning & Transportation – add ACES members
  • Safer Nanaimo – enhance mandate
  • Social Planning  – amalgamate with NCHC
  • Finance and Audit – establish a subcommittee for grants

There were two members of the public who spoke about the lack of public consultation, and the new grant application review process using a sub-committee structure that only includes councillors and no members of the public. One speaker suggested a purchasing oversight committee.

Councillors Pratt and Brennan raised concerns about combining Social Planning with Culture and Heritage and axing ACES.

Here are some of the councillors’ comments:

Hong: …all committees at the RDN are select…they do it so we can too…I am okay with social planning and culture… poverty and silver spoon people can work together…let’s give this a try…

Pratt: …I find your silver spoon comment offensive…I love the idea of a lobby group we need to lobby the government…two full groups…social and culture…

Kipp: …we already lobby the government…

Brennan: …we need a stand alone environmental committee….we made a promise to the public that we would have an environmental committee …culture and social justice don’t go together…Lobby? We lobby through UBCM and FCM and we got the gas tax money…we need to be looking at the long game…Does this work for the public? We haven’t asked them…this is a full-blown dismantling …

Fuller:…culture…starving artists…they know about friggin’ poverty…graffitists…some become famous …culture and poverty and art go together; they fit…If you want to see culture go hang out with the homeless…

Yaochim: …’full-blown dismantling’?…how is it full-blown ??…same committee members as last time…we will follow common sense…

Bestwick: (on audio link)…call the vote…I don’t agree it is a full-blown dismantling…if it is not working…then we will wise up to make adjustments…we will learn as we go…

Mckay: …it is a complex issue…we all agreed we want to see committee numbers reduced….we have commissions but they have no authority…I like Langford’s style…but it doesn’t follow the community charter…select committee… is short term… I agree with the CAO…but I can’t support this if it goes against the charter…

The Vote

Councillors Hong, Yoachim, Bestwick, Kipp, Fuller voted to adopt the new changes. Mayor McKay and Councillor Brennan voted against. Councillor Thorpe was absent.

The pubic can give their comments at the July 25th e-Town Hall meeting starting at 7:00pm.

Is the City becoming anti-environment?

The dismantling of the ACES committee is an indicator of how the City administration views the environment.

Concerns about recycling, illegal dumping, tree removal, waterways, streams, watershed, urban forests, invasive species – where will these topics be addressed?

Paving last stand of trees for parking lot

One of the last treed lots in north Nanaimo is slated to be paved over for the expanded parking lot next to the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) on Hammond Bay Road.

Uplands and Hammond Bay Road in Nanaimo
Uplands and Hammond Bay Road in Nanaimo

Nanaimo Mega Projects; cutting out local suppliers

Monday’s Nanaimo council meeting saw a packed house. The main focus of the meeting was a wishlist of mega projects and the Beban Park development.

Mega Projects and Public Consultation

A very brief presentation was made by the Communications Manager referring to one slide which had a list of major projects that Council identified as priorities to move forward:

  • sports and entertainment complex
  •  redevelopment of Beban Park
  •  connected waterfront walkway
  •  Georgia Avenue pedestrian bridge
  • south downtown waterfront development
  • property acquisition and affordable housing

There was no mention of the E&N trail project which the City has already spent approximately $50,000 in studies.

All the Councillors took turns heaping praise on staff and the CAO for their work on the strategic plan.

Councillor Brennan then opened a can of worms suggesting there should be more public consultation for these mega projects.

Brennan: I won’t support just having one town hall meeting, there are things on the list that people have not thought about much…all the information has to be available to all, some of the discussions are in small groups. I think having one very long meeting is not the best. Good community development involves getting proper feedback. We haven’t done that, we have yet to have community consultation on the core review. We have a lot that we haven’t talked to the community about, the community has to have their say…this is a tremendous amount of money. There are questions to be asked, I think arranging one town hall is not the way to go…

The CAO replied to Brennan that a volume of engagement has already happened.

Hong: …if it is a $100 million project we are not necessarily going to do it… we’ll tell staff go look at it…How much is a sport and entertainment centre going to cost?…I don’t know…and how can we do it…it’s a vision…forward it to the people…we are at the stage of picking projects…we are not going to build all this stuff…

Kipp commented that as an example, with Colliery Dams they had lots of public engagement and petitions and no one was listened to, so basically why bother wasting more time.

Bestwick: …we have had lots of time to get here…do it right, do it once, do it fast.

Hong: …let’s just do one – get her done.

Thorpe: …I want to see this move forward quickly – let’s get this going!

Yoachim: …I get hair on my back when someone says that we are not consulting people…everyone is working…if we need more town halls we will…

All voted in favour of one public town hall meeting except Brennan.

Beban Park development and art space

A presentation was made by VIEX (Vancouver Island Exhibition). They talked about their history in Nanaimo since 1894 with some interesting photos. They would like to have upgrades to the buildings and want to find new partners.

Island Roots Market Coop presentation to council proposed a permanent location at Beban Park near the VIEX buildings for their year round food market.

Another speaker spoke about the lack of affordable exhibition space for artists to display their works. They  suggested that Woodlands Secondary (closing June 30, 2016) be made a cultural centre, similar to the art centre in Qualicum Beach where they made use of an old school.

Killing a local supplier

The most painful part of the evening was watching a local water works supplier detail the slow death of his business since 2010. His troubles began when the City of Nanaimo decided to shut him out.

As soon as the supplier began his speech, the Mayor stepped out and was gone for the entire presentation.  One by the other councillors drifted in and out of the meeting.

Councillor Pratt, as acting Mayor, told the obviously distressed man he had one minute left. Councillor Bestwick commented that the speaker could have more time. At this point Pratt called for a show of hands. The legislation staff told Pratt this was not proper procedure, at which point Pratt laughed and said, “majority rules.”

Despite the distractions, the speaker carried on. He commented the waterworks industry was not invited to meetings and outlined how the City is switching back and forth from bronze to stainless steel; making no sense.

He stated that the City water audit shows that 9.83% of water is leaking and that 50% of commercial water users are under-reporting their water use. The City knows it is losing money.

With emotion he left council with parting words: “I have spent 6 years to get approval…6 years of my life…it is not a fair process…I feel I have been discriminated against…..Damn you all.”

Councillors’ comments:
Kipp:  …I am well aware of his problems…it started with back flow and the Oak Tree Manor…I sent out questions in 2015 and still don’t have answers…Do we have a back flow program started in Nanaimo?

Staff: we have started it..

Kipp: …it has taken 8 yrs…why would staff go to the USA and not local? It is not consistent..inconsistent purchasing process…using Wikipedia for info? …cross contamination….disappointed…changes to product approval process changes every day. I want us to have a standard…stainless steel then bronze?…Council needs to set policy…and we haven’t acted on this…

Yaochim: …I am not an expert …FOI’s are ridiculous…Tracy [CAO] is doing a great job…we have treated people wrong…how we treat people is not good enough…first year was hell…culture is changing…

Fuller: …culture of the past is hopefully changing…I am happy, I ran five times…triple deleting…I know how to triple delete…if you get an FOI …it is useless…people need to be respected.

Bestwick: …it takes a lot to come to council to speak openly about what is happening…we need more people like him…

Question Period

A question was asked of Mayor McKay why he and several Councillors walked out on the supplier’s presentation. McKay replied that they don’t take a set break so they come and go from the meeting as it suits them. The questioner suggested that they should establish set breaks for COW meetings so everyone is in their seats when there are presentations.

There was a question regarding the Colliery Dam audit and McKay argued the question was invalid as it didn’t pertain to an agenda item, to which the questioner (a seasoned council watcher) replied, “is this not a Committee of the Whole meeting?”

Quote of the night:
Fuller: “This is a great council.”