Now that everyone is discussing the news of Tuesday morning’s COTW meeting and the video is released, I have been asked to clarify what happened.
Lord knows I have tried to have a respectful relationship with the Mayor. In spite of trying I have come to the conclusion it is very challenging. This is unfortunate and represents a lost opportunity. As many of you know, the Mayor was our guest speaker at our Annual General Meeting this past Monday evening, we did our best to make her feel welcome and treated her to dinner. The next morning before our annual presentation to council at the Committee of the Whole meeting, we received an email from our accountant giving us the heads up – “The Mayor called me on my cellphone, she has questions about the Chamber’s financial statements for the visitor centre, she would be at the annual general meeting and would like to talk to me if I was planning on being there. So I introduced myself to the Mayor at the meeting and the Mayor’s first question was whether I reviewed every invoice for the visitor centre. I told her no and to do that would require an audit which is quite expensive, typically up to $7,500. I explained to her the levels of reporting for financial statements such as the ‘Notice to Reader’ disclaimer as you have always done in your financial statements.” Our accountant’s email continues at length which I won’t repeat here but you get the idea. And I have to say we have an awesome meticulous accountant we are very pleased with.
You can imagine my disappointment in finding out the next morning that the Mayor, the same person we had welcomed as our guest the previous evening, attempted to conduct her own investigation of our financial reporting at the meeting with our accountant rather than approach us directly with her concerns in a spirit of goodwill and co-operation.
Is not the role of Mayor is to build rapport, trust and consensus with council, staff and the organizations that have a relationship with the District? Is it reasonable to argue that you accomplish that by having a straight forward honest relationship based on openness and trust, rather than going behind someone’s back to try and dig up information you can use in a public meeting to put someone on the spot unprepared in an attempt to make them look bad? That confrontational approach destroys trust, and makes good faith co-operations difficult. This is divisive and in my opinion conduct unbecoming a Mayor. I expressed my disappointment directly to the Mayor in the Tuesday morning COTW meeting. As I defended our organization the exchange between the Mayor and myself became heated. After a time and realizing the meeting was no longer constructive, Councillor Condon made an attempt to establish ‘point of order’ which the Mayor would not respect, so he walked out. Shortly after that Councillor Thom felt the exchange and line of questioning from the Mayor was disrespectful so he walked out thus ending quorum and ending the meeting. In hindsight I think this was prudent. There was absolutely nothing being accomplished at that point and it became clear the Mayor had her own agenda. They should be applauded not scorned for ending the meeting.
Here’s the thing, the Mayor claims she is protecting Peachland taxpayers and reserves the right to ask difficult questions about how the Chamber spends the budget the District pays the Chamber to operate the visitor centre. I don’t at all dispute that council should have an understanding and confidence in our allocation and use of funds. But the manner of asking the questions betrays the Mayor’s intent. If the Mayor really wanted the answer to her questions, she wouldn’t be surprising us in a council meeting with questions we cannot prepare for and cannot possibly answer without further meetings. In my opinion this is political grandstanding and an attempt to make us look bad that is disrespectful and is rather disheartening. She is attempting to use the Chamber for personal political gain. How can I make such a claim? Because we have suggested three years in a row now to council that the District’s CFO come to our office to review our accounts, our invoices and how we spend the visitor centre budget money to council’s satisfaction. We have strived to do what we can to win the confidence of council and establish integrity. For the visitor centre, we maintain a separate bank account, a separate set of accounts in Simply Accounting, financial controls over disbursement of funds, and our accountant prepares year end statements. So with that standing offer to open our books on the table, the Mayor’s line of question becomes moot and the motive becomes clear.
The Mayor admits herself that she is not an expert on financial statements and accounting. With that in mind, is it not wise for her to rely on the expertise of her staff in advising her of the best course of action for her concerns? Should she not confer with her colleagues on council for their input? Having the District CFO conduct an audit would provide all the transparency council needs to have the confidence that we are allocating the budget wisely and appropriately if it is truly deemed necessary. And this would save taxpayers and an expensive audit fee. So far just past the half way mark the five-year contract council has not felt the need to send the CFO over for an audit or pay for an audit. Why? The answer is quite simple, the total allocation of $65,000 (with annual inflation adjustment) for the entire year from the District simply does not come close to covering the annual cost of running the visitor centre and those funds primarily get allocated to staff labour costs and utilities for the building. So its very difficult to misallocate funds when you start with a substantial shortfall to begin with. We make up the difference in our budget with tourism provincial grant funding, gift shop sales and fundraising. Remember the Rubber Ducky Race?!
In the presentation to council Tuesday morning (as you can see in the video recording) all of the councillors present expressed the sentiment that they are very pleased with the visitor centre operation and the progress we have made in not only providing an accredited Destination BC visitor centre to promote Peachland, but a well utilized community space used by many other service organizations and Peachlanders as well that we can enjoy and be proud of.
It was only the Mayor who took it upon herself to start asking questions of a difficult nature, some of which were misinformed or inappropriate given the fee for service contact which clearly spells out the Chamber’s obligations to the District. It was my impression that her colleagues on council and her staff were not consulted about her concerns and just as surprised by her line of questioning.
This is rogue behaviour, a Mayor going it alone and losing the confidence of her colleagues on council to conduct herself in a respectful and inclusive manner. This is not the first time councillors have walked out of a meeting, and I doubt it will be the last unless the Mayor starts to choose a very different approach. I don’t know how you effectively lead a council with such an approach, and accomplish what Peachland residents expect of their Mayor and Council.
Madam Mayor, if you are listening I would suggest you take stock, and make a bold choice to conduct yourself like the Mayor you have the potential to be, starting with a more straight forward conciliatory and co-opeerative team building approach. Then you could be the one surprised for a change, but in a positive manner upon realizing that this approach produces far better results.
Interim President (until May 22nd)
Peachland Chamber of Commerce