Ratepayers call for fire board transparency

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The departure of former chair Ron Lindstrom, trustee Jo MacDonald and chief administrative officer Laurie Taylor from the Salt Spring Fire Protection District over the past month inspired an increase in public attendance at the board’s Sept. 21 business meeting, where several ratepayers called for more transparency and better attention to governance procedures.

Surprise news that Lindstrom and MacDonald had left and that former CAO Laurie Taylor would serve the final two months of her contract on paid leave did not sit well with those who have long questioned the board’s practices, or with some who have more recently become involved.

One participant at the town hall session, who was identified as having a family connection to Lindstrom and also as being a district ratepayer, requested the board undertake an external review to make sure trustee roles are understood properly.

“I’m asking for a review of the board to ensure we have a board that has the proper governance structure, that’s not involving itself inappropriately with operations but that is clearly providing strategic directions to firefighters,” said Erin Price. “I‘d like to see a level of reflection around the number of resignations and the broad scale, the broad spread of resignations. That to me is a red flag. As a taxpayer, that tells me there is serious dysfunction going on at the board level.”

Julia Lucich, a frequent critic of the fire board in the past, noted the board did not appear to have followed procedures around public notification for the special meetings that were called to deal with the resignations and the aftermath.

Past trustee Mark Lucich said part of the problem is the form of governance, and suggested now might be the time to investigate whether another body could take over responsibility. He also found problems with the board’s current campaign to build a new fire hall, which he said is unfolding in much the same way as past failed projects.

“As far as building a new fire hall in the district, I think you need to consider the governance issue as part of potentially the problem, and the solution could be taking a look at what could happen if the CRD [Capital Regional District] takes over the fire district,” Mark Lucich said. “They have the ability to get grants and other forms of funding that this form of government can’t get.”

Lucich added he felt trustees are asked to spend an unreasonable amount of time and don’t usually have the expertise required to do things like plan a new fire hall.

“I think what you’re seeing in resignations is the frustration that happens and it seems to be fairly periodic — it’s not an unusual thing to happen in this board, there’s a lot of stresses that go on,” Lucich said.

Per Svendsen, who has agreed to stand as interim board chair until the district can elect a full board, said the return of past CAO Andrew Peat will bring some stability until the district can find a suitable candidate to replace him.

“We’ve all been under a lot of stress — myself, trustees, fire department employees — due to the COVID circumstances,” Svendsen said. “The world is slightly changed from what we knew six months ago, and along with that we’ve coped with a few issues . . . so we ask that you bear with us. We’re a dedicated group of trustees, we are professionals and we’re talented, and we each have our own areas of expertise. We’ve had some hiccups in the road, and now we’re moving forward.”

Lindstrom and MacDonald’s letters of resignation were made public on Sept. 25 and can be found here.

For more on this story see the Sept. 30 Driftwood newspaper.

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