Harrison Hot Springs governing officials continue to butt heads as the first year of the administration plods on.
During the Aug. 8 meeting of council, Harrison Mayor Ed Wood advised he has directed staff to create a standing committee to investigate “frivolous” allegations against himself for bullying, harassment, intimidation and disrespect.
“It’s unfortunate that the mayor and council are still as divided as ever and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better,” Wood said.
Since the beginning of the term, Wood has been at odds with members of council and a number of people associated with the village government. This conflict reached new heights in February following a vote of no confidence in Wood’s leadership by all four members of council. The reasons for the vote included allegations that Wood created a toxic work environment and refused to listen to the advice or recommendations from council or village staff.
Ex-councillor John Buckley resigned in June, saying he was unable to work with the mayor. Former Advisory Planning Commission (APC) chair Sonja Reyerse-Peters resigned in May, alleging Wood terminated several key village managers without due consideration for the impact of their loss and their contributions to the village.
In addition to one councillor and one appointed committee leader, five village managers have tendered retirements or resignations since the new administration took the helm. Ex-CAO Madeline McDonald officially retired on Jan. 31 after being on leave for several weeks. Ex-deputy CAO Debra Key announced her own retirement in the spring. Ex-community services manager Rhonda Schell has departed, being officially replaced in early July. Financial officer Scott Schutlz announced his resignation in May but has since returned to his position. Interim CAO Kelly Ridley left at the end of June.
Wood added he asked the committee to investigate open versus closed council meetings as well as “illegal” council meetings.
Wood has historically refused to participate in closed council meetings. Normally, closed or “in-camera” meetings exclude the public to discuss personnell, land or legal issues. However, this year, there have also been multiple closed meetings meant for Harrison’s council, Wood and an independent facilitator to “assist in improving Council relations to support them working together efficiently for better governance of the village.”
When asked multiple times by The Observer, Wood did not confirm or deny he was absent from at least two of the facilitator meetings. However, the agenda for the May 1 council meeting indicates Wood was absent; this was further confirmed by all four members of council at the time.
Wood claimed the councillors who confirmed his absence were in violation of the Community Charter and their oath of office. However, no member of council disclosed any further contents of the in-camera sessions.
The standing committee member recommendations are expected to be prepared following the Sept. 16 by-election.
In other council business:
– Council approved up to $35,000 to be used for a rock stabilization project along the reservoir access road near the Campbell Lake Trail. Staff recommends the work be finished before the winter rain/snow season sets in.
– Council voted in favour of having staff review recommendations for crosswalks on a few locations of concern in Harrison. This comes after resident Earla Legault sent an email asking for crosswalk flags for pedestrians at the corner of Hot Springs Road and Miami River Drive and at the crosswalk from Spring Park’s entrance to Lillooet Avenue.
– Council ratified decisions to make CAO Tyson Koch the deputy corporate officer for the village as well as to appoint Schultz as deputy CAO.
– Council voted 4-1 to delay approving five members to the APC, referring the matter to a closed meeting to allow council to “review the applications.” Council was set to appoint John Allen, Ross Buchanan, Judy Duffus, Allan Garneau and Robert Guimont to the APC, but Coun. Leo Facio called for a closed meeting to review the candidates. Wood was the opposing vote.
The next regular Harrison Hot Springs Village Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall (290 Esplanade Avenue). Venue may be subject to change; check in at www.agassizharrisonobserver.com for any updates.
Online attendance is also available via Zoom; those interested can register through harrisonhotsprings.ca. Video recordings of the meetings will be archived on the village’s YouTube page.