Five months and several meetings into the current administration, and Harrison Hot Springs officials remain in discord.
All four members of Harrison’s council told The Observer that Mayor Ed Wood did not attend meetings between village officials and an independent facilitator.
During a meeting on March 6, council resolved to hire an independent facilitator to “assist in improving Council relations to support them working together efficiently for better governance of the village.” There were two meetings recently – on April 17 and 18 – between the village officials and the facilitator.
After being asked multiple times, Wood did not confirm or deny his presence at the meetings at this time. However, when asked separately, all four members of council told The Observer that the mayor was not there for the April 17 and 18 meetings.
“As most of your questions relate to legal correspondence which are privileged and confidential from a closed meeting I am unable to comment,” Wood said in an email. “(This is) the very reason why meetings need to be open.”
(Update, Friday, 4:54 p.m.) A document of minutes from the April 17 and 18 in-camera sessions was released with the May 1 meeting agenda. Wood is listed as absent.) The document will be reviewed and voted on by council at Monday’s meeting.
He claimed the councillors who spoke to The Observer about attending the meetings were in violation of the Community Charter and their oath of office. Wood said he would not comment until the council passed a resolution to release the minutes of the April 17 and 18 meetings.
No member of council disclosed the contents of the in-camera sessions to The Observer.
Coun. John Buckley said the purpose of bringing in a provincial municipal facilitator was to find ways for mayor and council to work together and effectively govern the village.
“We, the four councillors, had high hopes that we would be successful in achieving that goal,” Buckley told The Observer. “Unfortunately Mayor Wood chose not to attend that two day workshop for reasons known only to him. Needless to say, we were all very disappointed.”
In February, council notified Wood of a vote of no confidence, meaning the mayor does not have the support of council. All four councillors cited multiple reasons for the vote, including allegations that Wood created a toxic work environment and refusing to listen to council and staff.
Through the first few months of this administration, Wood has regularly refused to attend in-camera meetings relating to issues between he and council, despite requests from council to meet. During the April 3 mayor’s report, Wood made his thoughts on facilitated meetings clear after reading aloud from a segment of the non-confidence letter.
“You can’t expect me to start going into these facilitator meetings,” Wood said. “I have just read out what (council’s) thoughts are. I can’t imagine anybody here that would want to sit in a workshop with four people that have got that on their mind.”
Wood and the members of council have been at odds on a number of issues since inauguration day. Issues that have faced the mayor and council include the departure of three major village managers, multiple allegations of “illegal” council meetings.
Meetings that are typically in-camera – or closed to the public – involve land deals, staffing matters or legal issues. They are usually held near the conclusion of a regular council meeting but can be called under different circumstances as needed.
Certain items discussed in-camera may later be released to the public. Such was the case on March 20, when released in-camera items revealed that Harrison officials requested Vancouver-based local government law firm Lidstone and Company write a cease and desist letter against an unnamed resident who was “posting derogatory comments against council and staff” on social media.
During a discussion on the comments, Coun. Michie Vidal pointed out that the comment that prompted the cease-and-desist letter was “extremely disturbing” and included sexual connotations involving members of council. Wood said if the council did not like it, they could opt not to read it.
Buckley said there is another two-day workshop planned for May.
The next regular Harrison Hot Springs Village Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall (290 Esplanade Avenue).