Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve worked to dissect all that has transpired leading up to councillors in Harrison Hot Springs delivering a letter to Mayor Ed Wood, notifying him of a vote of no confidence.
It’s fair to say what our community is facing, once again, a series of unprecedented events. While Agassiz-Harrison has muscled through natural disasters, inflation and a deadly pandemic in recent years, I’d wager the last thing most people expected was an upheaval of this nature.
Mayor Wood came into office as a few members of the previous administration – former councillors Ray Hooper and Gerry Palmer – declined to seek re-election. This opened up an opportunity for some relatively new blood in council. The old guard became new again when Allan Jackson and John Buckley – both of whom were elected to municipal office before – won their seats.
From the beginning, there was division in council. In his inaugural speech, Wood said his door-to-door campaign revealed concerns of “poorly-designed development, negative interaction with senior village office administration and a lack of community engagement.” Outgoing mayor (now councillor) Leo Facio took offence to Wood slamming the administration he led during Inauguration Day, saying it was in bad form and unprofessional and souring what might otherwise have been a happy occasion. Hooper and Palmer were in the audience and left before Wood finished his opening remarks.
There are two instances on record of Wood alluding to illegal closed meetings. The first occurred during a special council meeting on Nov. 15, in which Wood denied a closed meeting request from two councillors – Michie Vidal and Facio. The second allegedly happened before the regular Jan. 16 meeting, with Vidal, Facio and Jackson meeting without the presence of Wood or Buckley. Outside of the allegation itself, there has been no evidence to support the Jan. 16 claims as of publication.
Special council meetings happen once in a blue moon. However, accusations of secret meetings are uncharted territory at best and dangerous for council’s integrity and democracy itself at worst. Couple these allegations with three village managers on leave (one of whom is now retired), and it’s safe to say Harrison’s government is in a lamentable mess.
Come what consequences may, only hindsight will prove how important and beneficial the no-confidence proceedings will be. As the proverbial ship has already sailed, the time spent on this is the real tragedy.
These never-to-be-restored days and weeks spent on in-fighting, churning the rumour mill and slinging allegations would be far better served focusing on issues for the benefit of the employers of council – the people. The Official Community Plan update, the constant issue of parking and the Lillooet Avenue development are but a few pressing concerns come readily to mind that will be collecting undue dust.
Even when all is said and done, no matter who “wins,” everyone loses. The mayor, the council, staff members, villagers – everyone loses.
I commend all the villagers who are invested in their local government and attending council meetings. It should be noted the Zoom recording of the Feb. 21 meeting – two hours and 27 minutes in length – is handily the most viewed video on the official village YouTube channel. The in-person and online attendance was also unusually strong.
For those who haven’t been paying attention to this point, I would urge you to stay tuned. This is a serious situation. This affects everyone in Harrison and has potential to have consequences that cascade outward to the Fraser Valley and beyond.
Mayor Wood said “The votes say it all – we want change.” Well, change happened. On its face, villagers got what they wished for, but is it enough change? Is it change for the better? At what cost?
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