Electoral Area B, or Cortes Island, seems to be ‘Electoral Area non grata’ within the Strathcona Regional District this year.
The board decided to delay action on approving grants-in-aid to community groups at its latest board meeting on May 22.
Other community business had been on hold within the SRD since January after a legal petition was launched by 14 people against Director Noba Anderson over conflict-of-interest allegations. These centre around people from groups receiving grants-in-aid, some of whom donated to a GoFundMe page started to help Anderson’s father after his cabin burned down on a property she owns in part.
In January, the SRD board voted to leave the area’s advisory planning commission (APC) vacant and hold off on going to binding referenda for proposed taxes to support first responder service and to fund community hall operations, though each has received voter support from non-binding referenda last fall. The board has since agreed for the first responder referendum to proceed at some point, but is holding off on the other matters pending further development on the legal situation.
For the May 22 meeting, Anderson submitted a report listing groups requesting grants-in-aid. Funding typically goes to support organizations in electoral areas to help with projects or operational costs. The Cortes requests were: $600 to the Cortes Island Museum & Archives to assist with the Cortes Wild Linnaea Exhibit; $2,000 to the Southern Cortes Community Association to assist with core operating expenses; $2,000 to the Friends of Cortes Island Society to assist with core operating expenses; $2,000 to the Cortes Radio Society to assist with core operating expenses; $2,000 to the Linnaea Farm Society to assist with core program operating costs; $2,000 to the Whaletown Community Club to assist with core program operating costs; and $2,380 to the Cortes Island Women’s Resource Centre to assist with program expenses.
Anderson noted she had submitted the report to the electoral area services committee (EASC) earlier in the month, but the committee did not discuss it or even vote to receive it. She subsequently submitted the list for the recent board meeting.
“I brought this forward for the board’s consideration,” she said. “I’m not going to be pushing the issue.”
Area C Director Jim Abram reiterated the item was not seconded for receipt at EASC and not discussed or given any recommendation.
“Anything that comes to this board without a recommendation from the appropriate committee should not be considered,” he said, adding he could not support receipt of the report at the board meeting.
Some SRD representatives, however, questioned the extent to which they handling matters for Area B.
“I really think this is going too far with Cortes,” said John MacDonald, Sayward’s mayor and board representative. “They’ve got to be able to run their business.”
He said if EASC refused to discuss it, he agreed Anderson should be able to bring it to the whole board. Julie Colborne, Zeballos mayor and representative, reiterated MacDonald’s points about how these local groups rely on grants for their everyday business.
“These are core operating expenses. I don’t know how we can let people run in arrears,” she said.
Abram wanted to defer the matter to a future board meeting once the legal questions are answered, but his motion to defer failed. At that point, he and Area D Director Brenda Leigh recused themselves, citing the possibility of legal matters. A motion to receive the report then passed, with only Area A Director Gerald Whalley voting in opposition.
However, Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River directors, suggested the item should move to the in camera portion of the board meeting. A subsequent motion passed.
At that point, Anderson asked her colleagues not to delay dealing with the matter, as she said happened when she submitted a list of alternate names for consideration for the APC in March.
“If you’re going to do this, please don’t let it die in camera,” she said.
According to meeting minutes, when the board returned to the open meeting after a lengthy discussion, it brought back the grants-in-aid request, defeating a motion to approve, with only Anderson voting in support. The board also approved a motion not to appoint an APC for Cortes at this time. Only Anderson and Whalley voted in opposition.
SRD releases private investigator report
The other item brought forward from in camera on May 22 was a heavily redacted report provided by Creative Solutions Risk Management Consulting’s Craig Peterson looking into the conflict-of-interest allegations on Cortes Island. These focus on monetary or in-kind donations following the fire at the cabin belonging to Area B Director Noba Anderson’s father in January 2018.
Peterson’s 24-page document outlines the allegations made by 14 people in a legal petition against Anderson, as well as the nature of his investigation. The next court date is scheduled for June 10.
One section, highlighting allegations, stretches from page 6 to 11 but is completely redacted.
A subsequent section notes some of the people donating to the GoFundMe page and their roles with a number of community groups receiving grants-in-aid from the SRD. Beyond some basic facts about the people, large portions of the section remain redacted.
A final section highlights the construction of the addition to Anderson’s house for her father following the fire at his cabin and includes photographs.
The report’s last few pages list mitigating and aggravating circumstances. The former includes some redacted material but includes visible comments:
“Director Anderson has been open, communicative and respectful to the review being conducted….Director Anderson did not contest the money, labour or materials received. Director Anderson did not suggest as to who should be spoken to or how this investigation should be conducted…. Director Anderson showed compassion when speaking of her father and that her intent was purely to look after his well-being.”
All of the information under aggravating circumstances has been redacted.
In his concluding remarks, Peterson writes the onus should be on the receiving of the cash and donations in kind by Director Anderson as the conflict of interest and not on those who donated. “There is no evidence to say, that the donations made to the [GoFundMe] by known community members did so, in hopes of receiving something in return. The donations may be viewed more in relation to a community providing a helping hand when needed,” he said.
He notes the tendency in small communities for people to help one another and there was no dispute donations were made and received by Anderson, directly or indirectly. Those donating told him their actions were to help, with no political reasoning.
“Director Anderson in her belief had not felt there was any wrong-doing and thus no need for reporting any of the donations and assistance that was received from either those known or unknown. Evidence to provide a direct correlation between those who donated to the [GoFundMe] and Director Anderson directly as it relates to accept a fee, gift or personal benefit that is connected with the member’s performance of the duties of office, was not discovered in this review.”
He concludes by saying all the information presented is open to interpretation, subjectivity and public interest. Finally, he writes he finds “no assistance in providing an opinion” but simply the information he obtained for the report, which the SRD can consider upon review and further examine, if necessary.
[NOTE: This story has been edited to reflect an error in the SRD minutes about what came back from the in camera portion of the May 22 meeting. Initially, there was no reference to a motion for grant-in-aid requests, but it was amended later to include the item. We’re sorry for the mix-up.]