Area B Director Noba Anderson (second from left) thanks her supporters outside the courtroom Monday morning. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Petitioners concede no conflict against Strathcona Regional District director

Case had brought several Cortes Island issues to a halt at regional district since January

The 14 people who’d launched a legal petition against Area B Director Noba Anderson have now conceded there was no conflict of interest.

The issue has sparked controversy in the small community of Cortes Island and at the Strathcona Regional District board table since it was launched in early January.

In Campbell River Supreme Court Monday morning, Justice Ronald Skolrood signed off on a joint submission from lawyers representing both sides, bringing the matter to an end in the court system.

Anderson’s lawyer Matthew Voell alluded to the fact that several issues in the community have effectively been put on hold at the SRD board level because of the allegations.

“This has been a very controversial issue,” he said.

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He said the 14 people had “come to their senses” to understand there was no substance to the conflict of interest position.

“There was no homework done by the petitioners,” he said.

The 14 had made allegations that there was a conflict primarily because the SRD had approved grants-in-aid to community groups with board members that had donated to a GoFundMe page started by Anderson’s neighbour to help Anderson’s father after his cabin burned down in January 2014. He moved into an addition built onto Anderson’s home rather than rebuild the cabin, which was on property Anderson jointly owns with others.

Voell outlined some of the facts of the case, adding the conflict allegations covered three time periods: grants-in-aid made prior to the fire, for which they could have been no quid pro quo; grants made at an SRD board meeting in April 2018, at which Anderson was not present; and grants made at a board meeting in October 2018, at which point three donors in question did not belong to boards for the two community groups receiving grants-in-aid. Typically, these grants support a variety of community groups, often year after year, and most range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. They often go to help with operating costs for groups or special events and projects in electoral areas.

Another issue Voell cited was that to establish conflict, Anderson would have had to have a pecuniary interest at stake but did not.

The two sides had put together a joint submission that conceded no conflict of interest and included a lump sum of $4,850. The petitioners’ lawyer Harry Wenngatz said little but admitted the real push in launching the case may have come from other parties.

“My clients were put up to this,” he said.

He suggested there was some “substance” to this point, adding he could not disclose more. In any case, Justice Skolrood said that issue was not relevant to the actual question of whether conflict of interest had taken place.

Outside the court room, Voell outlined what had happened with the case. He was asked about further court costs that Anderson had incurred to pay and responded the settlement is based on a tariff system rather than on dollar-for-dollar basis. He could not divulge the actual amount of costs for his client. He also credited the support they had given.

“I’m sure Noba is very grateful to have all your support,” he said.

In front of the court house, Anderson spoke briefly to her supporters, who had been sitting in court, to thank them but chose not to make a comment to the media at this time.

Since the case was launched in January, the SRD board has put on hold a number of issues for Cortes, such as two referenda to generate money for first responder service and community hall operations, memberships on the electoral area’s advisory planning commission and new grants-in-aid for community groups. Chair Michele Babchuk and staff have met with residents about some of these issues, but as of press time, the board has only moved ahead on the first responder referendum. It has not set a date for a vote, and Anderson had hoped to have both referendum questions on the same ballot.

RELATED STORY: Strathcona Regional District puts Cortes Island business on ‘pause’

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