Myrna Kerr, Southern Cortes Community Association vice-president and secretary, and John Sprungman, past president, spoke to the Strathcona Regional District board on Nov. 22 about the hall tax. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

Questions arise about who’s seeing Strathcona Regional District emails

Cortes Island hall tax proponents upset at binding referendum delay

The Strathcona Regional District has been dealing with policy around emails for directors to be in compliance with freedom of information legislation.

RELATED STORY: Email policy raises access questions at Strathcona Regional District board

The plan is to get all directors to use a set SRD email address to help comply with the legislation and facilitate freed of information requests.

The regional district is also in the process of going to referenda on Cortes Island over establishing both first responder service as well as bringing in a hall tax to fund community groups’ hall operations.

There were non-binding votes in October about going to binding referenda, with each winning a strong majority. Each has to go before Cortes residents for a binding vote.

RELATED STORY: More SRD results, Anderson wins in Area B

The issues of the hall tax and email policy dovetailed at the Dec. 6 board meeting when Area B Director Noba Anderson, the Cortes representative on the board, asked for some clarification around emails that other directors received from the public but she did not.

“I have received a lot of communication from citizens who are concerned around directors receiving private correspondence,” she said.

She requested the board change its policy, asking that any directors who receive correspondence from the public to submit this into the public record for a meeting in January.

At the most recent meeting, SRD manager of corporate service Tom Yates informed the board there is a session planned for directors in January around freedom of information and retaining records.

Area D Director Brenda Leigh responded to Anderson’s request by saying there might be situations in which people contacting a member of the board might wish to remain confidential, though she acknowledged the exception of freedom of information requests.

“I feel they have a right to the protection of their privacy,” she said, adding there were instances in the past where people’s privacy was not protected. “I don’t want to contravene somebody’s expectation of privacy…. I’m not going to disclose to everybody who they are.”

The situation that prompted discussion surrounds a decision at the Nov. 22 meeting in which the majority of the SRD board voted to get more public input before going to the voters on Cortes Island for a final decision. At the meeting, Area C Director Jim Abram was responding to a presentation in which members of the Southern Cortes Community Association (SCCA) members appeared before the board to ask to have the parcel tax removed as an option for generating revenue and instead go with taxation tied to assessed property values using the mill rate. The SCCA is one of the two groups on Cortes that would like to have a fund established to support hall operations.

Abram said he felt the new information should have come before the board already and that they needed to put any changes before the public for input before the SRD proceeds.

Area D Director Brenda Leigh also referred at that meeting to information she had received from Cortes residents about concerns with the referenda. She said residents were concerned the SRD board was suspending the rules to go “through all four readings” at one meeting. The agenda showed both referendum bylaws were only to be taken up to third reading before going to the public for a vote.

Leigh also alluded to the SCCA presentation from earlier in the meeting, though it is unclear how any emails or other communication from the public could have been about the presentation on Nov. 22.

“Obviously, they were prepared to speak about it at this meeting,” Leigh said, “but what about anyone else?”

SRD meeting agendas only list items for discussion prior to the meeting. Subsequently, these are published online with supporting documents. In the case of the Nov. 22 meeting, there was reference to the SCCA appearing to make a presentation about community hall service on Cortes. However, the agenda provided no details about the presentation, including the request to drop the parcel tax as a funding option.

Cortes residents upset by delay

Regarding delays for a binding vote, a number of residents from Cortes Island did not take the news quietly that the SRD is slowing the process to go to referendum in order to get more public input.

The SRD board received a half-dozen submissions from people frustrated after the idea of a hall tax received 69 per cent support during a non-binding referendum on Oct. 20. One submission from Sue Ellingsen contained signatures from her and 19 other people upset by the decision the SRD board made at the Nov. 22 meeting.

In her letter to the SRD, she states, “For 10 years the community of Cortes Island has been attempting to secure core funding for the Gorge Hall and the Southern Cortes community hall. Ten years ago it was denied to us because some of the non-supporters of providing core tax objected loudly by delegation to the SRD meetings and by letters. Only 10 per cent opposition was required to defeat the alternate approval process.”

Ellingsen outlined the process of hall tax proponents gaining public support through signatures in order to hold a referendum. The SRD responded with the decision to hold a non-binding vote in the fall that would determine if a binding vote was to happen, which was proceeding until the SRD board has decided to get more public input.

“Furthermore, it has come to our attention that emails that were being sent to other members of the SRD board and to staff were not copied to our area director,” she continues. “I am not sure where we will have to go next to register our dissatisfaction with our regional government. They have made it clear that they do not respect the people of Cortes Island. They have been delaying and refusing to honour the wishes of a strong two-thirds majority for too many years.”

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