It was a slightly unusual way to begin a board meeting for Strathcona Regional District directors on Jan. 24 – deciding what they weren’t going to do that day.
At the outset, before adopting the agenda, a majority of the directors opted to pull three items from the board meeting. If amending the agenda is not uncommon, this move seemed to signal a stall on items relevant to Cortes Island in the wake of a civil case launched on Jan. 2 by 13 people against Area B Director Noba Anderson. (An additional person has since been added as a petitioner.)
The court case revolves Anderson’s connection with a GoFundMe page a neighbour started following a fire at her father’s cabin on her property a year ago. The proceeds are to build an addition so he could live with her. The petitioners point to links between crowd-funding donors and receiving work or grants-in-aid from the SRD.
Brad Unger, Gold River’s director on the SRD board, made the motion at the recent meeting to pull the three items until the board has a fuller understanding of the legal implications. Other Cortes residents submitted a petition to the board calling into the question the legal case as well as the SRD board’s decision to delay going to binding referenda on two proposed taxes. The agenda items pulled related to two reports on the proposed taxes for first responder service and hall operations on Cortes, as well as another report about filling positions for the electoral area’s advisory planning commission.
Anderson asked about the rationale of the motion, describing it as “freezing” all matters on Cortes indefinitely.
“I did not know this was coming,” she said. “I think it’s really imperative that the board be able to continue doing its regular business, and I don’t see a direct connection between the petition filed to the board and our ongoing business.”
The two proposed taxes were supported by residents in non-binding referenda and were initially to go to binding votes this year, but the SRD board chose to delay this.
On the other matter, the APC is the body that assists the regional district director with planning and zoning issues in the electoral area.
Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River directors, asked why the first responder issue was included and whether it related to the legal case.
“I just want to make sure it’s not,” Unger replied.
Claire Moglove, another Campbell River director, responded to Anderson’s statement by saying the items removed from the agenda are ones that appear to be related to the legal petition and that other business on Cortes could move forward.
“I don’t see it as a halt, I see it as a pause,” she said. “There happens to be a cloud, that cloud needs to be lifted.”
Julie Colborne, director from Zeballos, highlighted one of the issues in the petition, specifically that of relationships between people who donated to the crowd-funding site and the SRD through work or grants-in-aid. She spoke about how people living in small communities are often involved in many different ways.
“Small places are small places, and so many people serve so many different roles,” she said.
Responding to Moglove’s point, Anderson said that while items removed are currently the three main “matters of substance” on Cortes before the board, it is likely in subsequent meetings that all issues will be tied to the petitioners or counter-petitioners, suggesting this could bring government matters on Cortes to a halt.
“There’s hundreds and hundreds of people who are now involved and passionately care about the legal petition,” she said. “It may well take a year, honestly. It may well take many, many, many months to resolve itself. It is not appropriate to not have a functioning advisory planning commission, as we’re going through a bylaw review process.”
Anderson and Colborne were the only SRD members to vote against the motion to amend the agenda.