The Cariboo Regional District is looking to create a correspondence policy following a notable increase in communications from the public in recent months.
Directors discussed a potential policy at length last week during a policy committee meeting, where board chair Margo Wagner sought clarity as to what sort of correspondence needed to be shared with her colleagues and what should be included in board agendas.
She noted she has been receiving a large volume of emails addressed to the “CRD chair and board” and has forwarded them to the rest of the directors. Issues range from firefighter vaccination mandates to the public use of the Deka Lake & District Volunteer Fire Hall.
“I know there was some expression of frustration from some of the directors, and some of the emails were probably not necessary to send out,” Wagner explained. “But I don’t feel I have the liberty to say what the rest of the board sees as opposed to what’s coming into me. There’s currently no guidance for the chair as to what to do with those emails.”
The CRD’s consideration of a new policy comes as the Thompson-Nicola Regional District deals with calls from directors to oust Chair Ken Gillis for not sharing a whistleblower letter in January 2020 from a TNRD senior manager that included myriad allegations against former TNRD CAO Sukh Gill. Two weeks later, Gill left the TNRD with a severance package in excess of $500,000.
Bonaparte Plateau director Sally Watson was the first to call for Gillis’ resignation, saying due to the detailed nature of the letter, complete with dates and additional resources to corroborate claims, the letter could have been used as a launch point for dismissal of Gill with cause. That board meeting ended abruptly after Watson commented that letters were being shredded at the board chair level.
Although Wagner didn’t refer specifically to the TNRD last week, she noted “there’s a regional district close to us that are struggling with issues not released to the board by the chair.”
Alice Johnston, the CRD’s manager of corporate services, said that a policy had been in place dating back to 1997 that gave the corporate secretary the authority to determine the routing of all correspondence. Johnston noted that policy was rescinded in 2015 as it was then determined the issue was “more appropriately covered by internal policy.”
Director Angie Delainey (South Lakeside – Dog Creek) said she would like to see a formal process in place when it comes to correspondence being submitted by the public.
“If we can’t explain what our process is, that’s difficult for me to answer people when they ask,” Delainey said. “They’ve sent the board information and they don’t see it on the agenda.”
Director Willow Macdonald (Interlakes – Lone Butte) said in recent months she has encountered situations when residents have submitted correspondence that has not been included in a formal agenda, resulting in constituents who feel like “we’re not listening or reading or watching.
“People want to rant, they want us to read their whole rant and they want to see their rant on the agenda,” Macdonald said. “If it upsets them enough to send a three-page letter, they want the whole sucker read.”
Clarification as to what constitutes official correspondence would need to be made, said Director John Massier (Barlow – Barkerville).
“How do we know whether a Facebook rant or a note on Twitter or a Tik Tok video is considered communications?” Massier asked. “We’d have to look at it pretty broadly… I think there’s more to the discussion to be had.”
Director Al Richmond (108 Mile Ranch – Lac La Hache) said he believed that “transparency is paramount” as it pertains to the sharing of correspondence from the public.
“We may not like the volume we get on some issues and it may not be relevant, but the general public needs their item to go to the board, unedited,” Richmond said. “We ran for elected office, you can expect to get a lot of information.”
The committee voted to direct staff to draft a policy to establish guidelines surrounding what correspondence should be included on agendas and the internal sharing of information amongst directors, to be reviewed by the committee at a later date.
With a file from Kamloops This Week