The residents and taxpayers of Qualicum Beach expect their Town Council and operational staff to be open, honest and transparent in meeting their responsibilities as our municipal public servants.
Evidence suggests a growing trend in the opposite direction — disclose as little as possible, operate behind closed doors, avoid public engagement, and falsely blame it on too few staff and the coronavirus. In this article we analyze two troubling examples, the Town ditching their own Strategic Plan regarding encroachment by residents on Town land, and a hilarious / lamentable play-by-play example of obfuscation by the QB Airport Users Committee.
Encroachments on Town-owned land not handled according to Strategic Plan
We previously reported on the recent demands being placed by the Planning Department on property owners on the east side of Chartwell. Let’s compare what the Town said they planned to do vs. what has since transpired.
The current Council, elected in fall 2018, developed a Strategic Plan for their four-year term 2019 – 2022, which was adopted by Council on February 25, 2019. Strategic Plan 2019-2022 (qualicumbeach.com)
The plan included, as Strategic Initiative #3 “Address Encroachments onto Town-owned land.” Here’s what they said they were going to do [emphasis added]:
“The Town will prepare and implement a strategy to deal with the unauthorized use of Town-owned land. This includes road rights of way, parkland, tree buffers, and other Town-owned parcels. This will be a significant undertaking, as there are hundreds of examples in all parts of the Town. The public engagement over this issue will be a major component, as both land owners and residents will have views regarding outcomes such as a financial obligation or requirement to stop the unsanctioned use of Town land.
“Generally, the steps in this process include:
- Develop Summary Report on encroachments;
- Public Consultation;
- Implementation and Enforcement.”
Now, let’s review what has and hasn’t been done and shared with the public since.
The Summary Report In his annual strategic plan Progress Update in July 2019, Town CAO Sailland reported “Development of summary report in progress” and “Public consultation – Report to Council Scheduled for October”. A year later in July 2020, he reported “development of summary report – complete.” And “Public discussion and enforcement – scheduled for Spring/Summer 2020.”
However, no Summary Report of any kind has since appeared on the agenda for any subsequent regular, open-to-the-public Council meeting, nor been posted to the Town’s website. Instead, according to the Town Planner Luke Sales, the report was discussed in one of their increasingly frequent secret Council meetings, without minutes, denying the public any scrutiny of their deliberations, conclusions and directions to staff — in direct contradiction of the promised public engagement.
Public Consultation When recently pressed, the Town Planner could not provide Second Opinion QB with evidence of any public consultation, claiming that the consultation got derailed by COVID [a convenient, but not very solid excuse] and never got started at a community wide level. Why then, did the Town CAO, in July 2020, report on-going (spring/summer 2020) “public discussion” when no such public discussion was actually happening?
Implementation and Enforcement So the planning gets done in secret, they renege on the promised public engagement, and here they are stumbling into enforcement. The growing public consternation, both with this specific initiative and more broadly, is entirely predictable and, in our opinion, largely avoidable.
Fog blankets the Qualicum Beach Airport
Speaking of Town Hall opacity, here is another recent mind-boggling example, this time related to operation of the Qualicum Beach Airport.
Let’s start with some context. We have a municipal airport that is uncharacteristically close to residential sections of the Town. No, we don’t know who decided to put it there, rather than well west of Town. The airport serves a broad collection of communities in what is generally called Qualicum District (69). Thus, it is truly a regional airport and no, we don’t know why it’s operated by and paid for by only one municipality (Qualicum Beach) – isn’t that what the Regional District level of government is for?
For those of us who have flown frequently in and out of “XQU”, another common question is: Who designs a small airport with its runway pointing into the heart of its Town, in this case directly at the community of Qualicum Woods? Check Google maps and contrast this anomaly with the City-owned Campbell River Airport, appropriately positioned near the City, but with its main runway and flight path parallel to the residential core of the City — not right across it.
Perhaps the Qualicum Beach Airport is just another of those questionable QB creations — great idea, wrong location, flawed design. This context is included, not as a general rant, but to partially explain the entirely predictable safety and noise conflicts between the planes and the residents who live under the dominant take-off and landing flight paths in and out of XQU.
Operational responsibility for the QB Airport rests within the Town’s Engineering & Operations department headed by Bob Weir. There is an ad hoc QB Airport Users Committee which, judging from its published terms of reference has no apparent accountability or authority other than to make suggestions, a function that frankly doesn’t need the pretense of a Committee. It would be more appropriate for it to be named Bob’s Flying Club.
As can be observed from the recording of the November 3, 2020 QB Airport Users Committee meeting — its first meeting in over a year, public transparency is not their strong suit. Readers are encouraged to listen to the published audio recording — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry… Then decide if this Committee meets the minimum tests of openness and transparency and public engagement. [Note: If the Town should decide to remove the posted audio recording, please contact the editor; we have a copy.]
The meeting starts with the chair neither identifying himself, nor identifying who is in the Town Hall Committee Room, or attending via Zoom, or attending via phone – all customary professional courtesies whenever the meeting recording does not otherwise identify the attendees. Soon (at 01:30), there is the following exchange:
Unidentified Attendee #1: “Can I ask a question? Who’s the chair of the meeting?”
Unidentified Attendee #2: “I am running the meeting.” [Check it out, I am not making this up.]
UA #1: “And that’s Arnold, is it?”
UA #2: “Arnold is here [although the Minutes do not indicate that he was present]. It’s Bob. My new title is airport executive. Arnold is manager of operations.”
UA #1: “So who else from the Town is present there? We don’t see any other faces.”
Bob [Weir]: “That’s a directive of senior management because we were having some of the groups use our video recordings to take snippets and make unrepresentative videos supporting their own agendas. So, we are not video recording any meetings.”
With regard to public attendance at Committee meetings during COVID-19, QB Town Council and Administration have leaned on an arbitrary interpretation of Ministerial Order M192 section 7(3) which mandates that “When conducting a meeting [electronically, e.g. using Zoom], a council or body must use best efforts to use electronic or other communication facilities that allow members of the public to hear, or watch and hear, the part of the meeting that is open to the public..”
The usual excuse we are given by Town Hall for not allowing the public to watch and hear video-conferenced Committee meetings live (even if muted), is the lack of staff resources “to operate the technological aspects.” Does that really reflect ‘best efforts’?
But now, thanks to Bob Weir’s explanation, the truth comes out. The blank black screen that appeared before beleaguered attendee #1 who connected to the Airport Users Committee meeting on November 3rd apparently has nothing to do with some fabricated technical complexity; instead it seems to be because somebody with a thin skin has taken offense to being ridiculed somewhere by someone. Perhaps a different line of work for the offended person is in order, far removed from the public eye and a position of public accountability.
In addition to the lack of transparency in the conduct of these meetings, also noticeable is the lack of public participation, by either flying passengers (or those who would like to be) or by representatives of the QB residents who have to cope with the overhead noise from take-offs, landings and overflights.
By contrast, here are a few of the terms of reference for Campbell River’s Airport Advisory Committee (AAC):
- City employees are not permitted to serve on any advisory committee, including the AAC;
- Nine voting members-at-large appointed by Council, plus a non-voting Council liaison;
- The AAC shall meet at least four times per year;
- AAC proceedings will be open to the public, except for those portions authorized by specific reason to be held in-camera (Community Charter);
- Delegations are welcomed, comparable to those appearing before our Council.
In practice, due to COVID-19, all of Campbell River’s advisory committee meetings are held via zoom, and members of the public can attend, as observers, the portion of the meeting which is not held in-camera. They simply have to contact City Hall ahead of time so they can be sent a link to the zoom meeting. Now that sounds more like ‘best efforts’.
We would love to hear from any QBers who have concerns about our Airport operation generally, and specifically the adequacy of the QB Airport Users Committee in serving and representing the public’s interests.