Town staff try to thwart preservation of St. Andrews Lodge

Evidence from Town documents reveals that the Town’s corporate administrator, Heather Svenson, misdirected Council, preventing the public from having appropriate input into the initial hasty decision to demolish St. Andrews Lodge. Records also show that Town operations staff prematurely entered into a contractual agreement to demolish the Lodge before this Council resolution had been adopted.

Was this wilful misconduct, or just incompetence? Let’s look at the facts.

St. Andrews Lodge interior.

Six resolutions from the October 14, 2020 in camera Council meeting, including the resolution to demolish St. Andrews Lodge, appeared, for the first time, in the agenda for the October 28, 2020 open Council Meeting for the express purpose of being adopted. They were bundled along with a half dozen other items within the meeting’s Consent Agenda. Councillor Filmer requested that the St. Andrews resolution be pulled from the Consent Agenda, as any member of Council is entitled to do, since the resolution had not yet been adopted.

Councillor Filmer stated: “I honestly feel that we made a mistake on this one. I think it includes [i.e. needs] not only a public debate but reconsideration. I don’t think it should have been decided in camera.”

Procedural flim-flam by Town’s senior administrators

The Town’s Corporate Administrator, Heather Svenson, immediately interjected to say that it was too late to “reconsider” the motion. While there is such a rule buried in the appendix of the relatively new Council Procedure Bylaw 733, it only applies to resolutions that have actually been adopted — this resolution had not yet been adopted.

Svenson went on to say that Filmer could move to “rescind” the October 14 in-camera motion, but that it would require a two-thirds majority of Council, i.e. 4 of 5 Councillors, to be passed. That is incorrect.

According to the same Procedure Bylaw 733, rescinding a prior resolution “Requires Notice of Motion OR 2/3 majority to consider.” In other words, Councillor Filmer could have introduced a Notice of Motion to rescind the October 14 motion. That would have deferred further consideration until a later Council meeting, with the added benefit of giving the public an opportunity to weigh in. But Svenson did not provide that option to Council.

Svenson also neglected to state that any Council member could have simply introduced a new motion to supersede and negate the October 14 motion. Such a motion would only need the usual 3 of 5 Council majority. This misdirection might be understandable if she was a novice in this position or an entry-level staffer, but Svenson is neither.

Councillor Adam Walker (L) and Councillor Teunis Westbroek (R) at St. Andrews Lodge. November 6, 2020

Without being advised and aware of all of the options, Councillor Filmer then made a motion to rescind the October 14th resolution. In discussion, Councillor Walker suggested simply deferring [the adoption of] the October 14 motion until one or more short-term grant funding opportunities could be pursued.

Councillor Westbroek then asked staff a curious question, “Has that [the October 14 in camera resolution] already been actioned?” One would assume the obvious answer would be ‘no’ since the resolution was not scheduled to be adopted (or not) until the open public Council meeting on October 28.

In response, Town CAO Daniel Sailland dropped a bombshell: “The motion has been actioned. And our operations staff, I believe, have issued a contract with Parksville Heavy [Equipment].” Say, what??

This curious (convenient?) haste by staff, who may not even have had the legal authority to proceed, was certainly not prudent. Knowing the contentious nature of this St. Andrews imbroglio, senior administrative staff ought to have made doubly sure that they had an adopted resolution before taking any action in the name of the Town.

When does an in-camera meeting resolution take effect? To achieve transparency and to demonstrate accountability, it is generally understood that any resolution passed by a municipal government during a secret, in camera meeting with no published minutes must first be adopted at an open public meeting before the resolution takes effect. BC’s Community Charter, amongst its many deficiencies, does not spell this out in plain language. Other jurisdictions do. For example, for clarity of wording, first place goes to Saskatchewan’s Municipalities Act. Their legislation, in a section titled Public Accountability stipulates that “An act or proceeding of a council is not effective unless it is authorized or adopted by a bylaw or a resolution at a duly constituted public meeting of the council.”

Why the rush?

We asked this question in our previous article and still have not received or seen any rational argument for immediately calling in the bulldozers, an act that intuitively looks like political and professional suicide for Council or staff who abet this corrupted process.

Councillor Filmer summed up the situation well: “We made a decision in camera that realistically should not have been made in camera. We went against what we told the public we were going to do. .. We [previously] let the public know that we were going to come up with a plan — whether it’s demolish, relocate or use [in situ]. Then we were going to let them know this is what we’ve decided. Instead, what has happened is we have decided — in camera — that we are going to get rid of this building. They [the public] see this on an agenda [for the October 28 Council meeting] and then hear a week later that it has [already] been actioned.”

Despite Mayor Wiese’s attempts to refuse convening a special Council meeting (he has no such authority), at the request of multiple Councillors, Council did meet again in public on Friday, November 6.

Battered and weakened, democracy did finally prevail, for now. St. Andrews Lodge earned a reprieve, thanks in large part to the remonstrations of a broad cross-section of the community who demanded to be heard, as well as the courage of those Councillors who understood that the October decision to destroy this heritage icon was wrong.

Now the real work begins. People interested in helping to ensure this community treasure is brought back to life can contact  

Questions need to be asked

When the Town acquired the property, did the seller remove all of their furniture and fixtures? The answer appears to be no, based on the photos included with the Ingleton report. If so, given the antiquity of the Lodge, has a professional appraiser assessed the artifacts? Has our QB Museum been given first dibs on them? Have collectors been given the opportunity to bid on the items that will not be retained? 

Given the hurried desire by Town staff to get rid of the building and contents, have they maintained proper control of the temperature and humidity in the building to prevent any damage or deterioration from frost and mould?   

While asbestos abatement in the building is a necessity (but not urgent), why is the Town paying a contractor to take the building and its contents? Is it not reasonable to expect that the purchaser of the building should, instead, be paying the Town, and not the other way around? If (hypothetically) the building were to be demolished for salvage, the value of the surface wood alone is considerable. As pointed out in the Ingleton report, apart from kitchen and bathroom, “Flooring throughout the remainder of the building is the original 1 [inch] x 4 [inch] tongue and groove fir with a clear finish. The permitter [sic] walls of the dining and living room is [sic] finished with 4’ high of cedar plywood wainscotting with cedar trim.”