Residents in Area B of Powell River Regional District will have a second opportunity to comment on the draft plan for their community.
A majority of directors voted at the September 19 board meeting to rescind third reading of the OCP bylaw, hold another public hearing, appoint three of the electoral area directors who participate in land use planning as a public hearing committee and direct the planning committee to draft and submit a board policy for public hearing procedure and conduct.
The motion was a recommendation from Mac Fraser, the regional district CAO (chief administrative officer). At the last regional board meeting, Area A Director Patrick Brabazon challenged the process, saying the “manner in which this OCP has been conducted has brought into question the integrity of the regional district.” The board directed Fraser to prepare a report about whether correct procedure had been followed.
Brabazon raised two main points: that Area B Director Stan Gisborne, who chaired the August 13 public hearing, intervened at least six times during submissions from the public; and that the binder containing a record of public input from the beginning of the southern regional district OCP, which encompasses both areas B and C, review in 2008 was not available at the hearing.
Colin Palmer, board chair and Area C director, made a lengthy statement after Fraser reported on his recommendation. Palmer said legal advice the regional district had received stated that the original input was relevant, but not required. “To me, your integrity is intact,” he said. “The board hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Palmer said that Brabazon has characterized the public hearing as “some kind of a total disaster and that’s his prerogative. I really do think that the board only has Director Brabazon’s opinion as to how it was carried out.”
Palmer also said the first time that Brabazon challenged the public hearing was after third reading.
At that point, Brabazon called a point of order and said that he had passed Palmer a note during the public hearing. Palmer agreed and said his note stated “’We’re borderline.’ It didn’t say ‘I object.’”
Palmer said Brabazon left it up to him to say something, so he tapped Gisborne on the shoulder and reminded him that “maybe we were getting a bit close to getting into some new issues which shouldn’t be happening at a public hearing.”
However, on a recording of the public hearing, Palmer clearly said to Gisborne, "You're debating."
Palmer also said he thought some of the comments Gisborne made during the public hearing “were under very, very difficult circumstances.”
For example, Palmer said, Gisborne read out all the instructions “as to how you are supposed to conduct yourself--and this is the public--in a public hearing. And the first response was questions. Now, that’s difficult. What do you do, especially when the question is not referring to the OCP? What is a director supposed to do? Sit there and say nothing? The public are expected to come up with statements about the OCP. When a director, you could say corrects, you could say interrupts, you could say anything. I thought it was just an effort to help the person understand that first of all, the question has nothing to do with the OCP. The problem was it then started to give the impression that we were going to answer questions and it got difficult.”
However, the first member of the public to speak at the public hearing made a statement objecting to the redesignation of a part of a property on Stevenson Road to light industrial.
Palmer said he thought the situation came down to a problem with public hearings. “Frankly, I don’t think it’s up to me and I don’t think it’s up to Director Brabazon to decide what a public hearing should be and what it shouldn’t be,” he said. “We need some expert advice.”
When Palmer concluded his remarks, he recognized Texada Island Director Dave Murphy to speak next, even though Brabazon wanted to speak. Brabazon called a point of privilege, but Palmer said no.
“That was an ad hominem attack,” Brabazon said. [Ad hominem relates to an attack on the person rather than their argument.] “I think I have a right to respond.”
“You don’t,” Palmer said. “As far as I’m concerned, you had the opportunity at the last meeting to make your comments...I want the rest of the board to have an opportunity. But I’m going to give you an opportunity for the second time at the end. You don’t have a point of privilege with me.”
Murphy said he didn’t want to sit on a board that “looks tainted or that is mulling around in some grey areas. I want things crisp, clean and clear.”
Murphy then made the motion based on Fraser’s recommendation and Lasqueti Island Director Merrick Anderson, who was participating over the telephone, seconded the motion.
Palmer next called on Gisborne, who proceeded to pass out a statement he had prepared in advance. However, the first sentence of his statement referred to the property on Stevenson Road.
Fraser immediately stopped Gisborne and told him he was putting the public hearing in jeopardy, because he was speaking to the content of the OCP. “If the board chooses to proceed with that, you have an obligation to return to public hearing,” he said.
Since the statement was in front of the board, Fraser said if the board members had read it, they had crossed the threshold. Several said they had read it.
Gisborne told Fraser that he was wrong in his recommendation. “Everything was done correctly,” he said, referring to the public hearing.
Fraser agreed that the legal, statutory requirements were met to the best of his knowledge in the public hearing. “What I recommend is returning—I very much like Director Murphy’s word—to make it clean,” he said. “An OCP can be perfect technically, but if it’s not supported by the community, it’s not worth the effort,” he said. “My recommendation is if you have this much discussion and you have this much doubt, you don’t want a guidance document that’s good for five to 20 years with a cloud hanging over it.”
Gisborne insisted that the input from the original review of the southern regional district OCP was available at the meeting. But Fraser pointed out while the planner, Laura Roddan, had it with her, it was not out on the table with the other binder containing information from the Area B OCP review.
Before Palmer called for the vote on the motion, he asked Brabazon if he wanted to speak. Brabazon declined.
When the vote was taken, Gisborne and City of Powell River Director Myrna Leishman, an alternate for Director Jim Palm, voted in opposition.
When asked about her vote, Leishman said the legal opinion was that procedure had been done correctly. “You’re going to now spend some more money, go through another public hearing, which is probably going to end up being exactly the same,” she said.
To listen to a recording of the August 13 public hearing, click here.