Question period cancellation at Cultus Lake still under fire

Cultus Lake residents are lodging complaints about the Cultus Lake Park Board with the B.C. Ombudsperson.

Several Cultus Lake residents are lodging complaints about the Cultus Lake Park Board with the B.C. Ombudsperson.

Former Park Board commissioner Terry Woodrow said the reason for lodging a complaint is his growing concern about the June 27 board decision to cancel the public question period portion of park board meetings indefinitely.

“Their decision effectively cut the public off at the knees,” he said. “Who does that?”

In the wake of the in-camera decision, the board chair was given the mandate to draft a letter explaining why the park board came to this decision. Some commissioners and staff felt they weren’t being given the “respect” they deserve, and that some members of the public had “stepped over the proper lines of decorum” during question period.

Woodrow said the “respect” issue cited, is just a smokescreen.

“I made the complaint because I think the public needs some relief from this decision that the park board made in camera to violate their own bylaws,” said Woodrow.

As of press deadline, a proposal to reconsider the whole question period matter at Wednesday night’s meeting was contained in the meeting agenda.

There were several scenarios proposed by Commissioner Charlotte Hall, and two of them suggest changing the wording of the procedural bylaw from the board “shall” hold a 30-minute question period, to “may.”

One of the ideas is even gaining even tighter control over question period.

“When the Chair or Commissioner(s) considers the conduct of the public improper, the Chair shall close the question period immediately,” reads one of the proposals.

Woodrow is alarmed.

“It’s outrageous.”

During his term as a commissioner, public question period was always a crucial and democratic part of the board’s function.

But there is also some history dating back to 2009, where officials tried to remove the question part of the meeting, and avoid recording the questions.

“I think there is a real disconnect here, and the commissioners aren’t doing themselves any favours,” he said.

“In fact I think they’re doing the public and themselves a great disservice.

“The majority of the board has decided it does not want to hear what the public has to say, and that’s just wrong.”

An official with the B.C. Ombuds office said there could be no statement to the media, not even confirmation of complaints lodged, until after they are investigated and the report is filed.

Woodrow said he hopes the B.C. Ombudsperson recognizes his official complaint for what it is: a request that the board follow its own bylaws.

Another leaseholder Rick Williamson has submitted two complaints so far this year. One on Aug. 20 to the BC Ombuds office stating the board has violated its own bylaws by cancelling question period. Then another on Oct. 6 about the fact that the board made the decision in-camera, calling it an “abuse” of the in-camera meeting provisions.

The issue of public input and the Park Board has come up in the past.

The 2011-12 annual report issued in May 2012 from the BC Ombudsperson states that they received complaints about the process followed by the Cultus Lake Park Board in deciding to increase seasonal camping fees at Sunnyside campground.

“The people who contacted us were concerned they were not adequately consulted and did not have a meaningful opportunity to express their interests and concerns before the Board decided to increase camp fees.”