Following a heated debate about the right to expense alcohol to the taxpayers at the TNRD regular Board of Directors meeting on Mar. 25, Director Sally Watson of Electoral Area ‘E’ made a motion that the annual TNRD dinner held at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) be discontinued.
A resolution had been passed on July 11, 2019 that the TNRD would continue to host a UBCM dinner, but Watson proposed that the “expensive luxury” was no longer appropriate as the TNRD’s expenses have recently come under fire as a potential misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.
“In the exposé that hit the news, going through that spreadsheet it showed that we had spent over $26,000 in the past five years having dinner at UBCM instead of the possibility of sending each EA Director for $100 apiece, which would have been $5000,” said Watson.
“So, I would say that the time has come to put an end to this very expensive luxury and if people want to go to the banquet, they can do their networking there.”
Director of Electoral Area ‘P’, Mel Rothenburger voiced his support for the motion, but with the clarification that the dinner had been established to serve a purpose.
“I’ve always been told the purpose of that event was that, instead of paying $100 a head for the big convention banquet, we could put that money towards something where we could do some networking and show our appreciation for the MLAs and some of the other members of regional districts and councils that are part of our Regional District, but we don’t normally get a chance to network with,” said Rothenburger.
“So, it wasn’t just the cost, it was that piece of that too… I agree, I don’t think it’s acceptable anymore to carry on with that event, but the high cost of it comes from the fact that we invite so many people to it. So, I agree with what Director Watson says, yes we could spend significantly less money and do our hobnobbing at the bigger banquet.”
However, apart from a handful of Directors on the board of 26 members, Watson found little support for her motion.
Stephen Quinn, Director for Electoral Area ‘B’, spoke against the motion, noting that invitees would now have to cover their own costs, moving forward, due to changes made by the TNRD.
“I know that in past years the banquet has apparently become excessive,” said Quinn.
“Part of the purpose was to do exactly what Director Rothenburger said, to network with our MLAs… I think there is a value in that, and I think we should continue to have the ability to be able to do it, so on that basis I will be speaking against that motion.”
Director of Electoral Area ‘O’, Bill Kershaw, also spoke against the motion, citing the fact that the TNRD may, in future, not send all of the Directors to UBCM, instead limiting it to a select few each year.
“Right now, it’s too early to have this put through,” said Kershaw.
Director Al Raine of Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality believed that Director Watson’s calculations were skewed.
“I will point out that in the past when these expenses were accounted for in accordance with Director Watson’s calculation, we were paying for spouses, we were paying for alcohol and your calculation doesn’t include the municipalities, and we did pay for the municipalities,” said Raine.
“If we had paid for the municipalities and the EAs that’s $12,500 for five years… I’m saying we’re not comparing apples to apples with those numbers.”
Chair Gillis approved of this statement by Raine, Director Watson, however, disagreed, clarifying that the TNRD would only pay for Electoral Area Directors, of which there are ten.
“We would be paying for 10 EA Directors… the TNRD isn’t responsible for paying for the Municipal Directors’ dinner, or the MLAs, and if we go to the banquet I run into a lot of MLAs at the banquet because they’re not having dinner with their constituents,” said Watson.
Directors Smith, Swan, Stamer, and Elliott spoke to the importance of “breaking bread” with colleagues as a means of engagement and progress.
“First of all, I can’t support Director Watson’s motion it doesn’t make any sense to me… for 15 years I’ve participated in these dinners and I’ve found them very, very useful, so that’s my word on it,” said Herb Graham, Director for Electoral Area ‘N’ – Beautiful Nicola Valley South.
“The meeting was less about business and more about just sort of getting together, and there is a good thing to say about breaking bread with your MLAs and MPs and stuff like that, but if you want to really move something forward, I guess what you can track down those MLAs and MPs just about anywhere during that UBCM conference,” said Steve Rice, in disagreement with the necessity of the dinner.
Chair Gillis, who declined to forward the topic to the newly appointed Policy Committee, insisted on the importance of the annual event.
“The only thing I wish to add to what’s already been said is that I have found them to be really valuable,” said Gillis.
“I’ve found it to be an opportunity for me as a director of the TNRD… to understand and develop a bit of a different appreciation for some of the issues that might face councillors and mayors in the small communities when you have the opportunity to sit down and speak with them one on one. And yes, it is a lot quieter than the banquet, and a lot more, I guess the word might be intimate… it’s certainly far more valuable, I think than attending the banquet and if we were to discontinue this TNRD hosted dinner I don’t think I’d bother attending the banquet, I don’t think it’s worthwhile.”
Directors Rothenburger, Bass, Sinclair, Rice, Watson, Blackwell and Polderman voted in favour of cancelling the dinner, but the motion was defeated.
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald