THIS WEEK, VANCOUVER SUN reporter Vaughn Palmer wrote a column titled “Only voters can lay blame for Thompson-Nicola spending fiasco.”
In it, he rightly praised Kamloops This Week reporter Jessica Wallace’s dogged and thorough reporting of spending by then TNRD CAO Sukh Gill, and lack of oversight by the TNRD board.
He concluded that it would be the voters, in the October 2022 election, who would cast the final decision on the board’s culpability and responsibility for the “spending fiasco.”
But the directors of the TNRD are not elected in the same way most local governments, such as Kamloops is, so I for one am doubtful there will be a wholesale change of the board.
First, the TNRD is made up of both representatives from incorporated areas and unincorporated areas. There are 26 directors, of which 16 represent municipal (incorporated) governments in the region, and 10 directors represent rural (unincorporated) areas.
Representing incorporated areas on the TNRD are mayors from Ashcroft, Barriere, Cache Creek, Chase, Clearwater, Clinton, Logan Lake, Lytton, Merritt and Sun Peaks.
Because Kamloops is so large, it has six directors, including Kamloops Mayor Christian, along with five city councillors: Dale Bass, Dieter Dudy, Mike O’Reilly, Kathy Sinclair, Arjun Singh.
Unincorporated areas are represented by 10 Electoral Area directors such as Steven Rice for “Blue Sky Country” in the area around Spences Bridge, and Sally Watson of “Bonaparte Plateau”.
Vaughn Palmer is correct that only the voters will cast the final decision on the board, by voting them in or out of office. But out of the 26 members of the TNRD board, only 10, the Electoral Area directors, are directly voted in by voters. For the 16 members of the TNRD board from incorporated areas, voting for mayor (or in the case of Kamloops mayor and council) is also a vote for the TNRD board.
As much as the TNRD fiasco has eroded public trust and confidence in the work of the TNRD, municipal voters will be thinking more locally in the October 2022 elections.
In Logan Lake, if Mayor Robin Smith again chooses to run in the fall elections, it is far more likely voters will be considering her leadership that led to the preparedness of their town as it successfully battled wildfires rather than the workings of the TNRD.
Similarly, in Merritt, Mayor Linda Brown’s leadership during the catastrophic flooding will be top of mind if she runs, not the TNRD. Mayor Blackwell of Clearwater will likely be judged on his defense of local healthcare services, not the TNRD’s financial mismanagement.
Across the region, mayors who run again will be judged for what they did for their local communities, far more than for what happened at the TNRD.
Perhaps things might be slightly different for the six representatives from the City of Kamloops. As a group, they represent a sizeable voice on the board. There has been ongoing criticism that they did not speak up sooner or loudly enough. But even then, it’s more likely that whichever of the six who choose to run again in the municipal elections, they will be judged more for what they did for the city than for their role on the regional district.
The only regional directors who are directly elected by voters are the ten electoral area directors. Of those, some won’t be running. Some, such as Steven Rice, have been strong advocates for their region through fires and floods. If any of the electoral area directors would take the fall, its likely TNRD Chair Ken Gillis, who has been the face of the board through the entire controversy, bearing the brunt of criticism from the public and some of his fellow board members.
In terms of Vaughn Palmer’s prediction, my take is that local issues, not the TNRD fiasco, will determine the outcome of the next election for TNRD board members.
Full disclosure, that I was on the TNRD board from 2011 to 2014. Sukh Gill was hired as CAO of the TNRD shortly before I joined the TNRD board. Therefore, I would have experienced some of the TNRD spending practises such as having Gill or other staff pay for mine and other board members meals, rather than expense them myself. At the time, I did not question the practice. Hindsight is twenty twenty.
I have strong praise for the work of Jessica Wallace in revealing the weaknesses in the TNRD fiscal policies. Especially in these times of shrinking news coverage, it is good to have reporters covering local government news.
Whoever gets elected to the TNRD board in October 2022, fiscal prudence has been strengthened because of her work.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.