Sunday, October 23, 2011

Salt Spring Extremism at its worst!

I would not have imagined when I started the POSSE blog that we as a community would actually need a POSSE! One that would go after issues that were more than ideological extremism.

This latest fiasco regarding our elected officals appearing to fund their own organizations without declaring their conflict of interest in being members of those same organizations is most egregious. It takes the debate out of the ideological and philosophical disagreements we may have into a terribly legal and ethical divergence. We have never really had to challenge or debate our elected officials on an ethical issue quite as blatantly as what appears to have transpired.

It is a painful community process for a lot of us who at least respected our differences without tending to question the trust we put in our elected representatives' legal and ethical positions or their moral character. We did afterall have a basic trust that our officials were working within legal paramters on our behalf, even if they were a little camera-shy.

Our fundamental trust may unfortunately have been broken with recent revelations. We can either confront the ramifications of not demanding the highest standards for our political representatives or we can take their position, and sweep it under the rug as just an innocent, good samaritan effort made to fund societies with legitimate and beneficial agendas.

I don't think we have the liberty of that kind of choice here. It is a very slippery slope to set any kind of precedent that would endorse such a blatant, conflict of interest modus operendi to prevail. It is just too fraught with all manner of possible consequences for abuse and gaming the system which is why the laws for politicians and organizations are there in the first place.

The problem with just looking at the good works of the Trustees' societies and disregarding the conflict of interest in their decision to self-fund them with tax dollars is that pet projects are often just that, pet projects. And in the case of something still controversial like a "Climate Action Council" one has to acknowledge that some of us simply reject the politically correct notion that the "debate is over" regarding who or what changes the climate on the planet Earth. Notwithstanding, the Federal and Provincial governments already fund 'climate change' research from our taxes which means the Trustees are yet again demonstrating their redundancy in budgeting funds for areas quite outside their land planning mandate.

The bottom line is 'good works' and claiming to have no idea the community had any objections to 'undeclared conflict of interest' voting procedures is more than naive, hardly appears innocent, and when it comes to spending our money, irresponsible to deny the accusation and force expensive legal action.

Any Trustee worthy of the name would have immediately apologised and acknowledged at least the perception of a conflict of interest. They should have rescinded the grants, possibly resigned from the Trust and/or the societies in question and then maybe had the societies re-apply for funding after they were out of office.

The events as depicted, taint both the Island Trust and the societies they helped to found.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Well what else could they possibly have said?

If ignorance of basic, common sense, conflict of interest law is in fact the excuse the Trustees and Mr. Hendren are falling back on (predictable actually) then it only tells the community just how deep the problem may be engrained in our broken governance model. Surely re-imbursement and a complete Trust-Wide review/audit should be the least the courts decide to do.

It is outrageously simplistic to say 'I did not know', when all three of our elected officials are clearly professionals and indeed should know the basics of conflict of interest rules regarding tax payers' money and their fiduciary responsiblities. It is difficult to imagine they are choosing to act so intellectually ignorant, like children caught with their hands in the cookie jar and it sounds like close to $50,000 worth of cookies too! Unbelievable!

It will surely be interesting to see who among the current crop of candidates come out in support of this kind of did-not-know-it-was-a conflict of interest. eeaaahhhtttt sorry, wrong answer Trustees and Hendren. Good luck with that one. Their little redirect that the community should have said something, well, how about declaring your conflict of interest up front and put the requests for funds on the agenda in advance so we could comment hmmmm? - the gall!

AND THEN to go further and say this is going to cost us to go to court to defend their ignorance? We can only hope that it will save us money in the long run by upholding the precident that this is NOT acceptable behaviour from our elected officials!

Thank you petitioners for bringing to the light of day this kind of blantant disregard for fundamental political principles of right and wrong. Clearly this demonstrates why the community has a right to have tax payer funded meetings videotaped. Once again thank you Jill Treewater for your perseverence in recording for posterity meetings few have time to attend.

Dismayed and concerned for Salt Spring's future. :(

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This is not a Witch Hunt!

It may behove those crying 'witch hunt' to maybe re-read the 'facts' at where former Trustee Eric Booth has done an exemplary and objective profile on this issue. But look, I have to agree with George Erhing's 1988 quote "The rules are the rules. You will follow them and we will honour you. Break them and you are dust we kick from our cleats. You get what you deserve".

Certainly true in cases where your actions affect other people (and their taxes) , problem is with those victimless crimes like drinking alcohol or smoking pot after a solid day's work, relax and float downstream and all that...

But recent events at LTC meetings where video evidence appears to show a propensity to allocate tax payers' funds to pet projects that the Trustees themselves are directors and beneficiaries of is quite another matter! And it is not about highways paved with golden intentions here, it is about the fundamental precident it sets for disregarding conflict of interest protocals and that is all that is being addressed in the court action being brought against our local politicians.

If they are convicted, I think George's 1988 view holds and both Trustees probably would have to accept the consequences of their actions and hopefully apologise, possibly resign immediately, all in good faith... and return the money of course. He and Christine can re-apply once they are out of office, the Trust is still going to be generous to its friends with our money. Conflict of Interest law is pretty straight forward and I am rather surprised our politicians chose to look the other way when it was staring them right in the face. Just saying.

It will be interesting to see who comes out to support this kind of disregard for conflict of interest and I agree with Mr. Buckwald it will happen under a municipal model as well... human nature is what it is.

I am just suggesting that a more centralized governance at least gives tax payers one roof under which to monitor fiduciary impropriety. Imagine the job of monitoring what we have now? It is all over the map and it is getting very expensive to manage as islanders. No witch hunt here... no need to hunt in fact, it is all happening in broad daylight.

The citizens launching this court action are to be commended for paying attention to our political process, the players, and how our tax dollars are spent. Most of us are way too busy in our daily jobs to have the energy to scutinize what goes on in meetings held at 1:00pm in the afternoon. We can certainly thank Jill Treewater for keeping at least a video record of these meetings, otherwise how would we have ever known or had the evidence of what is happening at these meetings?

Let's not forget how the Trustees so fervently tried to ban video taping at publicly funded meetings.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Flame burns Moths...

It would seem the flames of easily accessible taxpayer cash funneled by our politicians to various pet projects, set up by these self-same local politicians may have been too easy to resist.

It is actually not a bad little financial scheme, not quite a ponzy scheme but it certainly seems to work multiple times.

First, you start a pet project on a topical fad like Al Gore's 'climate change', you make informal application and motions at a Local Trust Committee yourself because you are not only the representive chair of the pet project but conveniently, the elected Trust representative too, then you say things like 'no problem we have done this before' and speak about the project in glowing third person terms... "they this and they that', don't post it as an agenda item to advise the public, wait for an LTC meeting that is almost devoid of an audience, (after making them the most boring events ever) then slam bam thank you taxpayer, you vote yourselves the cash with barely a discussion or sign of even an application with details as to deliverables.

It is all very nice, TRUSTEE <> CASH <> PET PROJECT <> ADVISORY REPORT <> TRUSTEE and then it all appears to loop back for another dip into the bottomless cash pot at our expense! Yes very nice indeed...NOT!!!

I am sure we can look forward to the double-speak explanations. Cries that this is some kind of witch hunt and various other redirects down the highway of 'good intentions'.

One wonders how the basics of their civic understanding of 'conflict of interest' emblazened in their own pet project rules (article 13) could have been stretched to rationalize such lack of fiduciary behaviour?

Not to mention that we have all wondered why the Islands Trust budget has been ballooning year after year after year to almost $7,000,000 million???? The Trust is a simple land-planning function for crying out loud, that's it, and it is commanding a municipal sized budget? (Check Trust Budget Clock top right)

Well if any of these allegations are true, heads should roll before the election this fall and they should roll rather quickly if the video evidence for all to see is as matter-of-fact as it looks, not to mention cheques cashed, recent 2011 dates of the formation of these pet projects and who knows how far this house of cards will fall!

Folks, Salt Spring has come of age, we really need to move towards a Municipal model of governance and centralize our services and tax expenditures. All of these little groups are going to be impossible to monitor and hold accountible for the tax money they absorb and now if true, some of them seem to in effect be simply giving cash to themselves!!

Unbelievable if true and certainly unconscionable!

They always say "follow the money trail", ideological differences aside, this latest news is just sad and embarrassing for our community political persona.