For the first time in recent history, two public hearings and a land-use committee meeting scheduled for Monday night at White Rock city hall were cancelled – 15 minutes past their scheduled start time – due to lack of quorum.
As a result of illness and other absence, only three of seven council members – Couns. Helen Fathers, Larry Robinson and Al Campbell – made it to the 7 p.m. hearings and meeting. To proceed, at least four members had to be there.
“We apologize for any sort of inconvenience we’ve caused any of you,” city clerk Tracey Arthur said, addressing the crowd of approximately three dozen who had turned out to hear and be heard.
Attendees included residents concerned about flooding issues associated with a Roper Avenue property that is the proposed site of a seven-unit strata townhouse project, and developers associated with the proposal.
“This is just an unfortunate circumstance, due to illness, that council is sincerely sorry for,” Arthur said, noting new meeting dates would be announced both on the city’s website (www.whiterockcity.ca) and in newspaper advertising.
Coun. Mary-Wade Anderson is in hospital; Coun. Grant Meyer was sick; and Mayor Wayne Baldwin was “in transit” from a family vacation in Osoyoos.
Attempts by the city to reach Coun. Louise Hutchinson were unsuccessful Monday evening, but she later told Peace Arch News that a problem with the city’s email meant none of the councillors were contacted.
Baldwin said Tuesday that he’d advised staff last Thursday that he wouldn’t be back in time for the meetings – including an in-camera session that was cancelled for that very reason – but didn’t expect his absence to be an issue.
“I would have assumed we would have sufficient for quorum, but we didn’t. That’s unfortunate,” Baldwin said.
While the public hearing delay isn’t problematic for the city, it is for the developer, the mayor said, “in the sense that time is money.”
“We have to respect that, and we didn’t show the proper respect on that particular day, and that won’t happen again.”
Robinson said Wednesday it was “a bad situation” and that he fielded complaints from some of the professionals present.
The public hearings have been rescheduled for July 9. The land-use meeting will take place at 6 p.m. June 25, prior to the regular council meeting.
Baldwin noted part of the no-quorum problem can be attributed to the city’s computer server being offline from about noon on Friday until Monday morning. It essentially cut the main lines of communication between staff and council, he said.
Arthur and Baldwin said they received no word from Coun. Louise Hutchinson that she would not be attending Monday. Baldwin described Hutchinson as “a victim of a loss of communication.”
Hutchinson, who said she wasn’t available to speak with PAN, emailed confirmation of that point late Tuesday.
“You may or may not know that the city went ‘down’ in the IT department and none of us were on email since last Friday,” she writes. “So, somewhere along the line, communications were nil.”
The land-use meeting was a regularly scheduled one that has been on the city’s books since the beginning of the year. Advertising in PAN’s June 12 and 14 editions advised that the public hearings were scheduled.
Baldwin said he did not know why Hutchinson didn’t phone in her absence, and described the fact she didn’t as an example of where the city fell short.
“We’re just going to have to make sure that we’ve got a quorum. Phone the first four on the list and make sure we’ve got four is all we need to do,” he said.
Arthur told PAN that Monday’s situation was the first time in at least four years that a meeting has been called off so unexpectedly. Baldwin agreed it was “very rare” for White Rock, but recalled it did happen “a couple” of times during his 23-year tenure as city manager.
Neighbouring Surrey has no record of a scheduled council meeting ever being cancelled under such circumstances.
On Monday night Campbell said the situation was the result of “very unusual circumstances.”
“This is brutal… very embarrassing, actually.”
Not everyone was upset with the unexpected change of plans.
One woman who showed up because of concerns with the Roper Avenue proposal said the cancellation worked out in favour of her and others who had questions that they otherwise would not have been able to pose.
Robinson and Paul Stanton – the city’s director of planning and development services – stayed behind on an informal basis to discuss the concerns.
“It was good that (Stanton) had time to speak to us,” said Gale Dawson. “All of the residents feel that it’s in-hand.”
Robinson – noting he gave notice prior to the meeting that he was going to recuse himself of any formal discussion or vote on the Roper Avenue matter – agreed.
“By a combination of dumb luck and good planning … we were able to resolve issues that probably, given a formal meeting, wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It worked out better than if we had a formal meeting.”