WHITE ROCK — Two White Rock council members are concerned the recent rescinding of a vote to relocate council chambers might paint council in a bad light due to the way it was undertaken.
Councillors Helen Fathers and Larry Robinson said a vote Monday evening to reverse a previous decision to move city council’s chambers to a new building on Fir Street shows disregard for council’s procedures and was based on nothing substantive.
The vote was triggered when Coun. Bill Lawrence announced he was rescinding his affirmative vote from a July 15 motion. At that time council had voted four to three in favour of moving council chambers out of city hall. Since then, Lawrence said he was approached by a company called Prize Box Entertainment, which expressed interest in renting the Fir Street location. As such, Lawrence reversed his position, saying that the city could make some revenue off of the building rather than have council sit in it.
Monday’s vote was once again split four to three, but this time with Lawrence joining Mayor Wayne Baldwin and councillors Louise Hutchinson and Grant Meyer in having the chambers remain at city hall. Those opposed were Fathers, Robinson and Coun. Alan Campbell, the three others who had originally voted in July to move the chambers.
According to Fathers, the decision was reversed based on little to no information, and flies in the face of council’s previous work.
“It makes a mockery of our system, a mockery of the democratic process that council sets and lays out and what’s the point in having a procedural bylaw if at any turn, we can do what happened last night,” Fathers said Tuesday. Fathers also took exception to the matter being brought up as a last-minute item on the agenda, considering legal advice had already been sought on the matter, indicating it had been in the works for more than just a day or so.
“There’s no reason that should have been dropped on us last night,” said Fathers.
“To me, there’s a fiduciary duty and an ethical argument,” he said. “In my position as a real estate agent I’ve had to be ultra careful about influencing the decision of council or even bringing in any business. I’ve made sure I’ve followed process and this, quite frankly, gobsmacked me.”
Robinson wondered why the company hasn’t come forth itself, and why there was no documentation to support Lawrence’s claim of Prize Box’s interest, a company which, he noted, has no online presence.
“I Googled them when the debate was going on and I couldn’t find a thing,” he said. “There was not one piece of paper in front of us when this was dropped, it was purely verbal. As a company, do not bring deals in through an individual councillor, you follow the process. We have to have an RFP and put it out to see if there are others... I feel that was shady.”
Lawrence said the main focus of his decision to rescind was a possible opportunity to generate income for the city’s taxpayers, rather than cost them more with a relocation of council chambers.
“I thought it was a really good opportunity for the city,” he said.
When asked why he was bringing Prize Box’s interest forth to council without the company having made any official movement itself, Lawrence said he was unsure of the group’s availability for the council meeting, but wanted to make known his intention if a viable tenant option were possible.
“If we stay in the church it would cost taxpayers a whole lot more money,” he said. “Having a prospective, real opportunity with this to rent the church as a space, was a good deal for the city and ratepayers of White Rock.”
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