North Saanich majority decries councillor’s FOI search

Discussions with District's housing consultant 'innocuous' says councillor.

North Saanich councillor Elsie McMurphy had only a brief chance to present the findings from her Freedom of Information request for communications between council and a consultant — as she didn’t get to speak for long before her political opponents seized the agenda.

McMurphy made the request more than a month ago, searching for email documentation of conversations between councillors and Ed Grifone of CTQ Consulting Ltd. of Kelowna — the company they hired to conduct a housing strategy implementation report. Coun. Craig Mearns had made a similar request back in March, but that was only for correspondence after a series of public meetings.

McMurphy said her search was more broad and she used the FOI process to keep staff out of an awkward position between council’s two opposing sides.

“The emails speak for themselves,” McMurphy said at council’s Sept. 9 meeting during a debate on her FOI request.

She had made the request to determine if there had been any influence on the housing consultation process that could have changed the outcome, she explained. She specifically pointed out email confirmation of a conference call between Coun. Ted Daly and Grifone, done in the presence of municipal staff. It was this issue that led to three councillors walking out of an Aug. 19 council meeting, forcing its abrupt end.

“It’s all about there being an aura of fear,” McMurphy said, “that we’re afraid to get this information on the table.”

Mayor Alice Finall, who with McMurphy and Coun. Celia Stock are generally opposed to changes to the District’s housing policies, said she was concerned with what she saw in the emails out of the FOI request.

“If I had done it,” Finall said, “it would had led to a censure motion against me. It’s an indication that the report and the consultant were compromised.”

The council majority rejected that notion outright. Committee of the Whole meeting chair Craig Mearns ruled that McMurphy could not read into the record any of the content of Daly’s email to staff regarding his phone conversation with Grifone.

“It’s all a tactic to delay (the report),” said Coun. Dunstan Browne. “It’s a despicable position. They want to discredit this housing consultation.”

For his part, Daly said he ran for council to deal with “housing stuff” and defended the call he made to Grifone.

“It was a five or six minute call,” he explained. “I’m not covering it up. The mayor even knew about it because Patrick (O’Reilly, the District’s director of infrastructure services) told me that he had told her so.”

Finall denied knowing about the call.

Daly said the actions of McMurphy and Finall — and to a lesser extent Stock — have been “to discredit, discount and to cause fear.”

In defence of her counterpart, Coun. Conny McBride began to read Daly’s email — something that McMurphy was prevented from doing earlier in the meeting. When she pointed out that this was unfair, Mearns was curt.

“Life’s unfair,” he said.

Daly’s email to O’Reilly appears to indicate he talked to Grifone about the format of an open house.

As Stock proceeded to try to defend the line of questioning by Finall and McMurphy, Browne left the meeting (citing the late hour) followed by McBride who did so in protest of the minority group’s continued comments and questions.

Nothing further was done with McMurphy’s report on her FOI request.

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