[Updated July 25 to correct a job description]
Municipal staff in the District of North Saanich have the full confidence of their political masters but the mayor would not say if council investigated any claims against staff in an in-camera discussion of recent accusations against the District.
Council issued a statement last week, iterating their support of their staff in the wake of criticism levelled by a proponent of a residential development project currently working its way through the District’s approval process.
Mayor Alice Finall told the News Review council confirmed in an open meeting their full confidence in staff and their work — and that comments made by Kyle Shick were unfounded, inappropriate and incorrect.
Shick, a senior architectural technologist with Finlayson Bonet Architecture, levelled charges of obstruction, interference, intimidation and collusion against staff and certain council members in relation to what he feels are delays in approving 54 condominium units on McDonald Park Road.
He made his first accusations, calling North Saanich a “rezoning purgatory,” on June 19 and did so again on June 24.
Finall said council discussed the issue in a closed meeting and reported on the outcome at their July 15 regular session.
When asked why the debate — which originated in open council — went to an in-camera meeting instead of being addressed openly, Finally said the matter had to do with personnel issues, including serious accusations against staff. Finall would not comment when asked if going in-camera meant council had investigated any of Shick’s comments about staff and the development application process.
She also would not comment when asked if the decision to publicly support staff was unanimous among the councillors.
Councillor Craig Mearns said that unanimous support was given, but “begrudgingly” on his part, as he has concerns about delays faced by developers when they make an application to the municipality. He agreed much of the delay in this case has been caused by the fact most of the District’s planning staff have resigned over the last two months — a third planner quit this month, he said, leaving only the director, Mark Brodrick.
“We did have a concern for staff,” Mearns said, “but the way the whole (confidence statement) came out, it makes it seem if everything’s OK, but that’s not the case.
“We certainly don’t want to blame staff, but I sympathize with developers. They have a shared frustration but what Mr. Shick did was over the top, no doubt.”
Mearns said council did not investigate Shick’s claims against staff, adding he’s not sure why the issue was taken into an in-camera meeting. He said he thinks much of this issue has been caused at the political level.
Finall said Shick is obviously not happy with the time it has taken for his proposal to date but has been made aware throughout the process that the District has outstanding issues it must resolve before any application can proceed.
Those include the new amenity policy, currently being reviewed and updated by staff to accommodate council’s request that its fees be compared with other communities’ development cost charges.
“The amenities contribution was originally going to be $400,000,” Shick said back in June. “The new one came back at over $1.2 million. If you’re guys adopt that, you’ll never have an affordable development in North Saanich ever again.”
The District’s housing strategy consultation must also be completed and its recommendations reviewed, Finall said, adding council is expecting a final report on that strategy by its August 19 meeting. She said staff are currently going through it and preparing a report, but have been hit hard by the recent resignations of District employees.
Mearns said he suggested the District contract out some of the planning work for ongoing development applications. He said they did that in the recent past, asking the Town of Sidney to do the work when the District did not have a planning department as such. Mearns said under his proposal, which did not meet with broad support from council or staff, the municipality would hire a contractor and later bill the developer for the cost.
Finall added ultimately, the Capital Regional District is asking North Saanich to update its official community plan and regional growth strategy — before the CRD will sign off on any further developments. The combination of these things, Finall said, will add more time to any development applications in the District of North Saanich.