Former board member alleges interference

Most councillors are skeptical, reject call for council guidelines

A former member of the District of North Saanich’s board of variance has alleged that there were a couple of incidents of political interference in the decisions made by the quasi-judicial body.

Clarence Bolt was not selected to return to the board, where he spent the last six years, when council made its recent three-year term appointments. He stood before council on Feb. 6 and stated he thought he was to be interviewed for a potential re-appointment to the board but that did not happen and he was not re-appointed.

“In my six years there, I enjoyed the group,” he said, noting his experience on boards of variance is extensive and includes nine years on another such body.

In his address to council, Bolt said he was witness to two occasions of possible political interference in the board’s decisions.

Boards of variance deal with appeals for minor variances to zoning bylaws.

“I feel this past year, the board has been subject to some political scrutiny,” he said, adding that in the past, the board itself has acted with integrity.

The first incident, he claimed, came when a board decision was questioned by the proponent of the project on which the board ruled. That complaint, he said, prompted council to ask for the board to give their reasons for their decision in writing.

The second, he said, came when the board made a decision in a very close vote. Afterwards, he said a councillor stated that the decision was “the right one.” That, Bolt said, could have made those on the board who voted one way feel intimidated.

Councillor Ted Daly was skeptical of Bolt’s comments, stating to bring the concerns forward now, after the fact, seems suspect.

“To bring it up now is only taking (Bolt’s) comments (at face value),” Daly said, adding he wasn’t going to base any decisions on one person’s comments.

“This, to me, is fairly serious,” said Coun. Elsie McMurphy.

She asked staff to provide council with guidelines on how they can avoid any semblance of interference, real or perceived, with the board.

Coun. Celia Stock added that the separation of powers is important in this case and council’s role in the matter needs to be clarified.

Coun. Dunstan Browne said his recollection of the first instance — asking the board to give its decision in writing — was that the matter was too big to have been sent to the board in the first place. He also said a comment like “you made the right decision” doesn’t constitute interference.

Mayor Alice Finall noted that Bolt’s bringing up the issue would have been problematic when he was a sitting board member.

“The (board of variance) is a quasi-judicial body,” Bolt said. “It’s not a committee of council. Its decisions can only be challenged at the Supreme Court. Its duties are performed with integrity, based on rules laid out by (the provincial government).”

Bolt added he hopes that despite changes made to the board’s membership, it will continue to operate without political influence.

McMurphy’s motion to seek guidelines from staff was defeated, 4-3.

 

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