Following a heated annual general meeting for the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve, one director has resigned and others are considering their options.
About 80 people attended the meeting, with many concerned members questioning why the foundation had recently failed a periodic review and was in danger of losing its UNESCO designation.
President Holly Clermont gave the president’s report, stating it had been a long and difficult year, giving reasons for an exodus of resigning directors, such as personal reasons, delay in funding, and a letter regarding the logging of DL33 sent to the premier of B.C. without being approved by the entire board.
Acting Parksville mayor Chris Burger served as chairperson and mediator and had a difficult time controlling the room, as allegations flew about one member causing the possible delisting — Phil Carson, whom Clermont replaced as president 15 days ago.
A vote was made to allow Carson to speak during the meeting, and he claimed he had been sent a slanderous letter asking him to resign. Although he was the one to send the letter regarding DL33, he said, other board members were aware and even helped edit it.
Clermont interjected, disputing that claim, but Carson was allowed to finish his speech.
Following the meeting Carson said although he has been painted as “some kind of wide-eyed environmentalist” he said he is just pushing for the foundation to take a proactive role in local environmental issues, like applying for funding for scientific studies on the proposed coal mine, without actually taking a stance.
Carson said he wished to get over the controversy and get on with fixing the foundation.
“We’re supposed to be a best practices situation where UNESCO can hold us up to other communities and say ‘this is how these guys overcame their differences and how they were able to achieve a sustainable initiative.”
Member Peter Rothermel stated Clermont had been the glue holding the organization together. He also stood and told Carson that he had lost the confidence of the entire board of directors.
A vote was taken at the end of the meeting on whether to shift power from the members to the directors in order to remove a director, but it failed.
Time ran out before scheduled elections could take place at the meeting.
Carson said he will not be resigning as a board member and has two years left in his term. He said he has ideas of bringing representatives to the foundation from more areas of the community, like the fishing community, education and others.
Clermont said after the meeting that no other board member is willing to work with Carson.
“It is amazing that one determined individual can derail an entire organization for more than a year. It’s up to the communities now to work together to save the designation within the short time period left to us.”
The deadline to meet the statutory framework criteria to remain a biosphere reserve is 2013.
Burger said although there was some conflict at the meeting, there was a common vision.
“I think everyone can agree on one thing and it’s that they want to ensure the biosphere is not delisted,” he said.
The group needs to work on their governance so they can get back to work on the biosphere itself, he said. The key issue that remains, Burger continued, is whether the biosphere board should take an advocacy role or remain a neutral organization that brings different groups together and facilitates discussion.
Another AGM will be needed in order for the foundation to have its elections.