A BC Ombudsperson investigation revealed the Town of Qualicum Beach failed to follow its procedural bylaw when it denied a resident’s request to appear as a delegation at the town’s Aug. 19, 2020 regular council meeting to speak about a Telus cell tower proposal.
Resident Carol Dowe filed a complaint to the BC Ombudsperson after she made three unsuccessful applications to appear before council. She was informed town staff recommended against proceeding with any delegation requests for the Aug. 19, 2020 meeting as they required council’s direction on the next steps for public consultation.
Council on the Aug. 19, 2020 went on to discuss the TELUS tower application and directed staff to execute a lease agreement and also provide a land use concurrence for the proposed tower site. Council declined to schedule a public consultation process.
Dowe complained to the ombudsperson that the town’s decision to decline her delegation request for the Aug. 19, 2020 meeting was “arbitrary and unfair.”
Ombudsperson officer John Sparks investigated the matter and focused on whether the town acted fairly and consistently. In a letter to Dowe, Sparks, concluded that the town failed to adhere to section 17 of the Council Procedure Bylaw, No. 674, 2013 when the town denied Dowe’s request.
“In my view, subsection 17(5) does not appear to have contemplated public input opportunities that do not yet exist, and the Town’s decision to deny your delegation request on the basis of rescheduling it to a non-existent future public input opportunity did not appear to me to be in line with the language or intent of the provision,” Sparks wrote in his report. “I concluded that it did not appear to me that the Town correctly applied subsection 17(5) of the Council Procedure Bylaw in declining your delegation request, and that the decision to decline your request may have been made arbitrarily.”
The town has acknowledged its mistake and has agreed to issue a written apology to Dowe. The town has also published a formal notice on the news releases page of the town’s website attesting to the error.
Town CAO Daniel Sailland indicated the error in the application of policy was a matter of timing and based on staff assumption the council intended to host a public discussion on the proposed tower location.
“When staff received delegation requests they were postponed based on the fact that we had not yet received an application from Telus,” Sailland explained. “Once an application was received, staff assumed that council would schedule a specific date to host a public discussion on the matter. Unfortunately, staff’s assumption was incorrect and when the matter went to council, council opted not to host a public discussion but rather to advance with the immediate approval of the proposed site. For clarity, council did have the legal right to advance with their decision immediately and did not have the requirement to have any public debate.”
The town will also provide supplemental training to staff in regards to the procedural bylaw on delegations and also take necessary steps to resolve the administrative fairnessx concerns that had been identified by the ombudsman.
“In the future, we will ensure that we gain direction from council, through formal resolution, prior to making such decisions regarding delegation requests,” said Sailland. “There are also some bylaw changes that could be considered that would help avoid procedural missteps in the future, but these would be matters for future council debate should they choose.”