Tumbler Ridge News

Tumbler Ridge, BC

V0C 2W0

Dear Editor:

I wish to comment on the recent letter by Mayor Mike Caisley that was published recently in the TR News, wherein he accuses some of the Town?s elected councillors of costing the town?s residents an estimated $1,060,000. As I have yet to see a written response from the defamed councillors, I assume that they have taken the moral high ground and decided to let Mr. Caisley dig his own grave. As I have a shiny new shovel, however, I?ll pitch in and help him?

Now, don?t think for a moment that when CAO Miller?s employment was terminated ?without cause,? he was terminated for no reason. ?With cause? and ?without cause? are simply two terms used in labour law to differentiate the ways that a person can be dismissed. Terminating ?with cause? generally means that the dismissal will be handled in court, which apart from costing an enormous amount in legal fees, also ties up the position for a great deal of time. So the vast majority of dismissals in the corporate world are ?without cause.? That way, the corporation can decide on a suitable compensation package for the individual and then move on. We do not know the reasons for Mr. Miller?s dismissal, but suffice to say that five councillors ? the majority of council ? obviously decided that there was good reason to terminate his employment. Neither do we know what compensation package was offered, for that was decided behind closed doors. But I am willing to bet my next pension cheque that Mr. Caisley pushed for the maximum possible compensation allowable. This, after berating council on their spending!

And now for the debacle over the two-year building covenants? When the previous council put the covenants in place, they did so with all good intentions – to stop land speculation and profiteering. But quite simply, it was a disastrous decision. Covenants are put in place when municipalities sell their lots at vastly reduced prices in order to attract residents. But the Tumbler Ridge lots were sold at fair market value, and quite honestly, you don?t put covenants on lots sold for market value! Even the Provincial Ombudsman has said that that was ?an unconscionable decision.? If people want to speculate, then that?s what the free market is all about. When the lots were purchased a couple of years ago, there was a feeling that we were on the cusp of a boom. But labour costs started skyrocketing, and folk found that the house they had planned to build was becoming more and more unaffordable as the days went by.

Adding to the problem was the fact that when they went to the bank for a mortgage, they found that banks balk at lending money on land that has a covenant on it. So it all started to crumble. I know that there are a lot of people who say, ?Too bad. These people should have thought of all that when they bought the lots. The law is the law.? But right from the start, it was all handled in a hodgepodge manner. Some people were granted extensions, some weren?t. And in the middle of this, the two-year building period came and went on some of the lots and somebody at Town Hall failed to notice. This single act of incompetence by a town employee ? whom, we don?t know ? totally changed the playing field. To let the time pass on these lots and not do anything, while actively pursuing the owners of other lots whose two-year time frame was approaching, muddied the waters so much that the town was facing lawsuits left, right and centre over the covenants. So five wise councillors ?bit the bullet? and did the proper thing: they cancelled the covenants. The Mayor will tell you that they did so against the advice of the town?s lawyers. Now, we are not privy to the legal counsel that council is privileged to obtain; even though the taxpayers pay heartily for all the legal advice that council receives, we are not allowed to see that advice for ourselves. However, the councillors did state at a council meeting that the lawyers had offered three options, and that they had chosen to follow one of those three ? obviously the option to cancel the covenants. The Mayor chose to ignore the alternative options and instead only focused on the option that suggested leaving the covenants in place, and instructed the staff to ignore the legal motion that Council had passed. If you check the Community Charter and read the responsibilities of a mayor, they aren?t burdensome. But one of them does say that he is supposed to ?reflect the will of Council ?? Obviously the Mayor thinks that duty doesn?t apply to him.

I should point out that most of the $1,060,000 figure the Mayor has calculated is based on the town clawing back all the lots for one dollar each and then turning around and selling them again at the current market value. The money that the town is ?losing? is not money that is being drained from the town?s bank account. It simply doesn?t exist. He also doesn?t tell you that, even if the town didn?t have to fight the owners in court, all the lots that are being clawed back have to be handled by lawyers, at considerable cost. I doubt that he has included that figure in his calculations. Ignoring the fact that clawing back the lots sounded the death knell on development in town ? the lots that have been taken back are now just sitting there, not selling and not gathering property taxes – do you really feel comfortable living in a town that gleefully makes money off the misfortunes and, yes, the incompetence, of its residents?

At the July 15 council meeting, a couple of small developers appeared before council and related how they had purchased a lot for $7000 (fair market value), spent about $2500 preparing the lot for development and then ran out of time. They were not granted an extension and were told by Mr. Miller that if they chose to fight the clawback they could probably expect to pay about $50,000 in legal fees. Not having deep pockets, they meekly folded and gave back the land for one dollar. Unconscionable!

Tumbler Ridge has turned into A Town Without a Soul. On November 15 ? Election Day – we have the opportunity to regain our soul. As Mr. Caisley says, ?Make the changes!? We will, sir, we will.


Bob Norman