Monday, September 08, 2008

Seeking a moment of their time from your worship and council!

City Hall staff has posted the various agenda points for Monday night’s City Council meeting, but it’s what isn’t currently on the agenda that might prove to provide for the most news by Tuesday morning.

Not since the great Banner Debate of earlier this year, have Rupertites been moved to gather in large numbers to express their frustrations at the direction of events at City Hall.

A local group of what has been described as concerned citizens, is hoping to have their voices heard and their questions answered on Monday night, as the debate over the past hiring of Tanalee Hesse; spouse of City Manager Gord Howie once again reaches the boiling point.

As we outlined last week, the group held their own gathering last Wednesday at Breaker’s Pub, where a small group of invited councillors were brought up to speed on the groups concerns over the hiring of Ms. Hesse by the Mayor, conducted in a manner that even the mayor seems to admit didn’t quite follow the normal Human Resources procedures.

There to be updated on their concerns were councillors Tony Briglio, Nelson Kinney and Ken Cote who were apparently provided with a fair amount of feedback from the crowd on the issue. While those three city councilors were in attendance, it was not made clear by the organizers if the other three of the six councilors’ at city hall, Kathy Bedard, Sheila Gordon-Payne or Joy Thorkelson were invited. For that matter, it would be nice to know if the Mayor was asked to make an appearance at the off Third Avenue version of civic governance.

The Daily news provided some details on that quasi clandestine gathering of midweek, including a few of the names of the estimated 25 participants, which provided us with some familiar names to the local scene both commercial and political to associate with Wednesday nights meeting.

Among those reported as in attendance was Linda Lutz, a former mayoralty candidate in the city and a fairly active political figure in the community as well, who has in the past had a few questions for the city over their handling of recreational assets at the Civic Centre.

Ted Sylvester, a local businessman provided the venue of Breakers for the gathering and has been more or less the point man on the current issue through the media of late, he most recently was quoted in a Canadian Press story running nationally in the Globe and Mail as having kept a watchful eye on municipal affairs for years.

The spark for the latest uprising on the issue Anna Ashley was also in attendance, it was Ms. Ashley’s original letter to the Mayor and subsequent attempts to have the local papers publish her concerns that brought this entire issue to the front of the to do list for the concerned citizens.
Her correspondences and the eventual follow up by the local newspapers on the issue have made her a bit of a folk hero on the local on line bulletin board hacking the main frame.

In fact, that on line portal has suddenly become the on line equivalent of the mysterious brown envelope of the whole issue, which now seems to be mushrooming from beyond the original question of the hiring and on to other civic issues.

Over the weekend a large volume of conversations took place on the chat lines, including posts that appear to be from the Mayor himself, who it seems, has developed an interest in the new media and chosen to take some of his debate into the Lions den of the local Internet.

Not to be outflanked it seems, the concerned citizens participants have been busy re-posting their thoughts and introducing even more material whether it be about the past policies regarding CityWest to yet more breaking information on the original cause célèbre the hiring of Ms. Tesse, in the form of a correspondence between Doug Jay and Mr. Howie of May of this year.

Whether it all comes to a head on Monday, remains to be seen, but the scene has certainly been set for a rather interesting session of Council, which may provide for perfect attendance for the first time in a few sessions.

How the issue resolves itself is still to be seen, but judging by the heated debate from both the semi-private gathering or on the Wild West like forum entries of htmf, it surely won’t be an issue that goes away anytime soon.

However, as the debate drifts away from the actual hiring questions and moves into the past issues of CityWest, playgrounds and anything else that seems to be popping up, the original reason for the concerned citizens questioning might be getting a little diluted.

A turn that perhaps moves towards the Mayors original statement when this all started, that suggested all the excitement was reflective of the fact that we’re heading into an election.

The hiring question is an important issue that needs to be cleared up, it would be a shame if it got lost along the way as the rhetoric and positioning begins to heat up.

Rupert residents hold special meeting with councilors in an attempt to get answers
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, September 5, 2008
Pages one and three

An estimated 25-concerned Ruperites met with three city councillors in Breakers Pub on Wednesday to discuss the city’s contract with former city consultant Tanalee Hesse.

According to Breakers Pub owner and local resident Ted Sylvester, the group was searching for answers from Councillors Tony Briglio, Ken Cote and Nelson Kinney about the way city council handled Hesse’s contract.

“We just wanted to inform the councillors of our opinion and at least have them look in to doing something about it,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester emphasized the group was not making any accusations but that they merely wanted the council to look in to it.

Sylvester claimed that the group was told to bring their concerns to council at a regular meeting, but the councillors would not address the situation at Breaker’s Pub that evening.

”I wasn’t too impressed with that,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester did commend Kinney however, saying that he had sat back and listened to the group.

“That’s what we wanted them to do,” he said.

The group was a diverse spectrum of city residents and included Spirit of BC representative Barb Gruber and Linda Lutz, along with Anna Ashley, who is a schoolteacher and basketball coach at Prince Rupert Secondary School.

Briglio defended the idea of bringing the issue before council because he claimed hat was the appropriate place for the public to have a discussion.

Since the application date to have a presentation on the contract issue was last Monday, council would need to make a special motion to allow it, which Briglio said he would.

However, when pressed about whether or not he supported the contract during an interview Thursday, Briglio was coy, saying that an answer to that question would have to wait till Monday.

Ashley said in her opinion the meeting went well with the councillors and felt they were honestly trying to answer the questions posed to them.

“What continually seemed to come across was that they relied on the city manager for giving them the right information that this was all being done properly. Sometimes when questions were asked they would say: ‘we don’t know.’

Ashley said she wanted to make it clear that she believed the councillors and the reason she has pursued the issue is because she is concerned about how the city does its business.

But she also promised to make a presentation on Monday to council and ask both Mayor Herb Pond and city manager Gord Howie why a proper bid process wasn’t put in place before Hesse’s services were approved.

Hesse, who is also Howie’s wife, first began working for the city filling in as corporate administrator following the departure of long time city employee Tom Ireland.

Ireland had been responsible for administrator and city planner duties and was among several members of management to leave the city’s employ in 2005.

Hesse was eventually replaced in the chief administrator role by Doug Jay but stayed on in other capacities. As of April, Hesse was looking to continue her contracts with the city including working on the upcoming Southeast Alaska Conference, to be employed as a Chief Elections Officer for the upcoming Municipal elections and to be given an eight-month contract to be put in charge of updating the city’s record retention and destruction policy.

In the past, every invoice paid to Hesse was allegedly signed exclusively by pond, which has sparked the concern among locals due to the nature of the way the contract was signed and who it was given to.

Pond has defended the contract, claiming it was an unusual decision for unusual circumstances.

However, unwilling to be brought in to any potential electoral debates about her services, Hesse allegedly resigned this spring.

According to a Freedom of Information document obtained by the Daily News, a letter addressed to Mayor Herb Pond from Hesse on May 2, 2008, announced her withdrawal of services from the City of Prince Rupert, citing not wanting to be drawn into a political battle.

She noted a Freedom of Information request on her contract as the reason for her resignation.

“As you and I know, requests of this nature are a normal part of business in local government and the amounts paid to contractors is public information with the attendant scrutiny both warranted and expected,” Hesse wrote in the letter. “I am however concerned about the timing of this request given that the general elections will be held in November.

”You and I discussed the possibility of a new contract for my services to address some specific projects that the city was looking to have completed,” Hesse continued. “I have no desire to become the fodder for political cannon fire on issues that have no direct relation to me or to my work.”

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