The truth may be out there. Eventually.
While Courtenay city hall isn’t exactly a setting for the ‘X Files’, anonymous advertising buyers have been making life miserable for some councillors and at least one senior city staff member – CAO Dave Allen.
A group, going by the name Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance, paid for a full page advertisement June 15 in the Comox Valley Record criticizing some councillors for attending the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Ottawa.
The anonymous group also took a shot at CAO Allen for attending on taxpayers’ expense.
Except he didn’t.
Allen had been invited to give a presentation on asset management, on which he is considered somewhat of an expert, at the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) conference.
This conference immediately precedes the FCM event.
Allen hadn’t been planning on attending, but most of his expenses were covered as an invited speaker.
Courtenay staff had prepared a draft response to the taxpayers’ group advertisements, to be posted on a page at the city’s web site called “For the Record”.
That page has yet to be posted to the web site.
The “For the Record” draft statement takes the form of a message from Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula.
“Open discussion, debate and deliberation are essential in a healthy democracy, and I am very proud to participate in the democratic process at the City of Courtenay.
“We recognize the importance of this process and freedom of speech. We also believe it is important to correct the public record from time to time so that our community has accurate timely information,” reads the statement.
Apart from correcting the taxpayer group’s ad saying that Allen attended the FCM conference at taxpayers’ expense, the statement goes on to make corrections to a previous advertisement.
An ad on May 18 stated that Courtenay management staff had grown to over 50 this year.
“In fact, the City of Courtenay has 31 managerial staff, with three to be added in 2017.”
The statement also noted that with regard to salaries, all local governments in B.C. release information on staff that earned over $75,000 in the previous year.
“Being included on this list does not necessarily mean these employees are management. For example, some staff surpassed this threshold due to overtime and standby hours work. Public safety issues such as snowstorms and flood alerts, or emergency utility repairs such as water main breaks, are examples of situations that may result in overtime.”
The statement says the city bases employee compensation on several factors, including fair market rates offered by other comparable local governments as well as contractual obligations with unionized employees.
Counc. Erik Eriksson said he thought the taxpayer group’s ads were “in bad taste. And they were anonymous.”
“On their website one of their principles they claim to espouse is transparency … and they are themselves anonymous. I disapprove of the tone and the nature of the way they present the ads. It’s fine to have disagreements. Your information should be correct. To me this is an unacceptable form of politics,” Eriksson said.
Counc. Rebecca Lennox said “to drag our CAO through the mud, who has done nothing, is very tasteless.”
Counc. Doug Hillian said elected officials are “fair game” to attacks by groups such as the Taxpayers Alliance, “despite the fact they may do it an underhanded and cowardly way.”
But, he added, he takes a firm stand “to support our staff.”
“I’m prepared to speak to anybody … I really don’t have a lot of time for people who hide behind anonymity,” he said.