Cranbrook councillors ‘blindsided’ by west entrance upgrade project

Denise Pallesen alarmed by changes in Elizabeth Lake plans that advanced without council discussion.

A Cranbrook city councillor is worried that council and staff are not being transparent.

Councillor Denise Pallesen raised concerns at the Monday, Feb. 4 meeting about the city’s plans to upgrade the Elizabeth Lake entrance to Cranbrook.

The project received a $50,000 grant from Columbia Basin Trust in December, in addition to $60,000 council pledged in 2012.

On January 24, 2013, council began discussion about adding another $60,000 to the project in its 2013 budget planning.

But Coun. Pallesen said on Monday, Feb. 4, that she was alarmed by how far the project had advanced without council approving a broader project.

“I was not aware until the January 24 budget meeting that the city had made an application to Columbia Basin Trust for a $50,000 grant, and that confirmation of this grant funding was received on December 12, 2012, from CBT,” she said.

Coun. Pallesen said she read about the CBT grant for the project in the Townsman, and read posts on a blog by the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook criticizing her for not supporting the project during budget discussions.

“I do not object to beautifying our wonderful city, including enhancing visitors’ first impressions at the west entrance,” she said. “Nonetheless, there is process that we as city councillors must follow, and clearly this was not the case.

“Although council was not asked for a supporting resolution authorizing the grant submission, I feel this is a part of the transparent process we have been elected to follow when considering taxpayers’ funds.”

She also asked staff to explain why the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook blog posted a concept plan for the Elizabeth Lake site when council had not seen the plan.

“I am very concerned that the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook are getting information before the whole council.”

Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Staudt then explained to Coun. Pallesen how the project had advanced.

“Council did approve the updating of the entrances to the city in the 2012 budget and we authorized $60,000 to be allocated as city tax funds to that process,” said Staudt.

He explained that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure had time available last fall to work on plans for the project, so the city seized that opportunity, forming a committee to work with the ministry. Public works carried out preliminary ground work last fall using half of the $60,000 council had placed in the 2012 budget.

Then, he said, CBT asked the city to submit an application for the expanded project.

“We pulled that all together and made the grant application for Columbia Basin Trust at their request. We were successful in the grant application,” said Staudt.

Seeking council approval for grant applications is not always practical, Staudt went on.

“Filling out grant applications and coming back to council for resolutions is not normally our process,” he said. “If it was a brand new project that we didn’t have council approval on, maybe we would bring that back to council. But we’ve got a project, now we are just trying to see that project to its end and add value to the project.”

Councillor Diana J. Scott said she felt “blindsided” by the budget funding request.

“I think it was just in the process. Not all of us knew what was going on, we hadn’t been updated, we weren’t kept in the loop, we weren’t expecting it,” she said.

“I think there needs to be some better updating and better communication because in my mind, it makes me think, what else do we not know about?”

But Mayor Wayne Stetski said the process for the Elizabeth Lake project was no different to other budget items.

“In one sense, I’m not sure how that differs from many of the other things I see on the list that we will be debating and discussing for funding when we come to that portion of our budget exercise,” he said.

After the council meeting, Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook member Jenny Humphrey explained how she came by the concept plan posted on the group’s blog.

“After the budget surplus discussion and the difficulty we had in understanding these councillors’ positions on a project that was started last fall and on which they were now being asked to consider again, we went to the Ministry and asked to see the plan. At no time did any administrator or councillor provide us with information. The information we received is public information – there for the want of asking,” said Humphrey.