BC is running out of time to fix Harrison's problems

Find all the Harrison Hot Springs coverage you need to keep track of what has, and hasn't, happened on council

It could be time for the province to consider whether it should have the power to remove members of dysfunctional councils from their seats.

That was one of the recommendations from former Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun in a report to Kamloops’ council, whose dysfunction has rivaled that of Harrison Hot Springs over the last two years.

But time is quickly running out for the province to step in. This year’s legislative session ends on May 16. And with an election planned for the fall, the legislature won’t reconvene until November at the earliest—and potentially not until 2025.

Kamloops, whose mayor has frequently clashed with all eight councillors, had been working with Braun to try to fix their council problems since February. Braun’s report blamed most of the problems on Kamloops’s mayor. He outlined 12 recommendations for Kamloops council, while echoing what Harrison’s own advisor, Ron Poole, said last November: without changes in how individuals treat staff and other politicians, nothing will manage to get better.

Both reports seem unlikely to make much of a difference in how the respective council’s operate. Braun’s report triggered a motion from Kamloops council asking the mayor to resign; and a backlash from the mayor questioning Braun’s competency. In Harrison, meanwhile, only sporadic progress has been made since Poole left.

Earlier this week, Chief Administrative Officer Tyson Koch said the village is in the final stages of hiring a contractor to deal with harassment and bullying complaints, and is in the early stages of finding a facilitator to mediate the working relationship of the mayor and the CAO.

But Harrison council has also taken many leaps back, with the mayor alleging his opponents were trying to stage a coup.

A council meeting on May 6 saw the resurrection of a Council-CAO Covenant that would guide relationships between the mayor, council, and the municipality’s top bureaucrat. (The first time it appeared on an agenda, Mayor Wood refused to start the meeting.) The covenant was originally recommended by Poole.

At the meeting, Wood said he approved of the covenant in principle, but was steadfastly against several items in the covenant, saying that it went against the Community Charter. Coun. John Allen agreed, going so far as to say the covenant was preaching a “false gospel.”

Wood and Allen both took issue with the covenant’s description of the “one-employee model” which stipulates that the CAO is council’s only employee, while the other employees are managed by the CAO. Although that structure is typical in BC municipalities, Wood and Allen said it conflicted with the idea that a municipality’s mayor is its CEO. They argued the mayor has the ability to hire and fire employees. Coun. Allen Jackson spoke against that understanding, saying that “in the real world, the corporate world, the CEO doesn’t deal with staff—they have much more important things to do.”

Recent events in Kamloops show the mayor of a municipality does not have the power to unilaterally fire a CAO or other staffers. In Kamloops, the mayor there attempted to suspend the city’s CAO, only to have his actions quickly overruled by council.

Harrison ultimately voted to send the covenant back to staff so they could work with the mayor on developing a revised covenant, which would potentially place the mayor in a more prominent role in village operations. (Couns. Leo Facio and Michie Vidal were opposed.)

For now, Wood seems to be getting his way, with Coun. Allen Jackson siding with Wood and Allen—though largely to just get on with the business of council. It’s a start towards a more productive council, but hasn’t changed many of the village’s underlying issues.

If those continue to undermine council business, Braun’s report to Kamloops suggests the province may face increasing calls to solve municipal issues. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for that to happen.

We have collected all our Harrison Hot Springs council stories (and some of those of our colleagues at the Agassiz Harrison Observer and CBC) below to help readers keep track of what has, and hasn’t, happened.

In the beginning

Even before the 2022 municipal election, there were hints that Harrison was going to have a rough council term. 

Behind the election in the Fraser Valley’s smallest communities [FVC]

Oct. 13, 2022

“Harrison politics is toxic. Personal feuds going back decades rear their heads in the council chambers, and passive aggressive Facebook comments are the norm.” Before Harrison’s current council was elected, The Current wrote about Harrison’s toxic political culture and the challenges campaigners would face on their way to the ballot box. 

Teamwork, drama, and other takeaways from Saturday’s election [FVC]

 Oct. 16, 2022

The day after the 2022 municipal election, with Ed Wood winning the mayoral seat over John Allen and Samantha Piper, The Current published an analysis of races across the valley. On the whole, The Current decided, candidates who loudly proclaimed the nefariousness of their opponents lost. Wood, who had conducted a quiet campaign in Harrison, seemed to fit the mold of a drama-free candidate. Oops.

After the election

Harrison mayor denies request for closed council meeting [Agassiz Harrison Observer]

 Nov. 16, 2022

A week before Harrison council was officially sworn in to office, Couns. Leo Facio and Michie Vidal requested a closed meeting. Facio and Vidal were the two councillors elected from the previous council, and wanted to discuss “the concerns in administration.” Mayor Ed Wood denied the request.

Chaos at council: Harrison Hot Springs politicians beg for help [FVC]

 March 3, 2023

Only four months into their term, Harrison council was in deep trouble. And they knew it. Since the election, there had been allegations of secret meetings, a vote of non-confidence, and the departure of most of Harrison’s senior staff. In a meeting at the end of February, Harrison council agreed to send a letter to BC’s Inspector of Municipalities asking for help.

Getting help

Help wanted: B.C. hiring municipal advisers to assist local governments [CBC]

March 29, 2023

In mid-March, BC’s Inspector of Municipalities did do something—even if it wasn’t exactly what Harrison was hoping for. The province hired two “municipal advisors,” one to aid Harrison Hot Springs and the other to help Lions Bay, which also called the province for help.

Harrison governance crisis will leave local kids waiting for a playground [FVC]

 May 25, 2023

Two months later, things weren’t looking up for Harrison. Municipal advisor Ron Poole, a former CAO in the Fraser Valley, was on site in Harrison, but hadn’t been able to make an impact on council or halt the exodus of senior staff. (In late April, the Agassiz Harrison Observer reported that Mayor Ed Wood had been absent from two meetings with Poole and the rest of council.)

The governance crisis was having an impact beyond the council chambers. A new playground was left in limbo, and the CAO position was vacant for the second time. 

Update: Operations manager and CFO Tyson Koch did eventually become the CAO, with the former CFO Scott Schultz returning to his position shortly after Koch became CAO. As of the spring of 2024, Harrison has senior staff in each of its main departments. Kelly Ridley, who resigned in May 2023, returned to administer Harrison’s by-election but is now retired from her role as Chief Election Officer. The playground is still in limbo, with staff waiting for further direction from council.

The by-election

Harrison Hot Springs councillor John Buckley resigns [Agassiz Harrison Observer]

June 5, 2023

On June 5, just seven months after the municipal election, Coun. John Buckley vacated his seat. The multi-term councillor said he could no longer work with the mayor, and therefore couldn’t effectively fulfill his role as councillor. His departure kicked off a by-election between five candidates: former mayor John Allen, motel-owner Andrew Baziuk, former council candidate Leslie Ghezesan, restaurateur Steward Pritchard, and involved resident Theresa Omelus.

John Allen officially declared Harrison’s new councillor-elect [Agassiz Harrison Observer]

Sept. 22, 2023

On September 16, Harrison came out to vote on who should sit on council. John Allen, a long-time opponent of current councillor Leo Facio, won by only 10 votes. Allen had vocally aligned himself with Mayor Wood during the campaign period.

The new council

Harrison Council meets with facilitator in open meeting [Agassiz Harrison Observer]

 Oct. 12, 2023

Initially meant to help Harrison council in closed sessions, advisor Ron Poole made his appearance at an open meeting on Oct. 12—two weeks after the new council met but was unable to even approve an agenda. Poole shared a presentation on council orientation in the open meeting—the first time incoming councillor John Allen had met with the advisor.

B.C. mayor asks council to approve hiring investigator to find 'mole' writing critical letters about him [CBC]

Nov. 21, 2023

By the end of November, Harrison Hot Springs was on its own once again. Poole had delivered his final report to council, complete with a number of recommendations on what they should do next. He also said that nothing could change council’s personalities, and that Harrison politics had been “plagued for years of prior history, and it's affecting their current actions to date.”

BC’s Minister of Municipal Affairs told CBC that she hoped Harrison would be able to work things out amongst themselves after Poole’s term ended. But only a few weeks later, Mayor Wood said there was a “mole” in the village, and moved for council to hire an investigator. The meeting then devolved into a shouting match.

Why there’s no real debate over which BC municipality was the most dysfunctional in 2023 [CBC Metro Matters]

 Dec. 15, 2023

By December 2023, CBC municipal reporter Justin McElroy had decided: Harrison was the most dysfunctional municipality in the province.

A new year

Three old, dangerous trees. One quarelling council that can’t agree what to do about them. [FVC]

 Jan. 9, 2024

A new year, but the same old council problems. Three old trees were identified as a potential danger in summer 2023, but by January 2024 council still hadn’t been able to make a decision—with Mayor Wood calling for a revote after Couns. Facio, Vidal, and Jackson voted in favour of chopping the trees down. Ultimately the trees stayed up. 

Update: The trees are still standing on Lillooet Avenue, with fencing around them to stop pedestrians from getting too close. Staff is still waiting for direction from council on what to do with them.

Harrison Hot Springs mayor says he isn’t responsible for ‘nasty politics’ while blaming ‘nasty’ opponents [FVC]

 Jan. 10, 2024

In an interview with The Current about the decaying trees, Mayor Ed Wood said Harrison was experiencing “nasty, nasty, dirty politics at its worst.” But he also said he wasn’t part of the problem. We shared our interview with Wood, as well as what opposing councillors Michie Vidal and Leo Facio had to say.

No one is coming to save Harrison Hot Springs politicians from themselves [FVC]

March 13, 2024

Three months after Wood blamed Harrison’s dysfunction on “nasty politics,” The Current asked: can Harrison get the help it needs? After interviews with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, MLA Kelli Paddon, Kent mayor Sylvia Pranger, former Harrison councillor Gerry Palmer, and others the answer was clear: no. At least, not unless Harrison helps itself first.

Harrison mayor moves to dissolve council, fails [ Agassiz Harrison Observer]

March 14, 2024

In mid-March 2024, Mayor Ed Wood asked council to send a letter to the Municipal Affairs requesting council be dissolved. In a now-traditional 3-2 split vote, council said no. As the Agassiz Harrison Observer later reported, the ministry couldn’t have dissolved council even if it wanted to.

Alleging a 'coup,' Harrison's mayor refuses to start council meeting [FVC]

April 17, 2024

Amidst the failed attempt to remove everyone from council, there was a brief flash of hope. In a closed meeting in early March, council voted to hire an independent contractor to help with harassment and bullying complaints in the village. Another motion saw Harrison agree to hire a facilitator to create a better working relationship between the CAO and the mayor. But then, as soon as those motions became public, it all came apart. 

Wood declared that three of the councillors had orchestrated a “coup,” and then refused to elaborate further. 

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