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

Harrison council agreed they needed help. Then, it all came apart.

For a moment, Harrison Hot Springs council looked as though it might try to save itself. Then, the moment was gone.

At a closed meeting in March, Harrison council members from both sides of the village’s divide voted to address the allegations of harassment and bullying that have plagued the village for 18 months. But on Monday, as information about that earlier work became public, a brief conflict-filled council meeting dashed those hopes.

Mayor Ed Wood opened the meeting by declaring “democracy has failed” and accused councillors Leo Facio, Michie Vidal, and Allan Jackson of participating in a coup. 

It was a bleak start to perhaps the shortest Harrison council meeting ever recorded—if one considers it an actual meeting in the first place. After 13 minutes, and without the meeting ever being officially called to order, the three accused councillors packed up their things and walked out.

With them went Harrison’s hope for some sort of agreement that could end its bitter and long-standing dysfunction.

The meeting

Harrison’s Memorial Hall was quiet. Mayor Ed Wood sat at the head of the council table, Couns. Leo Facio and Michie Vidal on one side, Couns. Allan Jackson and John Allen on the other. 

There was a heartbeat of silence, a check of the microphone. Then, Wood began speaking. 

“Today is a sad day for this village,” he said. “In my opinion, there is a coup being led by Councillor Facio and supported by Councillor Vidal and Councillor Jackson.”

He paused. 

“What happens next, only time will tell,” he continued. “Democracy has failed. The health and safety of the public and our village staff is at a critical level, including bullying, harassing, and the creation of a toxic village, including the workplace. This must stop.”

He finished: “Due to the confidentiality of the issue, I have no further comment at this time.”

There was a three-second pause. Then, Jackson spoke.

“Your worship, I demand an apology right now,” he said. “You have no substance for saying something so vicious to myself, or the other councillors, or to the members that have come here tonight to listen to this council meeting. 

“Stand up and be a man and tell us what you're talking about… Stand up and be counted, or I'm leaving here right now.

“Come on. Say what you're going to say. Show some temerity,” he continued. “You don't have it? Just smirk. Do you know what you just said? Do you understand what you said? You don't, do you?”

Vidal spoke next, asking it be put on the record that she was “deeply offended” by Wood’s allegations and wanted to hear the specifics of what he was saying. It was then Facio’s turn to respond.

“Mayor Wood, I'm totally disgusted that the mayor from this community would start a meeting in that way, without doing it in the correct manner,” he said. “It’s totally disgraceful. And it's demeaning, the comments that you've just made.

“Nobody's perfect, but we do the best we can,” he continued. “It’s absolutely disgraceful. We've asked on many occasions for you to explain when you send us emails for whatever reason, but you never return your emails to explain it to us.”

Wood did not respond. For nearly three minutes, there was silence. 

“Mayor Wood, as you’re chairing this meeting, could we please carry on?” Vidal asked.


Vidal got up and talked to one of the staff members. She asked again, calling a point of order. Still nothing. 

Then Allen Garneau, a resident who had long advocated for council unity in Harrison, got up to the microphone. Although his speech was inaudible in the meeting recording, one resident at Memorial Hall said Garneau was telling Wood to carry on with the meeting, and suggested the deputy mayor do it if he could not. He ended his speech loud enough to be heard in the Zoom recording: “So please, your worship, do something.”

Wood leaned into the microphone and said quietly: “This is the coup.”

Garneau left the stand. Another resident stood up, crumbled up his agenda, and stormed out.

Facio made a motion for Allen, an ally of Wood who had not said anything so far, to continue the meeting as deputy mayor. He declined. The other councillors packed up their things, and it was over. 

The motions

The council meeting was short, tense, and technically wasn’t an official meeting. (Wood never called the meeting to order, and there was no motion to adjourn.) 

In many ways, despite the brevity, the meeting was typical of other Harrison council meetings over the last two years. Rhetoric and outrage rather than policy formed the basis of the meeting. But there were indications beforehand that it could have been would be different. 

At the April 3 meeting, councillors managed to pass the minutes and agenda civilly, and agreed to look into purchasing an early warning fire detection system for the East Sector Lands. The meeting ended with Vidal actually thanking Allen for a suggestion about increasing safety on Rockwell Drive. And more than a month ago, council met in private to talk about the village’s toxic work environment. 

Such meetings are a regular occurrence in all municipalities. Called “special closed council meetings” or “in camera” meetings, municipal politicians use them to have candid conversations about legal, property, or human resource topics that would subject a city to legal or financial risks if they were to be discussed in public. Motions passed during closed meetings are revealed to the public at a later time, typically in a regular meeting agenda. 

The motions from the March 8 meeting were first discussed, albeit briefly, in the April 3 meeting. They were introduced again in the April 15 regular meeting agenda.  

At the March 8 closed council meeting, Harrison politicians discussed two separate, but related, motions. The first would set in process the hiring of an independent contractor who would work to resolve health and safety issues at the village and resolve any harassment, bullying or other breaches of the village’s code of conduct.

The motion passed with Wood, Facio, and Jackson all in support, and Allen and Vidal opposed. The outcome was notable because Wood and two of his usual opponents seemed to have agreed upon a potential solution to the village’s workplace woes

The second motion directed staff to begin the hiring process for a contractor who would lead discussions between Wood and an unnamed second party “with the goal of creating an improved working relationship.”

Due to the confidentiality of the original motion, the names were redacted, though Wood revealed himself as one of the parties on April 3. Wood, Allen, and Jackson all supported the motion, with Facio and Vidal opposed.

The last meeting

At the next regular council meeting, Wood suggested it was the relationship between himself and the village’s top bureaucrat that needed fixing. 

“We are broken. The relationship between the mayor and the Chief Administrative Officer, that needs to be fixed. The village’s occupational health and safety program needs urgent upgrades. There are all kinds of allegations going on, they’re not being investigated — all required under WCB,” he said during the meeting. “Public health and safety, especially for the staff, is paramount … They must come first.”

“We have more important village business to do,” he continued. “I can’t think of something more important than that.”

And as soon as he said that, he put forward a motion requesting that a non-resident, who was involved in a “traumatic event” at the village office in early March, be banned from attending the main village office for three months. (The Current has asked Wood who the non-resident was. Wood declined to say.)

CAO Tyson Koch interrupted when Wood began speaking, recommending that the motion be discussed in a closed meeting. Wood said he was out of order, and continued. 

The motion ultimately failed, with Facio, Jackson, and Vidal opposed. 

The next time council met, Wood accused them of forming a coup.

The covenant

In addition to the motions stemming from the closed meeting, the April 15 agenda also included reports on potential zoning amendments, a review of the 2024 tax rates, a request for consent on future FVRD transit options, updates to Harrison’s code of conduct, and the contract for boat launch upgrades.  

It also included a “CAO Covenant.”

This document, originally suggested by provincial advisor Ron Poole back in November, outlined the responsibilities of both council members and the Chief Administrative Officer, and detailed how each party needed to respond to the other. 

For council, the covenant would have them commit to making decisions in the best interests of the community, refraining from making commitments to individual citizens or groups, and allowing the CAO to carry out their responsibilities without interference. The CAO’s side of the covenant included promising to refrain from public criticism of individual councillors and ensure council is informed of key issues.

This covenant isn’t unique to Harrison; other BC municipalities including Valemount, Smithers, Cranbrook and the District of Lake Country have similar agreements. At least one Harrison council member did not take the suggestion well, however. 

Allen, Wood’s main ally on council, took issue with the covenant on Facebook, saying that it removed the “most important person [the Mayor] from our statutory structure.”  

The covenant did not explicitly mention the mayor, noting only that all council members had the responsibility to respect the CAO’s position. In municipal governments, the CAO is the only employee that reports directly to council. All other staff report to the CAO, who is responsible for relaying council’s wishes to them. 

“Council was elected to govern, not administer the municipality. Staff are the experts hired, not elected, to handle the operational side,” Poole wrote in his report. “In order to ensure that politics (governance) does not fuse with administration, it is important that Mayor and Council respect the one employee system.”

Other than Allen’s Facebook post, we don’t know what Harrison’s council members thought of the CAO Covenant — because the meeting never even got that far.

Wood’s refusal to call the meeting to order meant the meeting’s agenda was never passed. And the agenda itself was another contentious issue—if not at the council table, then on social media.

Before the meeting, Allen declared he would consider the meeting “illegal” if the agenda wasn't personally approved by the mayor. 

Control over council agendas is not exactly clear. Provincial law gives a mayor the ability to “communicate information” and “recommend bylaws,” which can be interpretive as giving a mayor the ability to add items to an agenda. Harrison’s own procedure bylaw delegates most of that authority to the CAO. But as a general rule in BC, mayors are consulted by a CAO on agendas, but do not generally have the ability to exercise independent veto power over anything a council or a municipality does. The CAO is employed by council, not the mayor. (The Current consulted with former municipal leaders on this section.) Typically, a municipal council will, as a group, vote at the beginning of a meeting whether to adopt an agenda. At that time, council can choose to add or remove items from the agenda. A mayor has a single vote but can be overruled by a majority of council.

In an email to The Current, Wood said he typically reviews the agenda alongside the CAO—but that such a review didn’t happen before the April 15 meeting. He said it was one part of why he accused Facio, Vidal, and Jackson of conspiring against him.

Wood said Monday’s meeting was “a dramatic response to a dramatic series of events.” He said he hoped it would get the attention of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, and get them to send help. (He said Poole, who the province originally sent to help Harrison, was “of no use.”)

Wood is clearly banking on the province to pull Harrison out of the mud. The Current reported last month that BC has little desire to intervene.

Wood’s refusal to start Monday’s meeting would be unprecedented in other communities. In Harrison, it signals a return to business as unusual.

What happens next is unclear. But the idea that outside contractors—or anyone not wielding actual elected power—can resolve the dysfunction at Harrison’s village hall seems increasingly like a fantasy.

We’re taking the rare step of pre-emptively locking the comments section on this story.

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- Tyler, Joti, and Grace.