Accusations of “conflict of interest” and a “backdoor” deal fly during heated debate

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Comox Valley Echo
By: Drew A. Penner

The Comox Valley Regional District voted in support of a plan to reach out to Comox Valley governments for ideas about how to work together to tackle homelessness during its April 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, but not before a few shots were fired.
Concerned about board staff’s last-minute recommendation to forward a proposal from Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society along with a survey, Cumberland director Roger Kishi said he refused to support the motion – and didn’t mince words.
“The addendum came so late – it was this morning,” he said, stressing he supports the actual process of developing a homelessness strategy. “In some ways it does look like there is some favouritism or back door deal going on with this.”
The regional district is trying to come up with a way to tackle poverty in the community following a non-binding referendum held last fall that revealed a plurality of local residents would be willing to pay up to $10 a year per $300,000 of assessment value to reduce homelessness.
CAO Debra Oakman said staff actually wanted to forward the Dawn to Dawn proposal to Comox Valley politicians not to allow the group to get ahead of other organizations seeking to bid on future projects, but out of a desire for honest communication.
It would go along with useful information provided by the Association of Registered Nurses of BC, she noted.
“Please appreciate the position that staff are in,” Oakman pleaded. “To me it’s information.”
During a 2012 round of grant funding from the local health authority Dawn to Dawn secured a $174,000 contract with the CVRD for a scattered housing program.
Some have raised concerns that Dawn to Dawn may have too cozy a relationship with the CVRD, and the fact the proposal now in question was prepared in part by Tom Grant, a former regional director who was an active part of crafting the homelessness poll last summer, hasn’t helped squelch those concerns.
But Oakman said the suggestion to forward the document ahead of a similar plan from other any other socially-focused group was simply a way to get useful perspectives out in the open for discussion.
“It’s all good,” she said. “It’s all good to understand what people are thinking in the community. We’re trying to be transparent around this.”
Courtenay director Erik Eriksson challenged Kishi to take back what he said, unsuccessfully.
Kishi was appearing at the meeting as an alternate for regular Cumberland director Gwyn Sproule, but he is employed by the Wachiay Friendship Centre and listed on the board of directors of the M’akola Group of Societies.
So Larry Jangula, after expressing concerns businesses might end up being taxed to fund a regional service to help the homeless, shot back, asking staff if Kishi might be in a conflict of interest position.
Staff reminded the board there is no official service or contracts currently being debated and noted it would be up to Kishi to remove himself from discussions (and voting) if he so chose.
Ultimately, Kishi was the only voice against the motion to send the nurses’ submission and the Dawn to Dawn proposal to local governments for information purposes.
Puntledge-Black Creek (Area C) director Edwin Grieve made the comment that the bigger problem could be politics getting in the way of actually helping homeless people.
“We’re in real jeopardy of burnout,” he said, listing the wide range of community groups that have been working tirelessly on anti-poverty issues. “We’ve skirted the issue.”
The only way to succeed this time around is to “look at it with brand new eyes” in “a 2015 context,” he added.
To that Lazo North (Area B) director Rod Nichol gave his hearty support.
“I couldn’t have said it better,” he said. – See more at: