Town of Gibsons Gave Away Funds Without Public Consultation Process

Mayor Rowe irritated by questions about Parks Acquisition Reserve Fund.

Two residents of Gibsons challenged Mayor Wayne Rowe at Tuesday’s Council meeting about the decision to transfer $275,000 of the Parks Acquisition Reserve Fund to the Gibsons Public Market (GPM). Rowe was visibly annoyed. 

The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development approved the transfer on December 17. Gibsons resident Inge Harrison asked the Ministry for an explanation. 

Two weeks ago, the Ministry answered that the municipality must conduct a reasonable public consultation within the community and provide people an opportunity for input on its decision to transfer money from the reserve fund. Only when the municipality reasonably addressed the above conditions, to the satisfaction of the Minister, the letter said, did the Minister approve the transfer. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Harrison inquired about the consultation. Had there been announcements in the papers? Had public meetings been held?

Mayor Rowe was irritated by these questions. His face twitched. “The issue was discussed four or five times at different committee meetings which were open to the public,” he said. “That satisfied the minister.”

“So you were just talking about it amongst yourselves at committee meetings?” Harrison asked. “Where were the public announcements?” 

“The issue was on the agenda,” Rowe replied tersely. The Town has demonstrated that there was sufficient support from the community for the transfer of the parks money, he said. “Many citizens have made donations to the Gibsons Public Market.”

He did not mention that the Gibsons Waterfront Defence Association made a plea to the Ministry not to approve the transfer, with a copy to the Town. The Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community did the same.

On November 3, Donna Thomas of For the Love of Gospel Rock Society said before Council that the money should be put towards the purchase of Gospel Rock. The Friends of Gospel Rock Society wrote to the mayor and councillors, copying the Minister, arguing that the funds were needed for parks acquisition and urging them to use the fund for the purposes it had been built up. Scores of citizens asked minister Peter Fassbender to deny approval. 

At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Gibsons resident Judy Bonkoff reiterated that the province’s letter to Harrison clearly said that the municipality MUST conduct a reasonable public consultation within the community, and that such a consultation had not taken place.

“The Ministry was satisfied with our process, that is all I have to say,” Rowe said. He added that Town staff had found that Gibsons has more than 2 hectares more parkland than the average municipality in B.C., and that the decision to spend a large part of the parks acquisition fund on the GPM was therefore justified.

Mayor Rowe and councillors Valeriote, White and Lumley agreed that people should come to council meetings and feel free to speak about issues close to their heart. “This is what the democratic process is all about,” they said.