WE WANT OUT: ANARCHIST MOUNTAIN RESIDENTS FILE PETITION TO LEAVE REGIONAL DISTRICT
OSOYOOS TIMES-February 24, 2010
By Laurena Weninger – Osoyoos Times
“Is there one particular thing that drove this to happen? No. It’s an accumulation of things that happened over the last five years,” said Anarchist Mountain resident Joe Simoes about his move to have the Anarchist Mountain area removed from the governance of the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).
“They have never, ever played fair with us.”
Last week, Simoes submitted a petition to Bill Bennett, the provincial Minister of Community and Rural Development.
“Enclosed please find a petition signed by 74 resident electors of Anarchist Mountain requesting you solicit the support of the Lieutenant Governor to remove the Anarchist Mountain area from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen,” reads the letter to Bennett.
Anarchist Mountain is located in RDOS Electoral Area A, explains the letter, and according to data from the last provincial election, there were roughly 80 resident electors.
That means approximately 90 per cent have signed Simoes’ petition.
“It’s my nature,” said Simoes, about his reasons for the initiative. “I cannot just sit back and watch injustice take place.”
He said that according to the Local Government Act, citizens have the right to choose their level of governance.
“The vast majority of residents on the mountain agree the RDOS is not providing cooperative, accountable good government,” Simoes said, pointing to restrictive bylaws, high taxes and little influence from mountain residents in governance matters due to the area’s small population.
“Those are fancy words to say we feel we have no representation, no say. Our destiny, our future is not in our hands. The system is broke.”
Those who signed the petition include Mark McKenney, president of the Anarchist Mountain Community Society.
McKenney also sits on the Area A Area Planning Commission (APC), which acts in an advisory capacity to Area A Director Mark Pendergraft.
McKenney said his signing the petition has nothing to do with his position on the APC, but represents his view as a taxpayer.
“I think it’s expressed fairly well in Joe’s petition,” he said, explaining the tax rates on the mountain just don’t reflect the level of servicing they receive from the RDOS.
“I just don’t see a lot of value for dollars.”
McKenney said he had a house in downtown Toronto, and there, he paid lower taxes and got more services, including snow removal, garbage and recycling pick up, water and sewer.
On the mountain, he said, none of those are included in the taxes he pays to the RDOS.
“I think it’s worth a pretty serious review,” he said.
The petition offers details about the mountain.
“The community is comprised of primarily large holdings and large residential lots,” states the letter to Bennett. “The approximately 250 civic addresses have an estimated taxable value of $150 million.
“The RDOS as a level of government does not represent the community’s needs, and demonstrates an increasing disconnection from the local community. Its primary objective appears to focus on control and generating revenue and bureaucracy, rather than providing cooperative, accountable good government.”
The letter calls the RDOS “expensive” and “redundant” with no added value for Anarchist Mountain residents.
The petition also offers possible governance options, including allowing Anarchist Mountain to become an autonomous municipality or to become part of Osoyoos.
Mark Pendergraft, director for Area A, said he has seen the petition but doesn’t think it’s feasible for the mountain to become its own municipality.
“I don’t think it is a realistic possibility as they’re proposing due to the fact that the tax base is too small to become their own municipality,” he said, adding residents’ taxes would at least double and they would have fewer services.
And while they may not have water, sewer, snow removal or free garbage collection on the mountain now, the residents do take advantage of other RDOS-provided services such as land use and planning bylaws.
As for fair representation, Pendergraft said that is often a concern in areas of small population.
But he said as for the RDOS, there is sometimes a misconception by residents about how the areas are represented.
A community like Penticton, which has four members on the RDOS board, doesn’t usually have more say in matters directly affecting the rural areas.
Pendergraft said the belief Penticton’s directors have such say is a “huge misunderstanding,” as it is generally only the directors whose areas are directly affected by a decision who get to vote on a matter, unless the matter is budget-related or a legal matter.
But as an Anarchist Mountain resident himself, Pendergraft isn’t totally opposed to a change in governance.
He said he would consider a change to a district municipality, which would see the rural area join with the Town of Osoyoos into one large governance area.
“Then it would make some sense.”
Simoes said on Feb. 22 that he was told by staff at the B.C. Community and Rural Development Ministry that the petition may not reach the minister’s desk.
But Simoes added that he is still determined to pursue the matter.
Sour grapes behind initiative to leave RDOS
For Simoes, the latest round of dissatisfaction with the RDOS stems from a notification he received earlier this month which stated that his appointment as Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner (LAFC) has been rescinded – upon request of the RDOS.
“That issue of the LAFC is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” Simoes said.
An LAFC is appointed by the Office of the Fire Commissioner.
The responsibilities include inspection of fire hazards (without a search warrant), orders to remedy such hazards and investigations of fires.
Simoes explained the history that led to his appointment as LAFC and, eventually, his being punted from the position.
He was one of a group of six who started the Anarchist Mountain Fire Department in 2003.
He served as fire chief – but gave up the position in December of 2008.
“The reason why I resigned as fire chief is because I was dissatisfied,” he said.
His dissatisfaction grew out of relations with the RDOS.
After the fire season of 2003, the department started to recognize the need for more support and resources.
They began to explore the possibility of allowing the RDOS, which already governed the area, to take over governance of the fire department.
In 2005, a referendum indicated that was the wish of most of the mountain’s electorate.
But in retrospect it seems to have been a mistake, Simoes said.
“Right from the beginning there was a lack of trust (of the RDOS),” he said.
The referendum was based on some specific criteria and Simoes said after the referendum, that criteria was not respected by the RDOS.
He said the bylaw regarding fire department governance that was adopted in 2005 by the RDOS doesn’t follow the original intentions set out by the department – one of the criteria of signing in the first place – and the ongoing disputes caused Simoes’ resignation as chief.
But after he resigned as fire chief he continued his active service as a firefighter in the department.
John Nett took over as interim fire chief and still holds the position.
In March, 2009, he wrote to the Office of the Fire Commissioner requesting that Simoes be appointed as LAFC.
Sometimes, the fire chief himself fills the position of LAFC, but it wasn’t a position Nett wanted to occupy.
But the LAFC doesn’t have to be the fire chief and is appointed in one of a few ways, as outlined in B.C.’s Fire Services Act.
One of those methods, specifically related to areas outside a municipality, is the direct appointment by the fire commissioner.
That was the request made by Nett.
It was granted.
Simoes was given a three-year appointment as LAFC.
A letter from the Fire Commissioner dated April 7, 2009, confirms Simoes’ appointment was by the Fire Commissioner.
But in December, 2009, RDOS staff found out about Simoes’ appointment, explained Mark Woods, the RDOS’s community services manager.
Woods said the RDOS must approve all such requests and appointments.
“When we were advised, the chief administrative officer (of the RDOS) directed me to notify the Office of the Fire Commissioner that Mr. Simoes had neither notified the board of his interest in becoming a Local Assistant nor did the board nominate him,” Woods explained in an email to the Osoyoos Times. “This is a procedural matter and is in no way a reflection on Mr. Simoes.”
Woods said the appointment of Simoes as LAFC is in contradiction to an RDOS Anarchist Mountain Fire Service Establishment Bylaw which states that the Fire Chief shall take responsibility for all fire protection matters including the enforcement of the Fire Services Act and regulations there under and upon request to the Regional Board, may assume the responsibilities of the Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner.
“In this situation neither the RDOS board nor staff were involved in this appointment,” Woods said, adding he didn’t even think Simoes was an active member of the fire department.
A representative from the Office of the Fire Commissioner explained the office received and complied with a request from the RDOS to rescind Simoes’ position.
“HR decisions for Anarchist Mountain Fire Department are made by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS).”
Simoes’ authority as LAFC was revoked as of Dec. 15 – but he didn’t receive notice or an instruction to surrender his badge and identification until Jan. 27.
That means he was acting in LAFC capacity for almost two months without authority – and Simoes is still insisting his appointment under the Fire Services Act should take precedence over a regional bylaw.
Nett said that he has since refused Simoes’ attempts to give him back the badge and identification.
He said he didn’t call for the position to be rescinded and he is going to stay out of it.
“I don’t agree with what Penticton (the RDOS) did on it,” Nett said, admitting maybe he made a mistake in the first place by not seeking RDOS approval for Simoes’ appointment.
“But being so, I should have been informed by the Commissioner so we could have corrected the so-called administrative error.”
Nett said that even though there might have been a procedural error, this is about more than that.
“I think it’s probably a personal issue between Joe (Simoes) and Mark Woods,” he said, pointing out that people may have trouble getting along but it shouldn’t interfere with the job that needs to be done. “Joe is certainly qualified to do the job.”
In January, the RDOS board moved and seconded that Woods, along with another RDOS staff member, Dale Kronebusch, be appointed as LAFCs for the entire RDOS.
Nett has a problem with that, too.
“I don’t consider the Penticton LAFC local,” he said. “Local is the people who live in the protected area – or Osoyoos, at the most.”
Nett also doesn’t like the idea of a government employee holding the position, which allows entry to residences without search warrants.
“I think the power for the LAFC could be abused if it is used by a government agent,” said Nett.
Woods said if Nett now brings his request to have Simoes serve as the LAFC to the RDOS board for approval, it will be considered.
“What we need is a formal request to make action on,” he said.