Derek Kilbourn
Sounder News

This past Friday, April 14, Gabriola Talks hosted an All-Candidates Meeting (ACM for the persons running for election in the 2023 Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District Election on April 19.

Voting for the Election will be between Noon and 7pm at the Albert Reed Memorial Fire Hall #1 on Church Street. Polls will close at 7pm, and the GFPID Annual General Meeting will begin at 7:30pm.

Steven Earle from Gabriola Talks opened the meeting, acknowledging it was being held in unceded Snuneymuxw First Nations territory.

Earle introduced Talyn Martin, who served as moderator for the meeting.

The candidates are:

Douglas G. Haines

Erik D. Johnson

Sean Lewis

Diana Moher

John Moeller

Robert L. Rooks

The format of the ACM was that each candidate was given an initial two minutes to introduce themselves to the audience. After this, the moderator had two questions to start the Q&A. Candidates were provided these questions ahead of the ACM. After the initial moderator questions, the candidates were asked questions by members of the public. Each candidate had two minutes to answer questions asked.

Initial questions from the Moderator

1. What skills and knowledge do you bring to the board of Trustees?

Haines: said that in his introduction, he had alluded to his experience with governance, he’s worked with many corporations that had multiple shareholders and stakeholders, as well as different levels of government.

“A reporting structure was always important to me, to maintain confidence and transparency. You can’t manage a budget unless you can look at the line items and understand the costs.”

Haines said he also brings experience with conflict resolution to the table; on working with procurement, RFP/RFQ, going to tender. “Reporting and accountability, that has been the focus of most of my career. Being able to engage and tell the truth to folks.”

Haines also took this question as a chance to say that there is, “a false narrative that’s going around – I want to bring that to a head.”

He said he is not running to remove Fire Chief Will Sprogis as Chief.

“I think Will has done a tremendous job, there are two reports that say the same…”

Looking at Sprogis in the audience Haines said, “Will, I think you’ve done a fantastic job, I thank you.”

Johnson said, “I’m not a businessman, I’ve worked with a thousand different tradesmen and tradeswomen. I’m good at talking to people. I think being a Trustee is about listening to people who know what they are talking about, and going over the budget so you have a safe fire department.

Johnson said he is cognizant of not wanting overspending, “but we can’t nickle and dime the department.

“This is the best department I’ve ever seen, and until quite recently, I didn’t have to think about it. The problems this department has right now is not of their own making. In terms of what skill I’d bring, I can see through the BS here and just sit there and be part of a seven person board making decisions that are best for this island and safety of this island.”

Lewis said he’s had a work life that has taken him all over the country, from large centres like Toronto and Halifax to small coastal towns.

“Mixing with people, doing investigations…variety gives you experience. Going into small communities, getting an idea of how people think.

“We bought here [on Gabriola] in 2007. People joke about how long you’ll be here before you are accepted. We lived in a small place in Ireland with people who’d been there for centuries.”

Lewis said he has experience in human resources, safety, and in training.

“I have been a responder…not as much as our [Gabriola] volunteers…and when I was [teaching] in fire school, I got lots of hands on with fire. Enough to respect it.”

Moher said for skills and experience, “I would say age.”

She has a background in Sociology and Psychology. “It is an amazing degree I’ve used over and over again. I’m a people watcher. It lets me figure out where things are going.”

She said she worked in the medical field in Alberta and BC, and the legal field for 12 years. She currently works in education as a special education assistant. Her background also includes emergency management training, and Search and Rescue (SAR) training. She said when there was a SAR group on Gabriola, “I was part of the initial training here.”

She’s had her First Aid ticket for over 30 years. “I maintain that. Take as many programs as I can…including mental health. That’s on my mind when I look at our responders, their mental health.

“All of this brings to the board a rounded person that allows me to look at things.

“A budget does not scare me.”

Moeller said, “I have a business background, I founded a company that did pretty good, and sold the company three years ago.

He said he brings a strong business background, a degree in computer science. As a Fire Trustee for two terms now, Moeller said he has been working to modernize the way the Trustees do email and how the fire department does filing – getting a grant from Microsoft to do that.

“I’ve also been a Trustee for six years, I know a few things about the regulations and bylaws. That’s what I bring to the board.

“I know quite a few of the members of the department. I know how to put out a fire. Throw water on the bottom, not the top. I’ve been learning.”

Rooks said he has had successes in his past.

“I am passionate. I’ve been on multiple boards, I have a background in human resources.

“Most of the thing is, I do my homework well. I’ve attended almost every [Fire] board meeting for the past year the Board has had.

“I’ve tried to understand what is right and wrong there.”

In August of 2022, he handed out copies of Robert’s Rules of Order to the then-Trustees.

Rooks said, “I am a good outside-the-box guy. I believe if everyone is thinking the same, no one is thinking.

“What’s my goal? My goal is to make the fire board Trustees as professional as our fire department so we can leave and they are as proud of us as we are of them.

“I think I have the skills and I will do my homework every time.”

Second question – what do you see as the most pressing issues facing the board?

Rooks said he sees the most pressing issue being that the board lead the fire department, to satisfy the needs of the future.

“If we had a big fire, it would devastate us all. I do have a concern about the amount of material that builds up here. We have no place to take it. I agree with the burning regs, as long as we can get rid of material.

“If we can’t get rid of it, we’re going to have a huge fire. I think we need to try and prevent the future.

“I thnk we need a burn site, people need to be able to get rid of their material.

“Life is not a dress rehearsal, we’ve got one shot, I think we can help with that.”

Moeller said, “I think the communication the board has done over the last couple years has been lacking.”

He pointed to the re-write that the Board has just completed on the burn bylaw.

“That process really opened my eyes to the amount of confusion on what is allowed and what isn’t.

“For example, people can burn. You do need a permit, up to a certain size, and there are rules to follow. But that’s part of being on a small island that has a lot of people and fire hazards.

“I’d say communication is a big part of this. Everybody has a vested interest in keeping the island safe. No one wants to see a wildfire this August.

“I think it’s important to keep the public aware of what causes a fire, what they can do, what they can do during high season.

“We did town hall meetings, the public came out, had a chance to do a Q&A. If I’m reelected, that’s what I’ll push for, more public engagement, more notifications on the changes of what you’re allowed to do.”

Moher said, “those two town halls were interesting.

“The next thing that faces Trustees, which is the budget, which is the increase in training and equipment the fire hall requires for what they need to keep up with regulations.

“What we’re looking at is increasing training requisitions.”

She referenced the recently released Operations Report, which recommended increasing staffing – which means looking at a budget to support that.

Moher also pointed to the workings of the Board.

“When I came on to do a seven month stint, it was calm and even and focused.

“Then there was a shift and a change as things happened. I’m hoping we can make ourselves work our way back to that format and find the way to communicate in a way that is healthy and cooperative.

“We should be one board working together, voting independently. That’s what we are, one board. Not seven different people with seven different groups of people on the island, I think the board can do that.”

Lewis said as a Trustee for six years, “I’ve seen many good things. I’ve seen things that have puzzled me. There’s been a lot of chnage in the world, on the island, demographics are changing, more people are coming here.

“I’ll agree that communication is important. The Board establishes the fire department, but we’d be pointless without the department. We practice oversight to ensure the community gets value.

“I don’t know any Trustee who wants to direct operations [of the Fire Department].

“However, part of oversight and governance are knowing things are getting done at the right time.

“I think communications could be much better.”

Johnson said, “the most pressing issue I see, or hear about, is a constant harassment of the Fire Chief and the training officer. And it extends right down to office staff. That’s why I’m here. I’m not paying for that kind of nonsense anymore, and none of us should.

“There has to be a clear chain of command. The board is not in the chain. They help and support, but they are not part of the chain of command. There’s a heavy mission creep here.

“Honestly at some point, you have to say these are experts. The Fire Chief and Training Officer are well trained, probably the best trained outfit you’re going to run into. Second guessing them is going to get dangerous. That’s my concern as a land owner on this island.

“I’m not having it.”

Haines said, “the most pressing issue I have seen is there needs to be delineation between board and department.

“Without that, I think there’s a risk the service is diminished or worse.”

He referenced there being two reports recently, one being the Advisory Select Committee report on the Fire Board, and the Jay Brownlee review of Fire Department Operations.

“Both reports have indicated the board needs to delineate from the department.

“The department is doing great. Staying out of operations is the responsibility of the board.

“Relations amongst board members, firefighters, and members of the public are not effective. The board needs to give the proper chain of command to the Chief, get out of trying to fight fires, and actually be an employer and advisory committee for the department. That’s what I’ve read in the materials.”

At this point, the moderator opened things up to questions from the public.

During the meeting, if people wanted to ask a question, they were asked to put their names on a piece of paper in a bin.

The moderator then pulled names from the bin, and the person selected was given a chance to ask one question.

Timshel Jackson was the first name pulled, asking, “I am wondering if there is any perceivable conflict of interest, financial or otherwise, for anyone running on the board.”

Johnson said, “I don’t have a conflict of interest. If I sit on the board and we’re talking about bylaws, it doesn’t affect my bottom line. I don’t have anybody working for me. That doesn’t affect my bottom line.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re for the Fire Chief or against, a conflict of interest is a conflict of interest.”

Lewis said, “I’m retired, I have no financial, real estate, I have no conflict of interest that would effect me as a Trustee.”

Haines said, “I have no conflict of interest. I’m a property owner of a heavily wooded property – concerns me.

“I know nobody personally on the fire department, I think that’s a good thing. I come with fresh eyes and fresh perspective. I don’t have any allegiance, or friend, that would sway me. I think it’s important to maintain that wall or separation. Even if you get to an arms length separation. If one is identified, you must recuse yourself. If there’s a perceived conflict of interest, you must recuse.”

Rooks said, “I am a contractor – we do a lot of different things here. I have tried and will always will do what the Fire Chief requests of me in terms of equipment that I need there.

“In terms of conflict of interest on the board, if there’s anything I perceive, I will immediately not get involved. I was chairman of an ethics group at vet school and for the state association – so I understand conflict of interest.”

Moeller said, “I don’t have any financial interest in anything the fire department does. So there’s no conflict of interest there.”

Moeller said that there is one individual in the community who, he said, repeats with, “eye-watering regularity that I knew some of the firefighters, namely the Chief, before being a member of the board.

“The suggestion is that I somehow, defend [Sprogis].

“I’ve been accused endlessly by this individual of having a conflict of interest – I want to tell everyone here I don’t have a conflict of interest. If I feel like my integrity is in jeopardy, I will recuse myself.”

Moeller said when the Board hired a new Fire Chief, “we went through a process, there was a committee, we went through a process there.

“That was three and a half years ago. If someone wants to revisit that, look at the Chief’s performance. Stop attacking the process, and look at the performance. You have three and a half years of performance to look at now. I’m confident we made the right decision.

“And I’m tired of this conflict of interest accusation being leveled at me all the time. I’m doing this for the community as a volunteer. I’m not doing it for anyone else. This is for me.”

Moher – I can’t say that I can’t thank you very much for asking this one because I see this come up over and over and over again.

“A board is entrusted by electors to govern in the best interests of the community and it can only do this as a collective. Individual members cannot independently govern or make decisions affecting the community.”

She referred to the conflict of knowing someone in the community – and that she had read where she had apparently known Fire Chief Will Sprogis as a kid.

Moher said she’s been working in the education field for 31 years.

Even in a small school like Gabriola’s, that means she’s come into contact with over 4,000 students in that time.

“I loved every one of those students that I came into contact with. I treat them all the same, all with the same respect, and they come to me, even now, and if that’s a conflict of interest, then I don’t know what we’re doing here. Because it does not impact my ability to sit on a board and make decisions for the health and welfare of the community.

Jon Carlson asked, “what’s essential, and what would be nice, but not necessary for what you do?

Rooks said, “that comes back to budget, it comes back to what the department needs now, and 10 years from now.

“We have to be careful to separate the wish list from the needs list.”

He said the Fire Protection District is, “the second highest thing we pay on our taxes.

“The needs are fire prevention, and also enough equipment that we can failsafe things if there is a problem.

“We need volunteers paid well, they have their lives on the line, to make sure they are trained. Wish list? Fancy uniforms are fine.

“We need to give people what they need, not always what they want.”

Moher said, “I think that’s a hard question – because what I think might be a wish, might be to them, essential.

“I think my job is to make sure my background knowledge understands whether or not they [the department] knows that it is essential.

“One of the things Jay Brownlee said is if you’re doing proper forecasting, and looking ahead as to what you need, as things move forward and change within your dynamic environment. And you are prepared for those changes. If you can buy and purchase things, and take into account things like your supply chains, so that we’re aware of the costs of these things coming. And not get caught flat footed.

“We need to understand the difference between what we think is a wish and what our fire department knows is an expectation and that they know they might need it in five years, and we need to start looking ahead on how we might buy that.”

Johnson said, “a lot of the requirements for the department are governed by outside forces.

“This isn’t something we get to decide as a board, what we buy. Insurance companies run the place. To keep your insurance low on this island, the insurance companies require certain things of volunteer fire departments.

“That means they have got to buy trucks – price is negotiable – but it has to be a particular truck, with a life expectancy.

“The thing to do is leave it up to the Fire Chief, and his staff. I  mean, they are not trying to screw someone to the wall with this stuff. The board step in and say, that’s a bit excessive, when it’s excessive. People on the board need to know what’s excessive.

“But the Board can’t just say, oh we’re not doing that.

“Because if you don’t have the proper equipment, the insurance company steps in and says fine, but then your rating goes down. And the insurance goes up.”

Haines said, “the fire department, they can easily tell us what their requirements are. Training is essential. I think a report has suggested having a Deputy Fire Chief is essential to maintain the level of services we expect.

“Those are things I’d look at as essential service. The apparatus, the equipment, those are on an appreciation and replacement schedule. So that takes care of itself.

“What would be nice to have? Or things that are on a wish list?

“I don’t see nine or six storey buildings on this island, so having an aerial truck that could reach that high is probably something we don’t require. That’s a wish list kind of item.

“I think the training, the inclusion of a new position, the upkeep of the equipment, is the essential meat and nuts and bolts of the department that makes it possible to maintain service on the island.”

Lewis said, “on some level, everything is essential. How do we prevent emergencies?

“You might engineer a solution, you might have a procedural solution, or a reactive one.

“Quick example, if there’s a hazard such as a propane tank, and you don’t want people driving into it. Issuing memos is not the best way to go, a concrete barrier works fine.

“If you educate people that they don’t leave the house with a candle burning, you would have less fires. This has been proven.

“Finally reactive – the fire truck turns up, and well trained people are there to put out the fire. That is also essential, but it is the most costly way of doing things.

“Pre-incident planning is a major job for any fire department. We have fire education, we have a Firesmart. These are the quiet programs that actually bear fruit down the road, but you never notice, because you don’t have the fire.

“The person who remembers to close the kitchen door and checks the stove before going to bed, or doesn’t leave a candle, or the person who doesn’t exceed the burn regulations and lights up too big a burn pile saying OMG what am I going to do now?

“The real essential and the one I’m most proud of here, is when I call 911 – and I have done that – people will come to help. It’s not always perfect, it’s not always as timely as we like, but people will come to help. That’s the essential. The rest we can argue about, but I really think the programs I see here are going to bear fruit down the road.”

Moeller said, “as a Trustee, what is essential of course is the budgeting, is the most important part.

“Do you ever stop and think how we pay for a fire truck that costs a million dollars when the whole budget is under that?

“It’s because we have a long range plan, money has been set aside over a period of time – because we know when the existing truck will expire, and when we’ll have to buy a new one.

“That also applies to the buildings and some other major equipment.”

Moeller explained the long range plan was written by the late-Albert Reed. Reed was a former Trustee on the fire Board. Reed’s plan has now expired.

Moeller said, “we don’t have a current long range plan. That is essential.

“Our Fire Chief has been very on top of this, has managed to keep the schedule going for truck replacement and equipment replacement. But that is only essential of what we need to do.

“We need a new long range plan. Albert Reed is not here with us unfortunately. We’re going to have to find a way to make this happen on our own.

“We need a long range plan, that’s essential.

“What’s nice to have?

“It would be nice if all the Trustees got along all the time.

“It’s essential getting the reports from the Fire Chief and the Training officer and the staff. Making sure the department is running smoothly. As a Trustee, those are the essential things.”

Wendy Schultz was selected, and said she is unable to be at the voting booth on the 19th, she asked if there was a way to vote ahead of time, or get a proxy. She was told no, there is no way to vote ahead of time in this year’s election.

Liz Ciocea – directed her question to Doug Haines, asking, if he was elected, what he would change about the Board? Expanding the question to reference to the behaviour seen at the meetings from board members. The other candidates were also given an opportunity to answer the question.

Haines said if he were elected, he would find it essential as a new member to try and implement and advocate for implementation of the recommendations of the Jay Brownlee report and the report from the Select Advisory Committee that was issued last fall.

“Those seem to be very relevant to this board, to the department. Decoupling the two bodies is essential to make sure the appropriate support is for the fire department

“I’ve read too many emails, too many reports, to think otherwise, to think it is running as efficiently as it could.

“If elected, I would advocate to try to make the board run as effectively as it possibly can, to improve the services on this island.”

Moher said, “there are two reports out there there are some things that are recommended in them.

“I don’t know why people haven’t recognized that we have started to implement them. Some were implemented and passed in last year in the summer, those recommendations are sometimes are not followed by certain people, and then confusion ensues because then we have to go back and remind people we have policies with those recommendations embedded in them.

“The Brownlee report reflects some of those changes as well. We are moving forward on those recommendations as quickly as we possibly can.

“Change as we all know, comes as fast as people are able to make it happen.

“Then what we have to do is put them together, put them into policies, make sure the policies are understood, and then move forward with them.”

Moeller said, “I think Liz is asking what can be done to fix the problems on the board, and the discord between the members. I think honestly if everyone takes a deep breath and tries to be calm at the meeting, and not say mean things to each other, I think the problems will go away. But that’s probably wishful thinking.

“I do think some changes may be necessary. Maybe it’s me. Hopefully not. We’ll see.”

Lewis said he and Moeller are the two longest serving Trustees.

“Over and over again I hear people saying things like toxic culture, et cetera et cetera.

“Some behaviour is not acceptable. I can only answer for myself, that I always try to behave properly. We don’t have to agree or like each other, but we can have a standard of behaviour.”

Rooks said, “everybody needs to behave and play nice. I think where I would start with would be the Gabriola Fire Department harassment and discrimination policy and procedures. Which was written in 1998.

“That’s 25 years since we had an upgrade on human resources, on harassment protocols. I doubt the Trustees have even seen this.

“The only thing that is out there is a three page one, and the last page is for your name and location and date of the harassment. We have no current human resources document in place that talks about harassment, bullying, or anything else. The Trustees have to be held to exactly the same level as the volunteers do. We have no means to control either one unless we use the one that’s out of date.

“We need to bring a policy forward that is for volunteers, officers, and the Trustees, so that everybody plays nice…everybody is cordial.”

Francois Bosman’s name was next pulled for a question.

Bosman said he has been a doctor on the island for the last 16 years, “and my concern is there has been a steady erosion of the relationship between the fire hall, BC Ambulance Service, and the medical clinic over the past three years. I submitted a letter of concern to the Board, and the Chief, regarding a senior member of the fire department, unprofessional and bullying behaviour, compromising patient’s confidentiality, and potentially damaging a colleague’s reputation.

“Does the board have policies that set standards and oversight for bullying and human relations?”

Johnson said, “bullying is not a real good thing. I can imagine that some members of the fire department have put up with bullying for the last little while.

“What we do, I don’t know. It goes on and on, I don’t like it, or how you stop it. I think that one of the things we can do is when there are public meetings, if you have a concern for the fire board, you say it to the chair. I think that would be the most important thing. That we be real nice at meetings, we don’t yell out, we don’t parade around, and make a scene, at fire board meetings, no matter how important you think your point is.

“I’m not aware of bullying in the organization. I have not heard anybody bullying in the volunteer bunch. I have seen a fair amount of bullying online, inline, at the meetings, and I would like that to stop.”

Lewis said, “I can’t speak to the fire department – but I’ve seen bullying on the board between Trustees, unresolved issues. In my opinion quite unacceptable.

“There’s a perception, rightly or wrongly, that some complaints are pursued and other complaints are not. I think we should have a clear open policy. Any complaint coming in should be copied to the board. If it is the Chief’s area, let the Chief deal with it. End of story. But at least let us know that it is happening. We can work better like that.”

Moeller said there were two things going on in the question.

“There’s the fire department, and the Trustees. The fire department has a policy on that [bullying and harassment]. If something is complained about, there’s an investigation, and there’s potential consequences. That’s operations. As we’ve talked about earlier tonight, operations and the board are separate. That goes through the Chief. It is up to the Chief to deal with those things.

“If you’re talking about a bullying and harassment policy for the board itself? We don’t have a bullying and harassment policy specifically for the board.”

He said the thing about that kind of policy is, “you have got to have some kind of consequence.

“We are all elected officials. There’s no consequences for doing something. None of us are specifically in charge, no one can get consequences for doing anything over and over again. There’s nothing you can do. The consequence is the next election. Hopefully that person gets voted out, if they keep misbehaving like that. You could make a policy for bullying and harassment,  but it’s really unenforceable. As board members, we don’t have a policy, because it would be unenforceable.”

Rooks said bullying and harassment happens, and that over the campaign, it has been happening to him. He next said that he disagreed with Moeller, quoting from the previous policy on bullying and harassment saying, “for the purposes of this document, the Trustees of the GFPID, members of the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Association, and employees of the District shall be collectively known as the Department.

“The Trustees are pointed out in here in this document from 1968, that the Trustees have to adhere to the same things…that has not been enforced. The human resource information that is currently being used is archaic. It needs to be brought up to date. These things are occurring.

“People can disagree. It’s a small town. Get a flat tire. Three people will help you change your tire. Paint your barn? Three will tell you you painted your barn wrong. There’s a time…for telling people about their barn painting, and when it becomes hurtful, and damages neighbourhoods and relationships.

“We need to improve the human resources rules and dialogue and have a policy that we all respect.”

Haines said, “I think many of the members here have made an attempt to say there is one, and I do believe there is one, with the spirit of human relations and anti-bullying. I think the bones are there.

“Are they being adhered to? I don’t have the context.

“All I can do is reference the report – which does recommend an HR officer be implemented for the department and board to resolve some of this conflict, and to have a clear path forward, to have some kind of historical justice, reconciliation, whatever it may be for the matter and issue at hand. It also alludes to a liability to the board if this is not addressed.

“Aside from the financial and fiduciary responsibility of the Board, it’s the right thing to do for the community.

“Nobody likes bullying in a community. No one likes it when it happens to yourself, your son, your wife, your friends, to your community.

“To me, it goes hand in hand, it’s one of those essential services. Human resources, human relations within the board and the department need to be aligned, the policy needs to be updated, and it needs to be robust.”

Moher said, “it is always tough when we get into this area. Those of us that are on the board are on a strong confidentiality agreement.

“We can’t talk about a lot of things, what is before us, or what has gone on in the past. Because they deserve the respect of the confidentiality that went on behind closed doors.

“If something is happening, in process, we can’t talk about it anymore than I can talk about something going on in the school, or that we could talk about what goes on in the clinic. It puts us in a hard place.

“There are two different areas. The problem with the trustees, we can have whatever we want on paper, there is no ability to enforce other than possibly sanction.

“For employees – we are the boss, the employer.”

She quoted the Jay Brownlee report saying, “it should be noted that as the authority having jurisdiction, we are considered to be the employer for the purposes of the authority of the BC Human Rights Code, BC Labour Code, Employment Standards, and the Workers Compensation Act, as they relate to provisions for workers in the work place.

“Accordingly, it is appropriate that we as Board members fully understand the fiduciary duties and obligations of local government.”

Moher added, “all of those Acts apply to how we deal with stuff. They are very dense, and they are very complicated.

“So we are in the process of trying to figure out how those all interrelate, and how we’re supposed to interface those with our employees, and not step on to Operations at the same time since those people are part of Operations.

“So we have a real tight rope we are trying to walk.

“There’s also a concept of dysprosody. Which means if you like somebody, you don’t have a problem with something they are saying. But if you don’t like somebody, everything that is said and done is filtered through that as well. So we try to be very careful.”

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