PRRD to audit closed meetings after fire dispatch outsourcing

Some directors chafed at call to make controversial decision behind closed doors

Auditors will review a controversial Peace River Regional District decision to outsource fire dispatch services during a closed-door meeting.

At a meeting Feb. 23, directors voted unanimously to fund a review of the regional district’s closed meeting policies, which some directors say contributed to a backlash against a decision to award a fire dispatch contract to Vancouver Island-based North Island 9-1-1.

In January, the board publicly confirmed that decision after months of closed meetings.

Provincial legislation allows local governments to discuss certain topics in closed meetings. While the law requires some topics be dealt with in-camera—a legal term for private—it gives communities some leeway with regard to contract discussions.

“Because this was such a long, drawn-out process that has been questioned a number of times, I think an audit would put it to bed,” Area B Director Karen Goodings said. “And I think that’s what we’d all like to see: to make sure we did it right, and if we didn’t do it right, how do we fix it?”

The legal firm Young Anderson will carry out the audit, which is expected to cost between $5,000 and $7,000.  

Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser said it would clear up when the board should discuss matters in private.

“Part of the decision whether to be in-camera or not was based on advice that was given to the board about whether negotiations must be in-camera, may be in-camera, or don’t ever have to be in-camera,” he said. “This is not a judgement of the (PRRD) staff—but I think there are potential policy issues that this audit can inform.”  

Fort St. John Coun. Byron Stewart said the closed-door meetings made it impossible to consult the public on the issue.

“It was very painful,” he said. “The process and the end result still frustrate me. Around this table and in this room, there was a lot of confusion right from the start: what we could talk about in closed and what we could talk about with our residents.”

While the vote to audit the decision was unanimous, some directors were skeptical.

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead wondered whether the audit would contain any insights.

“I don’t want to spend $5,000 or $7,000 or $10,000 to Young Anderson for them to say ‘yeah, you guys made a political decision.’”

Directors from Fort St. John, Taylor, Tumbler Ridge and Pouce Coupe voted against going with North Island. The union that represents Fort St. John’s fire fighters also spoke out against the decision, saying outsourcing the service could endanger public safety.

Fort St. John and E-Comm also entered bids on the service. The five-year contract is valued at $635,477.

PRRD staff could not immediately say when the audit will be completed. 

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