By Lyonel Doherty
Council members Rick Machial and Andre Miller are not remaining quiet in their quest to find out more about council’s legal opinion on the role of water councillors in Oliver.
At Monday’s meeting, Machial asked Mayor Ron Hovanes directly if the request for a legal opinion was the decision of council.
The mayor said it was.
Machial said if it was a decision of council, why weren’t the water councillors invited? He then asked if any water funds were used to acquire this opinion. Chief Financial Officer Devon Wannop said, “Not to my knowledge.”
The questioning stemmed from a recent decision by council to get a legal opinion on the roles and responsibilities of water councillors and what issues they should and shouldn’t be participating in. After the opinion, Hovanes read a statement saying that water councillors will excuse themselves from the table after all water issues have been dealt with.
Water councillors vote and make decisions on water-related matters only, but over the years they have sat through all matters of council and joined the discussions.
Council has agreed to now restrict water councillors to participate in water issues only. After they are dealt with, these councillors can either go home or sit in the public gallery.
According to Chief Administrative Officer Cathy Cowan, nobody has ever challenged water councillors in their roles. But she said council is merely trying to ensure that its governance structure does not put the organization in a “precarious position.”
But on Monday, Miller asked what did the water councillors do to precipitate the legal opinion.
“Seeing that you all agreed to a meeting, where are the minutes, who took the minutes? Basically they are supposed to be published.”
Hovanes said there were concerns that were brought forward over the last term, from each and every member of council, questioning the participation of water councillors. He referred to conversations on things that were not water matters.
“There was a decision made, and I think I was a big push for seeking an opinion.”
Hovanes said the roles and duties of water councillors as elected officials have not been diminished.
“Both of you gentlemen have seen the legal opinion, and I don’t believe it was a hard decision for council to make.”
The mayor said he didn’t know about the minutes.
Miller questioned this further.
“It’s illegal . . . you gotta produce minutes. If you had a meeting with your five, without us included. You must produce minutes!”
But Cowan said they were produced and were adopted in a closed meeting.
Machial said the lawyer made a big mistake when he suggested that water councillors should only be privy to discussions in the former area under the jurisdiction of SOLID (South Okanagan Lands Irrigation District). But he noted that in item 7 of the letters patent, the wording suggests that any area (topic) under the jurisdiction of the Town of Oliver can be commented (and voted) on by water councillors.
“I wonder what else is flawed (in the legal opinion). I think we almost need a second opinion,” Machial said.
Hovanes said council would take this under advisement, referring it to a future meeting.
But Machial pushed the question as to why him and Miller were not invited to the closed meeting.
“How can you say that’s not a water matter?”
He then reminded council that this position was created 28 years ago. “Why wouldn’t you have invited Andre and I?” Procedurally, you guys blew it. You should have invited us right from the start.”
Councillor Dave Mattes said council viewed this as a legal matter rather than a water matter.
Machial countered that the legal matter was an opinion of what water councillors can do at the table.
“Isn’t that a water matter? Are you kidding me?”
Mattes said the opinion was about participation in non-water matters, which is not a water matter.