By Sarah Ripplinger, Nelson Daily News
09 Aug 2007: 1 / FRONT
“We have to reassert our empowerment as citizens,” said Daryl Secret to a crowd of over 50 people at the Nelson Citizens Empowerment Society meeting in the downstairs of the Nelson Library that began at 7:00 p.m. Thursday evening.
The NCES is threatening legal action against the City of Nelson saying council did not follow proper procedures before approving of the five-story Kutenai Landing Development project scheduled to be built on waterfront property in Nelson.
Secret, who is Chair of the NCES, said he feels council did not listened to the voices of the community before making its decision to pass the third reading of the proposed project.
He and three other presenters at the public meeting said they want to see more transparency and accountability from municipal government representatives to members of the public.
The fourth and final reading of the Kutenai Landing project has yet to be heard in council, but Nelson mayor John Dooley says there’s little reason to believe that council will change their minds after making a four-to-two decision in favour of adopting the rezoning application.
“I’m very confident that we’ve done due diligence to this project, I’m confident in the decisions made by council and I’m confident that it will move forward,” he said.
Dooley said council’s deliberations so far on the Kutenai Landing project have been “very open and straight forward” and included two public meetings headed by council and two more with the developer.
“I’ve been on council now for eight and a half years and this is the most public participation and open process that I have seen on any project while I’ve been on council,” he said.
NCES representatives say they are gathering signatures from citizens opposed to the development project and will be presenting a petition to council.
David Aaron, attorney for NCES, said they will consider legal actions if necessary after reviewing documentation from the Kutenai Landing proceedings.
He says that if they determine that council’s decision goes against the aims of Nelson’s Official Community Plan, they will have reason to proceed with court action.
“One of the most important laws that are relevant to this situation is in the local government act says that a municipal council cannot enact any bylaws or undertake in any project that is inconsistent with the vision of the people,” he said. That vision should be one that is voiced and determined by members of the public. If not, he says, council is overstepping its bounds.
Calculating the costs
Mayor John Dooley said Nelson City Council has received several Freedom of Information requests for documents pertaining to the Kutenai Landing project proceedings from legal representatives for the NCES. Requests, he says, that could be costly to taxpayers.
“I think it’s unfortunate because it’s going to cost the tax payers and the community money to come up with the information that they’re requesting; and they have a lawyer in place now, which means we’ll have to do the same,” he said.
“It’s all a cost to the taxpayer and I don’t believe there’s any real reason for it.”
Andre Carrel, Director of NCES, says that costs born by the organization to request information and start legal proceedings against Nelson City Council are too high.
“It’s $1,300 just to get copies of documents to see whether your rights have been infringed,” he said.
The group will have to raise money from the community to proceed with the case, a price, Carrel says, that will not be easy to pay.
Linda Tynan, director of corporate services with the City of Nelson, said that the $1,300 fee is an estimate for the time and labour it will take to compile the documents requested by the NCES. The citizen’s group has requested copies of almost all of the official documents pertaining to the Kutenai Landing Development, she said.
The charges follow provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act guidelines that stipulate how much the city can charge for information requests, Tynan said.
“Under the act itself, there’s no cost in making the request. The costs that are involved are staff time to prepare the records for disclosure, so that’s based at $30/hour and then the photocopying is $0.25 a page.”
The fees reduce the burden on tax payers who would otherwise have to bear the costs necessary to complete the request, she said.
Considering the large volume of documents and the nature of the request, Tynan said, the cost is not high. In fact, she adds, tax payers will still have to pay the difference for staff wages, above and beyond the $30/hour wage fee born by the NCES, for the approximate 30 hours it could take to gather the requested information.
“Most of the people will be making more than $30/hour,” she said, which would mean a significant portion of the cost needed to complete the request could be born by taxpayers.
“A request like this needs to be taken very seriously,” she said. “It’s expensive for the city and it is a right of individuals to ask for it.”