The City of Greenwood is over budget on its legal account. Resident Byron Goch wants the overspending to stop and he says he’s prepared to raise the issue by going door-to-door in the current municipal election campaign.
During the public question period at the start of the Oct. 14 city council meeting, Goch directly asked how much over budget the city was on their legal expense account. City administrator Robin Dalziel confirmed the legal account is about $10,000 over budget.
When council set the budget last spring, $20,000 was budgeted for legal fees, up from $3,653 in 2013. The city has maintained that the legal fees are being used to further a project that is still in negotiation.
“Council has encountered higher than average atypical budgetary items simply because we are working on a project that will be of huge benefit to this city,” said Mayor Nipper Kettle. “The rest of that information is in camera and I am not going to comment on it.”
Item #19 in the 2013 Annual Report for Greenwood shows another possible reason for the drain on the legal budget. Under the heading Contingent Liabilities, the report states, “The city may also be exposed to liability in respect to an allegation of censure and defamation. As at the report date, no estimate can be made of the likely outcome and no accrual has been made for this potential claim.”
Last February, Councillor Barry Noll was removed as the city’s representative at the RDKB table. Council issued a public statement that blasted Noll at the time and, at the next council meeting, Noll told the rest of council he had been advised by his lawyer to no longer attend in-camera meetings without his legal representative present.
Goch says he believes that infighting between members of council may be costing the taxpayers money.
Goch asked a follow-up question: “To bring that [legal account] back within budget, is council prepared to put their differences away and settle the escalating legal costs attributed to the infighting that council has been going through since February? I realize that some of the details of this necessarily have to stay in camera. But I also believe it is in the public interest that this be put aside and that council reimburse the city for the money spent.”
Goch said Greenwood’s Bylaw 807 only addresses the cost if there is a court action. (Bylaw 807 reimburses officials against an award of damages or penalty imposed as a result of a claim or prosecution brought against them in connection with the performance of their duties. It also defines conditions where, should a court find a municipal official to have erred, the official would have to repay the municipal coffers.)
“I personally think the bylaw is lacking because what the bylaw really does is encourage infighting, because if the infighting goes away [i.e.: never gets to court] the ten grand or whatever that council spent should be protecting themselves—us as taxpayers have to pay it.”
“I think that council should take a responsible place and a moral place and put their infighting aside and repay the city for the monies used. I think that would serve the best interests of our community and I certainly think it would bring our legal budget back into where it should be.” Goch said he was prepared to go doorto- door during the election campaign with his concern.
Kettle again defended the legal costs. “We are working on a big project for this city, something that could be life-changing for Greenwood and it’s a huge investment in our town.
“We didn’t anticipate this going back and forth with lawyers and things like that cost money. It is the price of doing business in this day and age.”
Kettle said he couldn’t comment further and, when asked, said he wasn’t sure if council would be able to release details of the project before the Nov. 15 election.