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Four directors now calling for TNRD board chair to resign

Ken Gillis is under fire after a letter sent to him by a senior TNRD manager detailing allegations against former CAO Sukh Gill was never shown to the board, which shortly thereafter approved Gill's $520,000 severance package
Gillis Ken
Ken Gillis is director for Electoral Area L of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Four Thompson-Nicola Regional District directors are now calling for board chair Ken Gillis to resign, while eight others have come to his defence, one remains on the fence and others are staying quiet.

TNRD director and Cache Creek Mayor Santo Talarico is the latest to suggest Gillis should resign. He joins Kamloops Coun. Dale Bass, Area I (Blue Sky Country) director Steven Rice and Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) director Sally Watson in making the call.

There are 26 directors on the board.

Talarico criticized Gillis for a lack of foresight into cost of the forensic audit into spending at the regional district, which he said cost more than $1 million when including staff time. He criticized the decision by the TNRD board to be involved in hiring BDO Canada to conduct the audit, maintaining it should have been done by an outside party. Talarico also cited Gillis’s previous vote against requiring politicians to pay for their own alcohol via a cash bar, something Talarico referred to as “brazen.”

“Absolutely,” Talarico said, when asked if Gillis should step down. “Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be left to board directors. He should have, in my opinion, had the foresight to understand where we were going and he shouldn’t have let his personal thoughts get in the way. We should have had a change at the board level, 100 per cent.”

Gillis has also come under fire due to the fact a letter sent to him by a senior TNRD manager on Jan 29, 2020 — detailing numerous financial and other allegations against former CAO Sukh Gill — was never shared with the board. Two weeks later, Gill left the TNRD with a $520,000 severance package and a signed legal agreement mandating his departure be termed a “retirement.”

Gillis has refused to comment on the letter when contacted previously by KTW. He did not return phone calls on this story, though he has defended his leadership to CBC Radio and Radio NL, citing the number of directors calling for him to step down as “hardly a palace revolt.”

Others who came to Gillis’ defence when reached by KTW were Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian, Merritt Mayor Linda Brown (Gillis’s wife), Area J (Copper Desert Country) director Ronaye Elliott and Area O (Lower North Thompson) director Bill Kershaw.

Gillis’s place as chair was also supported by TNRD vice-chair and Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden, TNRD Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger, Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh and Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer.

Singh took to social media last week, a day after the Feb. 3 board meeting, which included two more calls for Gillis to resign — from Rice and Bass. Singh said he does not want the chair to resign.

He said the board has “collectively taken responsibility for a previous lack of checks and balances” and “sharing meals together, occasionally, builds relationships among this large board and assists us in making good collaborative decisions on behalf of our constituents.” Singh said directors did not know at the time the extent of issues outlined in KTW’s investigation of TNRD spending, arguing Gillis navigated issues best he could. The post drew more than 100 comments, many of which were critical of Singh.

When contacted by KTW, Singh said he would not comment further, noting his opinion has not changed since he posted the message.

Christian said the board only recently re-elected Gillis, who in December defeated Kamloops Coun. Dieter Dudy in a secret ballot vote for the position of chair.

“He is committed to seeing this thing through in terms of the changes that need to be made at the regional district and I’m confident that he will be able to do that,” Christian said of a conversation he had with Gillis.

Roden said Gillis would have known what was coming in the forensic audit would draw criticism, adding the fact he put his name forward for chair showed “courage” and “integrity.”

Rothenburger said that as the face and voice of the TNRD, Gillis has become a target for criticism, but that problems in the past were not created by Gillis, but rather the board as a whole, past and present.

“So, I’m not willing to throw Ken Gillis under the bus for political purposes, which is what it would be if we simply say, ‘Oh, we need to send a message that things are changing,’” Rothenburger said. “I think we’re sending that message in other ways and, although it might be a good way to deflect criticism from ourselves as the rest of the board by putting the focus on Ken, I don’t think that would be either fair or productive.”

Copper Desert Country director Ronaye Elliott believes Gillis is doing a good job and noted limited time left in the term.

In defence of Gillis, Stamer said the regional district has done good work, alluding to “disgruntled directors.”

Lower North Thompson director Bill Kershaw said Gillis did the best he could with information he had.

Reached for comment on whether Gillis should stay or go, Chase Mayor Rod Crowe, Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly, Area B (Thompson Headwaters) director Stephen Quinn, Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine and Area A (Wells Gray Country) director Carol Schaffer would not comment.

Clinton Mayor Susan Swan said she is undecided.

“I personally feel it would be better for the organization if he were to step down,” Swan said. “I will commit to that, yes. I think a lot of the board members have lost confidence in his leadership.”

However, Swan said she wants to speak to other directors before making a final decision.

Bonaparte Plateau director Sally Watson was the first to call for Gillis to step down due to the letter controversy. The whistleblower letter was apparently first seen by the board in December 2021. Watson said it could have been grounds for dismissal with cause, meaning Gill may not have left the TNRD with his $520,000 payout.

KTW also left messages for Kamloops councillors Dieter Dudy and Kathy Sinclair, as well as Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Area N (Nicola Valley South) director Herb Graham, Area M (Nicola Valley North) director David Laird, Lytton mayor Jan Polderman and Logan Lake Mayor Robin Smith.