Ken Gillis has been re-elected chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
Gillis has been chair since 2018. Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden was acclaimed vice-chair, replacing outgoing vice-chair Bill Kershaw, who represents the Lower North Thompson area.
Gillis, a Pritchard resident who represents Electoral Area L, beat out a Kamloops city councillor to lead the board through the end of the term in October 2022. Coun. Kathy Sinclair nominated Coun. Dieter Dudy — the first time in recent memory a Kamloops director’s name stood during election for TNRD board chair.
In a pledge to the board to retain his position as chair, Gillis said he worked with staff to overcome challenges that led to former CAO Sukh Gill’s departure.
Gill left the regional district in February 2020 with a sizeable taxpayer-funded severance package totalling $520,000, which was uncovered through freedom of information requests by KTW. At the time, the TNRD claimed Gill retired, but the severance package and a legal agreement between Gill and the regional district that mandated the TNRD refer to his departure as a “retirement” raised questions about that narrative.
The reason for his departure has not been explained publicly. Reporting by this newspaper revealed spending was high at the regional district under Gill’s leadership. Subsequently, the regional district launched a forensic audit with BDO Canada, which is set to wrap up in mid-December, just before Christmas. Meanwhile, the RCMP is also investigating activities at the TNRD.
Gillis said the regional district is “turning a corner” and he wants to remain at the helm to see that through.
“I have intimate familiarity with what has evolved so far and I consider that I am in, by far, the best position to carry it to its conclusion,” he said.
Gillis also touted his work during this year’s wildfire season, which he called “the summer from hell,” and pledged to protect smaller communities and rural areas. The TNRD board is made up primarily of directors from rural areas.
Six of the 26 directors are from the City of Kamloops and municipal taxpayers pay about a third of the regional district’s overall budget via a line item on their property taxes.
Dudy said that, while he is grateful Gillis navigated the TNRD through turbulent waters as board chair, it is time for change.
“One of the biggest challenges we face moving forward will be to regain the public trust,” Dudy said. “That said, I don’t believe that can be done by presenting the status quo. We have to be seen as truly embracing change and that change includes changing the captain in the wheelhouse.”
The election occurred via secret ballot, meaning it is unclear how individual directors voted. Merritt Mayor Linda Brown recused herself because she is married to Gillis.
“Thank you very much for the vote of confidence and I appreciate it,” Gillis told the board upon his re-election as chair.
The term is one year, which effectively means Gillis will remain chair until the next civic elections, which will be in October 2022.