FOULDS: Hurdling information blockades at the TNRD

Beyond hiding why former CAO Sukh Gill was kicked to the curb, the regional district also did its damndest to shield from you all the information we have brought to the public. This includes not only spending data we published last week, but the information published last spring that detailed the fact Gill was let go with a massive payout.

We here at KTW have been inundated with calls, emails, letters to the editor and tips following our publication last week of spending habits at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

That is to be expected when the revelation is a half-million dollars of taxpayers’ money being spent, some (much?) of it in ways many see as unethical.

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As frustrating as that has been for legions of readers/taxpayers, equally frustrating for us has been the hurdles placed in front of our requests to get basic information on why former CAO Sukh Gill and the TNRD parted ways, why he was sent off with a $500,000-plus package and why a legal agreement was signed, a document that included that his departure be legally described as a “retirement.”

If one retires, one usually has a cake in the lunchroom, begins collecting a monthly pension and has no need for a legal agreement with one’s employer to legally define a retirement as a “retirement.”

We know Gill did not retire and we know he did not resign. We also know he was not dismissed because of the exorbitant spending uncovered by months of work by KTW reporter Jessica Wallace.

We know all of that because TNRD brass have told us as much.

While the regional district continues to stonewall questions on why Gill was let go, speculation and rumours are rampant and we have heard them all.

We have also heard from many sources, including former TNRD employees, regarding the possible (probable?) reason for Gill’s departure. Unlike social media posts, such information requires much work to verify and is also subject to considerable legal review, which is why these types of stories take a long time to get from discussion to print.

TNRD FOI Cost

The five-page feature in last week’s paper was the result of about one year’s worth of work, with Wallace tending to the project off the side of her desk while also reporting on myriad other stories that need to be written, not the least being a once-in-a-century pandemic and a provincial election.

(She also worked plenty of overtime, which I can assure our owner will not result in an eye-bulging dollar amount appearing on a payroll slip.)

Perhaps false rumours could be put to bed and the truth told to taxpayers if hurdles are not in our way, but they are.

I assume that whatever issue caused Gill and the TNRD to enter into that legal agreement precludes either party from speaking to it, but when more than a half-million dollars of taxpayer cash is tied up in the deal, shouldn’t the people paying the bill be privy to the details?

Beyond hiding why Gill was kicked to the curb, the regional district also did its damndest to shield from you all the information we have brought to the public.

This includes not only the data in last week’s paper, but the information published last spring that detailed the fact Gill was let go with a massive payout. That information was provided to us only after numerous requests and Freedom of Information submissions.

Even before this Gill saga, the TNRD was hell-bent on hiding information. When we asked, via a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request, for a copy of directors’ expenditures for 2018, we were handed a bill for $705.

The regional district wanted more than $700 to find basic information that is collected and posted for public consumption at most other levels of government.

As I noted in a column last April as this tale began to unfold, the opaque nature of the TNRD should not be a surprise.

This is, after all, the agency that actually saw its elected directors vote against tabulating votes on matters. This is the same organization that passed last year’s budget — which included Gill’s payout as an easily missed line item — at a meeting not open to the public or media.

That many directors remain too spooked to comment on the record about this affair and defer comment to board chair Ken Gillis speaks volumes to the culture that exists within the regional district.

It is precisely that culture that led to behaviour that has rightly angered so many people who pay the tab.

There is more to this story — and you will read it in these pages.

editor@kamloopsthisweek.com

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds

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