Accusations of a director bullying and threatening staff surfaced during Thursday’s Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen board meeting.
It came during a heated debate about reallocating a $360,000 grant from a longstanding plan to rehabilate a wetland area with water from the Okanagan Falls wastewater treatment project to the proposed Skaha Estates sewer extension.
“I take exception to bullying and threatening of staff over the phone. I’m not willing to accept that,” said CAO Bill Newell, who accused Tom Siddon, director for Area D, of the actions.
The debate turned into a war of words between the two men after Siddon expressed his disapproval that he was not consulted about the change of direction of the grant funds prior to the release of the regional government’s agenda package last Friday.
The project dates back to 2005 and the RDOS had access to the grant funds since 2012. The project has hit a number of roadblocks, including the Ministry of Environment not approving the plan. The grant is set to expire September 2018 to use the money secured through the Regionally Significant Project grant.
Siddon claimed when he approached Newell about being “left out of the loop,” he was told by the CAO that the director’s place was at the table voting on issues not telling staff what reports they should be taking to the board.
“I take extreme exception this was brought to the table without my involvement,” Siddon said.
During the exchange, Newell reminded directors the Local Government Act empowered the 18 members of the board of directors to vote on issues and provide recommendations to staff.
“It is not meant we go to one director so one director decides if that report ever sees the light of day,” he said.
Following the debate, Siddon called for a point of order to address Newell’s claims. Siddon charged Newell’s comments were bordering on litigious. Siddon acknowledged that he did speak to staff after the agenda became public, but was adamant while addressing the board that he did not bully or threaten anyone.
“I did not bully or threaten anyone and I think an apology is in order.”
Newell retorted in a low tone, “that’s pushing it,” before several directors urged for the board to take a break.
The board voted to not reallocate the funding from the grant and approve the expenditure of $120,000 to $360,000 from the Rural Projects Area D budget in order to move the Skaha Estates sewer project forward.
Siddon declined to comment about the issue following the meeting while Newell declined to elaborate on the bullying and threatening claim.
Newell did say, “it’s over and we will carry on.”
Karla Kozakevich, chair of the RDOS, said she was blindsided during the meeting adding she knew nothing of the disagreement. She said she would be following up with both Siddon and Newell and acknowledged any charges of staff being bullied or threatened were serious.
“I will definitely be looking into this.”