The disarray within the Rutland Park Society board has placed a cloud of uncertainty over the future of Centennial Hall.
At a heated board meeting on Monday, all but two board members—chairman Todd Sanderson and treasurer Wendi Swarbrick—tendered their resignations in the midst of addressing questions from audience members.
The questions generated heated exchanges between some board members and those asking the questions, which tended to focus around a lack of transparency in the board’s decision-making process about the future of Centennial Hall and reverting back to the sale of land to the city for park space and a transit access road route which generated $800,000 in revenue for the eventual upgrade or replacement of the hall.
Laurel D’Andrea, the executive director of the Uptown Rutland Business Association and an RPS board member, was among those who handed in their resignations and left the meeting on Monday.
D’Andrea said she was personally disappointed by how the meeting unfolded and the level of acrimony directed at her and other board members, saying it was time to agree to disagree and move on.
She said it’s also time for the dissenters about how the board has operated, to step up and provide direction for the society moving forward.
“We have the situation the way it is unfortunately, and we tried to deal with it but it is what it is. I wish I knew the answer on how to move forward,” she said.
The other board directors who resigned on Monday included George Basran, Denita Rischka, Marianne Belland, Garry Benson, Cathy Gunderson, Lorena Mead, Kristin Mead, Herman Neustaedter and Tracey Parenteau.
A simmering dispute between the board and local residents, some society members and some not, has been percolating for years.
But it was heightened to another level publicly in May when Wendi Swarbrick, named the society board treasurer in January 2015, voiced her concerns to local media about the lack of transparency with how the board communicated with society members, and questioned if the board was acting in the best interests of Rutland.
Swarbrick, who was joined by society bookkeeper Petyr Hrynewich at her press conference in May, was the focus of one resolution before the board at Monday’s meeting to have her kicked off the board for her comments, but no vote was taken on that resolution.
Outside of that planned resolution, the society board has said nothing publicly in response to Swarbrick’s allegations.
In an interview with the Kelowna Capital News on Tuesday, Swarbrick said while Monday’s meeting was “a bit of a chaotic situation,” she said it was a reflection of the frustration of society members.
“I think a good shakeup is what was needed,” said Swarbrick.
“There wasn’t enough transparency in what the board was doing and our members had just had enough.”
Swarbrick said she was also disappointed by comments made by board chairman Todd Sanderson on Tuesday that, due to a lack of directors, the society would have to be placed in temporary trusteeship through the provincial government.
“I think that was sour grapes on Todd’s part to say that. My interpretation of the Societies Act section 24 is that is not correct. We can run with fewer board members on an interim measure until such time as we hold an annual general meeting to elect new people to the board,” Swarbrick said.
(Update: Swarbrick contacted the Capital News after our newspaper press deadline to further clarify this earlier comment: “It appears that I received some incorrect information from the BC Society registrar this morning. We do need additional directors to continue operating; however, we do not need to turn the society over to a trustee, we simply need to hold a general meeting and the members can nominate new directors accordingly.”)
Swarbrick said Joe Iafrancesco, who had earlier announced his decision to resign from the board, has now opted to remain as a director, she added.
“Going forward, we have to think about what is best for the society and respond to the frustrations of our members. It’s not a bad thing at all to go back to the drawing board and be realistic about what we can do moving forward,” she said.
D’Andrea said among the immediate impacts of the mass society board resignations is the Sunday community market at Roxby Square which faces a temporary closure until her signature is replaced on the event city permit due to liability issues. The daycare centres operating in the community hall are left wondering about their future and the process of deciding what to do with the community hall will be sidetracked.
As well, a federal grant for $273,000 for the hall project will likely be lost .
A survey done by a local consulting firm this spring on the future options for the hall, at a cost of $25,000, is now awaiting direction from the board.
Both Swarbrick and D’Andrea said they are strong boosters of Rutland, and hope the turmoil this week will lead to some positive long-term solutions.
“I love Rutland. This community is my passion,” said Swarbrick, an accountant who has her office in Rutland.
“I am a member of the (Uptown Rutland Business Association), my business is here, I have hundreds of clients who live here and I am involved in many local events. I want to see good things happen in Rutland.”
D’Andrea said she is disappointed to step aside because as a volunteer, she was motivated to work on behalf of the community.
“I didn’t do this because I had to, I volunteered with the society because I wanted to,” D’Andrea said.
“So I still want to see the hall renovation or replacement move forward. If I’m not involved and someone else can make that happen, then that will be great. It’s not about me. It’s about the community hall and the people of this community.”
As someone at the centre of the firestorm within the society, Swarbrick acknowledged it was awkward for her sitting on the board after she went public with her complaints.
“I really got a lot of negative backlash from the board…but what’s been going on has been a real eye-opener for our members, and you saw some of the energy and passion that people have at that meeting on Monday,” she said.
“I think moving forward, good things will happen for the park society and I think what has happened now will be a catalyst for positive change.”