Raucous Rutland Park Society meeting turns into a shouting match

Outgoing president not allowed to speak, members of audience and meeting chairwoman tell each other to shut up and mayhem ensues.

Rutland Park Society

The new era for the Rutland Parks Society started Tuesday in a similar fashion to how the old one ended – with a chaotic membership meeting.

Tuesday night’s meeting, called by now former RPS president Todd Sanderson, but chaired by his rival on the board Wendi Swarbrick after she refused to let him present a final report to the membership, quickly dissolved into a shouting match between many in attendance.

Several times, an exasperated Swarbrick told audience members who appeared to challenge her to “sit down and shut up.” And she was not alone. Many in the audience shouted the same instruction to others in the audience as well.

The tenor of the meeting was not helped by the fact the power died to the microphone being used and many in the audience said they could not hear what was being said when motions were being proposed and discussed.

With audience members continuing to shout one another down, it was clear some supported the former board that Sanderson lead, while others supported Swarbrick. The two have had an ongoing power struggle for control of the society.

A one point, the society’s former bookkeeper, whom the former board fired and who now says he is owed more than $11,000 for work he did for the RPS, tried to make a motion to eject anyone disturbing the meeting. The move simply seemed to elevate the shouting level and no one was ejected.

Swarbrick said she ruled Sanderson could not give a final president’s report because he resigned last Thursday and not at Tuesday night’s meeting as he originally indicated he would.

As for the other agenda item, election of a new interim board to serve until the society’s annual general meeting in October, Swarbrick said because six interim directors were named at the meeting she called two weeks ago, there was no need to do that either. All the previous directors, except for Sanderson and Swarbrick, quit en masse July 18.

Sanderson maintains the meeting two weeks ago, where the six interim directors were named, was not properly constituted and new directors, including Swarbrick’s ex-husband, one of her employees and one of her business clients, are not legally recognized as RPS directors.

Speaking from the floor as an ordinary RPS member, Sanderson tried to raise several points but was shouted down by others in the audience, including one of his most vocal critics, David Buckna, who yelled,  “You had your time, Sanderson. You should leave.”

Despite the chaos, some in the crowd did appeal for decorum, urging those in attendance to put their own issues aside and work together for the betterment of the RPS. Others tried — and in some cases succeeded—to propose motions to help move the society forward, such as limiting the spending power of the new board only to day-to-day expenses until the society’s finances are fully known and calling for the independent audit of the society’s books.

Swarbrick, an accountant, warned that could cost as much as $30,000.

Another motion called for the RPS to separate itself from the Uptown Rutland Business Association, which it works with closely and which hosts the society’s web presence on its own website.

At first, despite being on the URBA board, Swarbrick was reluctant to declare a conflict and hand over the chair to another board member while the motion was discussed. She argued that because she was not going  to vote on the motion she did not have to give up the chair or leave the room during the discussion. Finally, after being advised by several members of the audience that she had to, Swarbrick stepped out of the room.

During her absence there was a marked difference in the tone of the meeting. While loud at times, it didn’t have the earlier feeling of a free for all.

Following discussion on the motion, acting chairman of the meeting Joe Iafrancesco, who sat on the previous board, quit and was then named to the new board, made an impassioned plea to the members to work with the new board to help move the society forward.

Later, he said while the new board has met briefly, it has not named a president and he referred all questions to Swarbrick.

She said despite the heated tone of the meeting, she felt the RPS could now move forward.

It has $800,000 from the sale of Rutland Centennial Park to the City of Kelowna three years ago and a federal grant of another $274,000 if it refurbishes the existing, aging Rutland Centennial Hall.

She said while the new board still plans to present the $25,000 consultant’s study looking at the pros and cons of refurbishing the hall or building a new one to the membership, the rebuilding option is not likely to proceed as the society does not have the more than $5 million required for a new hall.