By Andrea Arnold
The McBride Community Forest Corporation is facing some changes to their board of directors.
At McBride Council’s Jan 10th meeting, councillors voted 4-1 (Councillor Smith opposed) to request a meeting of Shareholders of the McBride Community Forest (which is the Village of McBride Council) on Jan 24, at 7:00pm to vote on the removal of Harold Edwards and Lucille Green from the Board of Directors and to appoint Terry Kuzma and Mike Monroe.
The Jan 24 meeting is open to the public, with limited seating. The opportunity to attend via Zoom is also available by requesting the link from the Village office.
Counc. Smith opposed
Prior to the vote, Councillor Smith said she was “vehemently opposed” to the motion and asked why it was being discussed.
She said since her arrival in the valley in 2007, people have always been dissatisfied with the MCFC. She said the importance of boards is that it allows shared collective wisdom that results in more examined decisions, and that board members do not always have to agree with each other.
She reminded council that during the last term, the council voted to increase the number of board members from five to seven.
“We have a hard enough time filling volunteer organizations,” she said. “This would just perpetuate the problem. I feel it is a humiliating process as a volunteer to be kicked off the board.”
She then questioned why the MCFC Board of Director application procedure was not being followed.
Councillor Smith said that the two men could be valuable additions, but that one of the two in question does not live within the MCFC footprint and neither applied.
In May 2022, a call for directors was posted on the Village website and the Goat newspaper. The requirement to live within the footprint was listed as part of the eligibility requirements
Councillor Smith said if the application process was being followed, she said she would support the addition of the two men, but she sees no reason to remove two existing members when there are two empty seats still available on the board.
“Removing these two board members defies logic,” she said. “They have adhered to rules set out for them. Replacing them with two other board members that have been cherry picked still only constitutes five board members. We have places for seven and I believe that the people we are so willing to get rid of have valuable qualities and experience. They also have no fiduciary interest in being on the board which I consider a plus.”
Records show that in February 2020, Council voted to increase the number of MCFC board members from five to seven. That motion has not been rescinded or changed in public record. The reason for this decision was to help limit the issue of conflict of interest that sometimes resulted in only a few members being able to vote on a decision.
Councillor Smith said she had seen first-hand important connections one has made to
other agencies involved in the forest industry, connections made over a six-year period.
“I’d like to point out that it appears to me that there is a personal vendetta,” she said. “There would be no place for that in a council representing the Village or boards representing the Village.”
Councillor Smith closed her comments with a request for an explanation as to why this motion was being considered.
Alleged breach of procedures
Mayor Runtz responded to Councillor Smith by saying that the reason this is taking place is that it is felt that the community forest board has not in fact followed procedures.
“Members of the board are not unanimously talked to,” he said. “Two can make a decision, and there are decisions being made with two people with no discussions with other board members, and this is something that just can not happen.”
He also expressed his thoughts on the lack of profitability
“2021 was the best year ever recorded in the forest industry,” he said.”McBride Community Forest still sits alone as far as I know, as the only community forest that lost money.”
Mayor Runtz said that harvesting activities are not in line or approved way in advance, and that important decisions regarding planning and cut control are being made without appropriate knowledge.
“I mean, most operations would be looking at taking extra wood out of a cut control year when the market was really good and instead this community forest has taken just a small percentage of the cut,” he said “They are way behind at this point. You put all of that together and you put together the fact that there is also another lawsuit pending.”
He then commented on the inexperience of the general manager who started in his role at the start of 2022.
“The board does not have the capabilities to take a look at that and realize that actions that are taking place are unacceptable,” he said. He did not provide any additional details.
He then spoke of the two men that have been chosen to be a part of the MCFC Board.
“(They were picked to) resurrect it and to put it into an economic viability and it’s critical that that take place and the actions that have been happening as of the last several years just cannot be tolerated any longer and that is what it comes down to,” he said.
He said the last council, which he was a part of, voted to change the procedure of putting members in place.
“They did that in order to get the type of people in, that the individual council members wanted to see in there to keep control. Most people will not even consider getting on a community forest board because of the way it was changed by the Village of McBride. So those are all reasons, right there. And those are the reasons why we are asking for those two members of the community forest board to be taken off. In the terms of Lucille Green, she was put on and previously the procedure was to get the approval from Council even though apparently they don’t have to. The Village can always remove a member of the board and that was pushed to get the village involved again.”
The Mayor closed his comments by saying that he disagreed with Councillor Smith and that if what she said was true, the issue would not be up for discussion.
A history of secrecy refusal
One of the men, Mike Monroe, has served on the Community Forest previously. In a letter to the editor in the April 21, 2010 edition of the Valley Sentinel, he and two other former members state that they were “removed from the board by request of the Shareholder (the Village) for refusing to sign the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality documents which were dictated to the MCFC Directors with an ultimatum to either sign or be removed.”
In an interview on Sunday, Monroe said his views on the matter have not changed.
“Yes, I refused to sign – I think that’s nuts,” said Monroe. “ I think it has been a root problem since Day 1, that it has to be confidential public funds. Why would it be confidential? The community has the right to know … it is a community forest after all.”
He believes that when an organization is spending public funds, it is the right and responsibility of members of that organization to talk to stakeholders and shareholders.
“It’s not right to keep things secretive. I refuse to partake in secrecy.”
“I am smart enough to know that in camera stuff needs to be kept in camera,” he said. “That you don’t discuss. But not every meeting needs to be that way. General information needs to be shared. Community forecast – community deliberations will get us somewhere. Not the decisions of a few.”
Councillor Kolida asked Councillor Smith if she had seen the financials for the community forest and if she knows where they stand. Kolida said Smith should be getting a report every month.
Smith reminded Kolida twice that the financial status of MCFC is an in camera conversation. Kolida said he just wanted to confirm that Smith was aware of whether the status was good, bad or otherwise.
“I don’t suppose it is very good,” said Councillor Smith.
“We just voted on two items that regard the MCFC and you voted against them,” said Councillor Kolida, referencing Council’s motions on watershed logging. “That’s because of how it’s being run.”
Councillor Smith pointed out that voting against those things doesn’t mean her view on them applies to everything.
“But it’s part of it,” said Councillor Kolida. “We have enough financial (information) (information). I’ve been on the board for three months and I am totally…Wow….you’ve been on, involved in this for…how many terms have you been here? 3? 2? 1? The previous council obviously didn’t act and we are acting and now we are being held responsible. We are here to look after the community. What has the community forest done for the community lately? Have they donated money, have they purchased anything, have they put in a splash park?”
Councillor Smith said that she didn’t know the answers to all of his questions.
Councillor Smith said it is not McBride Council’s business to run the community forest. Councillor Kolida disagreed, stating that yes, it is council’s business. Smith said that the MCFC runs itself and Councillor Kolida (as delegate) reports back to council.
“I have brought it back to you three times and obviously everything I brought to you you’ve ignored,” said Councillor Kolida.
Councillor Smith countered that she has not ignored the reports. She said that there is more that she could say but wouldn’t. However, she did revisit her point that you don’t treat volunteers like that.
“Volunteers over there have a bigger responsibility than we do as councilmen and councilwoman,” said Councillor Kolida. “Their responsibility over there is for the whole, they have a huge responsibility.”
This time, Councillor Smith agreed that yes they do have a big responsibility.
Councillor Kolida said that the MCFC Board is responsible for millions and millions of dollars, but Councillor Smith didn’t agree with that number.
Councillor Kolida explained his point. “You’re talking the logging industry and 50 thousand cubic metres. Figure it out. It’s a million dollars plus per year minimum, depending on log prices.”
Councillor Smith closed her comments saying she had voiced her opinion, that she thinks the recommendation is lousy and that she is strongly opposing the motion.
The vote was called and by a count of 4-1 the motion was passed.
Audio of the full discussion is available on the Village of McBride’s website.