Despite some hysterics on Twitter and other media, I cannot think of another, better result for Hyack than the careful approach New Westminster City Council took this week. Although, it will probably not make some people happy.
Some entrenched long-time supporters of the Hyack Festival Association would like the whole thing to go away and for everyone to pretend that nothing happened over the last 6 months, except the perfectly normal and legitimate firing of a staff member for (too secretive to discuss) just cause, and the cleansing the organization of a few rogue members bent on its destruction and (by association) the destruction of the City. They want to go back to business as usual.
There is a second group who want Hyack to change into a more modern community festival society. They want to see the valuable assets and volunteer base of Hyack directed towards local events with less emphasis on the pomp and ceremony of hosting and being guests of the self-appointed “Royalty” of various Pacific Northwest cities and town. They have concerns about the taxpayers’ money being spent on what they see as junkets with no benefit to the taxpayers of New Westminster, and have a more aggressive attitude towards changing the organization.
It is pretty clear these two sides are not going to agree. The firing of Douglas Smith was a symptom of this problem, its questionable handling a result of this problem. However, it is not the only reason that the Hyack Festival Association is in the current quagmire. Just for the record, I want to put a few points out on the table to correct a bit of the misinformation that has grown in the community.
The Hyack Board never voted to remove Douglas Smith. Four members of the Executive (a sub-set of the board) did vote to remove him. Some argue that the Board (who, according to the Hyack Constitution, have the right to hire and set the terms of employment for the Executive Director) is the only body with the right to remove the ED, some argue the Executive was acting within its rights. I’ll leave that one up to the lawyers, but the Board did vote – in the majority – to reinstate Mr. Smith, and voted – in the majority – to censure the Executive members that acted without Board authorization and created a legal problem for the Association.
There were many bad decisions made from this point forward, on both sides of the issue. There were many ways out of the situation that would have allowed Hyack to protect its reputation and carry on doing the good work that it does. At one point the two sides agreed to hire an external Parliamentarian to interpret the Societies Act and the Association’s Constitution and Bylaws and, then provide mediation and administration of the Special General Meeting scheduled for October 22. However, when that Parliamentarian decided he could not help these people, perhaps the best opportunity was lost. The story of why the Parliamentarian left only exists in rumour, but is a story yet to be told. Another one for the Lawyers.
The loss of the Parliamentarian caused several members of the Board to decide they would not receive a fair hearing, and instead of risking their reputations in front of a kangaroo court, they resigned their Board positions, and half the resolutions for the SGM went away. They did, however, show up to attend the SGM and address the remaining resolutions, only to find it had been cancelled at the last minute by the very Executive members who were to face possible expulsion at that meeting. When the assembled members determined they represented a quorum for a duly constituted SGM, the votes to remove three Executive Members were near unanimous. Whether that SGM was “legal” under the Society Act and the Constitution, or whether the “emergency meeting” of the Board that cancelled it and appointed four new Board members was “legal” under the Society Act and the Constitution, I leave for the lawyers. Apparently Legal opinions have been sought and received for both sides of the argument.
So for those having a hard time keeping count: here is the list of Hyack board members for 2013 from the Hyack website, updated to show the events of October 22nd, when both the (questioned) SGM and the (questioned) emergency Board Meeting were held:
…in RED are the three Executive Members removed at the October 22 SGM;
…in BLUE are the 5 Board Members who resigned going into the October 22 SGM;
…in GREEN are two members who are no longer on the board, for reasons ostensibly unrelated to the current troubles, The President Elect moved out of town for work, and the Council Representative was replaced part way through the year;
…at the bottom are the 4 Board Members named by the Executive before the October 22 SGM;
…in ORANGE is one of those newly-named members who resigned on October 28 to avoid the perception of conflict of interest with City Council.
What a mess.
After spending months standing back and watching, City Council was finally pushed to the point where they had to react. The City provides money and in-kind support to Hyack for events held on City streets. To do this, the City must enter into legal agreements with the organization. Contracts are signed (or handshake agreements are made that constitute binding contracts under the law). Things like liability and indemnity come into play. The City needs to know, when these agreements are made, that the representative signing the papers and shaking the hand is the legal representative of the operation, authorized by law to make financial commitments on behalf of the organization, backed by the assets and insurance of that organization.
Even if we put aside for a bit the issue of financial accountability for taxpayer’s dollars, there is a gigantic liability issue here, for which the City needs to have some certainty. The questions Council is asking Hyack in this week’s resolutions will provide that certainty, and are the path back to a functioning, accountable, and functional Festival Association.
For the first time in 6 months, there is light at the end of the Hyack tunnel. I look at that list of Board Members above, and I see 5 original Board Members who have been publicly silent through this entire escapade. It is those 5 that need to step up now, and begin to bring the Public’s confidence back in Hyack.