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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Three of Fort St. John’s Directors on the Peace River Regional District Board are saying that the process of the District signing a new contract for fire dispatch services with a Vancouver Island-based company was flawed.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman and Councillor Byron Stewart were both present during closed Board meetings on the topic. Councillor Bruce Christensen was also present as an Alternate Director during meetings that were held while Ackerman was working out of the country. The three say that the Regional District’s process of searching for a new fire dispatch service provider should have been held in open meetings, and should have included more consultation with the public.

Ackerman says that to begin with, the entire process of searching for a new provider should have been held in open meetings. “Under the Community Charter, there are certain things that must be held in a closed meeting, and there are certain things that may be held in a closed meeting. This was one of those that may be in a closed meeting. Those of us who felt that it didn’t really require a closed meeting were not successful in changing that around,” said Ackerman. This is in contrast to comments made by PRRD Board Chair and Area ‘C’ Director Brad Sperling during an interview with CBC Daybreak North on January 12th. “Our policy and procedure moves contract negotiations to closed meetings,” Sperling told the CBC.

Ackerman says that a resolution to sign a contract with The North Island 9-1-1 Corporation at a closed Board meeting on November 10th was defeated largely because Board members were not able to get certain questions answered about each proposal. “The Board members did not see the full proposals by the proponents,” said Ackerman. “What we got was the consultant’s report. When we asked questions about certain aspects, they couldn’t be answered. And so there was a decision to stop the process, and go back and start over again because not all the answers were clear. The issue for us was ‘you need to put the brakes on and go ask these questions’.”

Questions were also raised about the impartiality of Pomax, the consulting firm that was contracted by the Regional District to analyse three submitted proposals. The North Island 9-1-1 Corporation previously hired Pomax to consult on a new 9-1-1 service model for the north half of Vancouver Island in 2014. At that time, initial 9-1-1 calls were answered by the RCMP in Courtenay, but after Pomax’s report, North Island 9-1-1 elected to find a less expensive service provider. However, it was decided that there was no conflict.

The Board then passed a motion to get staff to go and consult with fire departments in the Regional District before beginning a new request for proposals, but that process was then stopped at the following open Board meeting on November 24th.

At the closed meeting on December 9th, a motion to consult with fire services and begin a new process, as well as a motion to negotiate with the City of Fort St. John were both defeated, before a motion to sign the contract with North Island 9-1-1 was moved and seconded by Area ‘E’ Director Dan Rose and Alternate Chetwynd Director Alec Brownlee. The Board subsequently voted in favour of that motion.

Ackerman said that the issue for a number of Directors was the cost of the service, since North Island’s bid was roughly half that of the other bids from Fort St. John and E-Comm. “It was clearly stated, and I don’t know if it was captured in the minutes, that there are some areas that do not receive fire service so the cost of the fire service was paramount in their minds,” said Ackerman. “It didn’t matter where the service was coming from, it was all about the cost of it.”

Ackerman and Stewart both say that they feel the entire process being held behind closed doors and without consulting either expert or the public was where the Regional District went wrong. The two pointed out that this wasn’t the first time this has happened, citing the Regional District’s building bylaw in 2013.

With files from CBC Daybreak North

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