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OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Blueberry School AGM a slap in face to taxpayers everywhere

I would like to preface this by saying I have long been a vehement – almost rabid – supporter of the Blueberry Creek Community School Hub (BCCS). I lobbied hard, both personally and professionally, for SD 20 to sell the BCCS property to its non-profit society to keep the school in operation.

It is, thus, truly with a heavy heart that I guarantee that, until or unless the sitting board is removed from office and a new one duly (and properly) elected, I will even more vehemently oppose a single tax dollar or tax break being handed to them by any level of government, to the point that should the City of Castlegar choose to continue to assist in the school’s operations, I will lobby in stalwart opposition of the City. I will also be sending copies of this column to BC Registries and the BC Gaming Commission, along with copies of letters sent to me by angry parents.

I walked into Wednesday night’s AGM having read a great many letters from parents decrying the actions of the board and executive director but, truth be told, if I had any bias (and I tried not to), it was in favour of the board/executive.

The meeting, and the words and actions, not of the disgruntled parents, but rather of the board itself, convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the parents were actually understating the problem.

The board claimed to be protecting the school, but what I saw were five people letting their school be torn apart so they could protect their own political interests.

I have never, in my almost 20 years of journalism and countless AGMs, public meetings and elections, seen such an outrageous mockery of public process.

It was a travesty on such an enormous scale that it seemed both bizarre and surreal (see coverage here ).

They couldn’t answer the simplest of questions – what their grant funding was earmarked for – without their ED present, despite the fact that, while she fills out the applications, they have a responsibility to oversee said applications, and know, at the very least in broad strokes, what they are for.

I’ll remind everyone that the school operates largely via public funding – tax exemptions, grants and the like – but their staggering, stunning disregard for the public and due process is a slap in the face, not just to the students of the school and their parents, but to every single taxpayer, in Castlegar, in the province and throughout the country, who unwittingly contributed to an organization with such obvious contempt for democracy, accountability and the public at large.

They openly admitted to rejecting membership applications (which in the past have been accepted as a matter of course) based solely on the handwriting of said applications, deeming them “hostile” because several were filled out by the same hand.

The word hostile was, in fact, thrown around quite wantonly throughout the meeting.

Bear in mind, these are parents of kids attending the school, who want to participate and be involved.

Not warriors, not enemies at the gate, not terrorists.

Parents. Even some grandparents.

The parents left outside were certainly frustrated, but I saw nothing untoward in their actions … while the melodramatic histrionics displayed by the board and executive left many attendees in open-mouthed shock – and myself cringing in embarrassment on their behalf.

“We are under threat,” said now-board-chair Jen Carter. “We have undergone a whole series of attacks.”

And yet the only truly hostile behaviour in evidence Wednesday night came from their staff.

Two security guards (one of whom was belligerent enough to actually lay hands on me and yell at me for trying to hand my purse and notebook to city councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff so I could take a photo) set an ugly tone at the very outset, and the board made it progressively worse as the evening continued.

Wasting RCMP resources by having an officer attend after the disgruntled parents had been forced to leave the property was, in my opinion, a shameless and insulting attempt at manipulating the perceptions of those present, as were the many references to, “those people outside” and the pretense that the executive director, who was already in the building, was too frightened to attend a meeting not only with two security guards and a cop, but exactly zero protesters even on the property, much less in the building.

The absolute worst of it, however, came when the board shamelessly admitted that they would not accept nominations to run for the board from the floor, but rather nominees had to apply and be interviewed by the board before being accepted as candidates – at which point the board essentially re-elected itself.

Some election.

Can you imagine if city council, in the upcoming civic election, appointed themselves able to pick and choose who could even run? Protesters would burn the city down. But that’s exactly what these people did, following it up with, “You have to trust us”.

Well, no, actually, we don’t … and we shouldn’t, after that laughable, Kangaroo court, farce of an election that would make Stalin himself proud, even as you continue to dip into public coffers.

The school is not under threat. People are not being hostile to the school.

You, the board, are under threat – at least your political seats are – and people are hostile toward you.

In the real world, the one in which accountability is relevant and democracy is valued, when an elected body finds that its electorate (in this case, it should have been the parents who are spending their money on school programming, and shame on you that it wasn’t) is hostile toward them, they either change their behaviour, or they accept that they won’t be re-elected.

Instead, you just decided not to bother with proper public process at all – and it was an affront to the entire public, not just your students and their parents.

I don’t deny that you have worked very hard in service of the school – but that doesn’t mean you own it, nor yet that you get to accept public funding, then pick and choose which members of the public you’ll allow to participate in the process.

It’s an absolute violation of trust.

So no, I don’t think we have to trust you – in fact, I think we’d be fools to do anything in the neighbourhood.

I really loved a lot of programming at BCCS, and I’d hate to see our community lose such a fabulous resource.

I hope you have the grace and decency to step down and make room for a board more interested in protecting the school itself than their seats on the board.

Demanding people's blind allegiance isn't governance - it's tyranny.