Story by Jessica Wallace, Kamloops This Week.

UPDATE: The TNRD’s official statement of apology was released on Friday (Match 11). This is the statement:
“The TNRD Board of Directors would like to formally apologize to all residents of the TNRD, as well as past and current employees of the TNRD, for a previous lack of accountability and Board oversight of TNRD leadership, policies and practices. The Board has taken a number of steps to address these past issues. The Board is fully committed to earning back the trust of its citizens going forward, through stronger oversight, good governance and ethical leadership.”

Original story:

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District board will issue a formal apology to staff and citizens in the wake of spending controversy, under former CAO Sukh Gill, which was reported in February 2021 via a year-long KTW investigation.

A $500,000 forensic audit of the regional district — ordered by the board following the KTW series of stories — found a “culture of inappropriate spending” and pointed to a lack of board oversight.

Several directors have called publicly for Electoral Area L director Ken Gillis to resign as board chair. He has indicated he will stay on for the remainder of the term, but that he is “unlikely” to run again in the Oct. 15 municipal election.

On Thursday (March 10), Gillis was among those to support the board apology, though he said he initially had difficulty with it for a “number of reasons.”

“But it’s been pointed out to me we are a continuous board,” Gillis said. “In other words, we are the board that, in one sense, we are the board that has sat in these chairs since 1967 and I don’t think we can shirk the responsibility that we assumed from past members of this board.”

The board voted in favour of a motion by Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell to issue the apology. Blackwell’s motion acknowledged a lack of accountability and board oversight of TNRD leadership. The motion said the former and current board has a responsibility to protect and serve citizens and maintain trust in governance. It said any violation of that trust lies with the board.

“The board has one employee, the CAO, and the actions of the CAO are the responsibility of the board to monitor and to ensure the CAO is held to a high ethical standard,” the motion stated.

Blackwell noted the board has not yet apologized.

“I think we need to make a formal apology,” he told the board. “And that’s why I’m putting this forward. We haven’t done that to this point, to staff, citizens and everybody else involved in this.”

Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly and Area I (Blue Sky Country) director Steven Rice said an apology is the right thing to do.

“I think this is not an easy thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do,” O’Reilly said.

Area W (Wells Gray Country) director Carol Schaffer was opposed. She said directors were not aware of the issues before they came to the board. She said she would prefer the board tell the public what it has done to put a stop to “abuse” of operational funds, or taxpayer dollars.

“These were operational, beyond our control,” Schaffer said, noting that when the board was made aware, it “acted promptly.”

“An apology will present a picture that we were compliant with the actions for years when we were truly unaware,” she said.

Nor did Area J (Copper Desert Country) director Ronaye Elliott support the apology. She said the board should tell the public it is moving forward with changes and that it won’t happen again.

Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger, however, said it is important to remember that the board has been part of this situation.

“It isn’t just something that happened over there and we had nothing to do with it,” he said. “This board has a long record of being generous to itself and that the board has been involved in expenses which probably could have been handled in a tighter fashion, so, and I think that’s covered by the third clause there the board’s responsibility in acknowledging it’s own role in this, and I think that’s important, an important part of it so that’s the reason I would support it.”

Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh called the apology “an important piece.”

“I certainly feel sorry myself for any lack of understanding I had initially about policy frameworks we could have put in place,” Singh said, citing chair and vice-chair sign-off on CAO expenses and whistleblower policy.

Kamloops Coun. Dale Bass stressed the importance of earning back trust. In addition to an apology, the board voted to make a public commitment to earning back the trust of TNRD staff and citizens “through strong oversight and good governance going forward.”

Clinton Mayor Susan Swan said the board owes the apology to staff, who she said “went through hell.”

TNRD CAO Scott Hildebrand told KTW dedicated regional district staff — receptionists, building inspectors, utility workers and others in the field — have taken the brunt of public anger, which he said is being directed at the wrong people. He said a board apology is the right thing to do.

“I think they’re [TNRD staff] going to appreciate it and I think it’s time they got the apology they deserved,” he said.

Hildebrand said the board’s apology would be released to staff and the public on Friday

Opposed to the motion were Elliott, Schaffer and Cache Creek Mayor Santo Talarico.