george-murray

Abbotsford city manager George Murray   (Abbotsford News)

by Richard Peachey

On Sept. 12, Abbotsford council held two public hearings regarding rezoning applications in our area.

My wife, Gerda Peachey, spoke briefly to each of these rezoning applications. She called council’s attention to the lack of a “public hearing sticker” on each of the rezoning signs. As she did so, she referred to a sticker “requirement” among the City’s “standards” and its “rules and regulations.” Gerda’s belief that a sticker requirement existed was based on this City webpage, which was accessible prior to Sept. 12. (See especially page 3 of that document.)

At the very next evening council meeting, Oct. 3, Mayor Henry Braun asked the following question:

“[recording garbled] . . . a sticker that had not been placed on the sign. The only other person that spoke to this bylaw was a half-owner of the property in question who spoke in support of the Land Use Contract discharge, and stated that he did not believe that there was a sticker requirement for the sign regarding a Public Hearing. So with regard to this sticker, could staff inform Council as to whether or not there is a sticker requirement for the sign regarding the Public Hearing. I don’t know who wants to take that on or not.” [emphasis added]

The reply came from city manager George Murray:

I’ll jump in, your worship. Currently there’s no requirement for a sticker on the sign to deal with a Public Hearing. That was discussed at one of our committee meetings as a future potential proposal, but it is not currently in the Development Applications [sic] Procedures Bylaw.”

One might reasonably question, why did George Murray “jump in” at that point, when rezoning signage is a specialty of the city’s Planning and Development Services (PDS) department? The PDS General Manager, Siri Bertelsen, was in attendance, as was Darren Braun, Director of Development Planning. Did Mr. Murray want to preempt a detailed, more informative answer that one of these staffers might provide? Such a suspicion will only grow as we examine the content of his response.

Currently there’s no requirement for a sticker,” he said. This statement was not merely false; it was doubly false. The sticker became a requirement in principle when a PDS report (92 pages!) was brought to the Feb. 15 Executive Council meeting where it was approved without dissenting vote (item 6.2, page 4).

Before that requirement in principle could become a requirement in practice, there had to be a transition period during which the various new procedures were implemented in an orderly fashion. (This is spelled out in the 92-page report.)

But by Oct. 3, when George Murray gave his answer to Mayor Braun, the sticker requirement had already been introduced in practice as well as in principle! In fact, on that very night, Abbotsford council dealt with not one but two rezoning applications for which the applicants had already paid the non-optional $50.00 fee related to the public hearing stickers. (See Oct. 3 council minutes, items 10.2 and 10.3, page 5.) Council approved, without dissenting vote, that these applications should move forward to public hearings. And within days, stickers were affixed to the rezoning signs at 2671 Station Road and 4266 Old Clayburn Road, indicating that public hearings would be held on Oct. 24 (see photos below).

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2671 Station Road, Abbotsford

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4266 Old Clayburn Road, Abbotsford

So when George Murray stated, without qualification, “Currently there’s no requirement for a sticker,” he clearly misdirected Abbotsford council. And it gets worse!

Mr. Murray went on to say, “That was discussed at one of our committee meetings as a future potential proposal. . .” But the sticker requirement wasn’t merely “discussed at one of our committee meetings”; it had been brought to council on Feb. 15, and approved without dissenting vote, as noted above.

Nor was it merely “a future potential proposal”; it was a reality both in principle and in practice by the time George Murray spoke those words on Oct. 3. The rezoning sign sticker appears on page 6 of the 92-page report presented to council on Feb. 15, and also in attachment “M.” (On or before Sept. 4, this attachment had been posted to a City webpage, which is where Gerda got her information that the sticker is a requirement.)

Mr. Murray concluded, “. . . it is not currently in the Development Applications [sic] Procedures Bylaw.” The pronoun “it” refers to the sticker requirement. It’s true, Abbotsford’s Development Application Procedures (DAP) Bylaw nowhere mentions the word “sticker.” But that’s not the end of the story! The DAP Bylaw does include this wording regarding rezoning signs:

“Signage required under Section 3.1.13 must be. . . . (e) developed in accordance with the specifications and requirements provided by the General Manager” (page 8, 3.1.14)

The bylaw on page 14 defines “General Manager” as “the General Manager, Planning and Development Services, for the City, or designate, unless otherwise stated.” The current holder of that position is Siri Bertelsen, who was in attendance at the evening council meeting of Oct. 3, and whose signature of “approval” is found on page 8 of the 92-page PDS report that introduced the public hearing sticker.

Each page of attachment “M” of that report, including the third page showing sticker specifications, bears the heading “City of Abbotsford Development Project Sign Specifications.” Since the various “specifications” provided by the General Manager “must” be followed, according to the DAP Bylaw, 3.1.14, they are legitimately designated as “requirements.” Once they have been phased in, they are not optional for rezoning applicants. Accordingly, the public hearing sticker is a requirement, George Murray’s claims notwithstanding.

On Oct. 26 Mr. Murray wrote a letter to Gerda in which he attempted to dodge this reality. He said,

“As the City transitions to its new 2016 development application sign format requirements set out by the General Manager and which may include requirements for affixing a notice indicating when the Public Hearing will take place (aka a ‘sticker’), some Rezoning Notification signs will have ‘stickers’ while other signs may not. This transition period will likely continue through the remainder of the 2016 year. . . .

Mr. Murray here finally admits that there is a sticker requirement. He says this requirement “will” affect some signs but “may” not affect others. This is the kind of language he should have used in response to the mayor’s question, rather than an outright denial of the sticker requirement — a requirement that is displayed on a City webpage, and was approved in principle in February, and has already begun to be phased in, in practice (see more photos at the bottom of this article). The language he used less than fully informative (to say the least), and because of his words the council members were misdirected. Two of them were incited to accuse my wife of spreading “misinformation” and “misleading” her neighbourhood.

In his Oct. 26 letter to Gerda, Mr. Murray continued:

“Regardless of the inclusion of a ‘sticker’ on any Rezoning Notification sign, there remains no legal requirement for the City to demand one, and its inclusion (or lack thereof) does not affect the legality of the Public Hearing. I trust this assists you in better understanding my comments regarding the lack of legal requirement for a sticker to appear on Rezoning Notification signs.”

This paragraph is simply obfuscation on the part of the city manager. No one has ever claimed there is a legal requirement (i.e., by a senior government) for the City to demand a rezoning sign sticker. Mr. Murray’s comments to the mayor on Oct. 3 were completely general — he said, “Currently there’s no requirement for a sticker. . . .” This conveyed the impression that Gerda’s comments at the Sept. 12 public hearings had absolutely no basis in fact, an impression that was completely unfair to her, and for which Mr. Murray owes her an apology.

After George Murray gave his answer to Mayor Braun at the Oct. 3 council meeting, the mayor said:

“. . . Under normal circumstances I would be voting in favour of this Land Use Contract discharge for a number of reasons. The one objection that was raised was based on misinformation that a sticker was required on the sign regarding the Public Hearing. . . . This [proposed] neighbourhood information meeting would also allow staff to specifically address the significant amount of misinformation that was circulated prior to the Public Hearing. As I listened to the majority of the residents who spoke at the Public Hearing, my heart went out to many of them regarding the views that were expressed, some at the point of tears. I was saddened that the misinformation caused angst and fear in many of those who spoke. . . .”

Mayor Braun clearly identified Gerda (without naming her) as one who spread “misinformation” regarding the sticker requirement (she was the only objector at the first public hearing, concerning 2210 Windsor Street, that night). He used the word “misinformation” three times in his speech, but the sole example he provided was the matter of the sticker requirement. (When I pointed this out in a personal meeting with the mayor, he physically picked up the transcript I was referencing, turned it over, and placed it face down on the table. Don’t trouble me with the facts, eh!)

The impression left by the mayor’s words is that Gerda is to be associated with misinformation circulating regarding this application. This impression was then greatly amplified by the comments of Councillor Ross Siemens:

“. . . I was a little dismayed, and I don’t see the particular individual that resorted to, sort of, stirring things up, but I think you achieve a lot more when you’re respectful in your comments, and when you don’t mislead your neighbourhood, and, you know, we got elected, I think, because we care about our community. I don’t think there’s anybody I got elected with that doesn’t, and we’re here to be, we’re reasonable people, we care about our community, I think we can be approached, and we can be dealt with accordingly. But I don’t think we got elected to be abused, and I think some of the negativity was bordering on abuse, and I think for that particular individual, I hope takes note, that she was precariously close to having this thrown out, and I just am a little frustrated that I don’t see that particular person here. . . .”

No one doubts that Councillor Siemens was here referring to Gerda, though he avoided mentioning her name. Gerda was indeed highly involved in encouraging her neighbours to attend the Sept. 12 public meeting. (In that sense, she “stirred things up” — a fully appropriate activity within a free and democratic society, and not something one has to “resort to.”) Gerda did not, however, intentionally “mislead” her neighbourhood. She encouraged them to get informed, to contact the City themselves, and to make their voices heard.

Councillor Siemens on Oct. 3 offered no example of “misleading.” But at the regular council meeting on Sept. 12 he had repeatedly referenced the rezoning sign sticker, calling Gerda’s simple observation that the signs lacked the required sticker an “accusation”:

“. . . How do we go about getting clarification on the accusation of the sticker issue on that sign? . . . There was an accusation that the sticker was not on this sign as well, so I just wondered if we could get that clarified. . . .”

Despite Councillor Siemens’ claim that “I think we can be approached,” he has refused to meet with me to discuss the matter of apologizing to Gerda. Mayor Braun did meet with me, but he has refused to apologize to Gerda. He has also, without any valid basis in the City’s Council Procedure Bylaw, refused to allow me to appear before council as a delegation on this matter. And council has voted to support the mayor’s self-serving decision.

As for George Murray, he has not responded to any of my emails. In his Oct. 26 letter to Gerda, he wrote: “In future, if you wish a specific response from me, I request that you send an email addressed directly to me, specifically requesting a response.” I have complied with that directive in various emails to Mr. Murray, but to date have received no response from him.

In conclusion, city manager George Murray’s misdirection of Mayor Braun and Councillor Siemens seems to have been quite deliberate. His “clarifying” letter to Gerda of Oct. 26 shows that he knows the truth about the public hearing sticker requirement, yet his comments of Oct. 3 seriously “misinformed” and “misled” the council members to whom he is subordinate. Mr. Murray owes Mayor Braun and Councillor Siemens an apology, and then all three of them must apologize to my wife.

2555-ware-street

2555 Ware Street, Abbotsford

2129-townline-road

2129 Townline Road, Abbotsford

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35991 Old Yale Road, Abbotsford

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