Thursday night's forum for candidates in the recall election of three Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation Board members was packed to capacity.
For two hours, Sky-Hi Daily News editor Autumn Phillips asked a series of questions trying to determine why the recall was happening and what would change if Dan O'Connell, Beth Sands and Pete Strohecker were removed from their seats.
For some, the forum at the Fraser Valley Library clarified the high-profile issues that have hijacked Fraser Valley coffee-talks and local media pages for nearly a year.
Asked after the forum, library district board President Bill Tetlow's vote remained unchanged, he said, but the forum helped him to understand the controversy.
"I spent an entire career advocating factual-based decisions," Tetlow said. "Therefore, I was really interested in sponsoring this to get the facts out. My opinion didn't change, but I think I began to understand some of the reasons behind some people's objections."
Voter Ingrid Karlstrom " who said she's still undecided on whose names she'll mark on the ballot " said the forum increased her trust in existing district board members, from feeling "leery" of them to a feeling they're "qualified."
The three subjects of the recall defended themselves against allegations that they failed to give complete public disclosure and had conflicts of interest in negotiating a land deal with Grand Park developer Clark Lipscomb for a rec center location.
Board Member Strohecker, a Fraser Valley resident for 31 years, chalked up the public's perceptions " fueled by an opposing citizen committee " as "misinformation."
"The Fraser Valley has long been known as the rumor valley," Strohecker said. "What goes in the east-end and comes out the west-end can be two totally different things."
Sands, also defending a board seat, agreed with Strohecker.
"If you came to every board meeting, you would understand that we are doing our jobs," she said, "and that we are following the mandates of the voters, and we are doing everything legally."
To district voter Art Ferrari, questioned post-forum, his belief that board members did nothing "unethical or illegal or beyond the bounds of reasonable decision-making" cinches his "no" vote on the recall, he said.
Board President O'Connell offered a two-minute defense of the district's diligence and his own dedication to the community.
"I've worked in the best interest of the district as you have asked me to do," he said.
At least three of the candidates " Kyle Harris, Andrew Chasin and John Glancey " made clear they support the existing board members but threw in their candidacies to give voters a "pro rec district" alternative and the confidence project work will continue if the sitting board members are recalled.
In his first chance to speak, Harris, Granby Ranch director of development, questioned the recall, speculating it was taking place to "reduce taxes and derail the rec center."
Two other candidates Jackie Woods and Jon de Vos, who said they had been asked to run by Pat Rupert, denied intent to "derail" anything.
All nine candidates made clear the district's strides toward seeing a rec center come to fruition would continue under their watch.
"I'm glad to hear that no one wants to derail the project, that's all very good," Harris responded. "But it makes me wonder why we're even having this election right now," His comment sparked cheers from the crowd.
Jon de Vos, Fraser Valley resident of 36 years , had already given a reason.
'A war waged'
"The rec center has been a long-desired goal for the community, but the rec center and this project has ripped the Valley in two," he said. "It's almost a war waged " us against them " name calling and this and that. It's not a positive thing for this community. We need to put this behind us. I'm running because I don't think the present board can do it. I am concerned about this, and that's why I'm running."
Sitting to his right, Kevin Davlin, an attorney and long-time resident of the Fraser Valley, said simply the reason for the recall was because 300 people signed a petition in favor of one.
He'd already been researching the district's bond tax-exempt status, he said, and could hit the ground running if elected.
In the previous district election, Davlin tied with John Kacik for a rec district seat and lost it by a coin toss. In his platform this time around, Davlin advocated open government.
"I think the first thing is to put trust back in the community," he said. "We've got to stop all the rumors and all the lying about each other." (applause) "I said before and I'll say it again, In the 23 years I've lived here, I've never seen this community act like this, and to tell you the honest-to-God's truth, I'm ashamed of those who are doing it.
"Open, open government. If there's ever any question of bearing on the side of open or closed, err on the side of open government. Give it to the people, let 'em see what's going on."
Davlin criticized the district for not divulging to voters the possibility of a Grand Park hotel attached to the rec center, relinquishing naming rights and a clause that would entitle Grand Park to take over the facility if it failed for six months.
Board members pointed out the location of the facility was made known to voters, the name is still mutually agreeable and that reversion clauses are common.
O'Connell, Strohecker and Sands agreed the district should keep channels of communication open, something O'Connell said he'd heard loud and clear in the last election and has strived to do.
Later, on the topic of open government, an audience member questioned why executive session minutes concerning Grand Park Development negotiations had reportedly been shredded. The existing board members on the panel cited state open-records laws that require a minimum 90 days for which records are to be held.
To that, Davlin said he'd attempt to lengthen the district's time-frame for record-keeping if elected.
"I think that's why I'm so shocked about everything that's happened is because I've been an open book from the very beginning. Nothing has ever been hidden, it's been open meetings from the very beginning," Sands said, who denied she had ever crossed the line with conflicts of interest when she was a Grand Park employee during district land and project negotiations.
"The suggestions that we broke the law has been damaging to the community," she said. She highlighted the importance empathizing with people and trying to understand all sides of the argument.
Promoting constituency involvement, Harris said district residents should take advantage of the information already available to them, such as district status reports and financial information on the Internet. A way to bridge fences, he continued, would be to have a volunteer day to have "people from both sides of the proverbial fence working together."
Other rec district programs
District candidates outlined how much they value the district's dedication to programs, providing a wealth of activities to the Valley's children and adults. Harris, Sands, O'Connell and Chasin all said their children take part in the district's offerings. DeVos said his nephews enroll in district activities. Glancey, the youngest of the panel who has a college degree in outdoor recreation, said he is running for the district position with past experience in overseeing large-scale youth programs at places such as Philadelphia and Seattle.
" Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.