BVAIA members resign over committee shuffle

Four out of nine, including president, leave after group of members demand change

A special general meeting of the Bulkley Valley Agricultural and Industrial Association demanded by members last week led to the resignation of the president and three other board representatives.

On Saturday, the BVAIA held a forum on the future of the fair grounds for user groups, followed by a special meeting requested by members to address concerns over the running of the fall fair grounds. Recently, a number of user groups have come forward to say they feel they are not being consulted about the direction of the site.

Jan McClary was one of the BVAIA members who asked for the special meeting. She belongs to two groups, the Smithers Rodeo Club and the Bulkley Valley 4-H Council, serving as president with both.

“There hasn’t been general meetings and it was requested by the members,” she said.

“The most important point to us was the BVAIA membership wanted to be able to select the two delegates to stand on the Fall Fair Management Committee. We wanted people on that committee that were looking out for the interests of all of the user groups and not just one or not even looking out for the user groups.”

The FFMC is the body that manages the fall fair grounds. It’s made up of two BVAIA representatives two members from town council, currently Charlie Northrup and Mark Bandstra, and chair Ed Hinchliffe.

A group of BVAIA members forced a vote on the change and two new board members, Anita Tomayer and Gina DeHoog, and alternate Charlie McClary were brought in. BVAIA president Lindsay Heer and vice president Deanna Muir were removed as delegates to the FFMC.

As a result, Heer resigned from her post, as did secretary Kate Daniels-Howard, treasurer Dale Clarke and board member Geoff Hutchinson.

There are now five board members remaining.

Heer said the way some of the members took over the meeting was not acceptable and she felt the board’s authority was undermined and she had no choice but to resign.

“At our membership meeting it was the loudest voice that prevailed and I can no longer work alongside people who use bullying tactics to achieve their goals,” Heer said. “As a firm believer in governance and due process, the new membership is one I no longer can represent. It was with a heavy heart that I resigned from the board of directors.

“It has been an honour to serve the community in this capacity for the last three-and-a-half years and I wish the association and board the all the best in their future endeavours.”

McClary said having board members leave was not the outcome she hoped for.

“We certainly didn’t want four board members to resign, that was totally not what anybody expected and we certainly didn’t expect it after the membership clearly asked for something, voted on it and asked to put people of their choice in the two spots,” she said.

“That was all we were asking for. We weren’t asking for anybody to step down. We weren’t asking for anything except the right to say, ‘Here’s who we’d like representing us up there.’

“The board members that are there are really interested in the fall fair and I’m quite confident that the people who are appointed will be focussed on providing us with the same or better quality of fall fair we’ve always had.”

Much of the current situation was caused by poor communication, McClary said. To combat this, she would like to see a larger body formed that has representation from every group that uses the site.

“The suggestion from the membership is there be an advisory board made up of one or two delegates from all of the user groups that can come and meet with the [BVAIA] board of directors and have an open line of communication,” McClary said.

“That’s all that’s needed. Listen to what we have to say if we have a concern about something.”

Last week, the Town of Smithers signed a 25-year lease for the fall fair grounds with the BVAIA, as mandated by the previous contract which allowed for an automatic renewal.

A $15,000 study commissioned by the town last year on the fall fair grounds also highlighted the need for better communication and cooperation between user groups.

At the April 22 council meeting, Phil Brienesse spoke at length about the groups he has talked to who have also been having difficulty working with the BVAIA.

“I want to make it clear—we have no choice but to sign another 25 years,” the councillor said.

“The problem is, [the BVAIA] is in no way, shape or form conducting themselves in what the agreement says they are supposed to. At all.

“They’re running it as if they’re the Fall Fair Management Committee when really it’s the FFMC that’s supposed to make the decisions.”

A letter from the Northern Saddle Club on the same topic was also included in the meeting package.

“We are celebrating our 50th year as a club in the valley and we are very proud of the capital projects we have built as well as the impact we have had on equine sport and recreation in the Bulkley Valley,” the letter signed by secretary Erin Rowsell and president Geri Brown said. “We have always been a self-sufficient club because we feel we have never had the support of either the BVAIA or the FFMC.

“We feel the FFMC and the BVAIA have not represented our views or heard our concerns in the past, nor will they in the future.”

Councillor Northrup, who was in attendance at the weekend forum, said the change of FFMC board members didn’t really concern him as most of the major events for the year are booked but said he is worried about the BVAIA’s board being able to run a successful Bulkley Valley Exhibition in just a few months.

“My concern, at the end if the day is it going to impact the operation of the fall fair this year?” he said. “I don’t think the town wants to get involved in any organizational issues.”

That being said, Northrup said he thought the Town of Smithers could accept some of the blame for causing tension between user groups because council took unnecessarily long to breach the topic of renewal with the BVAIA.

“I did stand up and say, the town has to accept some responsibility for this coming to a head when it did because if you go back in the minutes of the Fall Fair Management Committee, it would have been two-and-a-half years ago when Anita Tomayer asked the town to look at the lease renewal and if anything needed to be changed.

“With the new council, there were different priorities staff were working on so it was renewed as is and to be negotiated in the future.”

The remaining BVAIA board will now appoint five interim members.