A major overhaul in Lower Similkameen recreation has occurred in the last six weeks with four rec commission members resigning and the facility manager Karl Donoghue quitting his job effective immediately 0n Monday.
Donoghue was the facilities manager at the rec centre and the pool for the last 27 years while the other members of the rec commission who resigned served for varying lengths – from a few years to 17 years.
Charlene Cowling, former chair of the rec commission said her resignation is a direct result of an in-camera meeting at the end of February where she feels staff of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, including CAO Bill Newell and community services manager Mark Woods, pressured members to vote in favour of terminating Donoghue in a year’s time essentially forcing him into retirement. She said members feel “railroaded” from the previous succession course, which would see Donoghue mentor a young student staff member who is currently in university to take over in three years time.
“I resigned because the regional district took over a meeting. They had no respect for our members on the commission. Members had no knowledge that this (in-camera) was going to even happen,” she said.
Cowling said Donoghue, who was the secretary of the rec commission, was on vacation at the time of the meeting. In his absence, she was informed other RDOS staff would attend and create the agenda. She received a copy, but the agenda was not circulated to the rest of the commission as usual.
Cowling said she hoped to hold off on voting on Donoghue’s termination until the next meeting when members Marnie Todd, who was headed back from the Olympics, making a stop to see her daughter ski in Calgary, and Marie Marven, who had a family commitment, could be in attendance.
She said she was urged to take a vote by RDOS staff. Cowling refused to vote on the motion as she felt the two who were not present had a right to at least be informed this was being discussed before a vote.
The motion carried with the other members voting in favour, however Cowling says several of them came up to her afterwards asking for clarification on the matter.
“Several of them are new to the commission. I had people coming up to me after and at the next meeting and they didn’t understand what they had done,” she said. “All I could say is that it was too late. The vote had been taken. I couldn’t do anything.”
Cowling said discussions about Donoghue’s employment started about a year prior when RDOS staff attended a different closed meeting asking what the commission would like to do differently in regards to programming.
At that time Cowling said the commission all said they supported Donoghue and were happy with the programming available at the rec centre, which includes working closely with the schools for skating and swimming, free community skates, public swims, racketball programming, and a thriving bowling league.
She claims Donoghue’s age, he is in his 70s, was brought up several times.
“I told them that was not right to talk about,” she said.
When contacted by the Review, RDOS CAO Newell said he couldn’t talk about what happened in the in-camera session.
He said he did not prepare the agenda for the meeting but that during the meeting several RDOS recreation staff were in attendance to talk about a grant received to improve rec programming and an in-camera session was held.
Newell said the rec commission is an advisory body and does not make decisions on staffing but rather recommendations to regional directors. They do not have the ability to hire or fire staff.
When asked if age was a factor in hiring or firing of RDOS employees Newell said, “No. Karl was doing a good job there for us.”
Todd, who’s served 17 years on the rec commission, was the first to resign after the in-camera meeting. She told the Review if she had known that the commission was voting on the succession plan at the rec centre and Donoghue’s role in it, she would have made sure she was at the meeting.
“I wasn’t given an agenda. I’ve been part of this commission for 17 years and this is the first time this has happened and the minutes are usually sent out within days, if not within the same week, and although I’ve asked for them, I still have not received them, of course, now that I am not member they do not have to provide them to me.”
George Bush, director for Area B, said the in-camera meeting was related to Donoghue’s employment and coming up with a succession plan.
Bush said the idea of a one-year termination was not because of Donoghue’s age but rather making a change at the rec centre to focus on programming.
“You have to come to an end date sometime that’s why a year from now,” he said. “It’s not because of Karl not doing a great job because he’s doing a great job as a facilitator.”
Bush said he’s heard from the community that there’s a keen interest in adding more programming and that’s the direction the rec centre and pool needs to go.
He categorized the agenda issue as a mixup as RDOS staff prepared the agenda and forwarded it to Cowling thinking she would forward to commission members.
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer said he could not comment on what occurred in the closed door meeting or staffing issues, but said he and the other Lower Similkameen directors would hear more on Thursday.
“Certainly no one wanted him to resign effective immediately,” he said.
The RDOS is currently advertising for new recreation commission members and realigning the rec centre. The Review had not heard by press time how things will be managed in the interim before a new facilities manager could be hired. Check www.keremeosreview.com for updates on this story and more.
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