Who should be in charge of flood recovery, what is council’s role, and where is all the information going? These were some of the questions discussed at a recently City of Grand Forks committee meeting with RDKB chair and Area D director Roly Russell.
Chief Administrative Officer Diane Heinrich opened the flood recovery update portion of the agenda with an overview of the recovery team roles and responsibilities, including organizational chart, work flow, and the role of council in the recovery team.
Heinrich stressed that most of what the flood recovery team does is operational in nature, and that anything requiring a change in policy would come to council. Heinrich also outlined how staff and the flood recovery team have been keeping council informed, including weekly updates.
However, Coun. Julia Butler said she would like to see council take a more active role in flood recovery and communications.
“It seems like it [the organizational and communications chart] should be working but there seems to be a breakdown in communication in some areas,” Butler said. “The weekly updates … at first I found helpful, now I just find confusing and not clear. I don’t want to be critical. I want to smooth it out and come to an understanding of how we can better the communications process.”
Russell pushed back on a number of the areas of conversation, including that the RDKB is monopolizing recovery efforts and that the city doesn’t have a role to play.
“The regional district is owned just as much by the City of Grand Forks as it is by rural Grand Forks, or Greenwood, or Midway or any other elected local government. Any box that says ‘RDKB board of directors,’ you as the City of Grand Forks, sit on that table.
“I am losing my patience, frankly, with the notion that this is a challenge because of the delegation of the authority to RDKB without owning the fact that you sit at RDKB,” he added.
In response to comments from Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad that he wasn’t aware of some aspects of recovery, Russell said it was important that Konrad inform himself, and his council, as the leader of the city.
“You sit, alongside myself, as the leaders of our respective organizations … we have an obligation to ask questions about the things we need answers to, just like the information that is being provided to us we have to get back to our respective organizations,” he said.
Konrad said that he agreed with Butler and Coun. Bev Tripp that the city should have a larger role in flood recovery operations, given that it had the majority of residents affected.
“We have a huge amount of constituents effected, but we have a limited amount of control over the destiny for our own constituents and that is what I feel I disagree with,” he said.
Konrad also returned to conversations he had with Premier John Horgan in the spring, and the notion that “the province has our back.”
“I find it ironic that in the floods, towards the end of May, that Premier John Horgan contacted myself as the head of community and he did not contact the regional district,” Konrad said. “I find it ironic that we had such a greater need here, as you stated, sure, regional district and policy, but the constituents do not approach RDKB, they come to our council … if we don’t have answers we look pretty foolish.”
“I have had many conversations with the Premier, as well as other ministers, I just have not been talking about them as much,” Russell said in response. “It is your job as the representative for the RDKB on behalf of this city, to be engaged in this process and communicate to your council.”
Coun. Christine Thompson said she felt the conversation was ultimately not productive, saying council needed to move forward.
“I don’t think we need to micromanage their work, and I have full confidence that [the recovery team] is doing a better job than any of us could do with the knowledge and contacts they have,” Thompson said. “It is unfortunate there seems to be bickering about who knew what and when.”
Russell also said that he believed in the regional emergency response plan because disasters don’t observe “political boundaries.”
Butler said she would like to see members of council sit on each of the recovery pillar committees, in order to relay information back to council, though not necessarily to speak.
“We need to tighten up this communication, our rep on the RDKB needs to bring it back, we need more workshops, we need be at each one of those [committees], to have clear communications,” she said.
Butler also said that Russell, as board chair for the RDKB, had access to more information than other board members and council. However, Russell said that was not the case.
“I do not have more information about any of these pieces, other than those for which I have asked for more information,” he said.
“More communication will always be better, I don’t disagree that we could have more information coming from the flood information team. But you implied that I have more information when realistically, I ask questions when I need to, you need to ask questions as well, and pushed them forward from your representation.”