Public barred from discussion over Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen CAO bias concerns

CAO bias discussion private

The public was not allowed access to a special Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board meeting Wednesday, called specifically to address concerns of bias by the district's chief administrative officer.

Bill Newell, CAO, came under scrutiny recently after it was revealed his daughter, Amanda Newell of Sundog Solutions was awarded a plum $60,000 contract to do a "complete review of [the RDOS'] emergency management program" on Dec. 15, 2022.

The senior Newell failed to disclose his relationship to the board, and he did not recuse himself from the process to award the contract.

Newell has since provided the board with a timeline of the contract bidding process, and noted that he as CAO had "no pecuniary interest." The report also acknowledged in retrospect, "there might be a perception of bias to those not having full information on the process and evaluation factors in the selection process."

On Wednesday, the board met to discuss the matter. Within five minutes of the start of the meeting, the board voted to move the meeting in-camera, barring the public and media from attending.

In-camera meetings are, as board chair Mark Pendergraft explained, a tool the board is able to use in specific sensitive situations.

"We can go in-camera on the grounds of personal information about an identifiable individual who holds or is being considered for a position as an officer, employee or agent of the municipality or another position appointed by the municipality and/or labor relations and other employee relations," Pendergraft said.

The meeting took several hours, and concluded with little new information released to media at this time.

"This is a human resources matter," reads a statement from Pendergraft emailed to Castanet.

"[It] will be dealt with during the next RDOS Board of Directors meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 16, 2023."

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