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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

More questions than answers at Wakefield centre AGM

Wakefield residents came away with more questions than answers at the community centre’s annual general meeting on Sept. 21.


It was at this meeting where residents hoped to learn more about the building’s potential transfer to the municipality; the pros and cons of a municipal building takeover; and about the centre’s finances, approve new bylaws and vote in a new board.


But what came out of the Centre Wakefield La Pêche (CWLP) AGM was more of a reflection of how poorly things are being managed and have been managed since the centre opened in 2012 — an admission made by outgoing board president Vicki Carlan.


“This is a contentious issue because it feels like we are here and are thinking about the future in part because maybe we didn’t pay attention as carefully as we should have,” admitted Carlan. “This board sucked at finances.”


Carlan didn’t need to rehash all the turmoil that the centre has endured over the past few years, such as the firings of several GMs and staff; administration issues; and governance problems, which led to some board members resigning. Instead, she pointed to this reporter in the crowd and suggested that Low Down coverage has been the mirror the centre had been looking for.


“Trevor has reminded us frequently that we have fired several GMs,” she said to a round of chuckles and murmurs throughout the room. “But it is a statement of, ‘Hey, maybe we just don’t have this right.’”


Carlan’s narrative throughout the evening was themed around “housekeeping” and getting things cleaned up from day one, as past board members admitted that they have not been adhering to Quebec’s Cooperative Act, which governs things like membership applications, bylaws and mandatory reserve funds.


The latter is a big one, as the centre is required to set aside five per cent of its budget for an operating and opportunity reserve and another 10 per cent for a building and capital asset reserve. These funds have not been set aside in the past, and with the centre looking at multiple repairs – including a $500,000 roof replacement – within the next five to 10 years, finding this money may be tough. She urged residents to vote in a new board that has specific skills — namely those with finance backgrounds.


“You need a financial person who understands finances and accounting, not just a bookkeeper,” said Carlan. “The 10 per cent contribution to the reserve fund — that should have been caught. I’m not trying to pass the buck.…but we also know that there needs to be way more controls in place. We don’t have expense claims, we don’t have purchase orders, this is the first time that we had staff doing budgets.”


An hour-and-a-half into the meeting, discussions about the future of the centre hadn’t even begun yet, as board members were still running through the centre’s finances: the centre’s remaining $850,000 on the mortgage; how staffing eats up 60 per cent of the centre’s $495,000 budget ($295,000); and upcoming repairs are over $650,000. However there was no analysis on the centre’s audited financial statements, as they were not prepared in time for the meeting.


“It wasn’t a very organized AGM based on presenting your annual report, your financials, your budget for next year,” said former CWLP board president Irene Richardson. She said she was disappointed that current board members didn’t provide an analysis of the potential deal on the table with the municipality — an agreement that would see the CWLP transfer ownership of the building to La Pêche, while the cooperative would continue to manage programming at the centre.


“Why wasn’t there a description of the issue or the challenge described, the current details of where the centre is now and the pros and cons of moving towards a transfer of the buildings and some other options?” she asked. Most of the conversation around the potential transfer of ownership seemed to be around timing and pushing a decision through the membership by Nov. 30. But residents weren’t keen on making such a big decision in haste.


“To put a two-month limit on the discussion – the big, broader discussion – feels really wrong,” said Wakefield resident Ruth Salmon. “To me, it feels rushed. It’s a huge decision. It’s going to be our kids or our grandkids who are going to be the ones who will deal with this later under different mayors, different municipalities. Things change.”


Salmon questioned where the seemingly arbitrary Nov. 30 deadline came from, as she said she doesn’t think “the broader community has really been having this discussion.”


CWLP Membership Involvement Group (MING) member Karen Bays was the optimist in the room and said she feels positive about the direction of the new board.


She agreed that the centre has a history of “not functioning well,” but hopes the fresh board, which includes Gillian Kirkland, Julie Cote, John Parker, Vanessa Passmore, Lynne Forest, Archie Smith and Myles Jones, will continue the work of the old board and move things forward.


The CWLP said it will host a series of public consultations on the future of the centre and will reconvene in a month to pass the new bylaws and budget.


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