Despite 500 plus signatures, council rejects referendum plea

About 50 people packed into the council meeting on Feb. 11 to attempt to convince council to re-think the water meter project.

It was standing room only at the regular council meeting on Feb. 11 for the water meter installation discussion.

About 50 people packed into the Grand Forks regular city council meeting on Feb. 11 at the old CanPar building to attempt to convince council to re-think the water meter installation project.Frank Triveri, the defacto leader of a group that came together to protest the city’s attempt to push through water meter installations.The ad hoc group, a coalition for a democratic process, had spent the last two weeks compiling over 500 signatures for a petition that would see council halt the water meter installation project.Triveri spoke first and talked about the petition and asked council to rescind the motion. He also asked council to adhere to the timeline presented in a mail out that was send to residents earlier with a typo stating the water meters wouldn’t be installed until 2015. He also asked that water meters be a campaign issue for the upcoming (November) municipal election.“It seems as if the city has very little thirst for water meters,” he said.He added that many people think the meters are a money grab for the city to help pay for broken infrastructure.“Having a referendum would show the people that our council listens,” he said. “Show us democracy is alive in the City of Grand Forks.”Triveri received a standing ovation from the crowd after his speech.Following Triveri were several other speakers who spoke of similar concerns about water meters.One resident, Larry Podmoroff, questioned whether council could be trusted and was asked to leave the meeting by Mayor Brian Taylor. Podmoroff refused and Taylor banged his gavel and adjourned the meeting.Doug Allin, city chief administrative officer, threatened to call the RCMP and have Podmoroff arrested. He eventually left on his own.The meeting resumed shortly after with more questions and concerns about the water meter installation.Triveri added that it’s unethical for the city to use water as a commodity.Councillor Neil Krog stated that some of the concerns from the audience members were valid but insisted that the meters are not part of any global conspiracy. He also added that the petition was the best one he’d seen in his time on council.After about two hours, coun. Michael Wirischagin introduced a motion to halt the water meter installation until there was more dialogue between the City and the residents.There was no seconder for the motion and thus it was not carried.Triveri thanked council for their time and the council chambers emptied in a hurry.“I’m part of a committee for a more democratic process that came about as a result of last council meeting (Jan. 27),” he told the Gazette after the meeting. “We weren’t happy with what council said at the last council meeting. They basically rejected our request off hand. So we thought we’d try to do something about it.”Triveri said the group got together and did some research and worked on canvassing throughout town to get signatures and feedback regarding the water meter installation.“We were able to get half the electorate who voted in the last election,” he said. “I think that’s a very significant number. That dispels council’s idea that there is wide-spread support for water meters when, in fact, there isn’t.”Trivera said the group is not against conservation, in fact, they are very much for it.“We’re 100 per cent behind conservation,” he said. “We don’t think council was really well informed in regards to this. They had one or two consultant reports and made their decision based on the two reports.”Triveri said when he first heard of the program in 1999, he wrote a letter to council urging them to really listen to the people and weigh the pros and cons of water meters.“The consultation process, in my eyes and the committee’s eyes, and the people who signed the petition’s eyes, did not take place and as a result we have a decision made that weren’t not happy with but we have to live with,” he said.Triveri said it’s council right in a democratic society to make bylaws for water meters, but that it’s also the people’s right to vote for a different council the next time.Triveri is one of many who believe council and city staff did not consult enough with the residents before putting the water meter installation to tender last month.“It really came out (first) in the paper in November,” he said. “I wrote a letter to city council and cc’d the Gazette and it was printed at that time. From November to January, they had the first council meetings and then they were already advertising the open house at gallery 2 which was to try to explain their rationale but they weren’t looking for input or discussion. There was absolutely no consultation.”