Regional district grapples with issue of long-term illness

On Thursday (Nov. 30), the RDKB passed new legislation that will deal with remuneration in long-term illness cases.

Roly Russell is the interim director for RDKB Area D.

The regional district has passed new legislation that will avoid having to pay a salary to regional district directors and their alternates simultaneously in the case of illness.

The legislation is expected to avoid additional costs when an elected director (who is paid) falls ill and requires an appointed alternate director to step in for a length of time, during which time the alternate would be paid.

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary chief administrative officer John MacLean said the board is enacting new legislation which will prevent the doubling up of salaries in the future.

“The board has adopted some policies regarding remuneration of directors,” he said. “It sets out who will get paid and for how long if a director off sick.”

That legislation won’t affect rural Grand Forks Area D director Irene Perepolkin, who suffered a stroke in January 2013, and her alternate Roly Russell.

MacLean said that Perepolkin is on sick leave and it is up to her to decide when she returns, but her illness happened before the legislation was enacted, leaving her exempt.

“She is the sole determinant of when she returns,” he said. “As soon as she feels she can assume all of the duties, she can come back to work. We can’t prevent her.”

MacLean said the previous legislation was clear, stating that a director is removed from office if they miss four consecutive meetings without the permission of the board, except in the case of illness or injury.

“Since director Perepolkin has been ill, it doesn’t apply,” he said.

Since Perepolkin is on leave and could return, she is being paid fully by the RDKB for the position, along with Russell.

After Perepolkin’s stroke, Russell filled in immediately and has been at the board table ever since.

“I filled in with her at that point and I’m still there,” he said. “She’s recovering. She’s getting better. That’s always the hope. As soon as she is feeling capable and ready to get back to work then she will return.”

Russell said he talks with Perepolkin occasionally.

“I have at this point the responsibility for the decisions,” he said. “Any legal responsibility falls on me, so I have to be satisfied with my due diligence for being able to act in the manner I want to act.”

Perepolkin told the Gazette she is feeling much better and would like to return soon.

“I’d like to come back anytime,” she said. “I’d love to. I don’t know what else to do.”

RDKB board chair Grace McGregor said Perepolkin can come back at anytime.

“If she’s comfortable with it, that’s totally up to her,” she said. “When she’s ready, her chair is there. We have never said she can’t come back. The decision is completely up to her.”

McGregor said the new policy on paying directors will allow for three months of medical leave and then only one director is paid.

“That’s the new policy,” she said. “Irene’s issue happened before the policy, so she’s exempt. It’s been a long, long discussion on what do we do from the standpoint of making sure alternates, or whoever steps in, get paid for the time they spend.

“You can’t expect them to go on and on without getting paid. It’s a lot of work and a lot of travelling. After a couple of months we said, ‘We don’t know how long this will last. We need to make sure that Roly is compensated’.”

McGregor said they will be asking the province for help and some guidelines to help regional districts through future situations that might come up.

“With no rules whatsoever, we were wondering what do we do with this,” she said.

Perepolkin was re-elected to the Area D director position in 2011 to a three-year term. Every elected director must name an alternate who fills in case of illness or other absence. The appointed alternate must be approved by the RDKB board.

 

At work in Area D

Russell said he is currently busy with several issues and projects including coming up with the Official Community Plan (OCP).

“It’s an interesting struggle from my perspective, trying to identify the best way to get input from the public about the OCP or any issue that comes up,” he said. “I’m sitting as the Area D chair, representing the constituents, but I need to know what they want so I can act on it.”

Russell said he’s often on the phone talking with constituents and has started to delve into social media as a way of getting in touch with residents.

“I’m still getting my feet wet on that,” he added. “With the OCP we had an open house and we’ll have more of those things. But that doesn’t capture a lot of the population.”

The OCP, which will be a 10-year document, is expected to be released in draft form this year for comment, and adopted in the following year.

“That document will in turn help guide the development of a new zoning bylaw which we will evaluate if we have the proper zoning regulations set up,” he said.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Russell is enjoying his first foray into politics.

“I like it a lot,” he said. “One interesting thing to be is I hear a lot of murmuring about distrust about the RDKB being heavily Trail dominated in terms of decision making. But my experience so far is that the board is very equitable and reasonable in how they go about making decisions.”

Russell said one person in the RDKB has no authority without the support of the board.

“I can bring whatever recommendations I want to the board, but it’s up to them to approve it,” he said. “I’ve been really pleased with the dynamic. It seems like a really healthy process for making good decisions. Everybody has been really good to me. This is obviously uncharted territory for everyone involved. Everyone has been very helpful in helping navigate through that. There’s been a lot of stuff I’ve been naïve about. It’s been a steep learning curve.”

Back in Grand Forks

Russell is a scientist by trade. He was born and raised in Grand Forks but moved away to go to university. He returned to the area seven years ago.

“My wife and I were living and working in Manhattan,” he said. “We didn’t want to have a baby in New York so we came back here.”

Russell still occasionally does academic writing and consulting for the Sandhill Institute. He has appeared several times in the acclaimed magazine Scientific American.

He is also a past president of the Grand Forks Boundary Agricultural Society and still a fixture at many of their events.

“I was also involved in other aspects of the Boundary Agricultural Plan,” he said. “Through that agricultural work is how I got to know Irene and that’s why, I think, she asked me if I wanted to serve as alternate.”

Russell said he accepted the alternate position because he was interested in running for the position in the future.