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Council to talk about Hyack firing
Although the firing and possible reinstatement of its executive director has been deemed a confidential internal personnel matter by the Hyack Festival Association president it promises to be a hot topic of discussion at the next city council meeting.
Hyack president Gavin Palmer has refused to comment on the July 31 removal of Douglas Smith by the society’s executive board and the subsequent decision Aug. 13 by the full board of directors to invite him back.
Hyack received $140,000 in cash and $40,000 worth of in-kind services from the city this year. Coun. Bill Harper said Smith’s situation will be discussed at its Aug. 26 meeting when council gets back from its summer break because the organization needs to be accountable for its actions.
“We’re as a city just standing back and watching how this plays out,” said Harper, who intends to speak to the other councillors and Mayor Wayne Wright about what form of discussion will take place. “I’m sure it will be at the top of our agenda.”
Harper said Smith adding Uptown Live! to the Hyack week was a good move and the quality of the promotions, entertainment and events have gone up, as has sponsorship.
“You can’t deny the kind of work he has done, and what the rationale for terminating him nobody has told us,” said Harper. “I can understand why [Palmer] doesn’t want to say anything. You terminate somebody it’s a pretty serious matter … You can’t go saying publicly what the issues are because you could get yourself sued.”
Harper and Coun. Jonathan Coté have been appointed by council to a Hyack strategic planning committee.
Harper said, the board has total authority to do whatever it wants and can turn down any ideas the committee comes up with. In addition, council this year decided to take a look at how it funds festivals in the city.
Coun. Jonathan Coté was unwilling to comment on the dismissal because he didn’t know the details, but pointed out in his eight years on council, Hyack has gone through five executive directors.
“It doesn’t appear to have stability,” said Coté. “Douglas brought a new perspective to the organization and was trying to bring in new events and I see it as a positive.”
Coun. Betty McIntosh was a council liaison to Hyack and has been a member of Hyack for more than 15 years. But earlier this year she asked not to be on the strategic planning committee because Harper appeared to have a cozy relationship with Smith.
McIntosh was not surprised by Smith’s dismissal and felt it was a good move by Hyack.
“I am aware of many of the issues they are dealing with, and I am also aware of what the board is attempting to do,” said McIntosh. “I’m not alarmed he was let go. Personally, I felt it was time with many issues with him it was time he was let go.
“I believe Douglas needed to go. However, if he comes back I believe I won’t be a member (of Hyack) any longer.”
McIntosh said Uptown Live! was a good event to hold after the annual Hyack parade, but it could have been organized by any executive director. “I don’t think Douglas is that special.”
McIntosh cited a July 1 incident during the Canada Day fireworks at the boardwalk in which Smith confronted a bagpiper because he was playing at the same time as Hyack-organized entertainment nearby on the boardwalk.
“That’s unbecoming a professional. There won’t be police charges, but that’s beside the point. A police report was made,” said McIntosh.
New Westminster police spokesman Insp. Phil Eastwood confirmed a file was opened but it has since been closed after concluding there was no evidence to support the allegation of an assault.
However, a witness who contacted the NewsLeader claimed Smith came charging down the boardwalk and pushed the piper from behind nearly pushing him over. The witness said Smith then started ranting and yelling at the piper that he was trying to sabotage his event.
“Nothing occurred. I don’t go around pushing people,” Smith told the NewsLeader. “Am I going to go after somebody half my age that’s drunk? How foolish would that be.”
Smith said the piper was disrupting the concert and was trying to get him to stop.
“There was no assault. We have every right to provide security at all of our events. Had police been around we certainly would have directed them over there,” said Smith.
Uptown Property Group vice-president Bart Slotman said he witnessed the incident. “There was no physical contact whatsoever,” he insisted.
Slotman said Hyack is using the incident as an excuse to get rid of Smith.