Current, former Sidney mayors spar over fire hall recognition

A feud over Sidney’s new fire hall continues to smoulder, as the former and current mayor spar over destruction of a commemorative plaque made for the new Community Safety Building.

Former mayor Steven Price said Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith’s decision to destroy the $3,000 plaque six months ago seemed politically motivated. “I still find it hard to believe this council could be this petty, childish and vindictive.”

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Price highlighted the plaque destruction after it recently came to light that the current mayor had also decided in May to remove the Queen’s portrait from council chambers until a First Nations artwork is completed in December.

The plaque was to be mounted at the new Community Safety Building to “recognize the individuals, companies, and first-responders involved in the creation of the new facility,” Price said. “The plaque was designed with input from senior fire hall and town staff on which parties should be included for recognition.”

In an April 23 letter to the city’s chief administrative officer, Randy Humble, Price said the mayor had threatened to melt down the plaque — paid for with public funds — and called the decision rash and disheartening.

“The mayor informed me that it is his intention to destroy the plaque, to melt it down ‘to recover what we can,’ ” wrote Price. “While it is one thing to refuse installation of this plaque, destroying it is nothing short of irresponsible and unprofessional.

“Denying the plaque its proper placement seems disrespectful, and the destruction of town-owned assets is completely unacceptable.”

McNeil-Smith said the decision was made not to erect the plaque because it honours only the previous mayor and council when other mayors — former mayor Larry Cross, for example — and councils were also involved in the new building.

“In short, it provided selective recognition of the Steve Price council,” said McNeil-Smith, noting others who contributed were all recognized during his remarks at the opening of the new fire hall.

The mayor said purchase of the plaque was not brought before council for discussion or approval, “so there is no council resolution giving direction.”

“Several members of your council were not consulted on the plaque or budget, and some do not wish to have their names on the plaque,” McNeil-Smith wrote to Price on April 17. Amending the plaque was considered, said McNeil-Smith, but it was deemed impractical due to the high cost.

“It’s not a political feud for me,” he said Tuesday. “It has nothing to do with the election results or a feud. It has to do with the circumstances around the creation of a plaque and former councillors and other people who were involved in the Community Safety Building. It was not appropriate to put the plaque up.”

The sale of Sidney’s old fire hall and the adjacent lot on 3rd Street to pay for the new Community Safety Building was a key issue in the 2018 municipal election. McNeil-Smith defeated Price for the mayor’s job in that election.

The previous council selected Fire Hall Development to purchase the town-owned properties for about $9.9 million. Significant variances for a commercial-and-condominium development were granted on the old site, permitting six storeys, up from four.

The former town council was accused of maximizing financial return with a building so large and tall, which many felt was not in keeping with Sidney’s small-town character. Meanwhile, construction went over budget.

Once elected, McNeil-Smith’s council couldn’t scale back the size of the development.

Price had asked council to hand the plaque to the fire chief and volunteer firefighters for safekeeping, “as a different mayor and council may wish to give more thought to this matter and have it installed.”

McNeil-Smith said following discussion at a Sidney council meeting on May 13, the commemorative plaque “was returned to the manufacturer for reuse of the materials and a small refund to the town.” He could not recall the amount of money recovered.

Coun. Peter Wainwright backs the current mayor, saying he was not aware the plaque cost $3,000 or that his name would be on it.

Wainwright said while he supports the building and first responders, “the decision to authorize borrowing of up to $10 million — the largest borrowing in Sidney’s history — without seeking consent of our residents was controversial as was the significant cost overrun.”

Wainwright said council received several letters of support for the decision not to install the plaque.

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