Five current and former members of Rossland city council insist they did nothing wrong in denying tree cutting permits to a local businessman, despite a judicial review that found the city acted in bad faith.
A joint response was filed Friday in Rossland Supreme Court on behalf of current mayor Andy Morel, former mayor Kathy Moore, current councillor Stewart Spooner, and former councillors Dirk Lewis and Terry Miller.
Warren Hamm sued them in August, seeking more than $1 million in damages. He alleged council members intended to hurt him financially and breached their duty to act fairly.
However, in their statement of defence, the five say they acted in good faith, “guided by the interests of the community as reflected in the official community plan,” when they voted against granting the permits.
The city soon adopted a beefed-up tree management bylaw, but the statement of defence says they believed it would apply to future applications, not Hamm’s.
Even though the judicial review found council was wrong to deny Hamm’s application, the defendants say they were not named in the previous suit and the judge made no findings about their individual knowledge or intentions.
And while the city did not appeal the ruling, the statement of defence says “the defendants’ decisions were made in good faith with an honest belief in their lawfulness.”
The statement adds it was not unlawful to refuse Hamm’s application or adopt the tree management bylaw. It says Hamm did not suffer damages as alleged and if he did, it wasn’t the defendants’ fault. It also says any delay Hamm has since experienced in receiving his permits can’t be blamed on the defendants. Hamm said he has received one permit but is still waiting on three others.
Refuting claims of public malfeasance, the statement says at all times “the defendants acted in the public interest and intended to protect the public good and the development priorities of the city” as reflected in the official community plan and other documents. It says no of them intended to harm Hamm and “none acted with recklessness or conscious disregard as to lawfulness of their actions.”
Hamm further alleged contempt of court and interference with economic relations, but the defendants say he has not provided enough facts to establish that.
However, the statement appears to acknowledge they knew they might risk a lawsuit: “City staff and city councillors, including the defendants, were aware that Mr. Hamm commonly employed threats of legal action against the city to support desired outcomes in proposed development activities.”
The statement of defence was filed by Victoria law firm Stewart McDannold Stuart, which says on its website that it is “devoted to providing legal services to local governments.”
However, the City of Rossland was not named as a defendant in the latest suit and the city’s indemnification bylaw doesn’t specify whether it assumes legal costs for people who no longer hold office.
Mayor Andy Morel said he could not comment on who is paying the bill while city manager Bryan Teasdale has not responded to messages requesting clarification.
You can read the full statement of defence here: Response to Civil Claim Rossland. The full statement of claim is here: Hammerhead Equities et al V Individual Councillors.
The latest allegations have yet to be tested in court.