SPN UPDATE: See his post in full in red below, but according to a social media post by Councillor Rick Kasper, 28 such letters were distributed.
Through the power of social media, a Sooke Memorial Dedication issue has come to the attention of, well, just about everyone.
In brief: An open-ended memorial dedication for Judy Jamieson was purchased in 2006, prior to the existence of any policies. Eight years later a policy chunking dedication periods into ten-year terms is established; families with existing memorial dedications are not notified. Then, 11.5 years after Jamieson’s passing and almost exactly a month before Christmas (the letter from the District was dated November 23, 2017, see below), the District approaches the family with its hand out asking for money.
And at least one family member is outraged. Brandy Ritaller, Jamieson’s daughter, posted her outrage on social media. She now has the attention of much of Sooke, some elected officials, and the media (see the CHEK News video below).
Judy Jamieson died as a result of cancer in May, 2006. According to her online obituary, she was a core community participant.
“Judy worked tirelessly in support of many Sooke community organizations and touched the lives and hearts of many.”
To honour her memory, her family and the community rallied to raise the $1,600 District of Sooke fee to have a memorial dedication placed on a Whiffin Spit park bench. No timeline was ever stated. No additional costs were ever articulated. No memorial dedication policy was in place.
According to a Facebook post by Judy’s daughter, at the time that they purchased the Whiffin Spit park bench dedication for Judy it was considered “open ended.” According to the CHEK News video (below), no term-limiting agreement was ever signed.
Eight years later, on September 8, 2014, the District of Sooke implemented a formal Memorial Dedication Policy. According to this policy, fees paid to the District is called a “donation” and a charitable tax receipt is issued. Various memorials can be purchased for a “minimum donation” (not a fee) for a set term. A term is a decade. Applicants can renew for one, two or three terms. Fees are determined at the District’s discretion.
In a statement issued by Sooke CAO Teresa Sullivan, she explained the historical word choice of a donation instead of a fee. “When this policy was first adopted the benches were considered a ‘donation’ to District parks. We can certainly change the wording to find something more suitable.”
Now, 11.5 years after Judy Jamieson died, a letter was written to the family telling them they either need to renew by January 31, 2018 or the plaque will be removed and the dedication space given to the next-in-line applicant. The cost is currently set at $2,000 per term.
“There is a price list attached to the policy that indicates $2,000 in the application form,” writes Sullivan to SPN, referencing the Memorial Dedication Program on the District of Sooke’s website. “Prices are based on the cost of the bench and a small sum for staff to install and/or remove them. ”
Given that the price can arbitrarily increased, we asked if there was a standard for communicating renewal reminders or rate increases to purchasers.
“This has not been part of the District’s process to date,” acknowledged Sullivan, adding, “Staff will certainly incorporate this into our practice moving forward.”
This term-limiting policy for dedications is not unusual. Other municipalities have similar policies. What is striking about this instance is the timeline, and the complete failure to communicate the new standard to existing dedication donors. Being hit with a $2,000 ultimatum just before Christmas, besides possibly causing emotional upset, can also be economically difficult.
Only after the item was posted on social media did the matter engage elected politicians. From a post on the Sooke mayor’s Facebook page, Maja Tait said this item caught her by surprise.
“This is has caught me by surprise,” Tait writes. “I’ve asked staff to bring a report to Council at our next meeting so we take proper steps to fix this.”
ADDED Dec 6: On a group’s Facebook post Councillor Rick Kasper expressed his outrage. “The whole situation raises a lot of questions. Why did 28 letters go out now? It’s very insensitive at this time of year. Why were people not notified when the policy changed in 2014? And were these families consulted when the policy was being discussed? Usually when a policy is changed it doesn’t apply retroactively but applies going forward from the date it is implemented. Another example of lack lustre communications. I can’t wait to get rid of this policy and right this wrong. Letters of apology should be going out now.”
ADDED Dec 6: On a different group, Councillor Bev Berger also expressed her dissatisfaction with this. “Wanda, I can assure you that the letter was not at the direction of council. I too have been in contact with a few families regarding this insensitive act. My heart goes out to the families that have received this letter. I have asked for a letter of apology to be sent to all involved.”
ADDED Dec 7: From Councillor Bev Berger on a different Facebook group: “To everyone who didn’t see my comment on Racheal’s post (whoever she is) The implementation of the policy was to add dedicated street trees on Wadams way, benches in John Phillips park & a Memorial at Whiffen Spit. The Parks and beautification committee was to bring a report back to council with recommendations of what the memorial would look like. (Unfortunately this committee was cancelled) The policy does not and did not reflect any retroactive activity. No one should receive a renewal until 2024. Those who purchased dedications prior would be grandfathered. The letters that went out were not at the direction of council and in my opinion do not reflect the policy. I have been in touch with families that have endured this insensitive act and have offered my apologies as well as my voice and opinion come December 11th. I personally asked that an Apology letter be sent immediately ( I’ve shared my email with the families involved) unfortunately I was advised that I am but 1 councillor.”
In the CHEK News video (below), Councillor Kevin Pearson acknowledges a lack of communications from the District.
It will be discussed by Council at the next meeting, scheduled for December 11. Anyone wishing to address Council on the matter is given an opportunity to speak for up to two minutes during the Public Input section of the meeting. Alternatively, you can email council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, as always, SPN is always listing (but not in that creepy kind of way): you can share your thoughts in the comment section below.
CHEK News video
Here’s the story from CHEK News.
This video comes from the provider’s publicly-given embed code. See the original video and read their full article here.
Here is the agenda from September 8, 2014, when the Memorial Dedication Policy was adopted. Elected officials at that time were:
- Mayor: Wendal Milne
- Councillors: Bev Berger, Herb Haldane, Kevin Pearson, Rick Kasper, Kerrie Reay, and Maja Tait
The minutes are here. A quick glance at the staff present will give a sense of the loss of corporate memory: Not one of the senior staff then with the District are still there.
All elected officials were present at that meeting, according to the minutes, and all voted in favour of adopting the Memorial Dedication Policy.
- RA-3 Community Public Places Donation Program – Memorial Dedication Policy, 2014
MOVED and seconded to adopt Policy No. 12.1 Memorial Dedication Policy, 2014 for municipal parks, trails and public open spaces. CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY
- MOVED and seconded to direct staff to proceed with the dedication of the street trees on Wadams Way to pioneer families of Sooke with individual plaques for each tree for a total of 16 plaques. CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY