As tensions continue to boil among members of Harrison Hot Springs council, Mayor Ed Wood has set his sights on an inflammatory anonymous letter writer dubbed locally as “the village mole.”
During the council’s most recent meeting on Monday (Nov. 20), council voted to remove two items from the agenda concerning the anonymous writer or writers who are believed to be behind three different letters that have circulated physically around town, including appearing in the Agassiz-Harrison Observer paper box.
Wood’s proposal to authorize the CAO to hire an independent lawyer to identify and prosecute the mole was voted off the agenda 3-2 (Wood and Coun. John Allen opposed).
Allen further moved that the village condemn the most recent letter and demand that they cease and desist from further “poison-pen” letters. This, too, was taken off the agenda by a 3-2 vote.
With the failure of Wood’s and Allen’s motions , Wood said he will be offering a $5,000 reward to get to the bottom of who is behind the series of public declarations.
Each letter obtained by The Observer criticizes the village government, particularly Wood. The writer claims to be a 30-year resident of Harrison Hot Springs, but they have revealed little else about themselves.
Letters over several months include prior labour board incidents
The first letter arrived in February, accusing Wood of discriminatory or retaliatory behaviour against village staff.
The latest letter, released publicly in recent weeks, highlights a series of documents from the B.C. Labour Board dating back to 1999 involving Wood’s work as facilities maintenance manager in White Rock. Wood was terminated from the job in 1997.
According to documents obtained by The Observer via mail and by hand, Wood filed an application with the B.C. Labour Board determining if Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 402 fairly represented him in four decisions against the city: workplace harassment, sexual harassment, return to work grievance and a termination grievance.
Wood worked for White Rock from 1989 to 1997. In 1997, documents show he took two different leaves for several months due to illness. During this same time, documents claim that Wood became involved with a coworker from January until July. By August, Wood and the former partner, referred to as “Busby” in the documents, had filed sexual harassment complaints against each other.
Much back-and-forth subsequently ensued between the Human Resources department and Wood. RCMP became involved in the matter, documents show, including when Wood attempted to visit Busby’s home, and in another instance after Wood unexpectedly returned to work on Aug. 12, 1997, allegedly dismissing two employees, as well as changing responsibilities and roles for three employees while removing managerial responsibilities of another.
Wood was placed on sick leave, subject to disciplinary action following a medical assessment. Wood returned to work in early October after all parties involved agreed to sign a settlement agreement to resolve the sexual harassment complaints in late September.
By November, after higher-up city staff told Wood the department would be moving to a different location, Wood allegedly did not comply with the move and was terminated from his role, citing insubordination.
In the months after, Wood appears to have applied to the Labour Board four times, one of which was ruled in the union’s favour and three others dismissed – in one case because his termination grievance was filed past the time limit.
In response to the letter detailing various labour relations matters, Wood issued a brief, now-deleted statement on the Harrison Hot Springs village website and Facebook page on Nov. 12.
“I wish to acknowledge that I suffered a major mental breakdown in 1996,” Wood wrote. “I assure everyone that I am stronger than ever and will continue to work hard as your mayor. I am human.”
When asked by The Observer as to why the statement was deleted, Wood wouldn’t comment directly.
“I want to stress that am not going back to 1996,” he said.
In the past two weeks, Wood said he received a death threat and he alleged he was physically assaulted following the Nov. 8 council meeting.
“It’s very, very ugly,” Wood said. “This mole letter is so, so low. It does absolutely nothing for this village and just tears the fabric of the foundation of this village apart, and I’m going to be coming strong out at it.”
The RCMP are investigating Wood’s reports of the death threat, physical assault and the mole letters, but would not comment further.
Councillors show little sympathy for mayor
On Monday, village residents heard that not every councillor has sympathy for the backlash Wood is facing, especially after the mayor stated that the letter writer was either a current or former councillor.
Coun. Allan Jackson said during his tenure, he has received more than 200 letters attacking him in a variety of situations.
“I never made an issue of it. I sucked it up,” Jackson said to Wood. “It’s just part of the game that we’re unfortunately involved in, so please don’t moralize to me.”
Coun. John Allen said he was highly offended council refused to condemn the mole’s letter, calling the move “gutter politics.”
“If you don’t condemn it, the only conclusion that people can draw is that you are, in fact, endorsing it,” he said. “It should be offensive to everyone in civilized society.”
Coun. Michie Vidal did not condemn nor support the letter, instead saying she believed this was not a council issue.
“Should (Wood and/or Allen) wish to pursue it further, then I would suggest they go through the RCMP or through civil litigation,” she said. “I don’t feel this warrants the use of village funds.”
Coun. Leo Facio, former village mayor, said Wood may need more than $5,000 to handle these letters, amid making accusations without any grounds.
“Since 1993, I’ve had hundreds of letters from a former mayor and councillor sitting here this evening, accusing me of everything from the sun going pink to the water going brown,” Facio said.
Wood believed Facio was minimizing mental illness and dismissing the letters as commentary.
“Grow up!” The mayor shouted at the former mayor. “Grow up!”
Wood insisted the tense, angry tone in the village was not going to disappear on its own.
“This council needs to look at getting [an] investigation and charges if necessary to whoever this mole is,” Wood added.
The amended agenda to remove any actions against the anonymous letter writer or writers was approved after roughly 20 minutes of discussion.