A Port Alberni city councillor has apologized for undertaking some renovations on an historic pub without the proper permits.
Helen Poon purchased the Kingsway Hotel and Pub back in 2018, and was elected as a councillor for the City of Port Alberni later that year. She started renovations on the historic building, transforming the hotel portion of the building into apartments.
But in 2020, the city issued a stop-work order for the building after some “unpermitted renovations” started taking place in the pub, with no permits or inspections taken out on the project.
Work on the building has been delayed due to COVID-19, but director of development services Scott Smith told council on Dec. 13, 2021 that city inspectors recently toured the building and noted “several deficiencies.”
“Staff will continue to work with the owner, architect and engineer to ensure that all those deficiencies are resolved,” he said.
Poon told council that she has retained the services of an architect, a structural engineer and a surveyor to handle the renovations at the Kingsway and is working “as quickly as possible” to bring the building into compliance with the city’s building code.
She also gave her apologies to mayor, council, city staff and citizens of Port Alberni.
“I regret that this matter has been brought into council chambers and that it’s been a distraction to council,” she said.
“I will further acknowledge that I’ve placed city staff in a very awkward position relating to the perception of staff. City staff have been professional in the conduct of their work in this difficult circumstance and I commend them for that.”
“I vow to conduct myself going forward in a manner expected of a city council member,” she added.
Poon’s fellow councillors acknowledged that elected officials are held to a higher standard than city residents, and the Kingsway renovations led to a perception that a city councillor was getting preferential treatment from city staff.
“You’ve hurt us both personally and professionally by your actions,” Coun. Debbie Haggard told Poon on Monday, Dec. 13.
“This issue has undermined the credibility of our entire council, and it has certainly undermined the credibility of our staff as well,” added Mayor Sharie Minions. “I do hope that the issues that exist are able to be fixed as soon as possible, and I hope that we won’t have to do this again.”
Port Alberni resident Neil Anderson first brought the issue of the Kingsway to the city’s attention back in 2020 and has spoken about it frequently at council meetings over the last two years. He most recently spoke in council chambers on Nov. 8 of this year, expressing the need for greater transparency and accountability from council in answering public inquiries related to city business.
“Uncomfortable questions deserve an appropriate answer,” he said.
Minions acknowledged Anderson for staying engaged throughout the process.
“Sometimes the accountability from the public makes us all better,” said Minions.
Anderson isn’t the only one taking council to task. Another city resident, Roland Smith, wrote a letter to council, questioning why Poon’s apology wasn’t included in the Dec. 13 council agenda. The topic was not brought up at the beginning of the meeting either, when councillors and staff typically raise late items.
“It may very well not have been the intent of council to appear to be extending preferential treatment to Councillor Poon for the way she has handled issues at the Kingsway Hotel,” said Smith.
“However, for a topic that arose unannounced and seemingly out of nowhere at the end of the December 13th [regular council meeting], and due to the appearance of the level of preparedness by council and the city in response to a topic that arose suddenly, leaves the public with the perception that there is some undeserving accommodation being afforded to Councillor Poon by the city apparatus to try to keep this issue dialed down as much as possible.”