Posted: Monday, May 23, 2016 4:50 pm


Some local politicians are balking at a telecommunications company’s request to have them sign gag orders before receiving a special briefing on its plans for the region.

Telus wants each member of the 18-person board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen to sign a non-disclosure agreement in advance of a future closed-door meeting.

It’s believed to be the first such request the RDOS has received, chief administrative officer Bill Newell told the board at its public meeting May 19

“Typically they’d just come, ask to go in camera and that would be protected by legislation,” he explained.

Board chairman Mark Pendergraft noted in camera meetings – for land, labour and legal issues – are indeed meant to be secret, but “there’s very little punishment for breaking that” vow of silence.

He said the “conundrum” facing directors now is they don’t know what they’ll be missing out on if they don’t sign the agreements with Telus.

Others worried, however, about keeping constituents in the dark on what could be a matter of broad public interest.

“If their corporate profit-and-loss statements are on the table, I understand the request. But if they’re going to put up cell phone towers in somebody’s face, I think they should have the courage to do it in public,” said Tom Siddon, the director for Area C (Kaleden/Okanagan Falls).

“I think the public has a right to know if some corporation comes lobbying us for something they want, especially if there are implications for the public’s well-being and public concern.”

Michael Brydon, the director for Area F (West Bench), suggested the board would still be better off hearing from the company.

“We can make a principled stand on this, but we’ll be in the dark. What would you rather have?” said Brydon.

The motion to sign the agreements passed by a 14-4 margin with Siddon, Area C (rural Oliver) director Terry Schafer, Summerland director Richard Barkwill and Penticton director Helena Konanz opposed.

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said in an interview the secret briefing will reveal “confidential technical information that our competitors would very much like to have” regarding “a potential communications infrastructure project.”

“If we do proceed, we’d make the project public before getting underway,” he added.

Hall said the project “does not have to do with a large wireless site or anything like that,” but declined to be more specific.

He was unable to say how exactly how often the company seeks such non-disclosure agreements nor why, stating instead it’s simply how Telus prefers to do business. Hall was also unable to say what the penalty is for anyone who violates such an agreement.