A dispute over the management of the Gold Bridge-based Minto Communications Society is headed to court.
The society has filed a civil suit against former directors Peter Dartana and Bob Chow in BC Supreme Court in Kamloops. Dartana is the former treasurer of the society and Chow is its former vice-president.
The society provides high-speed internet to approximately 100 customers in the upper Bridge River Valley, including Tyaughton Lake, Gun Creek Road, Gun Lake, Gold Bridge and Bralorne.
Area residents say the disagreement over the society’s management has created divisions in the remote and tiny communities of the valley.
The suit claims that Dartana and Chow “negligently performed or neglected to perform” their duties to the society and says the society suffered and continues to suffer damage and injury “which was a direct or indirect result of the actions or inactions of the defendants.”
In official responses filed Mar. 5, both men deny the allegations in the society’s suit or say the facts alleged are outside their knowledge. They also say they were not negligent and their actions did not cause any suffering or injury to the society.
Specifically, the suit alleges:
1) Dartana authorized and delivered payments from the society to a company owned by Dartana, to Chow and to various other third parties without formally contracting with or disclosing to the society’s board of directors any direct interests or conflict of interests and without disclosing the reasons for those payments to the Minto board.
Dartana responded that two signatures were required for all cheques and withdrawals. He also says the board provided him with the authority to issue cheques of $2,000 or less, all payments and expenditures over $2,000 were reported to and approved by the board and the board knew he owned the company referred to in the suit.
In his response, Dartana also states that in addition to payments to third parties, payments to other board members for services rendered were approved by the board. Those payments include $15,610.14 to former president Chris Donald, $2,054 to Michelle Nortje, $4,000 to Merle Hoch, $356.57 to Dave Watkins and $33,017.47 to Mike Jensen.
2) When a power outage occurred in Gold Bridge in August 2011, Chow refused or neglected to provide the society with the technical information and passwords necessary to restart the society’s internet service. Because of Chow’s failure to respond, the society says the service was down for two weeks, causing the society to suffer damage, including loss of revenue. The society claims it was also required to hire two computer engineers to rebuild elements of its network without benefit of the technical information retained by Chow.
Dartana responded that the society’s network was at least partially functioning after the outage because all the directors, Debbie DeMare, Ken Robinson and other members had internet service. Dartana also asserted that any significant interruption to the system following the power outage was solely due to the acting president (Dave Watkins) and the board’s failure to replace Chow with a qualified technical administrator in a reasonable timeframe.
In his response, Chow said he advised the directors in his July 25, 2011 letter of resignation that he would be available to provide advice and training to his replacement as network administrator, provided that the replacement was properly qualified to manage the network.
He said he was on holiday on Vancouver Island and unavailable when the power outage occurred. However, Chow’s statement also says each director of the society had access to the network’s technical information as part of the various grant applications prepared and submitted by the society. Additionally, Chow says Michelle Nortje had her own account and proprietary password for accessing the network, and Nortje and Mike Jensen also had access via a general account.
3) In July 2011, the society, on a number of occasions, requested that Dartana return the society’s financial records to the society. According to the suit, Dartana refused or neglected to return the records. The suit alleges that Dartana breached a trust by taking and holding records away from the society’s office and then refusing to return them to the society.
His response is that “all financial records were in the possession of the society while they were in the possession of the treasurer of the society. Further…all financial records not already in the possession of board members other than the treasurer were provided to the society in or about September 2011, promptly following a motion demanding the defendant Dartana’s resignation as Treasurer made at the Board Meeting of Aug. 31, 2011.”
4) the Notice of Civil Claim also included sections alleging that on or about
Sept. 1, 2011, Chow circulated a letter and Dartana circulated an email containing “defamatory and insulting comment” directed at the society’s directors as well as private business information of the society.
The responses from Dartana and Chow note that the society, in a letter dated Feb. 7 of this year, has instructed its lawyers not to pursue the defamation claims.
The society is seeking the return of its documents and records; an accounting of all monies, profits and benefits received or made by the defendants; payment of any money owed to the society; costs, and general, equitable, special, punitive and aggravated damages.
Chow and Dartana are asking that the society’s case be dismissed with special costs, or, as an alternative, party and party costs should be payable individually to them.
In an interview with the News, Dave Watkins confirmed the society’s suit against Dartana and Chow is being paid for out of the society’s funds.
“This matter is now before the courts, but hopefully it will be settled out of court,” added Watkins.
He also said he personally had planned to sue Dartana and Chow for alleged defamatory statements they made about him. He told the News he was seeking a public apology, but not any monetary damages.
In a letter dated Feb. 21, 2012 and addressed to members of the Minto Communications Society, Chow offered a public apology to Watkins.
Chow’s letter stated that on Sept. 1 2011, he “made a number of comments about Dave Watkins personally, but I genuinely regret having made them. I wish unreservedly to apologize to Mr. Watkins and sincerely hope that he is able to accept my apology and to move on with the important business of the society.”
“Mr. Chow has apologized and I have accepted his apology,” Watkins told the News Feb. 29. He said he has now dropped plans to personally sue either Chow or Dartana.