During its regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, city council agreed to send a letter of support for churches to be allowed to open if they are following COVID-19 protocols. (City of Williams Lake website image)

During its regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, city council agreed to send a letter of support for churches to be allowed to open if they are following COVID-19 protocols. (City of Williams Lake website image)

In-person church services support wrong call, and a conflict, says Williams Lake resident

John Pickford takes mayor and council to task in a letter

Williams Lake’s mayor said he does not regret a unanimous decision by council last week to write a letter of support for churches to be allowed to offer in-person services again.

“In our letter, which we haven’t sent yet, we explain that they would have to meet all the COVID criteria like anyone else,” Walt Cobb said Thursday.

Council drew criticism from many residents on social media for the decision, which came just a day before a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Cariboo Memorial Hospital.

Council is also being challenged by Williams Lake resident John Pickford who believes Coun. Scott Nelson was in a position of conflict when he sat on council Tuesday, Jan. 12 to hear Pastor Tim Zotzman, of the Voice of Pentecost Church, in a letter ask city council to stand with the church’s concerns for the “unnecessary lockdown of churches and yet the continuing allowance of businesses with a much greater risk and lasting effects to be open.”

Read more: Williams Lake city council adds support for churches, faith-based organizations to gather

In his own letter to council following the meeting, Pickford pointed out Nelson owns the building which is rented by the church. He also is opposed to council supporting a request from churches to gather while provincial restrictions are in place.

“I submit the encouragement of resumption of in-person gatherings in this crucial stage of the second wave of pandemic puts us all at a greater risk of infection,” Pickford told the Tribune.

Pickford also forwarded his letter written to mayor and council to Tribune, stating his concerns.

In a call with the Tribune, Nelson confirmed he has owned the church building for 20 years, and the congregation rents the building from him.

He did not agree it was a conflict of interest for him to participate in the discussion at the Jan. 12 council meeting.

“It was a resolution that dealt with all churches, not a singular church. There was no pecuniary gain for me. It was not a financial decision whether or not the churches in Williams Lake should be allowed to open their doors with limited capacity with COVID restrictions in place.”

Mayor Walt Cobb said he wasn’t aware Nelson owned the property, but said he agreed with Nelson saying it wasn’t a financial decision.

“We weren’t giving anyone money or anything, we were representing all the churches.”

Cobb did confirm Thursday city staff are looking into the matter further to see if Nelson’s participation in the discussion was a conflict of interest.

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Interior Health Authority declared a COVID-19 cluster for the Cariboo Chilcotin region, with 158 active cases.

Read more: Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1


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