West Kelowna rejects seat on chamber board

West Kelowna council has rejected a request from the Westbank and District Chamber of Commerce to have a councillor sit on its board.

The offer, made to Coun. Rosalind Neis a few weeks ago, was rebuffed last week by Neis’s council colleagues, and that rejection was reiterated earlier this week when new chamber executive director Karen Thompson appeared before council.

Thompson said the chamber reached out specifically to Neis because of her experience as West Kelowna’s first mayor, and because Neis had a working relationship with Thompson during the latter’s days as executive director of the Urban Development Institute.

Thompson said the councillor’s position on the chamber board would be ex-officio, meaning that Neis, or any other councilor appointed to the position, would not have a vote but act more as a liaison between council and the chamber.

But Mayor Doug Findlater said it would not be appropriate for a lobby group like the chamber to have what the mayor described as the “direct ear” of council when other groups do not.

Findlater said he preferred to see regular meetings between the chamber board and council or regular appearances by chamber officials before council. He noted a request by a local special needs awareness group for council to set up an accessibility committee with a councillor on it has also been previously rejected.

Councillors Bryden Winsby and Carol Zanon both said they felt operation of the chamber should be at “arm’s length” from council.

While both support the chamber and its objective of being a support and lobby group for local business, they did not feel the chamber board was an appropriate place for a West Kelowna councillor. We should remain objective, and sitting on the board would make that difficult.

Neis supported the idea of a councillor on the chamber board. She pointed to Kelowna, where that city has had an ex-officio member on the Kelowna chamber board for several years.

The Westbank chamber currently has a member of the Westbank First Nation band council on its board, added Thompson.

But the West Kelowna councillors were not swayed by those factors.

“We should remain objective, and sitting on the board would make that difficult,” said Winsby, noting the chamber asks council for financial support. Zanon said the recently revamped chamber needs to “find its own path.”

The chamber recently hired Thompson to replace long-time manager Leah Thordarson, and its president Nicole Perrone-Posiak has stepped down because of health issues,while 1st vice-president Al Davies has now taken over as president.