North Okanagan downtown safety issues prompt need for discussions

Town hall meetings approved as city struggles with public concerns

Vernon council almost needed a town-hall-style meeting to see if they should host town-hall-style meetings.

After 40 minutes of debate, council voted 5-1 (Coun. Kelly Fehr was absent from Tuesday’s regular meeting) on a notice of motion put forward by Coun. Kari Gares to direct staff to arrange a town-hall-style meeting to provide Vernon residents and business owners the ability to direct their concerns and issues relating to crime, vagrancy and drug use, whereby there is a negative impact on the downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods through an open mic dialogue.

The meeting, said Gares, would provide council with a better understanding of the concerns in the downtown core so that council can provide targeted solutions to help mitigate the issues.

Gares put forward the motion to try and build better relationships.

READ ALSO: Issues with street-entrenched people increase for Vernon business

“We hear it all the time some people feel that council just doesn’t care. The reality is we do care, and here’s our way in which we’re going to show that we do care by building a relationship with our constituents,” said Gares. “Out of those relationships being built, we’ll be able to create these solutions. I’m not expecting a solution to miraculously appear at a town-hall meeting.

“We’ll listen, we’ll engage and we’ll build relationships so that people will be more receptive…If you’re open and willing to say ‘I’m here, we’re in this together, let’s build relationships so we can create solutions that are going to fix the problems,’ that’s what people want to here.”

Support originally came from Couns. Scott Anderson, Brian Quiring and Akbal Mund.

“As an elected official, I’m to the point where I feel the need for the public to be heard,” said Quiring.

Added Anderson, who was pushing for a topic-specific meeting on overdose prevention sites: “It’s (town-hall meeting) an opportunity and a cathartic experience for people to be able to say what their problems are. That in itself is a help. It’s crucial to give the public a chance to voice their opinions about this.”

Mund cautioned that such meetings can generate a lot of hard feelings.

“I have no problem holding a town hall on any issue in the community, but one selective issue can bring out a lot of anger,” he said.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal was originally against the notice of motion, saying council already knows the problems in the downtown core.

“If I’m going to sit there just to hear the same problems over and over that are already mentioned on social media, that we’re already getting e-mails about, and we’ve already done town halls, I don’t see the point,” said Nahal. “That’s not going to offer solutions. We already know what the problems are. There’s no solution listening to a problem that we’ve already heard over and over. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time. I just can’t support this.”

Nahal voted in favour, however, after Gares agreed to Nahal’s request for a one-off attempt at a town-hall-style meeting.

Lone opposition came from Mayor Victor Cumming, a 40-plus-year veteran of town halls, who said such meetings are “a place to air concerns for a very small group.”

“All the ones I participated in, it hasn’t been a discussion or effective tool to share ideas,” said Cumming. “It focuses on a certain type of response…It doesn’t create a representation of diversity of views…It rarely informs.”



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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