Before last week, the word Hockeyville stirred up warm and fuzzy feelings for most West Kelowna residents.
People tended to forget the red eyes, sore fingers and pounding headaches caused by the monotonous task of typing four-digit verification codes. Instead, they chose to remember the community events, pride and togetherness the competition created.
They also looked past the heartbreaking defeat and infamous leak that spoiled the results party and focused on the fact West Kelowna was able to gather the second most votes any municipality has ever received in Hockeyville history.
Mayor Doug Findlater perhaps summed it up best last January when he said Hockeyville “is something we can all agree on.”
That sense of unity was shattered last week when council members indicated what they intend to spend the $25,000 prize money on: An electronic highway billboard.
Adam Less, co-chair of the Hockeyville committee, said the sign—which will actually cost $125,000, billing taxpayers an additional $100,000—will be a landmark: Something community members can proudly point to for years to come, knowing their efforts played a part in its construction.
He argued a sign would direct visitors to Royal LePage Place, allow the district to broadcast important information and give nonprofit community groups a chance to advertise their events free of charge.
While focusing on all the benefits, perhaps Less, the Hockeyville committee and West Kelowna council forgot to consider the community’s feelings toward highway signs.
An “eyesore in our beautiful valley,” a “pathetic mess” and “a raping of the hillsides” are a few ways Capital News readers have described the billboards via letters to the editor this year.
In a recent string of letters regarding council’s intention for use of the Hockeyville money, it’s clear most taxpayers don’t feel any differently about a community sign.
Among the complaints, some said they feel deceived—they assumed the cash would go toward arena upgrades, not a sign that sits blocks away from the facility.
And it’s a fair assumption to make. According to the Hockeyville 2012 official rules: “Each entrant in the top five whose community does not become the grand prize winning community will receive $25,000 to be used for upgrades to the home arena.”
Whether or not the sign can be classified as an arena upgrade is not the issue. The point—made specifically by Less himself—is that the Hockeyville prize belongs to all of West Kelowna.
Although $25,000 is a drop in the bucket in terms of completing needed upgrades, it’s hugely symbolic and should be carefully allocated.
The only way to ensure Hockeyville remains a community legacy is to involve the community when deciding how to spend the funds.
A press release and an online poll with five or six viable options to choose from would be an easy and inexpensive way for the district to get a sense of what the community desires.
Of course there will always be some who are not happy with what the money is spent on.
But an appropriate decision-making process may preserve the positive feelings associated with a contest that truly brought the young municipality together.