Candidates reflect on council decisions

Candidates asked to outline best and worst decisions made by Penticton council

Were there lessons learned that council candidates will carry with them if elected for the next three years?

The Western News surveyed Penticton council candidates about their views on three topics, allowing them to respond in 200 words for each answer to get a sense on their plan for the city in the next three years.

The final question posed to candidates was: What was the best decision the previous council made? What was the worst decision? Why?

Below are the candidates’ answers, appearing in alphabetical order.

Burga Black — The best decision made by this council was to upgrade our swimming pool. This facility is bringing in revenue that will increase on a yearly basis and it provides fitness for all ages, resulting in improved health and decreased health care costs.

The worst decision made by council (not this one but the one before) was the building of the SOEC.  We will be a long and agonizing time paying that place off.  We can’t seem to attract venues to bring in some dollars and those we attract Penticton people can’t afford to attend.

I was happy when they put the prison decision out to a referendum. We just cannot afford another expensive mistake.

Jeannie Cavallo — Best: In my view, initiating the economic investment zones bylaw was the best decision. The only criticism I have is how the bylaw was marketed. I have spoken to a lot of business people that had no idea this important bylaw existed.

Worst: In a broad sense, the communication from City Hall has been dismal. That starts and ends with council. Many people in this city feel disengaged and left out because it appears that no one is listening at City Hall. That is why I have decided to use social media and start a blog to communicate with voters. That is also why I have committed to continue this if elected.

Poonan Chahal — Personally I am extremely happy to see a newly developed community centre and this might be one of the best decisions made by the previous council in my opinion. And I personally do not like to look into mistakes made by past councils as I am unaware of the situations that led them to making their decision.

Frank Conci — Getting advice and expertise outside of City Hall to review city operations and audit bylaws was a good decision.

The worst has been the handling of the upper Carmi water development and West Bench water proposal. Poor consultation and communication led to public disappointment and frustration with council in the first case and potentially led to the loss of millions of dollars in the other.

I will propose a better process, where the focus is on getting the facts out and letting the community decide what they do and do not support as opposed to suggesting something is a good thing to do without sufficient information.

I believe people need information to make informed decisions and that must happen in consulting, collaboration and facilitation with taxpayers. On council, I will want to make it easier for everyday citizens to be part of the process. This will be a shift for some at City Hall and a concerted effort will be required, but the payoff is going to be more involved council decisions and a healthier and more prosperous community. We need to show more respect to taxpayers.

Jason Cox — The best decision the previous council made was to support and enact the economic investment zones program that was recommended to them by the chamber of commerce and economic development advisory committee. This program has been a valuable tool for the city to attract new development and has recently been renewed and expanded. I would suggest there is still more that can be done to enhance this program, including having planning department staff actively promoting and encouraging it to prospective developments.

The worst decision the previous council made was to not engage the community in a facilitated development of a community vision. As a result of a lack of community vision, we have seen a series of site-specific development variances which go against the official community plan as well as a pattern of chasing “shiny pennies” like massive projects funded by other levels of government which have had a significant impact on the operating budget. I am not saying the projects don’t have merit, however, I am saying that there was a lack of vision and strategic plan that inclusively involved the community. We haven’t had the conversation. What is Penticton?

David Greenwood — Knowing the community’s reaction to some of the current/previous councils decisions, it would be easy for me to pick an unpopular decision and call it their worst decision, or a popular decision and call it the best.

What I choose to believe is that any council makes its decisions based on the information and community input/opinion it has at the time and what they believe is in the best interest of their community. I’m not prepared, as someone who wasn’t in the room, to use hindsight to judge past council decisions. I do believe that getting as much input as possible from all segments of the community, all ages, all income levels, all cultures, is extremely important. That responsibility falls equally on the council, to have an open ear, heart and mind, and on the community, to participate and fully represent itself.

Wes Hopkin — I think the best decision council made was to contribute funds, and reduce development cost charges, on the Centre of Excellence addition to the Penticton campus of Okanagan College. It is a great education facility that will create new opportunities for students in this community and serves as a model for the kind of sustainable development we should promote. I think the worst decision council made was in 2009 to remove part of the tax exemptions for non-profit groups, and more recently the way it handled applications for tax exemptions this year. I think this was evidenced by the fact that in both cases, city council reversed their original decision after realizing how harmful the policy was to important community service groups. I understand the need to cut spending, and to feel like these organizations are being held accountable, but most of these groups deliver returns to investment well above the few thousand dollars we provide them in tax relief and operate quite efficiently.

Andrew Jakubeit — I like our new senior management team. I believe we have a strong team in place that can rebuild staff morale and implement strategies to move the city forward in a more sustainable fashion without having to go to the well (taxpayers). I also like the fact we pushed sport tourism forward. To have Vancouver Canucks and other notable NHL teams/personal here, to have the world’s greatest cyclist (Eddy Merckx, Gran Fondo) come here, and to have the most popular Ironman race here not only brought significant economic dollars to our community, but created genuine exposure we could never buy from the media coverage it received.

I never understood why we didn’t investigate further getting the pontoons from the old Kelowna bridge to act as a breakwater and expand our marina and waterfront. The pontoons were free and the government was eager to help find them a home. People couldn’t understand concrete has a lifespan of 100 years and couldn’t picture the pontoons without having the existing roadway on them. We would have innovatively and cost effectively jump-started a marina expansion, and beautification of the waterfront instead of three years of conversation, consultation and no tangible results.

Lynn Kelsey — The best decision was to keep the pool as a public entity and maintain the jobs for our workers. I have trouble identifying the “worst” but I feel that the method of consulting the citizens needs to be clearly identified and happen before council makes major decisions (prison debate).

Randy Kirkoski — I feel the best decision that the current council made was the partnering with the provincial and federal government for the construction of the new pool.

The worst decision was the way they handled the prison issue.

Helena Konanz — The best decision that council made this year was to restore tax exemptions to the non-profit organizations in town. Organizations like Penticton and District Society for Community Living and the Salvation Army do so much for our community. Especially now with government grant and funding cut backs we need to support these groups, not tax them even more. There are more and more people in the community needing extra services, which I have really noticed while volunteering at the Soupateria for the past two years. We need to support these organizations, not tax them.

The worst decision made by the previous council was to sell the property next to the SOEC for less than half of what it cost the taxpayers. Not only that, the legal fees that were spent in originally expropriating the properties had to have been substantial. I don’t believe all of this was taken into account when setting a price for this piece of land. There are still many questions that need to be answered about this sale.

David Korinetz — The best was a recent decision to hire some to begin work on the building permit backlog.

The worst was the way the existing staff was treated when the community centre was revamped. I also think turning operation management over to a Vancouver-based company was a mistake. I would like to see all city venues managed either by a local company based in Penticton, or by the city.

Gary Leaman — The best? The sale of the lands adjacent to the SOEC was good, in that it will generate property tax revenues and bring some modest economic activity. It also raises a lot of questions. If the entire properties were not needed for the SOEC development, why not take only a foot or two off of the front of the properties, instead of expropriating the entire lots? The recent purchasers would have spent significantly more to assemble a similar-sized parcel in close proximity to the hockey facilities.  Is the $1.375 million loss on the properties a prudent use of your tax dollars? Did we get fair market value? Is the new development worth that investment by the city?

The worst: the decision to dip into the city’s electric utility to artificially lower property taxes by a half per cent in this election year was both transparent and distasteful. Incoming council will continue to struggle with the structural deficit that has been created over the last six years.

Garry Litke — The decision to keep the community centre as a public facility with public employees was excellent, and eclipsed only by the decision to take the prison question to referendum. While people expect decisions to be made by their elected representatives, occasionally a question arises that has such far-reaching consequences that direct input is needed. The referendum took the debate from council chambers into the streets. With strong opinions expressed on both sides, the referendum reminded the entire community of all we cherish and encouraged people to examine what Penticton should be. Ultimately, people voted two to one against having the prison within city limits. Without this referendum, the decision to pursue the building of the largest correctional facility in the province right here in Penticton would have been quite different.

The worst decision during my two terms on council was awarding the contract to Global Spectrum for the operation of the South Okanagan Events Centre. Global Spectrum’s apparent lack of understanding of our community, the miscalculation of the market, the inequitable profit, loss, incentive contract clauses and the lack of convention promotion are among the disappointments. With the contract with Global Spectrum about to come under review, these concerns must be addressed.

Kevin Noonan — The best decision the previous council made was probably cutting back in City Hall. Layoffs and transitions saved a lot of tax dollars without much change in services. These are tough economic times and we need to watch out for any and all waste.

Their worst decision may just be selling off the land that was appropriated from homeowners, to accommodate the parking requirements for the SOEC. We still require the parking space yet city council is bent on selling the land for less than 40 per cent of what we, the taxpayers, paid for it. Where will we park now? Shall we appropriate more land at an even higher cost than the first? What we will get is more vacant commercial space to add to the large surplus of vacant space we already have. This will be onerous on many landlords around town and perhaps even bankrupt a few. It will also give us hockey billets, which surprisingly enough will be short of parking spaces so they will have to use the parking lot in front of the SOEC. There are also people in the community right now that have come to count on billeting athletes to supplement their family’s incomes. This could not come at a worse time for them. I have also heard that many of the athletes prefer billeting with families to dorms or motels because it is more family-like and hospitable. As it stands, there seems to be no upside for Penticton in this deal. So who is it good for? We should not appropriate land from homeowners in order to give it away to private interests.

Mike Pearce — The best decision was to eliminate 30 positions from the city.  Although it was hard on families, it allowed us to reduce taxes this year by half of one per cent. Nobody else in North America did that.

The worst decision that was made in my opinion was rejecting the correctional facility which would have brought half a billion new dollars to this community with lots of 24/7 jobs. I accept that’s what the people who voted wanted. Personally, I am now left to decide how we can harness some opportunities for this community if the prison is built near us.

Judy Sentes — In my opinion, one of the best decisions made by council was to restructure the administrative leadership within City Hall. The community was asking for new attitude, new strategies and a more customer-friendly environment. It is difficult to change a culture, particularly when it is long established. The process of change had to start at the top to demonstrate leadership and better the chance for positive outcomes.

The most difficult of all was the recognition that the city was carrying a staff load that had created an unsustainable payroll. In spite of the fact that there were good people, city council, like most of the world who were facing the same financial crisis, had to employ efficiencies that effected staff reductions.

John Vassilaki — The best decision the previous council made was to put the economic zones in place along with upgrading our zone bylaws.

The worst decision was to allow the school board to tear down the north gym and auditorium. Only two of us voted in favour of keeping the buildings: myself and Mayor Ashton. Why? The community is short of gymnasium space on a daily basis, and everyone knows how badly the community needs a performing arts facility. The Pen High auditorium could have been used until such time as the funds could have been raised to construct such a facility. MP Dan Albas said, and I quote, “We need to accept and maintain what we have now because newer doesn’t always mean better.”

Terry Yeatman — Worst: new pool (huge money, low attendance, high cost to maintain). Best: SOEC (good idea but should be a civic centre, thus allowing for wider usage).