Councillors clash over Litke’s opposition to prison

One city councillor has publicly voiced his opinion on the potential of a correctional facility being built in Penticton.

One city councillor has publicly voiced his opinion on the potential of a correctional facility being built in Penticton.

Coun. Garry Litke, in response to letters received in city correspondence regarding the jail, read from a prepared statement at Monday night’s council meeting, catching some off guard. Mayor Dan Ashton, Coun. Mike Pearce and Coun. John Vassilaki all criticized Litke’s timing of publicly stating his opposition of the jail facility.

“I agree this is inappropriate and I know this is an election year and it looks like electioneering and political manoeuvres have already started and this is only April,” responded Vassilaki.

Ashton told Litke there is a time and place for such a discussion and the others around the council table should have also had a chance to respond with a prepared statement.

“If I had been aware there was going to be a diatribe on one councillor’s position with respect to the facility perhaps I would have been armed and ready for it,” said Pearce. “I’m not armed and ready for it and I have been taken by surprise. I don’t think we should be entered into that debate tonight.”

Litke explained that because the community members have taken time to write to council and have submitted many letters to the editor that they should consider some sort of response.

“One very successful businessman who brings about $13.5 million annually into the community expressed a concern that the presence of a correctional facility will discourage his clients from coming into Penticton in the future,” said Litke, who continued citing other negative impacts that writers have pointed out and very few of the positive impacts others wrote.

The councillor said he has been trying to keep an open mind to the correctional facility, but a visioning exercise to create a plan for the future of the city, which the community is undergoing with the city, has made it difficult.

“Nowhere in those discussions so far have I heard any mention of the desirability of having a correctional facility in Penticton. Instead the community leaders participating are saying things like we need to create positive vibes for Penticton,” said Litke.

He said the vision sessions have put forward ideas of continuing to grow and expand the economy by building sports tourism, creating vibrancy in the downtown, capitalizing on the Napa Valley north reputation and transforming Ellis Street into a cultural tourism destination.

“As soon as a bright shiny object comes along we tend to do an about-face and chase it. Instead, we should be asking does this proposal fit with the vision we have for Penticton?” said Litke. “A correctional facility does not fit my vision with the future of Penticton, nor does it fit the vision of any of our community leaders. So I will not be able to support a project that does not fit that vision of Penticton. I will not support a smokestack industry despite of its economic benefits. I will not be dazzled by the questionable economic benefits of this project. I cannot support a change in our direction from the wholesome, family, tourist-orientated community that we have been into something different. I just wanted to put my position on the record.”