Incompetence, recklessness and a “gross distortion of the facts” are just some of the accusations the Penticton Hospitality Association levelled at the City of Penticton in a press conference Tuesday.
Now that the B.C. Supreme court case is over, with a decision in their favour, the PHA isn’t holding anything back as they ask demand to know who is accountable for creating the situation that brought tourism marketing of the city to a standstill.
“What has happened here is either gross incompetence to have led to such a divisive change of events, or it is gross misconduct,” said Tim Hodgkinson, operations director for the PHA.
“Either one is unacceptable and it should be unacceptable to the community. People can not be allowed to act with impunity. There needs to be accountability.”
“Who is specifically responsible for these ruinous actions?” and “How (and when) will they be held accountable?” are the two questions the PHA is posing to mayor and council, and asking for individual answers.
“They are the representatives of the community. It is not good enough to have generic statements coming out. I would like to know from these individuals, I want them to answer the question,” said Hodgkinson.
Coun. Helena Konanz, who is deputy mayor this week, said there is no doubt who is responsible.
“City council is to blame and that is the bottom line,” said Konanz. “We are given information, we are given advice, but city council made that decision and it looks like it was the wrong one. Especially since it is costing the city quite a bit of money.”
Konanz said council felt they were following provincial responsibilities in regard to the hotel tax money, and that if they didn’t act, the province might pull the hotel tax funds.
“But according to the judge, we were not,” said Konanz. “So we shouldn’t have gone to court and we need to let the PHA do their work and not be involved anymore.”
Citing a breach of obligations on behalf of the PHA, the city attempted to terminate a five-year contract with the hoteliers’ organization in Oct. 2013, and began withholding the additional hotel tax funds which the PHA was contracted to manage for tourism marketing.
The accumulated funds, totalling more than $310,000, were returned to the PHA last week following a B.C. Supreme Court decision on the dispute.
But damage has been done, according to Hodgkinson and Rob Appelman, the president of the PHA. The organization ran out of funds this spring, and when asked to help keep the marketing going, the city refused.
That, said Hodgkinson, is an example of recklessness.
“This town to a large extent relies on tourism, and the city themselves pulled the plug on tourism marketing in this town,” he said. “A lot of businesses, not just accommodators, are now on the back foot because the city pulled the plug.”
Appelman also points out how much this dispute has cost taxpayers, in legal costs, staff hours and paperwork.
“It should be the community that is asking these questions. Are they allowed to continue wasting taxpayers’ money? And it is a large chunk of money that they have wasted,” said Appelman. “I personally think it is going to be well over $150,000. This has been going on for over a year and a half.”
“Why did no councillor pick up the phone and call the PHA? Why did they need to do this?” asked Hodgkinson, pointing to the table in front of him filled with documents, emails and reports. “Why did they need to waste taxpayer money? This is our stuff … but I can assure you the city’s mirror of this is probably twice as large. What a waste of taxpayer’s money.”
Hodgkinson said the PHA has tried to work collaboratively and consult with a variety of stakeholders from when they took over management of the funds, but he isn’t sure the city followed the same route.
“The city hasn’t spoken to many people at all, as far as I understand it, and they have just acted on advice which has been selective in its nature, so bad decisions have been made,” said Hodgkinson. “We will repair and rebuild bridges and get the show on the road for the good of everybody. But you cannot throw out false accusations, you cannot act reckless, go against the public will, go against the business community’s will and then shrug it off.”
Konanz said she understands the PHA’s discontent with the city.
“They probably have a right to be. They have been wanting to go to work and haven’t been able to because of this court case,” she said, adding that the worst part about the dispute is that another relationship has been broken.
“There are too many relationships in the city that have gone bad. It is difficult to get things done and move forward in a positive direction when there are so many bad feelings between people and groups,” she said. “I think we need to put out an olive branch to the PHA and say what can we do to help you do your job? We need to work with them and help them get the job done, however they want to do it.”