Mayor Andrew Jakubeit came under fire this week from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
The group, which defends free speech, took exception to a comment he made in a Dec. 30 Western News article, suggesting there was a conflict of interest in having a Save Skaha Park Society member sitting on a city committee mandated to look at the future of parks in Penticton.
“I would say that if you sue the city, you sort of negate your right to sit on one of their committees,” said Jakubeit in the article, referring to a lawsuit launched by the society to prevent the city from following through on granting an extended lease on a portion of Skaha Park to a private developer, Trio Marine Group.
“In a democracy, it is vital that citizens feel able to express critical or dissenting views (through lawsuits or other means) without fear of being shut out of the democratic process in the future, or of reprisals of other kinds. In this regard, your comment — that you consider the actions of the Save the Skaha Park Society to have negated their right to be considered for participation in the select committee — is very problematic,” wrote Micheal Vonn, policy director of the BCCLA, in a letter addressed to Jakubeit and copied to the Skaha Park Society.
“For the purposes of ensuring that individuals in Penticton understand that getting involved in a legal action against the city or otherwise critiquing the actions of the city does not bar them from consideration for membership in municipal committees, we ask that you please make a public clarification on this matter.”
Gerry Karr, president of SSPS, put in an application to be on the committee. He understands there isn’t room for everyone who applied to be selected, but questions the reasoning behind barring members of the SSPS.
“His statement in the paper … that is anti-democratic and profoundly disturbing to me. That is why I went to the civil liberties association,” said Karr.
“We understand that parks are more than just natural parks. We would not be participating to hammer that one issue. My hope is that the mayor will recognize that he made a big mistake and that he will reconsider the opportunity.”
Jakubeit isn’t backing away from the decision not to include a member of the SSPS though he did clarify his stance on what he sees as a potential conflict of interest, explaining that as president of the society, Karr was bound to further their interests.
“That is sort of what council looked at. Compared to the other 12 applicants, who is going to give a more balanced viewpoint of parks and recreation in Penticton?” asked Jakubeit, explaining that the people chosen represent a broad range of backgrounds, experience and different perspectives, including several with parks planning backgrounds and sitting on park advisory boards.
”We do have comfort in the mix of people that we have and don’t want to diminish their capacity to contribute.”
Jakubeit also said having a society that is suing the city represented on a committee raised questions of whether it would aid their litigation or compromise the city’s actions. There is no concern that anyone has been shut out from the democratic process, according to Jakubeit, who pointed out that the committee will only be directing the process and that it will be community engagement that gives it shape.
The society, he said, will be a key stakeholder and probably get their own session during the engagement process as well as going out to the general public.
“They’ll have several opportunities to participate in shaping how the master plan comes together,” said Jakubeit.
The Save Skaha Park society also received a letter this week from the City of Penticton’s legal firm, notifying them that the city’s response to the Supreme Court lawsuit — which was launched on Sept. 25, 2015 — will be filed by the end of this month.
“SSPS looks forward to finally receiving the city’s response but fully expects the city will deny the claims put forward in the civil suit,” according to a press release from the Society.
Jakubeit said the timing of the letter is somewhat ironic since the City of Penticton just had a meeting with Trio principals Tom Dyas and Tom Hedquist about the future of their project.
“We did meet with Trio yesterday (Feb. 18) to touch base and gauge their resolve,” said Jakubeit, adding that the group has been focusing on ensuring everything is in order for the current Skaha Marina operation to continue.
“Their next step is to reach out and sit down with the society and understand if there is any common ground,” said Jakubeit, adding that the pending lawsuit and a request from the Penticton Indian Band for archaeological and environmental studies had complicated things for the waterslide project.
“We certainly don’t want to have another summer of conflict. Hopefully, they can have some dialogue,” said Jakubeit. “If they spent some time engaging with the community saying we want to do something, help us shape what something is, that might help get the development on track again, in whatever form that might look like.