August 28, 2013 - 12:23 PM
PENTICTON - Mayoral candidate Garry Litke defended city council's actions on land deals and transparency at Tuesday's meet-the-candidates event at Penticton Lakeside Resort.
Mayoral candidate Vic Powell attacked candidate Litke's record on city council and cited a botched Eckhardt Avenue land deal. The mayoral portion, which also included candidate and first-timer Brian Henningson, came after candidates for council had their say. Kevin Andrews, Patrick Buchanan, Lynn Kelsey, Andre Martin and former councillor Katie Robinson are gunning for a seat Litke left empty when he quit to run for mayor.
Penticton Herald editor James Miller ran the show and asked the candidates questions submitted to him by the public. Topics covered were land deals, waning tourism, a new community theatre centre, South Okanagan Event Centre parking fees for big events, taxes and city staff wage increases.
On the Eckhardt land deal, Powell complained previous city leadership did not do a proper background check on the developer, who wanted to build a hockey school dormitory, and Penticton was placed on the hook for $3 million.
Litke disagreed and said he doesn't know where Powell gets the $3 million figure. He did admit things went badly though when the developer abandoned the project. The city should have taken the proper precautions he said. "It was not the best of times and it certainly went sideways."
As for wage increases, Litke, who served on council for eight years, said city staff were never going to get a 10 to 15 per cent wage increase. Staff have been getting a one per cent wage increase annually for the past four years. Miller had asked the question to all the candidates if they would grant such an increase and everyone shook their heads.
"No, that's a lot of money," Buchanan said. "(Baseball's) Alex Rodriguez would get that money but look what he did to get it." Rodriguez, a New York Yankee, has been accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Litke simply said city leadership had never considered granting such a high increase and he doesn't know where this rumour came from.
On transparency Litke said council is as clear as it could be with only land deals, labour problems and legal matters held behind closed doors. Powell called council meetings a charade and said matters have already been discussed before council comes to the table. Litke said otherwise and everyone is invited to attend the public committee meetings.
Councillor candidates had a lot to say about affordable housing with Kelsey adding women coming from abusive relationships need safe as well as affordable places to live. Martin said developers need incentive to build housing in the downtown area while Robinson explained housing should be available for society's vulnerable citizens, such as seniors.
On the economy, Robinson said seniors are in a fastest growing sector and Penticton needs more seniors. They bring in service industries and raise the need for more doctors, nurses and medical staff.
Andrews' economy-boosting idea was for Penticton to market itself as a four season tourist destination. Litke echoed the statement later on and said Apex Mountain Resort is under marketed.
Another tourism question was about the events centre charging a $10 parking fee for the Aug. 3 Alan Jackson concert. Henningson said he didn't mind it. Litke added the city is leaving about half-a-million on the table by not charging such a fee during big events. He said the city didn't get a single complaint.
Throughout the evening the convention room was only half full for the councillor portion that thinned even further for the mayoral candidate segment. The second part however had the most vocal audience members with people laughing at clever comments and guffawing at viewpoints they disagreed with.
To contact a reporter for this story, to send photos or videos, email Shannon Quesnel at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 250-488-3065, tweet @shannonquesnel1 or @InfoNewsPentict
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013