Democracy in action or waste of time? Vernon council on town hall meeting - InfoNews

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Democracy in action or waste of time? Vernon council on town hall meeting

Vernon council face the crowd at the June 4 meeting
June 05, 2019 - 6:00 PM

VERNON - From "an exercise in direct democracy" to a "complete waste of time," Vernon councillors views on the usefulness of last night's town hall meeting may vary, but the one constant is that the issue of anti-social behaviour in the downtown core is as alive as ever.

Emotions ran high at the June 4 meeting, with roughly 160 people at the meeting and several dozen taking their two minutes at the microphone to speak, vent and even cry when discussing a proposed safe injection site while Mayor and council sat in silence and listened.

Councillor Scott Anderson told people wanted a chance to be heard and that the evening was "an exercise in direct democracy."

Coun. Dalvir Nahal described the evening as a "complete waste of time" that just rehashed issues heard plenty of times before.

"Everything that we heard is requiring federal and provincial money," Nahal said. "The representatives both federally and provincially were missing... it would have been nice to see them or some provincial representation."

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said no formal invitations were sent out to federal or provincial representatives, including Interior Health, but that the town hall was an open public meeting.

When asked whether the town hall meeting would change anything, Cumming said his views remained the same.

"Council's view on this is going to continue as they have, which is (with) significant focus and effort on this issue," he said.

The mayor said council committed more than $1 million in the 2019 budget for additional RCMP officers, the Folks on Spokes program, and weekly clean-ups as well as extra bylaw officers in the summertime to deal with the issue.

Coun. Kari Gares, who spearheaded the meeting, said the town hall gave people the chance to engage on issues that impact them.

"I don't necessarily think this is something that people have had the ability to do," Gares said.

Gares said the city was "seriously underfunded" in detox and treatment centres, and the town hall made a "positive noise."

All councillors agreed downtown security was a pressing concern and action needed to be taken.

"Business owners first thing in the morning they come to a mess, and they shouldn't have to deal with that," Nahal said.

Daily morning clean-ups, 24-hour bylaw officers and third-party security are all ideas on the table that councillors support.

"Any of these changes that we make... it's going to take tax dollars to do," Gares said.

While the meeting was supposed to focus on a proposed safe injection site, Coun. Kelly Fehr said the injection site wasn't as widely discussed as other issues.

"The one theme I took away was an overwhelming support of an overdose prevention site in Vernon," Fehr said.

Coun. Anderson thought the opposite.

"We don't want it downtown... people don't want it anywhere in general," he said. "We still have two solitudes in this town, one is folks who are really focused on the drug-addicted population and how to help them, and people who have just had enough. I think in general people have had enough."

The mayor said it was too early to know what concrete steps may come from the town hall meeting and that a report would be produced within a week or two.

— This story was corrected at 12:27 p.m. Friday, June 7. The original story said roughly 160 people spoke at the meeting, it should have said roughly 160 attended the meeting.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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