JONESIE: Court case exposes Kelowna City Hall scheming | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Kelowna News

JONESIE: Court case exposes Kelowna City Hall scheming

Ryan Donn
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Facebook

 


OPINION


The next time the City of Kelowna invites your input on local issues, say at a public hearing about a local development or long range plans for the city, you might want to give it a pass. If evidence from a scandalous city lawsuit is any instruction, they might just come after you.

When residents of a Kelowna street discovered that bureaucrats at City Hall were scheduling their homes to be someday demolished and turned into parkland, they were obviously concerned.

It wasn’t quite that dire in July 2021 but residents of Watt Road were alarmed that the city was considering designating nearly their entire waterfront street to “future parkland” in the Official Community Plan. I don’t know what that means to their property prices, but it's probably not to their advantage.

The question for city council at the time was whether they wanted future parkland on just two homes or four or six or eight.

Residents did what you'd expect — they sent emails to persuade their local councillors. And this is the response they got from Coun. Ryan Donn.

"Yeah parks for the public are such a terrible idea!!” Then Donn thought about it for a few minutes and replied again. “I’ll be asking to expand the park designation suggestion based on this email. Thanks for the email.”

That’s old news, but trust me it gets much worse.

Marshall Jones, managing editor
Marshall Jones, managing editor

Other residents on the street saw the emails and responded to Donn who said: "Yes I was happy to support the staff recommendation of (including only two lots in the OCP) but seeing that isn’t enough for the residents is concerning and will shift me to push for more in this afternoons meeting”.

And that’s what he did. City staff had originally eyed all eight, but after discussions with residents, recommended only two lots go in. But Donn rushed out front to push all eight into the OCP. He and mayor Colin Basran and Coun. Luke Stack all alluded to the efforts of Watt Road residents to contact and persuade them as their local representatives before pushing it through.

Here’s where it gets interesting — and potentially expensive for the city — is Donn was then caught in a recorded telephone call explaining why he made such a petty move.

He told the caller we was just fine with adding only two lots but changed because of the “fever pitch” of lobbying efforts by the neighbourhood and he singled out one man among them — Michael Neill.

You might know Michael Neill from Mosaic Books but Neill has also been a pain in the ass that is the City of Kelowna for decades. He’s been on the winning side of many local issues and bruised many eyes and egos of city bureaucrats and politicians: major downtown traffic changes, a massive downtown redevelopment plan and the city’s plans for another park were changed or chucked in part because of Neill’s influence.

The thrust of the lawsuit (that Neill isn’t even a part of) is that Donn, Basran and Stack all had it out for Neill because of these past battles and the implication is they were willing to throw his neighbours under the bus as well, perhaps as good measure, to get back at him. Oh, and if they are right it means the city could potentially spend $30 to $40 million for this “parkland” motivated in whole or in part — by revenge.

After reading partial transcripts of this phone call, it’s hard to ignore.

“The person who has launched six campaigns against the city in history on different topics [and is] launching a campaign on [the Watt Road issue] saying two [lots] is not enough,” Donn said, referring to Neill.

“You have a great neighbour that I would say kind of screwed you on this one, to be honest with you, because I was totally fine with the two (lots),” he said.

“I need (Michael Neill) to shut up.”

Then he talked about the significance of his action, saying no future council will ever reduce the size of a waterfront park designation, calling it a “forever vote”.

He told the caller that Luke Stack was on board with taking all eight lots "based on his experience, frankly, I’m guessing, with [Mr. Neil].”

On its face, this is absolutely abhorrent behaviour to see one, maybe two and possibly three council members taking direct retributive action against one of its citizens. And it casts a shadow on other city activities regarding Neill.

They bought the property next door to his and are putting in a beach access. His was among the original two properties the City wanted in the OCP.

It’s true that Watt Road just makes sense to be a park in the future and we are all going to benefit from it but that doesn’t make this smell any better.

Thing is, Donn’s actions here are strange. He never took any real punches from Neill, he wasn’t even on council through most of the biggest battles. Either he really was so miffed that citizens bothered him to do his job — or he’s carrying on someone else’s fight. Whose? Stack was there through many battles, Basran a few. But so was a lot of city staff. Is this an institutional proxy war against a citizen who dared disagree with their infinite wisdom? That's my bet.

There’s a decent chance we will actually get to the bottom of this because the judge in this case just ruled that Donn, Stack and Basran can be cross-examined about why they made their decisions. It’s tough taking political routes on such questions when you’re under oath in front of a judge.

I’ve told you before how close Basran and city manager Doug Gilchrist and other staffers were (and Donn was in lockstep with everything Basran did) — and if I’m right about city bureaucrats feeding this animosity about Neill from behind the scenes — then expect a quiet settlement and this scandal to disappear along with the park designation.

There’s no way they will let this cross-examination happen. They’re all too slippery, too good.

If you weren’t sure, here’s one more nugget from this recent decision. The plaintiffs sent FOI requests to the city seeking text messages between Basran, Donn and Stack — messages the council members already acknowledged they made and sent.

The city said those records don’t exist.

— Marshall Jones is the Managing Editor of iNFOnews.ca


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