Non-profits critical of council shouldn't get funding: Kamloops city councillor | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Non-profits critical of council shouldn't get funding: Kamloops city councillor

City councillor Bill Sarai, seen in the 2019 file photo, said groups that criticize council decisions shouldn't get grant funding.

A Kamloops city councillor is unhappy that some non-profits are critical of city hall, so he suggested they stop getting public funds.

Coun. Bill Sarai said he's "uncomfortable" with voting to give out grant money to groups that might disagree with decisions made around the horseshoe.

"I think it's only fair that council addresses funding requests from groups that are neutral during council terms," he said during a council committee meeting Jan. 30.

While the committee was discussing whether to give 16 local groups a piece of $20,000 in climate action grant funding, the second-term councillor said his discomfort comes from public criticism after a vote.

"They can go out and promote their candidates during election time, which everybody does, but it's very uncomfortable when council decisions are being called out. It makes me feel uncomfortable how I'm allocating money, how it's going to be played out in the public," he said. "Is it pressure to approve it because you don't want to get tarnished or do you approve it based on your morals and what you think?"

On Jan. 30, the committee was tasked with approving funds that ranged from $1,000 to $1,800 for organizations like the Kamloops Bike Riders Association, a block watch group, a neighbourhood association and multiple schools. The 16 groups applied to staff for the Climate Action Grant, which was then brought to the Livability and Sustainability Committee on Tuesday. The committee vote doesn't actually make the decision, just sends it to council to decide on.

The group that had Sarai's attention was Transition Kamloops, which applied for $1,600, in addition to the $9,000 grant it received from the city earlier this month.

Transition Kamloops, a non-profit focused on local climate change issues, was lobbying council last fall to vote against a Fortis BC proposal that would allow for new home connections to what the company calls "renewable natural gas." 

The non-profit criticized Fortis as "greenwashing" its product, then named the three councillors who voted against the natural gas proposal. They were councillors Nancy Bepple, Dale Bass and Katie Neustaeter.

"I think being critical is healthy. What I feel is uncomfortable when they put out that they went to council meetings and they weren't allowed to speak," Sarai told iNFOnews.ca, suggesting Transition Kamloops falsely claimed their members were barred from speaking up at a council meeting.

According to its website, the group sent more than 100 letters to council lobbying against the Fortis proposal and "many" members of Transition Kamloops didn't get a chance to speak at the meeting.

"If you're going to criticize the same people you're going to ask for money, I have a problem with that," Sarai said.

His proposal that staff examine the "messaging" from those groups and see which ones are "swaying their members" was shot down by councillors Stephen Karpuk and Nancy Bepple.

"Community groups are usually representing certain goals and they may or may not align with city council on one item, but they might on another," said Bepple, who also noted it would be very difficult to determine which groups are critical.

Sarai said he'll bring the topic back to a regular council meeting.

"Is it steering against councillors that don't vote in their favour? Which I think is a very dangerous (position) to put us in."

In a written response to iNFOnews.ca, Transition Kamloops organizer Gisela Ruckert called Sarai's suggestion "undemocratic," adding that it "raises questions about the true purpose of the grants."

"We believe that grant applications should be evaluated on their own merits, on how well the projects would advance the City’s priorities, and on the organizations’ capacity to deliver on their commitments," she said.

The non-profit's programs are "specifically designed" to create public awareness of the City's climate goals, which Ruckert adds is a volunteer-driven organization.

"Crucially, Transition Kamloops’ criticism of the Council decision on Fortis does not impede us from continuing our work in support of the City’s Community Climate Action Plan—and local climate action," she said.

— This story was updated at 11:38 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, with comment from Gisella Ruckert of Transition Kamloops.


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