Seven Vernon city council candidates critical of the Activate Safety Task Force - InfoNews

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Seven Vernon city council candidates critical of the Activate Safety Task Force

FILE PHOTO: March 22, 2018.
October 11, 2018 - 7:00 PM

VERNON - The Activate Safety Task Force was formed in response to concerns brought forth by Vernon's business community — and created plenty of controversy along the way.

The task force made a number of recommendations, but getting most of the headlines was a proposed ban on shopping carts in parts of the city, though that was eventually scrapped fearing a legal challenge.

We asked candidates: Do you support the Activate Safety Task Force proposals including or not including the ban on shopping carts on city streets?
As expected, most candidates offer plenty of support though many — and in all fairness —reserve the right to agree or disagree with each recommendation. Still, we thought this question might show us generally where candidates stand on the issues in general the task force sought to meet.

Key sections from their replies are featured on top, but you can read their full responses at the bottom of the page.

Where do you stand on the Activate Safety Task force? Let us know in the comments below.

These seven candidates had plenty of criticism of the task force:

Victor Cumming (for mayor): The Activate Safety Task Force decided not to follow the terms of reference as set by Council, and it appears by their report to have not conducted systematic secondary or primary research, a basic requirement of any publicly appointed task force. The recommendations on many topics were outside the mandate of local government and outside the expertise of the Task Force members as demonstrated through follow-up legal advice, advisements from other public bodies, professional experts and recent experience by other communities as close as Kelowna and Penticton.

Dave Deshane: Banning shopping carts was a silly idea. The downtrodden may have mental health and drug issues but they are still smart enough to know that they can go steal a wheelbarrow from your shed.

Rick Lavin is seeking a seat on Vernon city council in the upcoming municipal election.
Rick Lavin is seeking a seat on Vernon city council in the upcoming municipal election.
Image Credit: TWITTER/Rick Lavin

Rick Lavin: I was a member of the Activate Safety Task Force. To set the record straight, not all members of the Task Force agreed with every recommendation presented to City Council...I was also angered that the timelines were compressed from one year to eight weeks. I felt that the Task Force was used by some as a way to create the illusion of crisis and stir up controversy for political purposes.

Don Jefcoat: I believe the final report needs to come back to council and that council discuss point by point each recommendation. I do not support the ban on shopping carts... I also support finding alternative ways for people to store their belongings while they are in crises and on the streets.

Sam Zaharia: No! I'm concerned that their agenda seems to be driven by such passion. So much for rational thinking.

Shawn Lee: Though well-meaning, the task force’s recommendations often focused on treating the signs of the problem and not the social ills that give rise to the problems faced by our street population and those with whom they interact.

Teresa Durning: The issue I have is that there were several important and imperative community groups missing from the conversation.

 

These 11 candidates generally support the task force:

Kevin Lepp: I strongly support the Activate Safety Task Force proposals. We need to follow through with these proposals.  I believe too much focus has been given to the shopping cart issue. We need to move forward with a strong strategy that takes in to consideration the needs of the community as a whole.

Sherrilee Franks
Sherrilee Franks
Image Credit: Facebook

Sherrilee Franks: The Activate Task Force proposals are made up of 46 recommendations. I support the majority of recommendations. This report is not a take all or leave all situation. Each recommendation needs to be considered both why it was suggested and potential repercussions. The recommended ban on shopping carts was specific to the Business Improvement Area, not a ban on all shopping carts as had been previously passed.

Dalvir Nahal: As someone who advocated for a task force, I do support many of the recommendations that have come forth. This task force has created a model for future mayor and council to reference and work from.

Gordon Leighton: Sadly, the good work of the Task Force as a whole took second place in the headlines to shopping carts. This was a waste of time and money (assuming Administration engaged legal counsel for an opinion), not to mention the discomfort and emotions triggered in debate.

Jasmine Finlay: The recommendations made by the task force were quite extensive, and many of them made a lot of sense…. The recommendations seem to largely reflect what businesses were asking for, and they were strongly demanding the City take action.

Kari Gares: The Activate Safety Task Force was created to deal with the problems caused by our most at-risk population. They created numerous recommendations, but it seems the shopping cart ban was the most visible and alarming of the recommendations... I personally believe that the shopping cart ban would not fix the problem, so I would not have supported it for that reason.

Jamie Morrow
Jamie Morrow
Image Credit: Facebook

Jamie Morrow: I do support the Activate Safety Task Force proposals. I do not support the ban on shopping carts on city streets. I honestly don’t think this will solve this issue.

Dawn Tucker: The issue isn’t as simple as carts. The issue as I see it is garbage and illegal dumping… To aid with garbage and illegal dumping we should implement the Task Force’s recommendations around the locking and securing of garbage/recycling bins and improving pick up times for merchants.

Terry Vulcano: Yes I support some of the proposals but not the ban on shopping carts, on sidewalks, if the person with the shopping cart, owns the cart. I am more concerned about cyclists riding their bikes on sidewalks which is more of a danger to the public.

Kelly Fehr: The proposed ban to restrict shopping carts from public property was one of 46 recommendations put forward to council by the city's Activate Safety Task Force. I am supportive of most of the recommendations that were put forward.

Darrin Taylor (for mayor): The task force was not struck to address the root causes or propose remedies for homelessness, addiction or mental health care. There was also a sense of urgency as the situation facing many businesses was described as dire. The package of recommendations included many that will improve safety for all parties and lead to a more stable environment to work on larger root-cause issues.

 

These six candidates did not respond:

Scott Anderson
Art Gourley
Lily Kerr
Akbal Mund
Erik Olesen
Brian Quiring

Full responses:

Victor Cumming: Clearly, there are issues between residents/business owners and some homeless people, some opioid users, some people with significant mental illnesses and some people operating outside the law in the downtown core. These need to be addressed in a consistent, firm and compassionate manner.

The Activate Safety Task Force decided not to follow the terms of reference as set by Council, and it appears by their report to have not conducted systematic secondary or primary research, a basic requirement of any publicly appointed task force. The recommendations on many topics were outside the mandate of local government and outside the expertise of the Task Force members as demonstrated through follow-up legal advice, advisements from other public bodies, professional experts and recent experience by other communities as close as Kelowna and Penticton. The Task Force’s method of research and establishing recommendations was at best poorly designed and poorly implemented, generating at best poor recommendations.  At its worst, some recommendations, e.g. the shopping cart recommendations, are outside Canadian laws. The result has been significant diversion of municipal resources that would have been much better used dealing with the issues within their mandate. It has also drawn considerable negative attention to Vernon, not appreciated by those trying to market their businesses, and the quality of Vernon at the precise moment when finally, senior levels of government committed to provide substantial capital and on-going funding for the much required 90 plus units of supportive housing and additional low-cost rental units.
I have made my living as a regional economist over the past 35 plus years, and established the reliable brand of my consulting company, based on consistent, state of the art, commercial quality primary and secondary research on which individuals, businesses and communities have invested their hard-earned money. I know quality research. The work completed by the Task Force does not meet that bar and resulting recommendations show it.

Dave Deshane: Banning shopping carts was a silly idea. The downtrodden may have mental health and drug issues but they are still smart enough to know that they can go steal a wheelbarrow from your shed.

Teresa Durning: The Task Force proposal was a good start to us taking a good look at what was going on in the city. I think there were a couple of great results including the implementation of weekly clean ups and Bylaw moving into the downtown core. The issue I have is that there were several important and imperative community groups missing from the conversation. Early on, the Social Planning Council, BC Housing, and Interior Health were all removed from the task force. The change in the terms of reference, was in theory, supposed to provide a more business-focused solution development result. The result was that the city received a letter from the BC Civil Liberties Association telling them to step away from the recommendations from the task force to remove shopping carts. Although I do not believe the council deliberately or maliciously decided to take the carts, I do believe had all parties been at the table it would never have happened.

Kelly Fehr: The proposed ban to restrict shopping carts from public property was one of 46 recommendations put forward to council by the city's Activate Safety Task Force. I am supportive of most of the recommendations that were put forward.

I don’t have an issue with the shopping cart bylaw as a measure to minimize discarded property. The ban was concerning because it was a deliberate action taken in response to homelessness. The fact is, the ban was specifically geared towards preventing homeless individuals from being able to transport their belongings. When there is limited affordable housing and homeless shelters are full a person has few options to assist them in surviving on the street. Therefore, I am opposed to it.

I support special interest groups like the businesses located in the downtown or any other group in their commitment to work together to address their specific concerns. This is vital to our community's health overall. I believe what could have strengthened this particular task force’s recommendations would have been to engage with consultants on specific issues. An example is that other communities have tried banning shopping carts and found it did not have the desired impact. Best practice would have been to consult those communities, the homeless population and other professionals around health, addiction, homelessness and housing to make an informed recommendation.

Jasmine Finlay: The recommendations made by the task force were quite extensive, and many of them made a lot of sense. I attended the task force open house, along with over 100 concerned residents. The recommendations seem to largely reflect what businesses were asking for, and they were strongly demanding the City take action. Carts were a focus of the discussion at the public open house, and some of the numbers were a bit shocking. One business lost $18,000 in a single quarter, which I didn’t believe until I did the math. At $600 each, that’s only ten carts a month. When you consider another had 30 carts stolen in a single weekend, those staggeringly high figures become easier to believe. So I do understand why carts were such a big issue.

Do I support a city-wide cart ban? No, but I don’t think continuing to tolerate theft at that level is a good idea either, and I’m encouraged to see more retailers putting locks on their carts. I believe that is a step in the right direction and I’ve also spoken to store managers about their responsibility to retrieve carts from the recycling centre.

The shopping cart ban is a distraction at this point. We need to focus on solutions, and getting people the help they really need.”

Sherrilee Franks: The Activate Task Force proposals are made up of 46 recommendations. I support the majority of recommendations. This report is not a take all or leave all situation. Each recommendation needs to be considered both why it was suggested and potential repercussions. The recommended ban on shopping carts was specific to the Business Improvement Area, not a ban on all shopping carts as had been previously passed.

Kari Gares: The Activate Task Force was created to deal with the problems caused by our most at-risk population.  They created numerous recommendations, but it seems the shopping cart ban was the most visible and alarming of the recommendations.  The reality is Vernon has a problem that is impacting the lives of many of our businesses and citizens equally. Garbage, loitering, illicit drug use, discarded needles and yes, crime, have been contributing factors to the establishment of the Task Force.  It is safe to assume that these recommendations were not imposed to further marginalize the street entrenched population but to deal with a growing problem that seems to have no reasonable resolution. The shopping cart ban was only a small portion of a much larger recommendation.  I personally believe that the shopping cart ban would not fix the problem, so I would not have supported it for that reason. It was a band-aide solution that would not have reduced the concerns. But I do believe that theft is theft and it does need to be handled in a respectful but firm way.

Don Jefcoat: I believe the final report needs to come back to council and that council discuss point by point each recommendation. I do not support the ban on shopping carts. I do however support the notion that if a shopping cart is stolen and not being used by customers of the store the cart belongs to that the cart is seized and the person faces criminal proceedings. I also support finding alternative ways for people to store their belongings while they are in crises and on the streets. I believe we need to be compassionate with those who need our support but on the other hand we need to apply pressure to those who are causing issues. We need to stop the two tiered legal system.

Rick Lavin: I was a member of the Activate Safety Task Force. To set the record straight, not all members of the Task Force agreed with every recommendation presented to City Council. It was unanimously agreed that the recommendations should be presented to Council where decisions could be made. I felt that many of the recommendations were not appropriate and targeted segments of our society unfairly. I was angered that the City allowed the membership of the Task Force to be stripped of those agencies who have the best understanding of the issues and who are in the best position to address them. I was also angered that the timelines were compressed from one year to eight weeks. I felt that the Task Force was used by some as way to create the illusion of crisis and stir up controversy for political purposes.

Shawn Lee: It would be disingenuous of me to say that I support all the recommendations of the Activate Safety report to Vernon Council.  I will attempt to explain why. The question singles out the ban on shopping carts on city streets for particular attention. It seems to me that taking away shopping carts is comparable to going to a doctor’s office with a sprained ankle and being told to stop limping. We can’t solve problems by treating the signs.

My business has been in the downtown for 30 years and we have had staff greeted by people sleeping in stairwells, vandalised flower boxes and garbage bins. We have been broken into on more than one occasion. These are signs of serious drug addiction and mental illness. Our street population is attracted to Vernon because of the resources offered in our community.

Though well-meaning, the Tasks force’s recommendations often focused on treating the signs the problem and not the social ills that give rise to the problems faced by our street population and those with whom they interact. I do agree with the Task Force’s recommendation to bring together the professionals from law enforcement, social services, Interior Health Authority and mental health to find solutions for the safety and security of all our citizens.  I would like to be part of that process as a member of Vernon City Council.

Gordon Leighton: I commend the Activate Safety Task Force for delivering a comprehensive, wide-ranging set of recommendations (40 in all) to Mayor and Council. Mayoralty candidate Darrin Taylor did a good job in building consensus among stakeholders and in laying out the myriad of options with which to move forward.  City Council received the Task Force Report at the July 9, 2018 six and one half hour marathon meeting.

After receiving the report, the good work by the task force was fumbled by Administration and Council. Putting 40-recommendations on the table all at once was, in my opinion, a foolish move. Councillors became micro-managers. Some simply became frustrated.  Governance by exhaustion never leads to good decisions. Council should have referred the entire matter to Administration with a request to parse the recommendations into smaller, more manageable clusters – and sorted by priority. Trying to tackle all 40 recommendations is like trying to have a serving of everything on the buffet table, a sure-fire guarantee of heartburn.

Councillors Anderson and Quiring were participants on the task force. Did they or Mayor Mund not recognize the futility of chewing on everything at once?  This was a weakness in leadership.

That said, I agree with most of the proposals, although the jury remains out on how some of the proposals will be implemented.   I do not agree with the proposed ban on shopping carts. Sadly, the good work of the Task Force as a whole took second place in the headlines to shopping carts. This was a waste of time and money (assuming Administration engaged legal counsel for an opinion), not to mention the discomfort and emotions triggered in debate.

Kevin Lepp: I strongly support the Activate Safety Task Force proposals. We need to follow through with these proposals.  I believe too much focus has been given to the shopping cart issue. We need to move forward with a strong strategy that takes in to consideration the needs of the community as a whole. Partner with local agencies to identify those who want rehab/addiction services and move them forward in that process. We need to pull together strategies to assist those people who want to get off of the street and help them do so. I envision a mobile type of service made up of an interdisciplinary team that can hit the ground assessing the needs and trying to utilize current resources to make a difference. As I mentioned we do need to lobby the provincial government for further funding and resources however there are things we can do locally to start addressing these concerns.  Small changes can make a big difference. Our motto for Vernon is “Activate Life”. Let’s activate it.

Jamie Morrow: I do support the Activate Safety Task Force proposals. I do not support the ban on shopping carts on city streets. I honestly don’t think this will solve this issue. I have already seen the use of a wagon, lawn cart and baby carriage in place of a shopping cart for example used by the homeless. Until the issue of homelessness is alleviated they will find a way to move their belongings around.

Dalvir Nahal: As someone who advocated for a task force, I do support many of the recommendations that have come forth. This task force has created a model for future mayor and council to reference and work from. And although currently not every recommendation has been adapted, they have paved way for council to engage in better dialogue with many of our stakeholders thus creating many positive changes that we have already begun to see.  Originally I did and to a certain extent still do, support the shopping cart ban. However, after receiving legal advice and seeing this ban had been tried and failed in other communities I ultimately decided not to vote for it.

Darrin Taylor: The Task Force was provided a narrow terms of reference. Specifically, they were asked to address the impact of the street entrenched population on businesses and propose actions the city could take to mitigate the impact. This was in response to a delegation of downtown business owners to city council. The task force was not struck to address the root causes or propose remedies for homelessness, addiction or mental health care. There was also a sense of urgency as the situation facing many businesses was described as dire. The package of recommendations included many that will improve safety for all parties and lead to a more stable environment to work on larger root-cause issues.

The members of the task force agreed on 42 recommendations for the city to consider. Among those was a recommendation to consider banning commercial shopping carts downtown. This is what shop owners were asking for, to get carts off the sidewalks. Mayor and Council elected to expand the ban city-wide which ultimately proved unnecessary, unenforceable, overly punitive, and possibly illegal. The plan was abandoned which I believe was the right thing to do. Ultimately the system worked as it should and the right thing was done.

What was lost in the whole debate was that those are real people pushing those shopping carts around. It felt like people fought so hard for their right to keep the carts but are not fighting as hard to see those individuals rehabilitated and provided meaningful services to lift themselves out of that lifestyle. I believe the solution lies in getting people well and seeing them gain independence, establish themselves in a job, and ultimately thrive. That might begin with housing but it certainly does not end there. Again, we can do better.

Dawn Tucker: There are some good recommendations in the Task Force report. Reviving regular Bylaw and RCMP bike patrols for instance.  I have see this occurring in Kelowna and it allows for an agile and speedy response time while also allowing for one on one interaction easily.  Another example of a good recommendation is better and more public washrooms available for everyone. As for the shopping cart ban I’m not in support of it; this isn’t because cart theft shouldn’t be dealt with but because I believe a ban isn’t an effective recommendation.  The issue isn’t as simple as carts. The issue as I see it is garbage and illegal dumping. We see all sorts of garbage dumped downtown from toilets at the old Legion buildings to beds in alleys, couches at apartment buildings and general garbage from various sources. To aid with garbage and illegal dumping we should implement the Task Force’s recommendations around the locking and securing of garbage/recycling bins and improving pick up times for merchants, and look to improve resident reporting of issues and our response as these items will better enable us to deal with those who are illegally dumping and aid in enforcement. We can look at getting more storage at our nonprofits for peoples belongings and look at improving access to it as well.  I’m sure that if we took the opportunity to actually consult with those that are homeless they could contribute some constructive ideas to the conversation and actually consulting those who are homeless may very well lead to more buy in on solving the issues that are observed around garbage.

Terry Vulcano: Yes I support some of the proposals but not the ban on shopping carts, on sidewalks, if the person with the shopping cart, owns the cart. I am more concerned about cyclists riding their bikes on sidewalks which is more of a danger to the public.

Sam Zaharia: No! I'm concerned that the their agenda seems to be driven by such passion. So much for rational thinking.

—This story was corrected on Friday, Oct. 12 at 6:40 a.m. for formatting and spelling.

— This story was updated on Friday, Oct. 12 at 7:54 a.m. to include Kelly Fehr's full response. 


To contact a reporter for this story, email Shelby Thevenot or call (250) 819-6089 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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