Vernon's Elk's Lodge controversy turns to finger-pointing | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon's Elk's Lodge controversy turns to finger-pointing

Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Vernon Elks Lodge
March 22, 2021 - 5:38 PM

After accusing the City of Vernon of bullying, the Elk's Lodge will now get the money it needs to apply for a once-in-a-century $100,000 federal grant.

The move by Vernon council at its March 22 meeting granted the Elks Lodge $5,000, but in doing so uncovered some of the inner workings of City Hall and raised questions about whether the city manager overstepped his authority and why the mayor hadn't told council what was going on.

"Why did the mayor not bring the matter to council… and by what authority... did the (Chief Administrative Officer) tell these folks that we have no money?" councillor Scott Anderson asked the mayor. "This sounds like there are two people involved in a decision that should have come to council months and months ago."

The situation revolves around Vernon's Elks Lodge number 45, and its request to the City to support it so it could take advantage of a once-in-a-century opportunity to secure $100,000 from the federal government. Without the City’s support, the club would be refused the federal cash.

The Elks first requested support in March 2020 only to be told that the City wanted to purchase the building at the corner of 30 Street and 32 Avenue — next to the proposed site for the Greater Vernon Cultural Centre — so it wouldn't support it.

While email correspondence went back and forward between the Elks and the City throughout 2020, the matter never made its way to a council meeting agenda and council members say they were left in the dark.

When the issue was finally raised at council's March 8 meeting, Coun. Anderson aired his displeasure at "strong-arming a citizen because we want their property."

Coun. Brian Quiring was also critical of the City’s position.

The Elks told at the time that the not-for-profit club felt like it was being “bullied” because the City wanted its building, which it said was not for sale.

Fast forward two weeks, and Coun. Anderson questioned the mayor about how much he knew about the file.

“I was well aware we'd had multiple conversations… (and) any investment in their building would have to come to council,” Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said.

"It absolutely would have to come in front of council yet it didn’t,” replied Coun. Anderson.

Mayor Cumming said he’d stuck to the City’s historical policy not to support the Elks building. The mayor also reiterated lots of not-for-profit groups ask for money from the City and don’t get it.

“We invest in buildings that we own, not buildings that we don’t own,” the Mayor said.

“If our policy is to say no, then why is this in front of us now? Why did you just make a motion to give them $5,000 if our policy is not to do that?” Coun. Anderson said.

“Because they are 100 years old,” the mayor replied adding the City had unallocated funding it could use that didn’t exist last year.

While not discussed at the council meeting, also obtained a letter which the City was sent from Vernon law firm Dugas Law. While the letter said it wasn’t representing the Elks, it accuses the City of acting in “bad faith” and intentionally breaching its obligations to treat the Lodge in a “fair and impartial” manner.

“The history of a lack of support certainly provides significant evidence of the pattern of behaviour which a court may find is legally improper,” the letter reads.

Comments from other councillors showed they knew nothing of the ongoing issues the Elks were having trying to get a small grant and support from the City, which would then allow the club to obtain significant federal money.

"We were blindsided by this," Coun. Dalvir Nahal told the meeting. Coun. Kari Gares agreed.

Ultimately, council voted unanimously to grant the lodge $5,000.

Somewhat ironically, Couns. Anderson and Quiring both said this amount was more than they would have suggested had the issue come to council earlier.

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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