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McDONALD: Bungled busking and begging bylaws make Kelowna councillors look like rookies

April 27, 2018 - 12:33 PM

 


OPINION


What a mess.

A new staff report is recommending Kelowna council back off, at least for now, from adding new bylaws aimed at buskers, panhandlers and the people who give their empties to homeless bottle pickers.

This after a fractious council meeting last month where Kelowna councillors, apparently seeing the proposed bylaws for the first time, hacked away at the proposed legislation in front of a perplexed audience then came close to making it law anyway, holding off on a final reading and vote.

Almost as an afterthought, councillors then decided to hold a public consultation and educational campaign to explain to Kelowna residents just what they hoped to accomplish and why these bylaws were needed.

Can you say ass-backwards?

Besides being a procedural nightmare — Mayor Colin Basran could barely keep up and had to consult the city clerk a number of times — it also revealed the pet peeves of individual councillors and what they cared about most.

Coun. Ryan Donn, a musician himself, was outraged at the measures aimed at buskers and had little time to discuss anything else.

Coun. Maxine DeHart couldn’t get over that panhandlers would now be able to ask for your change a mere five metres away from banks and other businesses instead of the previous 10 metres (We’re talking 15 extra feet, Max).

Coun. Charlie Hodge was deaf to anything but the noise bylaw and the need he sees for bylaw officers to be equipped with decibel counters (The irony there was that part of the Good Neighbour bylaw had already been passed, despite his protestations).

Coun. Brad Siebens sputtered on about the bottle pimps on Kirschner Road and the need for a rule that would fine people for handing over their empties anywhere within 500 metres of a bottle depot.

I had a front row seat in council chambers for all this and all I could do was shake my head in amazement at what seemed more like a high school student council meeting than that of one of British Columbia’s largest municipalities.

It was such a gong show that I had a write a second story clarifying the new bylaw amendments had only gone through preliminary readings and would need a final vote and a public hearing to make them law.

(Predictably, local musicians were up in arms at what they saw as a blatant attempt to muzzle their music. Protest songs soon followed. Even Coun. Donn vowed to fight the bylaw by busking himself on the downtown streets, daring bylaw to give him a ticket.)

Contrast this with the initial adoption of the so-called Good Neighbour bylaw last fall. The super bylaw brought together under one roof the various nuisance bylaws aimed at such things as graffiti, unsightly premises and noise complaints.

Public consultation is everything in local politics and those processes had already been completed when protective services staff (which includes the bylaw department) brought forward their initial recommendations.

Councillors heard the recommendations, gave their feedback and voted almost unanimously (except for Coun. Hodge) to make them law.

I asked Basran later why the initial consideration of the Good Neighbour bylaw had gone so smoothly, in marked contrast to round two.

Turns out there is no real set procedure for public consultation about bylaws or how council will debate them and he and the city clerk had simply put their heads together a few days before the meeting and decided how it would be done.

I could go on about how after almost four years, this group of politicians, some who are multiple-term veterans, seem still to be fumbling their way through important processes such as the adoption of bylaws.

With an election looming, I could go on about how this flawed process wasted staff time and taxpayers' money.

But I won’t.

Instead, I will say its time the city adopts a standard procedure for adopting bylaws, one that is transparent and consistent and gives Kelowna residents confidence in the process, regardless of whether they actually agree with the bylaw.

We deserve better.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.


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