It seems that openness and transparency at the council table are regular topics of conversation during just about every municipal election, both among the voters and those running for office.
Public engagement is another popular concept, but the way city council has handled the ongoing controversy over Trio Marine Group’s plans to build waterslides in Skaha Lake Park makes us wonder if Penticton city council has any idea what is meant by these words.
Case in point: After a special council meeting last week, council went into a closed meeting, where one of the topics discussed was whether council should revisit the decision made on June 29 to green light the Trio Marine project.
When they reconvened in public, the mayor called for a straw poll to advise him, and when council’s response was negative – with the exception of Coun. Campbell Watt – chose not to use his mayor’s privilege to return the matter to council for more discussion. That was followed by 90 minutes of opponents giving council their view – that is, those few members that chose to stay and listen.
Council should have listened to public input before discussing or making a decision. The mayor has stated several times that public engagement was poorly done in regard to this project, but has he learned anything?
Then, too, there was no reason to go in camera. The public still has no idea why most of council supports this project so strongly – a frank, open discussion would have been better. While the municipal charter permits in camera meetings, it only lists relatively few items where council must go behind closed doors.
Secrecy has been a problem right from the start with this project. Early on, Trio Marine spokespeople said, on more than one occasion, that city hall had advised them, insisted, that they not divulge even a general idea of their project.
It’s time for secrecy to stop. Not just in terms of this project, but all council operations.