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Nelson council’s Christmas light fight

Santa waves to passersby on Baker Street years before Christmas lights were installed. Controversy has erupted at city council over how to proceed with the festive ornamentation.  - File photo
Santa waves to passersby on Baker Street years before Christmas lights were installed. Controversy has erupted at city council over how to proceed with the festive ornamentation.
— image credit: File photo

Councillor Paula Kiss accused Bob Adams of acting against council’s wishes and recommendations during a heated argument about Christmas lights at Monday night’s council meeting.

“I don’t want to see anyone in over their head,” she said. “I don’t think this organization has the budget to tackle trees and the ongoing implications.”

Adams has been a vocal supporter of the Baker Street Christmas lights, and is a member of the committee. This year the committee sought additional funds, but council threw cold water on the plan when they instructed staff to come up with a downtown master plan that would address the lighting issue earlier this summer.

This involves hiring a consultant to advise them on how to proceed and discussing how to incorporate the Christmas lights into a larger mandate for aesthetic development around Baker Street and the surrounding area.

However, since none of that will be completed this year, the committee is moving ahead with their work thanks to donations from the community and city's Spurway Trust Fund. Kiss voiced concerns about what exactly that's going to look like.

“I don’t want to see one individual councillor go ahead and say ‘well, that’s just going to happen’,” she said.

The Christmas lights will be installed either way, but at issue is the scope and budget of the project, and whether or not Nelson wants to be responsible for the ongoing maintenance.

“We get criticized a lot from the public for not pursuing things with careful thought. We’ve been doing a lot of planning. We’re trying not to jump into things until we understand the long term implications,” she said.

According to Kiss, the existing lights haven’t been maintained.

”The existing lights are exactly what I don’t want to reproduce. There are strings with no lights burning. Some with one or two. That’s not a great legacy, but that’s where we’re headed if we don’t give this careful thought.”

She asked why trees were being decorated when council had previously agreed that lights in trees are a bad idea.

“We’ve had this discussion and we agreed lights on buildings are great. But we were to avoid in every possible way lighting trees. In my recollection council agreed to this,” she said.

Councillor Deb Kozak confirmed this. “I remember,” she said.

“So why are we trying to light trees? Our tree management plan specifically speaks against it," Kiss said. "Trees don't come with electrical outlets."

Kiss expressed concerns about the scope of this year's improvements, and whether they will be in line with staff recommendations. She worried out loud that perhaps the group would put a strain on the city’s resources, including the time of department heads at Nelson Hydro and elsewhere.

“This is a small town. We have to be really clear on what our goals are,” she said. “I don’t want a lot of pressure put on department heads. I don’t want them feeling like they’re doing things they don’t want to do.”

Councillor Robin Cherbo took offence at Kiss’ comments. He said the department heads in the city are too professional to be pressured into doing things against their will. He said her comment shouldn’t have even been voiced.

Kiss did not reply.

Kiss said council members shouldn't be allowed to contravene plans already established by council.

“It sounds like (Adams) missed the meeting, or didn’t know, or somehow forgot. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Adams fired back, saying he remembers no such agreement to avoid lighting trees. He said the volunteers involved have worked hard and they have the money available to expand.

"So we can't do improvements?" he asked.

The answer was affirmative.

According to the recommendation, the lighting scheme will be expanded to the 100-block of Baker Street because it was a part of last year’s plan but was not completed. Any other improvements or expansions will have to wait until 2015.

The consensus from council throughout the most recent meetings seems to be that though they’re grateful for the hard work of volunteers, they would like the committee to pump the brakes on future improvements. Both councillors Deb Kozak and Donna Macdonald expressed gratitude to the volunteers, but urged them to “pause” before moving forward.

“I really think we need to be clear with the committee that this work will be securing and cleaning, not adding,” said Macdonald.

City manager Kevin Cormack agreed. “The intent of this is to clean up, not to expand.”

Reached the day after the debate, Adams was disappointed by the result of the meeting.

“Our lights have been getting bigger and bigger and better every year. Now council thinks we need a planner, a designer. I thought we were doing well. It was a shock to us.”

Despite the controversy, the lighting plan is going ahead.

 

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