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BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Shutting doors?
It was interesting to hear that the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce has blocked municipal representatives from attending regular board meetings.
Now, of course, the chamber is completely within its rights, as an independent organization, to decide who sits around the table.
But the chamber’s move comes at the same time that it’s wading into municipal matters.
First off, the chamber is calling for a study into possibly merging Greater Vernon’s boundaries.
“They don’t make sense any more. Now, decisions made by the City of Vernon can be of huge importance to the residents of Coldstream. And vice-versa,” said president Adrian Johnson in a recent letter to the editor.
Just a few days later, the chamber’s business improvement group for real estate and development challenged the city’s official community plan review.
“In our current struggling local economy, economic development must be a key guiding principle to the future of Vernon. But unfortunately, it is only a mere mention regarding some brief goals with no action plans or accountability,” said Pamela Owen, committee chairperson.
“We are a group of concerned professionals who are seeing business development turn away every day due to municipal red tape and lack of open-door policies. It is time the business community is heard.”
The chamber is right to represent the interest of its members and these concerns obviously require attention by our municipal leaders.
But one could make the argument that with the chamber demanding action on a number of fronts, now is the time for Vernon and Coldstream to be at the board table.
If the chamber executive wanted to know more about how the municipalities operate and whether amalgamation will create efficiencies, all they had to do was simply turn to the municipal representatives — Will Pearce, Vernon’s chief administrative officer, and Pat Cochrane, Coldstream councillor.
In terms of the city’s OCP, a board meeting would be the perfect opportunity to provide one-on-one input on economic development and the measures that can be taken to reduce red tape and allow entrepreneurs to thrive.
Based on what they heard at the chamber board meeting, Pearce and Cochrane could take that information back to their respective jurisdictions for consideration.
Now the chamber insists that it isn’t ignoring the municipalities.
Instead of participating in full board sessions, municipal representatives will attend those parts of meetings deemed to be relevant, as well as quarterly gatherings of the full chamber membership.
“The presence of senior local government representatives at frequent meetings open to all our members creates a forum for regular two-way communication with the entire business community,” said Johnson.
Obviously that’s a positive move, but quarterly meetings only occur four times a year, which means the communication lines can get pretty stale.
By having Pearce and Cochrane at monthly meetings, the executive can be more proactive, including letting the membership know immediately about issues that may impact them. If it’s a critical item, then lobbying can begin right away.
Regular meetings can also allow personal relationships to develop and that can be critical when trying to influence public policy.
As I mentioned earlier, the chamber is totally within its right to change how meetings occur, although, except for Johnson saying, “One thing we are looking at is our governance model,” it’s not clear why this shift is necessary.
In the end, time will tell if communications remain open with local government or if the chamber’s voice has diminished.