Mayor Sawatzky owes the attendees of Monday’s public hearing, and indeed all the residents of Vernon, an apology for his behaviour during the meeting.
I have made presentations before to every council in the North Okanagan, as well as, the regional district. I have never seen a mayor act so blatantly partisan towards members of the public who dared to disagree with his position on an issue.
I am strongly against the relocation of the visitors information centre (VIC) to the 39th Avenue location, so I stepped up to the microphone as the first presenter. During my comments, the mayor told me repeatedly that I could not make any comments regarding the VIC, only the rezoning application.
However, the rezoning application was made solely for the proposed VIC, so they were one and the same. City of Vernon staff had already given both a printed handout and a public presentation about the proposed VIC at the request of council, so this seemed to be a double standard.
One gentleman in the crowd stated to council that he agreed with me and we should be allowed to discuss the VIC at the hearing. At this, Mayor Sawatzky threatened to evict all of the public and close the meeting. The gentleman was out of order, but the mayor’s comments were completely inappropriate for one verbal comment from the crowd.
During the hearing, the mayor and some councillors made many of what I consider to be inappropriate comments. One presenter was told, “At least you have some credibility, since you used to work for the city.” What did that make the rest of us presenting or in the audience? Not credible, totally unimportant or just plain stupid?
Another councillor stated, “By putting in the VIC and the landscaping, it might cause some people to start fixing up the neighbourhood.” I found this incredibly condescending. What do they think we are, a ghetto?
This area is one of the few affordable neighbourhoods in Vernon, and consists of several condominium buildings, a few multi-family units, and smaller, older single-family homes. The people in this neighbourhood take pride in their homes, just like anyone else. Most of the neighbours are friendly, kind and helpful. This is more important to me than the age or square footage of their house. This is what truly makes a neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood isn’t like the Rise or Turtle Mountain. What is wrong with that? Of course, council would never have considered trying to shove the new VIC down the throats of homeowners in these more affluent neighbourhoods. Unfortunately for me and my neighbours, this is a politically expendable neighbourhood.
One particular presentation was the most telling of the evening.
A gentleman, who lives in the neighbourhood, asked why the poster in the window of the building stated, “Coming Soon! New Home of the Visitor Centre.” The gentleman asked if this was already a done deal and did our opinions mean nothing? Not one single councillor looked this man in the eyes.
After the meeting ended, I told council how terribly disappointed I was in their 4-1 decision to go forward with the VIC. I stated that the people had come out and told council that they didn’t want the VIC, and that council had ignored the people and the democratic process.
Mayor Sawatzky and council should be ashamed of what they did that night, to the neighbourhood and to people’s faith in our democracy.
Our mayor should have been a leader in that democratic process, but he wasn’t. For me, I am ashamed that I voted for this mayor. Believe me, I won’t make that mistake again.
Thank you your worship, but I need no further lessons in democracy from you.
I and the rest of the citizens of Vernon await your apology.