Wednesday, September 11, 2013

O'Keefe open to question on governance

By Roger Knox - Vernon Morning Star Published: September 11, 2013 2:00 AM
Mary-Jo O’Keefe thinks the question should be asked.  The Vernon councillor was responding to a petition launched by the Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon. The group has started a website to gather citizens’ signatures with a goal of having a question of whether or not a single local government would be more efficient and make better use of tax dollars. President Bruce Shepherd said the society has members from Vernon, Coldstream, and regional district electoral areas B and C, and they want to collect signatures from a significant amount of registered voters in each of the areas to demonstrate to local and provincial politicians that citizens want to know the best model for an efficient local governance system. “I think it’s time the province reviewed it,” said O’Keefe Monday. “I don’t know that I think we, as a district, Greater Vernon or area, are really the most efficient, effective government this area can have.” O’Keefe, in the midst of her second term as a Vernon councillor, points to what the Vernon Public Art Gallery and Greater Vernon Museum have had to endure to go to referendum on new facilities for both organizations. The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee (GVAC) voted, by a margin of 5-2, to proceed to a spring 2014 referendum to borrow funds for a new art gallery and museum. “Their request was always just to go to referendum, ask the people,” said O’Keefe. “That process was they came to RDNO (Regional District of North Okanagan), RDNO referred them to GVAC. GVAC referred them back to RDNO, RDNO referred them back to GVAC. The process took two years. That can’t be efficient.” City of Vernon and District of Coldstream GVAC members supported the referendum. Opposition came from electoral area directors. O’Keefe said such results play a role in local governance frustration for both politicians and the public. “I think there’s some sort of parochial fears that the larger district will take advantage of the smaller ones, though I don’t think there’s been any demonstration of that at all,” she said. “There is that fear there. As a result, our governance is ineffective. I think we make it very hard for people to do business with us.” Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky said the society’s goal is a healthy one, and gets the community involved in discussions and debate. That, however, would be as far as the mayor would comment. “Anything I would say could easily be misconstrued because I have a role in the government as it is, and I don’t think it would be useful at this point for me to comment,” said Sawatzky. Sawatzky did, however, dispute the society’s claim that the recent KPMG core services review for the city recommended that the highest potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs for local governance was amalgamation. “What the core services review did was they had recommendations for opportunities,” said Sawatzky. “They did not say that (amalgamation) clearly would be cheaper.” Asked by a reporter if squabbling and in-fighting amongst councils and regional district has diminished, Sawatzky agreed. “If you spoke to people that have been there before in local governance, that’s certainly what we hear from them,” said Sawatzky. “That things are much more productive and moving forward in ways that have never happened before.”

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