Mayor stands by decision to deny spot on parks committee to member of group that sued city

Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2016 3:58 pm

Penticton’s mayor stands by a decision to deny a seat on a new parks committee to a member of a society that filed a related lawsuit against the city, a move that has now drawn the attention of a human rights group.

Garry Karr applied late last year to sit on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan Committee, which was created in the wake of public protest against a commercial waterslide development envisioned for Skaha Lake Park.

He’s also a member of the Save Skaha Park Society, which has asked the B.C Supreme Court to squash the city’s deal with the developer behind the project.

Karr said he was taken aback when Mayor Andrew Jakubeit told the Penticton Western News in December that “if you sue the city, you sort of negate your right to sit on one of their committees.”

“I’m hoping he’ll acknowledge a serious attitude problem that needs to be corrected,” said Karr.

“This is not about our society; it’s about what happens when anybody takes action against an authority – they must not lose their rights.”

Karr, a retired physician, believes people selected for the 11-member committee were picked based on their unique backgrounds and what they could bring to the table, and the society ought to have been included on that basis.

“We are not destroyers; we’re builders, and we want to take part in the process in building the best parks system for our city,” he said.

Barring opponents from city committees will have a chilling effect, warns the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“In a democracy, it is vital that citizens feel able to express critical or dissenting views (through lawsuits or other means) without fear of being shut out of the democratic process, or of reprisals of other kinds,” policy director Michael Vonn wrote in a Feb. 18 letter to Jakubeit.

“In this regard, your comment – that you consider the actions of the Save Skaha Park Society to have negated their right to be considered for participation in the select committee – is very problematic.”

But the mayor didn’t back down in a statement issued Sunday.

“I should have done a better job of articulating that when council deliberated endorsing Parks and Recreation Master Plan Committee members we felt that Mr. Karr had a direct conflict as he was suing the city on park usage and then wanted to be on a committee about park usage,” said Jakubeit.

“We respect the good intentions of Mr. Karr, but if you are in the middle of suing the city about park use and continue to be very vocal about the city’s park processes, not only are you in conflict but the likelihood of your views being biased or jaded would be higher than others in the community that had put their name forth.”

The mayor went on to note there will be “significant public and stakeholder engagement” during creation of the plan – a previous version of which hasn’t been updated since 1993 – so there will be a chance for the society to offer input that way.