Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jim Hewitt: Community’s interest should be priority

The following appeared in the March 26, 2008, edition of the Western News. Mr. Hewitt was the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Okanagan-Boundary region from 1975 to 1986.

This letter is in response to Gerry Karr’s letter entitled, “Public policy being hijacked” in the March 14 Penticton Western News.

Gerry is concerned about the special interest group known as the Penticton League of Sensible Electors and feels they are trying to undermine Gerry’s “special interest group” known as the Penticton and District Performing Arts Facilities Society. Regardless of what they are called, there are two groups of thought in this city.

This writer has no quarrel with either side, however, as a resident/taxpayer I am concerned about the community as a whole. I always have been of the view that elected officials, whether they are the city council or the school board, have a dual role to fulfill. Both roles must be considered. The first is their fiduciary role or the management of taxpayers’ dollars. The second role is that of good governance or properly conducting the affairs of, and service to, the community.

To demolish the Pen High auditorium this year without a replacement facility is not good governance. It would mean this community will be without an auditorium or performing arts centre for the next five or more years. It seems to me we can have a goal of a new performing arts centre with proper planning and financing. The city has already bought the property on Ellis Street and has contributed funds to the society so the concept has been endorsed and it is a good one — but the decision to tear down the auditorium at this time is not.

I know there are costs involved in maintaining the auditorium. The council and school board can claim good management of taxpayers’ dollars (their fiduciary role). However, their role in providing service and facilities to the community (their governance role) has not been met.

To create a parking lot and deny Pen High students and teachers an auditorium for band, theatre, assembly etc and the public an auditorium for cultural events, public meetings etc. is not good governance.

I believe the “special interest group” that Gerry attacks looks forward to the opening of a performing arts centre as much as Gerry… but in good time and with proper planning. While the school board and council have had professional input, it is with regard to the facility not with the proper governance of a community. Let’s face it — the “professionals” are only responding to the request of the council and/or school board.

I would hope the council and school board challenge their staff and professional advisers to work to accommodate their public, rather than attack “special interest groups” who have nothing to gain personally but are concerned about their community.

The city council and school board should delay the demolition timetable and not just consider the dollars involved but also consider the building’s importance to the community while the planning and construction of the performing arts centre takes place.