nstead of pursuing important city business, Kelowna's mayor had to spend much of his Tuesday extinguishing a political fire 3,000 kilometres away.
Walter Gray inadvertently kicked a hornet's nest in Belleville Ont. by sending what seemed like an innocent letter suggesting what the city might do to resurrect its aging Memorial Arena.
His good intentions split open a hot potato that upset Belleville's mayor and generated multiple requests for media interviews.
"I created a political firestorm. That was not my intention," Gray said late Tuesday afternoon. "My letter wound up being seen . . . by the mayor as interfering.
"I'm not losing sleep over it but I have lost a lot of productive hours."
Belleville's arena, a heritage building, needs a major refit to repair its ice plant and restore its rink. A woman representing a group that's lobbying to upgrade the facility sent Gray numerous emails asking him to support the effort.
Gray returned from vacation to find an assistant had drafted a letter urging the downtown rink remain a part of Belleville, whose hockey team, the McFarlands, competed against the Kelowna Packers for the Allan Cup in 1958.
Gray soon learned Belleville has built a new, larger arena and council lacks the money to restore the old one.
Mayor Neil Ellis gave him a stern lecture about the arena issue and said council has more important funding priorities, like fixing the sewer system and other infrastructure.
Gray's letter listed other attractions Kelowna introduced to its Memorial Arena, such as a military museum and lacrosse in summer. The letter suggested financing a renovation in a public-private partnership similar to the arrangement for Prospera Place.
"The city's simply saying, 'We don't have the money. Come back when you can bring some money to the party,'" Gray said.
Ellis told him the city has no intention of demolishing the building and there's a business plan to find a new use for it. Council has decided against installing ice in the arena, while others want it returned.
To add more heat to the controversy, it's election year in Ontario.
"I write this letter innocently in good faith and I create a firestorm," Gray said. "He was really angry . . . Before I got the first word in, 20 minutes had gone by. I mean he was really mad."
Gray ended up explaining his position on an open-line radio show in Belleville and giving interviews to The Intelligencer newspaper and Kelowna media.
"I said 'I'm very sorry I created this discomfort,'" he said. "An inadvertent attempt at being co-operative can backfire in your face."