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City residents to get a say in nothing important

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Kelowna residents will have a chance in the coming months to provide meaningful input on an interesting topic.
This engagement process, culminating in a vote by informed citizens, should revolve around plans for the city's new $48-million police station, the second-most costly endeavour in Kelowna's long history.
But it won't.
All the energetic bantering of ideas and opinions, followed by the eager casting of ballots, will relate to an admirable but gossamer-thin city initiative to spruce up the image of Rutland.
Council has decided to make $100,000 available for the new 'Our Rutland' campaign, which will see the construction of a small-scale capital works project or the implementation of some new feel-good program by the fall.
The populist contest will undoubtedly draw lots of attention. There will be predictable ideas - more parks, more trees, maybe a statue of old John Rutland himself - as well as more than a few zany ones. A spaceport, anyone?
Given the ability of a contest like this to be hijacked by the mischievous-minded among us, city staff will winnow all the submitted ideas down to an approved list of five or 10 for voting next month.
Those with longer memories at City Hall will recall how an earlier attempt to solicit public input on a big project almost went awry. In 1993, the city invited people to suggest names for the new park then being developed on the downtown north-end lakeshore.
Of the 672 entries received in that pre-Internet era, only three suggested Waterfront Park. More popular names were Paradise, Rhapsody and Tugboat. 'Bob Park,' the name aggressively promoted by pranksters at a local radio station, also got lots of support.
But the killjoys at City Hall tossed all those entries aside and went with Waterfront Park
anyway. Made you wonder why they'd had the contest in the first place.
So this 'Our Rutland' initiative will have a vetted list of projects, any one of which will be deemed suitable and appropriate, and probably none of which will be very inspiring when all is said and done.
Rutland will still be Rutland. Rutland abides.
Nevertheless, councillors were falling over themselves Monday to praise Our Rutland as a great example of community engagement, neighbourhood-building, citizen involvement, blah blah blah.
What poppycock. If councillors really wanted and welcomed citizen direction on important issues, they'd let them vote in a referendum on whether to proceed with plans for the new police station.
Or let them vote on anything of consequence, really.
But the police station - like a long, long list of costly and potentially controversial projects before it - will instead be put soon to the alternate approval process.
This is the sneaky and undemocratic process that plays on people's apathy, rather than inviting them to action. It's tailor-made to foster complacency, rather than create debate.
Any project submitted to an AAP process automatically goes ahead unless 10 per cent of all city electors sign petitions opposed to the initiative within just 30 days. It's a variation of the old cable company tactic of forcing customers to take new channels unless they specifically objected, a practice that was so widely despised it was eventually made illegal.
In Kelowna's case, nearly 10,000 people would have to sign petitions against the police station to delay it. If that threshold was reached, which it never has been for any project, the idea would have to be put to a real referendum.
Summerland used a referendum three years ago to gauge support in that community for a new
$3.2-million police station. Like Kelowna's, it came with a considerable tax impact, and there was a vigorous public debate about the project details.
In the end, more Summerlanders voted in the Oct. 2, 2010, referendum than cast ballots in the previous municipal election.
Despite fears among the elites that townsfolk would prove foolishly parsimonious at the cost of public safety, the new cop shop was endorsed by 68 per cent of voters.
A similar referendum here might well find equal or higher levels of support for the new police station. Or maybe not, who knows?
The point is the AAP effectively disenfranchises citizens from having a real say on an enormously costly, important, project.
But hey, council cynically says, you guys can go nuts over a flower bed in Rutland.
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter whose column appears Wednesday and Friday. Tel. 250-470-0750. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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