The pitfalls of protocol

Last week there was a pretty harsh letter to the editor regarding no comment being made at the end of our Council meeting regarding the passing of former Mayor and MLA Ivan Messmer. It was an oversight on my part, which I'm truly sorry about. We did fly the flag at half-mast for the week and issue a statement, and I made sure to attend the funeral service, where the Pastor actually used my quote during the proceedings.

I remember once being chastised for attending a veteran's ceremony in the park because I was wore shorts, golf shirt and sandals. I didn't know there was a function that day, but noticed the people gathering so I came to take a closer look and participate. Out of the 34,000 people in Penticton the ceremony garnered maybe 30 people in attendance; I was the only councillor there, yet instead of being thanked for coming and honoring the veterans, it was about dress code.

Nowadays, we have to be so politically correct on protocol or what we say, do, or the order in which things unfold, that we become very guarded and lawyer-like. We don't question protocol because we've been told it has always been that way.

Last year, Calgary's Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke to the Southern Interior Local Government Association's dinner about just doing what is the right thing to do. Politics is all about building relationships with the public, stakeholders, other levels of governments, staff and partners. The process can sometimes be slow, but if you can navigate through to the decision makers, you can accomplish significant things in short order.

People are very quick to determine whether actions and words are insincere, lack substance, or part of the Kool-Aid you expect everyone to drink. In the past, the City would make a decision on a project and then just do it.

But for the last few years, Council has asked to staff to engage the community. We have had significant input for the Okanagan Lake walkway and Downtown Plan. We recognized that not everyone will agree, but if the general public could provide comment and saw some of their ideas getting incorporated, there would be greater buy-in and a better end-result.

So what does protocol mean for our local citizens? If you have an issue, concern or idea, typically you should first contact the staff or department manager to get informed or discuss the matter. If you still need resolution, then the City Manager is the next step, followed by Mayor and Council. Also, we hope you still take part in community engagement. We created some task forces on important matters – affordable housing, tourism and economic development – and the expectation is a strategy will be developed in the coming months. I hope there will be community engagement with stakeholders and the public in general.

We need community feedback and ideas to help move Penticton forward. Whether it is at a public hearing, town hall meeting, casual or formal conversation with staff or Council, we want to hear from you. Often politics is ruled by the tyranny of the vocal and negative minority that sways the decision makers because the silent majority is apathetic and assumes the right decision will be made. Penticton has some tremendous opportunities and potential. We will collectively, as a community, need to be bold, embrace change and ignite our community pride to ensure we can capitalize and move in the right direction.

Photo: The official mayoral portrait of Ivan C. Messmer, who served as Penticton's Mayor between 1980-86. Mr. Messmer also served as MLA for three terms, including service as Solicitor-General.