A War has Begun: City of Revelstoke vs. Regional District Area B

We have a battle of one government pitted against another

Tim Palmer

Columnist

Regional district Area B director David Brooks-Hill has accused Revelstoke’s Mayor Gary Sulz of betraying him by blocking his quest to remove the requirement for building inspections for his electoral district.

Brooks-Hill has threatened retaliation for this betrayal.

So now we have a battle of one government pitted against another. Ultimately, it is a war of the taxpayer against the taxpayer.

The right hand is slapping the left hand, and the left slaps back. Guess who loses?

But more than just tax dollars will be lost.

Some will applaud David Brooks-Hill for tenaciously adhering to his election promise. That commitment is rare among politicians.

READ MORE: Regional district director working to remove building inspection requirements

And others will credit the mayor for considering the wider implications of health and safety of residents.

However, considering the full implications, these merits are negated.

This quarrel will result in loss of collective opportunity, perpetuate ineffective governance and possible loss of services for everyone.

Lost opportunity

This fight is destined to repeat history and result in lost opportunities through intergovernmental cooperation.

The City of Revelstoke and Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area B had a similar battle a couple of years ago regarding fire services. The dispute ended up in the courts.

The taxpayer paid the bill for both sides of the dispute. In that fight, both sides kissed and made up. Both sides claimed victory.

A cooperative approach could have had the same outcome, with less effort, less money and less offence.

A few years ago, there were political scraps over the provision of water to Area B residents.

Some Area B residents suffered several years of unreliable and unsafe water until they petitioned to be part of the city.

The cumulative expense of legal costs, loss of productivity, unaccountable staff time clocked by both regional district and City of Revelstoke staff, and the distraction from focusing on important government work will remain unknown.

READ MORE: LETTER: In response to Palmer’s ‘A war has begun’

Ineffective governance

The mayor told me he took the view from the greater CSRD perspective and considered the welfare of the citizens.

Weighing the balance, he decided to vote against proceeding with what would have been a lengthy process of removing the building inspection services from the portion of Area B that is not in the fire protection area.

Without the support of the majority of the regional directors, Brooks-Hill is looking for alternative means to fulfill his promises. That includes retaliation.

Regional directors will waste time they could have utilized for advancing other more productive pursuits

Loss of services

Regrettably, this tit for tat approach between two individuals now has broad implications for Revelstoke council.

Council will face unintended consequences of Brooks-Hill’s wrath as it applies to other shared services.

Should the mayor have consulted with the rest of the council before taking an adversarial position with an important neighbour?

At least three of Revelstoke’s councillors were not aware of the issue, let alone what the position the mayor would take.

“It is a tragedy” stated one; another said it was a “breakdown of communication.”

There is still time to find a truce and bring this battle to an end.

The mayor could seek a resolve by first consulting with all of council and gather their collective wisdom.

Since there was procedural confusion in the vote, Revelstoke could join forces with Brooks-Hill and appeal to the regional district chair to have the vote reconsidered.

This approach could have a silver lining if it passed. The province would be forced to consider whether or not building inspection services should be mandatory throughout the province.

While I disagree with his approach, in my opinion, Mayor Sulz is correct. There should be building inspection for all of Area B.

I’ll take it a step further — all of the province should have consistent building inspections and permit requirements for the safety of everyone.

READ MORE: LETTER: Palmer shouldn’t pit CSRD and city against each other

This childish spat between two elected jurisdictions is not unique to here. I have seen similar situations play out in many communities throughout the province.

More than 20 years ago the province was going to address these problems and update the Local Government Act. The province, however, got politically cold feet and has not addressed these inter-jurisdictional problems.

Without changes, political personalities will trump reason and cooperation at the taxpayer’s expense.

Drawing from over 25 years inside the municipal bureaucracy, Tim Palmer, a local government consultant, explores non-traditional methods to helping towns and cities perform better.

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