Opinion

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Regional district stumbles over hurdles

Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star. - Morning Star file photo
Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star.
— image credit: Morning Star file photo

I t’s often said that a story has legs — meaning that it has captivated the public and will carry on for some time.

Well if that’s the case, coverage of the Okanagan Rythmic Gymnastics club not only had legs, they were tumbling right down the mat.

No sooner had the media began reporting the club could close over a zoning battle with the Regional District of North Okanagan, and word rapidly spread. Residents eagerly used social media to pledge their support to the club and demonstrate their frustration with the perceived bad guys at RDNO.

“Why can’t the RDNO work with such an amazing club - that produces so many talented athletes and encourages all their participants to excel - to resolve the problem. Don’t let this club close,” stated one person on Facebook.

In another posting, a resident stated, “The politicians gotta realize that the building will sit empty if they don’t allow it be used for a gym. That would be a complete waste of such a large, open space. It’s not hurting anything and has passed the necessary inspections, so let it be.”

Along with the back and forth online, letter after letter rolled into RDNO and the five electoral area directors responsible for planning had their phones ringing off the hook over the holidays.

Now of course there are two sides to every story and it’s difficult to actually know what occurred over the last few years. The club insists it did everything necessary to ensure the building on East Vernon Road could be used as a gymnasium, while RDNO officials are adamant zoning for that use wasn’t granted and they didn’t realize rhythmic gymnastics was occurring there despite the high profile of owner Camille Martens and the club’s media exposure.

On top of this were the more juicy tidbits that provided a backdrop to the entire issue. There were allegations of RDNO files going missing and suddenly reappearing, and, of course, there was the fact that the initial health and safety complaint that triggered the zoning review came not from a rank-and-file resident but a RDNO employee.

Now it’s unfortunate that RDNO’s reputation got dragged through the mud because the employees and elected officials there are professional and not stereotypical bureaucrats. They are entrusted with protecting the community’s best interests and in the case of zoning and structures, that means reducing liability and treating everyone fairly.

If there was one mistake, though, it was not understanding that doing their job to the letter would backfire and create a public relations mess. And it was a given that the club’s potential closure would impact children — cue the tears.

If RDNO could find a compromise after all of the public furor, one has to wonder why it couldn’t have done that months ago and avoided the negative publicity?

Chairperson Bob Fleming defended RDNO’s actions by saying, “Local governments are set up to be responsive, including with public sentiment.”

It’s true the process allowed the public to have its say, but was such angst and undermining of RDNO’s reputation necessary?

With the future of the club now in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission, RDNO officials are likely hoping the current land use is approved and life will get back to normal. But if the ALC says no and the club still has to shut down, many residents may still hold the regional district ultimately responsible for the situation.

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