City of Vernon fends off accusations of staff insensitivity

Alleged insensitivity towards the disabled will be reviewed, but Vernon city hall defends its actions...

Alleged insensitivity towards the disabled will be reviewed, but Vernon city hall defends its actions.

Independent Living Vernon, which represents people with mobility issues, claims it was treated harshly by city staff after requesting that additional parking be made available at city hall so clients could attend a formal presentation to council Monday.

“I will look into the matter,” said Marg Bailey, the city’s acting chief administrative officer.

“There was no intent to say anything disparaging.”

There are two existing handicapped parking spaces at the main city hall lot and Independent Living asked for an additional eight so clients, some in wheelchairs, could attend the presentation.

“When I got an e-mail referring to our group as lobbyists, insulting is the nice word I will use (in response),” said Laura Hockman, Independent Living executive director.

“As property owners, taxpayers and voters, the people who attended would take issue with being called lobbyists.”

Hockman says her group has offered sensitivity training to city hall before, but she believes the recent conflict has increased awareness.

“I did talk to the bylaw officer afterwards and he did apologize for using that term (lobby group).  We had a good talk about it and he understands what we were trying to do,” she said.

Ultimately, the city provided five extra parking spaces at two different locations Monday and a bylaw officer was present to assist with access.

“Staff worked very hard and accommodated what they wanted,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky, who doesn’t believe there was any intentional insensitivity.

“That’s in contradiction to how staff operates. It’s an unfortunate example of miscommunication.”

Hockman had been asked by council to speak about the challenges people with mobility issues face because of few full-serve gas stations in Vernon.

The city has formed an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter, but Hockman says gas stations can’t be considered in isolation and there is a need for a committee to consider all broad-based accessibility issues like transit, sidewalk and public facilities.

Council members appear willing to accept Hockman’s recommendation, but Coun. Patrick Nicol says the city has considered accessibility when designing the library and changes in Polson Park.

“We’ve been there and we’ve tried to respond. We’ve rolled our sleeves up,” he said.