Answers are needed

BEYOND THE HEADINES: Richard Rolke reiterates the necessity for clarification from city on boxing ban

For the record, mixed martial arts and  boxing are not my cup of tea. But there are many people in the community who consider them a legitimate form of entertainment.

And it’s that group that probably wonders what’s happened at Vernon city hall.

Council has banned all professional boxing events in the community until a provincial athletic commission is established this fall. But  the reasons behind the decision have not been revealed.

“We have received some confidential information about professional sports that has led to us making that decision,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

Huh?

An edict has been issued that impacts rank-and-file residents who enjoy watching the odd bought or two, but elected officials don’t believe it’s necessary to provide an explanation?

It’s a situation Sawatzky struggles with, particularly because one of his goals has been to improve communications at the city.

“We don’t like to be unable to fully inform the public. It doesn’t fit our views of how a democracy works,” he said.

Under provincial legislation, municipalities can work confidentially, or in-camera, if the issue pertains to land, legal or labour.

In this case, the assumption is that council’s dealing with a legal matter.

Has there been a lawsuit over an event, which the city sanctioned through its athletic commission?

Is there the possibility the commission has over-stepped its authority?

What is Sawatzky implying when he refers to “information about professional sports?”

Vernon has been a leader in professional fighting since it created its own athletic commission in 2006. At the time, the community and promoters were operating in a vacuum as there were no rules governing liability and the safety of competitors and those sitting in the audience.

With the commission established, a formal process began and MMA came to town, providing an outlet for those drawn to the sport.

In fact, local authorities were so skilled, that other Interior municipalities that hadn’t set up their own commissions lobbied Vernon to oversee events in their communities under contract.

If things were going so good, what led to council immediately pulling the plug on pro fights?

It’s been pointed out that a provincial athletic commission will be in place this fall to sanction events, but given the snail’s pace of Victoria bureaucracy, a September start could easily become December or January.

So until the province is ready to go, North Okanagan residents will be unable to access an activity that up until now, the city took considerable pride in administering.

There’s also a financial impact as the promoters were renting space in public facilities. That means the taxpayers’ subsidy for Wesbild Centre or the recreation complex will only increase.

And let’s surmise that there is legal action, that’s a significant cost for residents as lawyers don’t come cheap.

Council must remember that our governance structure hinges on transparency and accountability.

Officials need to immediately disclose the reasons behind their refusal to accept professional fight applications.

Hiding behind closed doors undermines public faith in the politicians’ ability to make decisions of any type, and that hurts more than a choke hold.

– richard@vernonmorningstar.com