BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A good start

It’s obvious Vernon’s new council wants a clear break with the past.

It’s obvious Vernon’s new council wants a clear break with the past.

On Monday, council considered a request from two organizations to enact a bylaw that would force gas stations to provide full service to seniors and the disabled.

Being able-bodied, I’ve never considered how people in wheelchairs or reliant on walkers pump fuel when they pull into a self-serve station, which is what mostly exists in Vernon these days. Climbing out of the vehicle isn’t simple for them and they can’t always have a passenger along for the ride.

But instead of automatically doing what appeared to be the right thing and approving a bylaw, a go-slow approach was taken.

An ad hoc committee will consider the matter and most importantly, gas station owners will have a seat at the table.

“We need to give them the opportunity for input instead of being a top-down council,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham.

“Give them a chance to be heard and they may have some good ideas.”

There was agreement around the table that while the disabled and seniors struggle at self-serve pumps, any requirements for full service will have monetary implications for local businesses.

“They are functioning on small profit margins and government imposing more costs can impact that margin,” said Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe.

It was a distinct departure from the perceived actions of the previous council and particularly the proposed reduction of vehicle lanes on 43rd Avenue.

Many businesses claimed they had not been  consulted adequately and they expressed their frustrations during a summer rally that featured signs saying, “Shame on city hall,” We are the boss,” and “Listen to us.”

Support came from some 29th Street merchants who felt the city had imposed bike lanes on them and not considered their interests.

“It’s time that they hear what the people have to say,” said Pauline Davidson, with Carpet Castle, during the rally.

It should be pointed out that three members of the new council were part of the last council. But some of them were never comfortable with the suggestion that city hall was dictatorial and hell-bent for leather despite what businesses wanted.

“There are many issues we need to address in a more efficient manner than we did with this one,” said Coun. Patrick Nicol during the election campaign.

Cunningham suggested that gas station owners and operators may have some good ideas, and they might.

Just by sitting down, council may learn that self-serve gas stations may already have procedures in place to assist customers who are unable to pump gas, or that some businesses have no plans to eliminate full service so that option will continue for people with mobility issues.

It could be that a discussion will show there is no need for legislation to proceed. Then again, such a talk may highlight the concerns facing seniors and the disabled and the need for a bylaw.

If this new council learns anything important during this term, it’s that perceptions become reality.

For example, the previous bunch of politicians took considerable steps towards public consultation while developing the official community plan and annual budgets. But none of that is remembered. Instead, they get tarred with the mishandling of 43rd Avenue and 29th Street.

Mayor Rob Sawatzky and his team got off to a positive start with openness and transparency Monday, but let’s see what the public says about them in three years.

Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star

richard@vernonmorningstar.com