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Watchdogs eyeing Pemberton council

Helmer says they are not a political group, they’re there to keep people informed



There's a new set of eyes watching Pemberton council, as if there weren't enough already.

They call themselves the Pemberton Watchdogs, and in the past few months they've started to make an impact on Spud Valley's political scene. It's a group comprised of concerned citizens who want to keep a close eye on Pemberton council and ensure they're following proper procedures.

At least one Watchdog attends every council meeting and the purpose isn't simply to put another scrutinizing eye on council. The watchdogs are equally there to ensure that Pembertonians and others understand what's going on at the governing level.

Pemberton Watchdogs originated with Jennie Helmer, a former councillor who wants to ensure there's a strong connection between council and the community.

"When I finished with council I felt it was really hard for the public to keep a line of thought from council meeting to council meeting," Helmer said. "I felt that if there was a group of us then we would share the meetings. One goes to every meeting then reports back to the group via e-mail."

It works like this: one out of a group of about 15 people attends council, taking notes on various occurrences there, and then reports back to the group via e-mail. Helmer started the group last November, shortly after she left council, and already the Watchdogs have made their presence known.

Last April she sent a letter to mayor, council and staff asking them to revisit bylaws 617 and 618, both of which were passed without proper procedure being followed, according to Helmer.

Bylaw 617 was an amendment to Pemberton's Official Community Plan and Bylaw 618 a zoning amendment. B.C. Rail Properties (BCR) sought to subdivide Development Lot 202, a plot of land that includes the Pony Espresso, the Bike Co., Wag 'n' Wash, Coyote Arts, as well as the Railway Station and the old pulp mill site.

BCR wanted to designate a portion of the lot as C-1 and make an amendment to the community plan that would encompass the lands as Town Centre Commercial. The previous council gave it first reading on June 8, 2008.

The current council was elected in November and thus picked up the bylaws where the previous one left off. By the time they were elected it had already passed second reading. A public hearing was held Dec. 17 and a motion to deny third reading was made at a meeting on Jan. 20. A second motion was then made to reconsider third reading March 3.

February 17 rolled around and the bylaws came back to council. At this meeting Councillor Ted Craddock raised the point that the original resolution was for council to bring it back on March 3 because Councillor Susie Gimse would be absent until then. Staff had already completed a report about the bylaw.

Craddock then opposed a motion to rescind the Jan. 20 resolution and have it dealt with that day. It passed anyway with Gimse absent and Craddock abstaining because he received correspondence from the proponent after the public hearing. A councillor isn't supposed to receive new information after a public hearing.

At the March 24 meeting, with Craddock abstaining and Gimse opposed, Bylaws 617 and 618 went through on fourth reading.

Helmer said in her letter that council ought to start the process again and ensure that council and the public are privy to the same information.

The Village of Pemberton requested a meeting with the Watchdogs but that never happened. Today the bylaws stand.

That wasn't the only march on council by the Watchdogs. More recently, former councillor Mark Blundell pressed council during a public question period as to why it discussed a proposal for a run-of-river project at an in camera meeting, then rose with report afterward.

Blundell wondered whether a breach of confidentiality had occurred. It hadn't, according to sources at that meeting, and he was ultimately satisfied with council's decision.

Still, Blundell, ostensibly a member of the group, made an impact at council and helped make public the Pemberton Watchdogs as a close observer of Pemberton council.

Helmer said they're not a political group and in some cases they're actually there to support council. The real purpose, she says, is to help keep people informed.

"People want to have a role in local politics," she said. "The roles that are offered are very time-consuming, it's just not for everybody. One way of managing that is to share the load a little bit."