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‘Are you afraid of us?’ Harrison Council lambasted for intent to move meetings back to smaller venue

More than 100 Harrison residents attended Monday’s meeting at Memorial Hall
Council voted in January to move recording equipment from Memorial Hall to the village office. However, due to an increased interest in municipal government, record attendance had the public asking council to reconsider the move. (File Photo)

A decision to relocate future council meetings in Harrison Hot Springs did not sit well with a packed house at Memorial Hall on Monday night.

The Village Council voted 1-4 against keeping council meetings at Memorial Hall (290 Esplanade Avenue) and upgrading its sound system. Rather, council preferred to move council meetings back to the village office (495 Hot Springs Road)

Mayor Ed Wood moved to keep the meetings at Memorial Hall and all councillors voted against the motion.

Last year, the Harrison Festival Society requested community groups be permitted to use Memorial Hall on the weekends, pitching the possibility of moving council meetings to a different day of the week, should they choose to continue meeting at Memorial Hall. The council received the letter in September and moved to pass this decision on to the incoming village council following the 2022 election. During the Nov. 21 regular council meeting, council referred the matter back to staff to explore options for Memorial Hall’s use.

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During the Jan. 16 regular council meeting, councillors opted to up to $5,000 to move audio/visual equipment to the village office (495 Hot Springs Road) from Memorial Hall (290 Esplanade Avenue) and to spend $15,000 on furnishings to make the village office space more “multi-functional.” This would enable the council to broadcast meetings online via Zoom from the village office as well as archive the video recordings on their official YouTube page.

There were at least 10 emails on the agenda from residents of Harrison Hot Springs concerning the potential change of location for the meetings. Wood said there were plenty more emails that did not make it on the agenda on the same subject.

All the writers were also concerned about the potential of overcrowding at the village office and there not being enough room for everyone who desired to attend. Furthermore, a number of them cited concerns with spreading COVID-19 and other diseases by packing the village office chambers.

Wood said based on the letters and the record attendance in-person and online to recent council meetings, the residents are making their opinion very clear.

“They want to make sure the council can hear (what they are saying) and that they have an opportunity to see what’s going on in the village,” Wood said. “They’ve taken a nice interest in seeing what’s going on.”

Wood opted not to read the letters. The letters are available in the agenda below; the notes concerning the location change start on on page 17 (as marked on the bottom-right corner) and going to page 35.

Among heckling and multiple calls to order, Coun. Michie Vidal voiced her opposition to keeping meetings at Memorial Hall.

“I do believe this community hall is not just for council meetings,” she said. “It’s certainly used by the whole community, and I’m not in favour of keeping our meetings here at Memorial Hall. I’m in favour of moving them back to the village office.”

Vidal pointed out the Festival Society hosts concerts at Memorial Hall on the weekends during the off season, saying the weekend events help the arts organization to recoup losses brought on by COVID-19 and the resulting drop in tourism in recent years.

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Harrison Festival Society executive and artistic director Andy Hillhouse told The Observer that the Festival Society has done monthly concerts at Memorial Hall for 34 years. Federal and provincial funding is provided for said monthly concerts. Hillhouse said village staff suggested they talked to council about possibly moving meetings to Wednesdays to alleviate any potential scheduling and setup conflicts.

Wood moved to keep the meetings at Memorial Hall and to upgrade the sound system, seconded by Coun. Allan Jackson. Jackson then moved to table the discussion, which failed. The votes were met with more scoffing and heckling.

During the question period, resident Kelly Cielanga said the entire reason for wanting to keep meetings is the villagers want to be seen.

“We want to be heard,” she told council. “Are you afraid of us? Are you afraid of us coming out to speak to you? It’s our village. We just want to know if we can do something; if we can’t do something, we want to know why. That’s why we address you. You’ve made us the enemy. We’re not the enemy.”

The budget open house and March 20 council meeting are both scheduled to be held at Memorial Hall as of Tuesday morning.

The next regular Harrison Hot Springs Village Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall (290 Esplanade Avenue). Online attendance is also available via Zoom; those interested can register through Video recordings of the meetings will be archived on the village’s YouTube page.

Adam Louis

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