City of Penticton lawyer Jarrett Plonka said any suggestion the City tried to sabotage negotiations before notorious panhandler Paul Braun pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Good Neighbour Bylaw Wednesday morning are “rubbish.”
In early May, the City of Penticton issued a press release saying they had made a fair offer to Braun, through his lawyer Paul Varga, basically offering a deal similar to what was agreed to at the Penticton Courthouse Wednesday morning. The news release detailed the City's "final offer" to Braun and Varga to avoid prosecution of this case, but the offer was rejected.
In exchange for his guilty pleas, Varga will pay a total fine of $145 - $11 per count on the eight charges and an additional court administrative fee of $57.
He also agreed to a maximum of 60 hours of community service under the supervision of a City employee, to stay away from the 200 Block of Main Street in downtown Penticton at all times for the next year and abide by all provisions of the Good Neighbour Bylaw moving forward.
He will be allowed to panhandle in other areas of the City, but not in any area which contravenes the bylaw such as close to breezeways and Automated Teller Machines as detailed in the bylaw.
Varga stated outside the courthouse following the plea deal Wednesday that the biggest reason the case took this long to resolve is because the City would “tank negotiations” by engaging in passive aggressive actions designed to upset his client.
Plonka, who prosecuted this case along with co-counsel Troy DeSouza, did not agree with Varga’s assertions.
“I can’t get into specifics of the settlement negotiations, but the idea that the City attempted to sabotage any negotiations is simply not true,” he said.
The City’s offer back in May “was a far more favourable deal to Mr. Braun than the one to which he ultimately pleaded to today. So the idea that the City was somehow trying to sabotage negotiations is simply without foundation.”
The City couldn’t force Braun or his lawyer to accept the deal and it was their decision to reject the City’s offer earlier this summer and proceed to trial and that’s what they did, said Plonka.
Banning Braun from the 200 Block of Main Street was an important element of the plea agreement as Braun was back at the familiar spot where he was originally charged last year as late as Tuesday, said Plonka.
“The proof is in the pudding … even up to yesterday he was still panhandling in the same location, even though he obviously knows it’s going against the bylaw,” he said. “One of the reasons those terms exist in the order is it’s the term that will achieve compliance. It will solve the problem.”
This has never been about punishing Braun financially, but simply to achieve compliance with the bylaw that prohibits panhandling within a certain distance of breezeways and ATMs, said Planko.
“One of the ways to achieve compliance is to ensure that Mr. Braun doesn’t return his regular spot,” he said.
Planko refused to comment on legal fees spent by the City.
“That’s something that every person can make their own determination about,” he said.
If another person were to take Braun’s regular spot and panhandle, Planko said he would expect the same procedure would be followed by bylaw officers to issue warnings through voluntary compliance.
“The reality is that Mr. Braun was the only person with whom voluntary compliance didn’t bear fruit,” he said.
When asked if he was satisfied with the final outcome, Plonka responded, “absolutely.”
Plonka said the City of Penticton’s decision to release aspects of its settlement offer to Braun earlier was made by City officials.
As a lawyer and officer of the court, he’s not allowed to divulge details about the settlement process or how the $145 fine was agreed to, he said.
“I can not tell you how that number came about,” he said.
Tina Siebert, the city’s bylaw enforcement supervisor, said the fine amount agreed to “is irrelevant … it doesn’t even really matter. It’s just a number. We all know it that it might be difficult for him to gather the money, but at the end of the day, it’s about compliance.”
The whole point of pursuing the case against Braun was City leaders and Council made a decision to step up its enforcement strategies across the entire city, she said.
She is confident Braun will abide by court orders and will perform his community service hours and not return to his spot on the 200 Block.
“We’re hoping that this is the end right here,” she said. “There has to be an end or this could go on forever. This is the whole point and why we need to put an end to it.”
Siebert denied Braun’s assertions he was targeted, saying he continually refused to comply and enforcement officers were left with no choice, but to lay charges.
Plonka pointed out panhandling remains legal in Penticton, except in areas defined in provisions of the bylaw.