It’s the end of an era at Kelowna City Hall.
After 15 years, nine as a city councillor and six as mayor, Sharon Shepherd will chair her last public Kelowna city council meeting tonight.
Having lost a close election battle with the man she handily knocked out of Kelowna’s top political job in 2005, Walter Gray, Shepherd will bang the gavel one last time to close the meeting tonight and walk out into the cold, late November night air, for all intents and purposes ending a political career that took her from neighbourhood advocacy to the council table in 1996 and the mayor’s chair nine years later.
While Shepherd will be the first to note she still has five days of work as mayor—few take their job responsibilities as seriously as she does–all that’s really left are the accolades Shepherd so richly deserves. Politics aside, its hard to argue Kelowna is not a better place thanks to her record of public service.
Like mayors before her, Shepherd will leave a legacy. Given the close result 10 days ago in the civic election, some will argue about what that legacy will be. But having watched her political career from the beginning, I think it is that the city does not consign social issues to be simply byproducts of a sole focus on business and development.
The biggest knock on her, at times, was also her biggest strength—she liked to hear from as many sides as possible on an issue. Her critics call it indecision, her supporters call it consensus building. History will decide who is right.
During her political run as a councillor and as mayor, Shepherd proved to be a popular, hard-working and concerned local politician, one who not only showed up to hear from residents, but one who really listened to what they said. It was what made her popular, helped her win repeated re-election and it’s what won her the mayor’s chair in 2005.
But, like any politician, she had her detractors. And, like any mayor, she also carried the can not only for decisions of her council, but for external factors like the impact of the global economic crash. When times are good politicians claim too much credit, when they are bad, they get too much blame.
But Shepherd connected with people because in her many saw themselves. A local trying to make her city a better place. Not everyone agreed with her—as evidenced by the clear split on Nov. 19— slim 1.3 per cent of the vote, or just over 400 votes, separating her and Gray.
Shepherd will likely credit others for much of her success over the years—the fellow council members she worked with, members of the committees on which she served and residents of the city she led. But that modesty belies the work she did, and the work she should be recognized for.
Shepherd likes to joke that she’s “small but mighty.” Well, it’s time for her to stand up and take a mighty big bow.
Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.