Emotional goodbyes at Kelowna council meeting

Mayor chokes up wishing her colleagues well but not before blasting opponent's election night victory comment.

It took her nine days, but outgoing Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd has hit back at Walter Gray’s election night shot that his election means “we can finally get Kelowna moving again.”

Wrapping up the second last public meeting of the current council’s mandate Monday afternoon, Shepherd expressed her “disappointment” at what she called the negative tone of the election campaign and especially Gray’s victory celebration comment.

“I guess the final feeling of that came after the election, when the results were determined and a thank-you message that was put out was ‘now we can finally get Kelowna moving forward,'” said Shepherd, who did not mention her political opponent by name.

“Those words I found were disheartening to not only council but to the community and to our staff. We had worked hard on many initiatives.”

And to prove her point, she listed 15 of what she called the many initiatives started or completed by the city during the last three years.

They included:

• Bernard Avenue revitalization

• The city’s new Downtown Plan

• Re-location of the Water Street Seniors Centre

• Re-location of the Kelowna Yacht Club

• Plans for a new Rutland transit mall

• Lakeshore Road improvement planning

• Safe cycle access to UBC-O

• Completed airport improvements and plans for more

• A new model for transit and plans to have bus access to the H2O Aquatic Centre

• Completion of three social housing projects the city partnered in

• The plan for Glenmore Recreation Park

• Plans for a new downtown public dock

• An increase in affordable housing across the city

• Several multi-purpose pathways

• Finalizing plans for the Central Green site

Shepherd told her eight councillors, five of whom were not re-elected, that when

those projects are completed, they should feel proud that they were on the council that made them happen.

“I hope over the next three years that it will be recognized it was this council of 2008 to 2011 that set in place many things that are going to take place over the next three years,” said Shepherd. “I want to name some of them so you go away knowing when that ribbon is cut or than shovel is put in the ground, it was this council that started those(projects).”

She then thanked the councillors, her voice choking with emotion, saying their efforts made a difference and they made the city a better place. She also thanked her family and city staff. Shepherd said it has been a privilege serving on Kelowna city council, first as a councillor for nine years and then as mayor for six years.

But it was not just Shepherd who grew emotional in saying goodbye —or who felt the negativity of the election campaign.

Coun. Charlie Hodge, who was targeted by a local pro-business group early in the campaign as one of four incumbents that group wanted to see replaced on council, called the election campaign one of the most negative he has seen.

He said it was particularly hard on the families of council members to have to sit back and watch their loved ones “take it on the chin,” while powerless to help.

FourChange.org identified Hodge, and three other incumbents, Michele Rule, Angela Reid-Nagy and Kevin Craig as the four councillors it wanted replaced even before it found four challengers to endorse. Three of the chosen four, Gerry Zimmermann, Colin Basran and Gail Given were elected.

Rule, who like Hodge, Reid-Nagy and Craig failed to win re-election, said the newcomers will have “big shoes” to fill.

“All of my colleagues, I’m so impressed with you, especially to outgoing ones.” she said. “You’ve done absolutely incredible work.”

Craig who was elected to council two years ago in a by-election at the age of 19, said he believes this council has left a positive legacy.

Despite a campaign that he characterized the  most negative in the city’s history, he wished the new council well and said it had his support.

Incumbent Coun. Graeme James, while endorsed by FourChange.org, also failed to win re-election. He also grew emotional in thanking his colleagues and said while everyone at the council table may not have always agreed, they all had the best interests of the city at heart,

“It’s been a privilege to know everybody here and I know everybody has been very dedicated,” he said.

Reid-Nagy, dubbed the environmental conscience on council, vowed to run for public office again but not right away. She got married during the her term in office and joked she that while she plans to focus on her environmental business, she also hopes to have some “green” babies.

The three councillors who were re-elected, Robert Hobson, Andre Blanleil and Luke Stack all paid tribute to their six departing colleagues, with Stack and Hobson singling out Shepherd for extra praise.

They hailed the mayor’s  leadership, something Gray, other council challengers and FourCHange.org  said was lacking on council during the election campaign.

Hobson, the longest serving member of council summed up his feelings about Shepherd by quoting a Greek philosopher who said great people are not remembered by buildings or statues, but rather in the hearts of men and women.

Stack told Shepherd she gave council great leadership.

“The city is a different place after six years thanks to you.”

The meeting started with the crowd of about 40 people giving the council an standing ovation that last for several minutes and shouting their thanks to Shepherd, Hodge, Reid-Nagy, Rule, Craig and James while holding up bright yellow thank-you signs.