With five rookie councillors and a mayor who is returning to the office after six years way, it appears the new Kelowna city council will face a steep learning curve.
And it will start with what is arguably council’s biggest task, dealing with Kelowna’s annual budget.
Almost as soon as mayor-elect Walter Gray and his eight councillors—five of whom are first-timers to the office—are sworn in, they will have to get down to crunching the numbers.
“I’m actually looking forward to the budget,” said Colin Basran, who placed third on the councillor poll in Saturday’s civic election.
Basran said while he recognizes there are needs in the community that have to be addressed, he is also mindful of what he heard on the campaign trail from residents.
“Many feel they are at the breaking point when it comes to taxes,” he said.
For other newcomers, such as popular former fire chief Gerry Zimmermann, who topped the poll with more votes than anyone else running—including the mayoral candidates—the budget is not too daunting a process.
“I had to prepare them for 25 years,” said Zimmermann, referring to his days in charge of the fire department. “So it won’t be that bad.”
He said while he’s aware the current council wants city staff to strive towards no tax increase this year, he said that may not be possible.
“What’s important is that the residents get value for every tax dollar spent,” he said.
Zimmermann, second-place finisher Gail Given and Basran all said they were surprised to finish atop the councillor poll in the election.
“I was very pleased,” said Given, a former school district trustee and widow of the late former city councillor Brian Given. “I had hoped to finish seventh or eighth.”
The top eight finishers in the 40-person councillor race all won seats on the new council, which will be sworn in Dec. 5.
Joining the trio will be two other newcomers, local hotelier and Capital News business columnist Maxine DeHart and former CHBC news reporter Mohini Singh, who currently works for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.
Long-time council stalwarts Robert Hobson and Andre Blanleil were re-elected, along with one-term incumbent Luke Stack.
Five of the incumbents who were running—Graeme James, Kevin Craig, Angela Reid-Nagy, Charlie Hodge and Michele Rule—were not re-elected.
Craig, who won his seat on the current council in a by-election in 2009, said he will leave office “with my head held high,” happy with the accomplishments the current council has achieved.
While he felt the hangover effects of the controversial CD-21 zone of two years ago was a big factor in organizing opposition to the current council, he said he believes the city is better off given that it has set the ground work with the new downtown plan and the Bernard Avenue revitalization project.
That plan, which has yet to be finalized, appears to have the backing of Gray who, during the campaign, urged the public to get behind it.
Hodge said he was disappointed by the results, noting that money was a big factor in this civic election campaign.
“It was hard to compete against the money and machinery at work in this election,” he said.
Hodge said he is proud of what the council was able to accomplish, despite the constant campaign rhetoric of being called a “do-nothing council.”
“The reality is that this new council will be following through on a lot of the plans for the downtown, transit, Glenmore and the City Green development that this council undertook over the first three years,” he said.
James, who said he would have liked to have been part of a council led by Gray, said while he was happy with what council has achieved, more could have been done and decisions could have been made quicker.
He said while the downtown plan is good in large part, it neglects the Leon and Lawrence Avenue areas and that needs to be addressed.
Unlike Craig, James was not one of the incumbents targeted by a local group of businesspeople who very publicly endorsed four new candidates and four incumbents.
FourChange.org wanted Craig, Hodge, Rule and Reid-Nagy replaced and said it supported Hobson, Blanleil, James and Stack as well as Zimmermann, Given, Basran and unsuccessful candidate Carol Gran.
While it was just one of several local groups that endorsed candidates, it gained notoriety first for going public with its “hit” list before identifying who it would endorse and then heavily advertising its endorsements during the last days of the campaign.
Winners and losers in the election said they felt FourChange’s endorsements played a part in the outcome.
On election night, Gray called the new council “perfect,” later clarifying he did not mean that it will be a developer-driven council, but rather one that he feels will represent the entire community.
Given echoed that, saying she did not feel there will be expectations on it from developers to approve their projects, but rather make decisions in a more speedy manner.
She noted some of the newcomers have also been heavily involved with social issues through their charity work so the public should not feel that work will be neglected by the new council.
Basran said he is offended by the thought the council will not pay attention to issues other than development and business during the next three years.
“I still care about social issues, the sporting community and other parts of the community,” he said.
But Blanleil. speaking on election night, said the biggest social issue council will face is trying to help create more jobs in the community at a time when the economy is still in tough shape. That will help raise the standard of living for people in Kelowna, he added
“The biggest social issue is getting people back to work,” said Blanleil.