It’s beginning to seem like forever ago that I started this project to become a Sechelt councillor.
I found the election itself to be exhilarating, and mostly enjoyable. Upon becoming elected, I shifted gears towards my new role, and am now dedicating myself to my position as councillor.
Many liken the experience of being elected for the first time to being thrown ‘in the deep end’ and I have certainly felt that way at times over the past two weeks. Sechelt has given me a rare opportunity to learn what local government is all about and make decisions on behalf of the community. I do not take that endowment lightly.
Many of you may not know what the true responsibilities of council really are: we’re essentially executive board members. The District itself is structured much like a corporation, with similar functions, duties, and designated relationships internally/externally. The mayor is in the position of CEO, and chairs the meetings, serves appointments, and sets the broad direction of the conversation upon which council and staff act.
There are two main issues that differentiate government structure from business: the designated authority to administer bylaws and zoning, and the obligation of a political duty to serve the citizens as outlined in our Community Charter.
Changes afoot at the District
Our new mayor, Bruce Milne, wasted no time in defining a series of changes coming to the functioning of our District. In our first meeting with staff, following our swearing in, Milne made it clear that we would be shifting away from a ‘business model’, towards a ‘public governance model’. The reasons were clear: nobody chooses to pay taxes, therefore, as a local government, we have no customers.
Mayor Milne outlined a clear course of action (with a target timeline attached) for our first year:
- An administrative and operational review of District operations (90 days)
- Drafting and implementation of a ‘community engagement framework’ (180 days)
- Economic development plan for the District of Sechelt (360 days)
One of our first orders of duty this week was to ratify the ‘end of service’ agreement of our Chief of Innovation and Growth: Mr. Ron Buchhorn. Ron has served the District and our community with distinction and had a guiding hand in the drafting and implementation of the previous council’s strategic vision. That vision was founded on a ‘business model’ of governance and Mr. Buchhorn made it clear that as we shifted away from that, he was likely no longer the best person to serve as the Chief Administrative Officer for this council.
In my interactions with Mr. Buchhorn he has been a consummate professional and showed a depth of understanding of the challenges facing daily administration. He has earned the respect of staff, and I think, performed his stated duties in an exemplary fashion. He leaves on good terms and I sincerely wish him well in his future endeavours.
In all my interactions with staff, so far, I have been duly impressed with their dedication and professional candor. We have some amazing people working for our community in the District office. They have gone out of their way to make my transition as a new councillor as workable and comfortable as possible. They often put in long hours, staying late, arriving early, and communicating with council members around the clock. We’re truly lucky to have such great people in our service.
The new council was treated to a broad assortment of orientation presentations in our first week.
We were first issued, and then trained on our District iPads. We were then integrated into the administration systems by staff IT specialist Beverly Ehlbeck.
We then received an outstanding 3 hour workshop on the upcoming 2015 budget from Victor Mema, the District’s CFO. We received an overview of every department, and also had a presentation outlining their respective budget and duties by the manager in charge. Councillors had many questions, which were clarified by staff in detail. Special mentions go to Margi Nicholas, Ron Buchhorn, Connie Jordinson, Victor Mema and John Mercer for their excellent responses to our questions.
Next we received presentations from the various arms length corporate bodies that the district has an interest in, namely: Sechelt Community Forest and Sechelt Innovations.
Lastly, we received an overview of our legal obligations from distinguished municipal legal counsel, Don Lidstone, of Lidstone and Company Law Corporation. We had many questions that where dutifully answered in what was a rigorous and informative session.
Our first orders of business
Many important items of unfinished business were on the table for new council to act upon immediately upon taking office. As promised in my election campaign, I will provide a treatment of how I voted and why.
Vanta Pacific Resort – Development Permit Application
There were three primary reasons I voted for the issuing of a development permit for the Vanta Pacific Resort. Firstly, I have long-held belief that we need to support the tourism industry on the Sunshine Coast, and part of that is providing top quality amenities for visitors. Secondly, the developer has made a commitment to use local trades in construction, supporting our construction industry, which provides the backbone of our coastal economy. This is a large project that will provide many years of well-paid work in our community. Lastly, the biological survey included in the application, outlined the many measures this development had gone through to preserve biodiversity and lessen impact. These were my three major criteria, but I must add, that the project was of a high design value, and fit within the surrounding landscape.
Open Air Burning Burning Bylaw –request for exemption
I had a much more difficult time deciding what to do regarding this item. For me, it represents the externalization of hazards to the public for the purposes of private profit. It is part of the applicant’s business model to burn ‘third-party’ green waste within the District’s air-shed. The applicant’s request included a lengthy petition in favour, indicating both a community need and support. In the end, I voted for it because the material was already on-site, and would have required costly re-loading and transport to any composting facility, imposing undue cost upon a local business.
Sechelt Community Archives Digitization Project
This item entailed releasing the funds to pay for the digitization of 5700 historical photographs from Sechelt’s history. The cost was modest ($2,500 + $1,305 in kind), and was matched by the BC History Digitization Program. For me, the loss of such a treasured collection of Sechelt’s earliest photographed history would have represented an abrogation of my duty. Needless to say, I voted for the project to go ahead.
Ratification of ‘end of service’ agreement with RSB Solutions Re: Ron Buchhorn (in camera, now released)
I had serious reservations about the disruption to staff activities that could be caused by the departure of Ron Buchhorn in this time of transition. Upon hearing that the agreement to end service was mutual, I decided to support the ratification of the agreement. The reasons given by both the Mayor and Mr. Buchhorn indicate a logical approach rather than an emotional response to changes coming to our District. Once again, throughout the proceedings I was impressed by the professional candor of our mayor and staff in negotiating this agreement.