Editor’s Note: With the formal election campaign beginning, the News approached several previous community leaders and asked them to share their experience and advice with those considering running for election this year. Thank you to former councillors/ mayors Bob Dew, Joyce Harder, Christ’l Roshard and Kevin Taylor and recently retired SLRD Area Directors Debbie Demare and Mickey Macri for sharing their thoughts with our readers..
Question 1: Do you have any specific advice for candidates for public office?
Debbie Demare: Listen and connect with your community – frequently! Bring yourself, your experience and your values to the position but let the community guide you. They are your strength!
Bob Dew: The hardest job is to bring the community together. Don’t have secret meetings with special interest groups. It creates distrust and suspicion; use Council chambers. Support and encourage volunteer groups. They are cost-effective and very productive. Be patient with annoying customers.
On the water issue, I thought our council had solved Lillooet’s water problem with deep wells, only to discover a few years later they had high arsenic levels. Challenges include Town Creek and Dickey Creek arsenic, the fires on Mt. McLean and uncontrollable amounts of moving shale rock. I have stood in one-foot deep flowing shale mud trying to protect my intake structures and access roads in Dickey Creek. Seton River is probably one of the finest water sources. Fix the leaks and install water meters.
As for wildfires, reduce the risk of wildfires in Lillooet. On an annual basis, burn off road right-of-ways, railway right-of-ways, river banks, canal banks, BC Hydro right-of-ways and private water pipeline routes.
Joyce Harder: Understand that you will never please “all the people all the time.” Your job is to make the difficult decisions, which are not always the popular decisions.
Mickey Macri:Communicate and listen ... with your CAO and experienced Council and Board members. Remember always you are responsible to your constituents for they elected you to represent them. Never leave a call unanswered.
Celebrate your wins but do not dwell on them for there will be plenty more challenges right around the corner. One more important comment is what Russ Oakley said to me when I asked him 16 years ago “How big a job is it being a Regional Director?” And he replied “It is as big as what you want it to be,” and that is so true.
Christ’l Roshard: Don’t run if your purpose is to promote a single agenda. The position requires you to embrace multiple issues, make complex decisions and engage with a wide range of people.
Please run if you are passionate about your community, if you have experience in using critical thinking in decision-making and if you have lots of time to devote to Council. After ten years as editor of the Lillooet News and another six years on Council, attending a couple hundred Council meetings, it amazes me that some members never read their agenda prior to Council meetings, failed to attend meetings and never asked for additional information from staff before making important decisions.
If you have not held municipal office before, if you are elected, please read the Community Charter - all of it! Please attend the workshop for newly elected officials, put on by the Union of B.C. Municipalities. Make sure you are entirely clear on your roles and responsibilities. Don’t take unilateral action on behalf of Lillooet without Council resolution.
This is not like running a business. Not about profit or loss. Ideally, the municipality should collect just enough money in taxes and grants to pay for the services its citizens require. Do not micromanage staff and please listen to staff information. Staff are paid to give you the tools to do your job properly.
Respect our St’at’imc neighbours. Listen to them, work with their leaders and pursue joint opportunities. We are all in this together.
Kevin Taylor: When you are talking to the people and telling them what you intend to do, they will expect you to keep your word and do the best that you can. When you are in office as mayor or councillor, always keep in mind that you are working for the people who elected you. You may want to form committees to look at any ventures, procedures and changes; you will be surprised at the input you get from these committees. If council does form committees, remember to thank them in our local paper.
Look at your staff, try to understand what they do; the work that they do is a vital part of how they work for and with the council. Attend financial meetings so that you are up to speed with the District of Lillooet financial position. Council should attend and participate in local activities.
We have to keep tourism going. I used to visit the tour buses and talk to the visitors and answer all their questions.
Question 2: What surprised you about your new position once you were elected?
Debbie Demare: How much of a voice the Electoral Area Director for Area A has with the SLRD. With ministries in the provincial government and through many other boards, committees and so on. I tried very hard to provide a consistently expressed voice on our concerns and I was really surprised how much I was listened to. You can make a difference!
I also think that the staff at the SLRD do everything in their power to understand and deliver services in a way that is relevant for the upper Bridge River Valley. I didn’t quite know how much until I worked with them for seven years. They do an amazing job!
Joyce Harder: I was surprised by how loud small special interest groups can be while the majority remain silent, which always makes the right decision much more difficult. Your objective must always be "the big picture," sometimes amid very vocal opposition.
Mickey Macri: Board procedure and creation of bylaws and amendments.
Christ’l Roshard:I was surprised and dismayed by the intensity of personal attacks against my character while I was mayor. The rise of social media as a malicious tool in municipal politics has unfortunately spread across the country, giving rise to a paucity of talented people willing to take on leadership roles.
On the positive side, I was amazed by our provincial ministers. I developed great relationships with several people who listened to Lillooet’s concerns and, in many cases took action. Previously, as a member of the press, I was often in a critical or confrontational mode. That does not work when you are a Council member. Bring a business plan or report to the meeting and they will listen.
Kevin Taylor: Truthfully, I woke up the next morning thinking ‘What have I done? Now I am responsible for almost 3,000 people.’ (I believe that is called a wake-up call.)
Question 3: What was the biggest lesson you learned from your service?
Debbie Demare: How grateful 95 per cent of the population is for your service. There are always a few naysayers but for the most part people really say thank you a lot! To me that means our system is healthy because people respect what you are doing.
Bob Dew:I got a great deal of satisfaction from the efforts of my council. We did downtown revite, expanded the boundaries of Lillooet to include the Hop Farm, East Lillooet and Cook Road. We got legal access to properties on Seton Lake.
My biggest disappointment was the very productive water wells had high levels of arsenic
Joyce Harder: I learned very early on that all decisions have consequences and that you have to seriously consider those consequences when making the decisions. It is easy to make promises when you have some but not all the information - which can alter the final outcome significantly. And one bit of advice that I will never forget, from Cyril Shelford who represented the North for 27 years, was that he never apologized for "being smarter today than he was yesterday," when new information required that he change his position on any matter.
I remember a candidate who called me to let me know that, if elected, he would be a **** disturber. I knew the topic he was championing and appointed him chairman of that particular committee. Once he had all the information and saw the consequences of going either way, he had no choice but to make the right decision. He did so with gruff acceptance.
Mickey Macri:Work with the different ministries and governments, including First Nations. It is not an US and THEM scenario; we are all in this together.
Christ’l Roshard:I learned that no matter how difficult, if you truly believe in something, work hard and keep going. It really is worth it. Working for my community was an honour and a privilege. I came away from six years of municipal service feeling a little tattered and torn, but grateful to have had the opportunity. I learned that no matter what happens, Lillooet is resilient, its people are amazing and there is nowhere else I would want to live.
Kevin Taylor:That the mayor must be available in the office; that is why I stopped working. As the mayor, I asked the council if I could deal with small problems when I was in the office. Council agreed; solving small problems reduced the size of the agenda at council meetings. I was obvious that people like to go to the mayor if they have problems. I know there are staff who could talk to them, but they do not vote staff in; they want mayor and council to answer their problems.