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One year in, new Kelowna councillors are finding their groove

Rookie councillors Brad Sieben (second from left) Tracy Gray (third from left) and Ryan Donn (far right) join the rest of Kelowna council for an announcement.
November 24, 2015 - 8:00 PM

KELOWNA - It’s been a year since three brand new members joined Kelowna city council and while they don’t agree on everything, they do agree on one thing — it’s been a fast ride.

“It went by in a blink of an eye,” Coun. Brad Sieben says. “It seems like just yesterday we were planting campaign signs, running around like crazy.”

Sieben and fellow rookie councillors Tracy Gray and Ryan Donn joined a council with a brand new mayor, Colin Basran, the first time in 18 years the job hadn’t passed between former mayors Walter Gray and Sharon Shepherd.

With Basran new to the mayor’s chair and three fresh faces on council, it was no surprise the first part of the year was short on policy and long on orientation.

“We’re just now getting into our groove, I think,” Coun. Gray says. “A lot of time at first was spent on strategic planning and just figuring out how things work.”

Both Gray and Sieben came to municipal politics through the private sector and say the often-times glacial pace of municipal politics can be frustrating.

“I come from a private business background and while you are bound within your own confines, if you have to make a policy decision you can do it pretty quickly,” Sieben says.

At the same time, nothing prepared any of the rookie councillors for the multi-faceted nature of the municipal decision-making process, where many different players can have an interest in the outcome.

“I compare it to the complexity of chess where you have these nine players, all this staff, a whole bunch of interest groups and developers, then a couple of layers above you is the provincial and federal governments. And then there’s the public,” Coun. Donn says.

Sieben uses the metaphor of spinning plates to describe the business of local government.

“It’s like you get one plate going and leave it and get two more going, but you can’t let the first one fall."

If the first part of the year was about learning City Hall's ropes, the second part was about staking out some political ground, which council did with the release in August of its strategic priorities.

First on the list was a call for safe, clean drinking water for all Kelowna residents and not far behind was a push to get ahead of Kelowna’s homeless problem with new staff and a different philosophy.

“Those are easy issues to get behind though maybe not quite as easy to solve,” Donn says. “We need to make sure our citizens all have clean drinking water. Simple as that. And the homelessness issue is pretty easy to see."

And both those issues, Gray says, are examples of the kinds of complex subjects that staggers the mind of those new to the process.

“You look at water quality, for example. Then there’s water conservation and irrigation that are connected to that. But it’s not just about irrigation, then there’s fire protection and lake levels and milfoil and they’re all connected.”

All those layers of complexity come at a cost, Sieben says, if council is doing its job right.

“We are in a position of having to make difficult decisions. You can’t make everybody happy no matter how hard you try,” Sieben adds. “There is no perfect solution sometimes and you really have to make a decision for the good of the community as a whole."

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald at jmcdonald@infonews.ca or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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