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Kelowna News

Don’t expect sweeping change from new mayors in Kamloops, Okanagan

Kamloops mayor-elect Reid Hamer-Jackson.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Reid Hamer-Jackson for Mayor

Three of the five biggest cities in the Thompson-Okanagan and more in smaller communities have elected new mayors.

Some came to power with no previous council experience while riding the mantra of change.

But sweeping change is not how local government works.

“People have to realize the difference between a campaign and reality,” Kelowna’s former city manager Ron Mattiussi told

Kamloops mayor-elect Reid Hamer-Jackson, who has no local government experience, is already in conflict with re-elected Coun. Dale Bass and has raised concerns about community services director Byron McCorkell.

Kelowna mayor-elect Tom Dyas, also a newcomer to council chambers, promised to set up a lobbyist registry, hire an integrity commissioner, has complained about the city's communications and wants to audit city spending.

Julius Bloomfield, after winning the election race for mayor of Penticton said it was a “resounding vote for change,” but he has not been specific about what changes he might want to make at City Hall.

Being the only one of the new larger city mayors who has actual experience on council, he has talked about the need to work with other council members.

While the title mayor has a certain cachet about it, that’s about all it has. After all, they only have one vote, as does any elected council member.

“Under our system, we don’t have a strong mayor system so the mayor has virtually no power,” Mattiussi said. He keeps his hand in local government as acting CAO of a number of communities, including Lytton, and will be heading out soon to do council orientations all around the province.

In B.C., he explained, cities are set up on a corporate model with council being the board of directors who hire a city manager (or CAO as it’s called in most communities) to actually run the city.

“They (mayors) are the chairmen of the board,” Mattiussi said. “They preside over the board meetings. They have a lot of influence over council because they were elected by the whole city but it’s the power of influence. It’s not power.”

Of the three, Hamer-Jackson is the only one to directly attack city staff, saying he wants to test their competency.

"We need to find out their qualifications," he told

In particular, he's set his sights on Community and Protective Services director Byron McCorkell.

While he has focused on that department, he hinted at broader issues within City Hall.

"From what I've learned from city employees and residents, we have toxicity within our city,’ Hamer-Jackson said. “I've got to listen to them.’

McCorkell is responsible for the city's bylaw department, fire department and RCMP as well as overseeing the city's relationship with non-profits working with homeless people.

He led the bylaw department's restructure into "community services" in 2020.

READ MORE: Kamloops doesn't have bylaw officers anymore — they're 'community service officers'

That required officers take a fitness test to keep their employment resulting in many leaving those positions. That pushed back the full roll-out of its program because the city couldn’t hire enough new staff to replace them. The union representing the workers have also challenged the city over the changes.

"Anyone that makes that decision, to me, does not have the qualifications to make these decisions," Hamer-Jackson said.

In the past, he's suggested the fitness test sets a "precedent," proposing management in charge of that decision should take a "common sense" test in lieu of a fitness test.

But Hamer-Jackson — like any other B.C. mayor — does not have the power to go after an individual manager or managers.

Under the municipal governance system, city councils only have one employee: the CAO.

They can direct the CAO to take action against a manager or department but cannot force the CAO to do so.

Council’s ultimate recourse would be to fire the CAO but, that too, is a delicate matter that requires following strict procedures and should only be done after getting legal advice, Mattiussi advised.

There are only two ways to fire a CAO, he explained.

The mayor does have the power to suspend the CAO but would only do that if there was some serious abuse, Mattiussi said.

Even then, at its next meeting, council would have to discuss the issue and either support or reject the mayor’s actions.

The other way would be to hold a scheduled in-camera meeting without the CAO in the room and agree to terminate him or her.

While a CAO can, technically, be fired simply because a new council doesn’t like them, it really needs to be for just cause or the required payout will likely be “outrageous,” Mattiussi said.

Dyas’ call for an integrity commissioner and lobbyist registry is more to hold elected officials to account.

He has, however, committed to hiring an external third party to do a line-by-line audit of the city’s finances and wants to bring in community members to consult on issues.

He has also lashed out at the city for spending taxpayers’ money to produce videos featuring Mayor Colin Basran leading up to the election.

“The fact that the city paid for more ads featuring the mayor over June and July than they did over the last two and a half years combined is deeply troubling,” he said in a news release. “Kelowna’s taxpayers deserve to have their hard-earned money respected and used for the betterment of our community not to promote the image and personality of their mayor.”

He committed to restricting the types of videos the city produces.

READ MORE: Kelowna mayoral candidate challenges city Facebook ads featuring Basran

While Dyas did not make a direct attack on city staff, his various comments hint at the concerns he has about the internal workings of City Hall.

Dyas did not return requests for an interview prior to this article being published.

Neither Hamer-Jackson nor Dyas are calling for the removal of their top bureaucrats.

In fact, Hamer-Jackson said he wants to meet with the city’s CAO, David Trawin, and incoming council to discuss how employment qualifications of city management can be reviewed. It's unclear what the path forward would be but he said it would start with the meeting with Trawin, whom he so far has no issues with.

Even so, if the mayor and council have problems with city staff, they do have to sort those out.

“A city will only work based on trust – trusting each other and trusting staff,” Mattiussi said. “That has to be there. I think it’s really important. If it takes an audit to go through the books, then do it.”

Hamer-Jackson and Coun. Dale Bass may have trouble working together, based on some of their comments to media over his proposal last year for a “wellness centre” that Bass referred to as a “concentration camp.”

Hamer-Jackson has called for an apology.

“At the end of the day, council will be judged on what happens and how it works,” Mattiussi said. “If council spends all its time mired in fighting each other and/or staff, not much will get done. That’s just the sad reality. It’s good for the news outlets but I’m not sure that it moves the city forward. They’ve got to find their equilibrium sooner rather than later.”

 — With files from Levi Landry

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