Retired broadcaster Gord Leighton is campaigning for a seat on Vernon council as ‘The Common Sense Senior.’
Leighton, a broadcaster for 53 years with previous experience as a city councillor in Prince George, has a proven track record as a community advocate, business person, and leader.
Leighton said that when elected, he has five main priorities: seniors, safety, transparency, frugality, and customer service.
“The fastest growing demographic in Vernon is in the senior 65+ population with “boomers” joining the senior demographic in a tsunami-like wave, pushing this population segment to a total of 24 per cent of the adult population,” said Leighton. “Who will speak for them?”
Leighton said Vernon is a wonderful city that has earned a bad reputation as the ninth most dangerous place in Canada, according to MacLean’s Magazine. Additional RCMP members and a new superintendent will certainly help, he said, but a more collaborative effort by mayor, council, city administration and the RCMP to work with social service agencies is needed.
“There are good reasons why council must hold in-camera closed meetings,” said Leighton. “But taxpayers deserve to have details of in-camera meetings released on a frequent and timely basis.” He cited the in-camera decision by the city to sell the 19.6-acre McMechan Reservoir site to a sole proponent for $6.49 million.
Without prejudice to the overall value of the project, Leighton wonders if the city did the right thing by dealing with a sole purchaser as opposed to issuing a wider call for proposals from other potential developers.
“As a senior on a fixed income, I know the importance of frugality,” he said. “I fear there is an ingrained sense of entitlement in some areas of city administration, where discretionary expenditures are given the green light simply because there is money remaining in a budget line item, and not because the need is an immediate priority.”
Leighton says the issue of customer service is a potentially sensitive topic. He said many departments in the city do an admirable job of serving constituents. He includes parks and recreation, fire and protective services and the finance departments as good examples of customer service well delivered.
“We can, and must, do better in some other areas – particularly with the bylaw department,” said Leighton. “Whether deserved or not, bylaw services has a reputation that tarnishes the city as a whole as a friendly, welcoming community.”
Leighton said that every interaction that any resident, citizen or visitor has with the city is a touchpoint, requiring the best effort to display empathy, to offer help and to extend common courtesy.
“Everyone is a customer,” he said.
Leighton also points to customer service deficiencies in other areas such as infrastructure project planning, dialogue and consultation with the business community.
Recent top-of-mind examples include the contentious Stickle Road project, the management of the rebuild of Kalamalka Lake Road and some downtown projects which materially impaired or harmed some businesses – with little or no advance communication by the city with key stakeholders.
“I also believe it important that candidates make it clear to voters about things they stand against,” said Leighton. “Adopting a position as an advocate for one or more causes is easy, but what do candidates stand against?”
For Leighton, he stands against impulsive, knee-jerk reactions and decisions that as a consequence are disrespectful, harmful or simply embarrassing, as was (and is) the case with the foolishness of the shopping cart debate and the homeless.
“I was offended by the heavy-handed rhetoric from some council members on this issue,” he said. “I also stand against waste, any sense of entitlement in the budget process, the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ mentality that lingers in some departments in the city.
“Finally, I stand against behaviours by city leadership, including mayor and council that are unbecoming of the trust afforded to those elected by the community. Those behaviours include attitudes of arrogance, indifference and lack of responsiveness.”
Leighton moved to the region in 2003 and was general manager of four Bell Media-owned radio stations, including Vernon’s Sun FM, until his retirement in January 2017.
At a personal level, Prince George and District Chamber of Commerce named Leighton Businessperson of the Year in 1995; the B. C. Association of Broadcasters named him Broadcaster of the Year in 1997; The Quality Council of British Columbia gave Leighton an Award of Distinction for Leadership in 1999; The Prince George-Yellowhead Rotary Club named him Rotarian of the Year and a Paul Harris Fellow in 1989. He also held elected positions as president of several organizations including the BC Association of Broadcasters (two terms), The Quality Council of Prince George and the Yellowhead Rotary Club.