Alison Dennis felt bored and uncomfortable Tuesday at the Armstrong councillor candidates forum.
The seven-year Armstrong resident listened for nearly an hour to five questions from the floor to the candidates – incumbents Paul Britton, Shirley Fowler, Ryan Nitchie, Sully O’Sullivan, Kelly Rowe and John Trainer, and challengers Dave McKechnie and Robert Thibeau – on Hydro smart meters, water meters, tax increases, the city’s roads and infrastructure plans and about the company that manages parks and recreation.
Dennis stood at the microphone at the Glad Tidings Pentecostal Church and said the only time she got excited during the forum was when she heard the six incumbents disagreed with what to do about Pleasant Valley Boulevard.
“I came here hoping to find out about each of you as an individual. I sure hope we have a vibrant council in the future but I’m not getting that,” said Dennis. “I’m getting a whole bunch of people that talk the same, finish each others’ sentences and ideas.
“Where do you, individually, stand for me, little Josephine Public out here in Armstrong?”
The incumbents were given the chance to respond first with all six pointing out that while they all get along, they do have their own opinions on matters.
“I think I represent a section of the community that fits my demographic, I’m a working mother and a taxpayer in this community, and I have children at two different schools to worry about,” said Rowe. “I have a very strong mind. I am comfortable making my own mind up and sticking with that.”
O’Sullivan said he has voted against his fellow councillors many times.
“We discuss things and try to get everybody to agree and it’s not easy to do,” said O’Sullivan. “They’re always getting on me so I know I’m getting to them. We discuss everything and try to come up with an answer sooner or later. We work well together.”
Britton, a teacher at Pleasant Valley Secondary, feels he’s a voice for the teenagers in the community. He said the current council has significantly smoothed over differences with its township neighbour.
“Right now is probably the best relationship with Spallumcheen council, and it’s never been like that before,” said Britton, a councillor for 12 years. “There are always issues. Like the (new) arena. We wanted it. They didn’t want it so much. We stood our ground and got that arena.”
Nitchie said being a community leader in a small city like Armstrong means being accessible to the constituents and avoiding squabbles and name-calling at the council table.
“My philosophy has always been to save the mud-slinging and rhetoric for the provincial and federal guys,” said Nitchie. “I always try to approach council meetings with an open mind and we will have our agreements and disagreements. I’m always available by phone, e-mail or at work. I’ll respect your opinion and try to find an answer to your questions right away.”
Trainor said one thing Dennis and the citizens of Armstrong won’t see is bickering and in-fighting, and that there is lots of disagreements among councillors at the committee tables.
“When you see us finishing each other’s questions, you see a team that has the best interest of the city in mind,” said Trainor. “That’s the honest truth. Not one of us here would vote yes to something that, in our humble opinion, would sink the city.”
Fowler took pride in Dennis thinking the incumbents get along very well.
“When I joined council six years ago, I wondered how I’d relate to everybody,” said Fowler. “Everybody gave you respect for saying what’s on your mind. Committee meetings are very passionate. I’ve never come out of a council meeting feeling I’d get stabbed in the back.”
McKechnie drew laughs from the crowd of about 40 when he said he keeps his finger on the pulse of the community every morning at 6 a.m. at the A&W. And usually in the same seat.
“I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with a council that works well together, that’s admirable,” said McKechnie. “People can sit down and discuss openly their opinions and vote on matters.”
Thibeau, who has voiced his opposition on council’s aim of installing water meters in the community, and reiterated that stance on several answers, took a jab at the incumbents.
“There has been a lot of ‘we’, referring to them, to you,” said Thibeau. “These six have said we don’t care what the majority thinks (about water meters). That’s not democracy. My pledge to you is I will always attempt to find out what the majority of people in Armstrong think before I vote on anything.”
Dennis said she didn’t get an answer to her question.
“I didn’t get a sense of who’s fighting for what in our community, who was more concerned for different demographics or different issues,” said Dennis. “Mr. McKechnie sounded like the old council. Mr. Thibeau is pretty much a one-issue guy. I do like that Mr. Thibeau will stand up as an individual and say what he believes in. Everybody else just rubber stamped each other.”
The forum was hosted by the Armstrong Ministerial Association and the Okanagan Advertiser.