BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Change? Not so much

Columnist Richard Rolke reflects on the election results in Vernon

When asked Saturday night why he rose to the top of the polls, Akbal Mund was quick to respond that, “People wanted change and a new direction.”

That was certainly a common refrain from Mund as he campaigned against the four other mayoralty candidates in Vernon, and there’s no question that the former Wendy’s franchise owner will have a different approach than the retiring Rob Sawatzky.

However, consider that with Sawatzky vacating his chair willingly, change was naturally going to happen.

Mund, Victor Cumming and Jamie Morrow were running for the first time, and while Klaus Tribes is a council veteran, he had been out of politics for 12 years so a whole new generation of Vernonites didn’t know who he was. And even though Mary-Jo O’Keefe has been part of council for the last two terms, she would have undoubtedly put her own stamp on the job.

It’s also interesting to note that Mund’s calls for change aren’t actually reflected in the election results.

Incumbent councillors Brian Quiring, Bob Spiers, Juliette Cunningham and Catherine Lord handily held on to their positions, capturing the four top places on the crowded ballot. Dalvir Nahal and Scott Anderson fill the two spots created by the death of Patrick Nicol and O’Keefe running for mayor.

Now one could argue that the incumbents’ name recognition worked when voters had 14 candidates before them. And while that certainly didn’t hurt, some of the other hopefuls were relatively well-known — Shawn Lee and Jack Gilroy are former Vernon councillors, Janet Green was on Lumby council and Mark Olsen has ran for the NDP provincially.

Also consider that anyone on current council has baggage after a term or two, whether it’s relocating the tourism information centre or moving the master water plan towards referendum disaster.

Ultimately, though, it would appear that of those Vernon residents who bothered to vote Saturday, a majority either endorse, or at least tolerate, the actions of the current council.

How that will translate for Mund is difficult to know.

Will he be able to convince the veteran politicians around the table that a new route is required, or will he run into roadblocks? For those who think the mayor is all powerful, consider that while they can try and influence direction, the mayor is only one vote of seven. Back in the 1990s, one Vernon mayor lost complete control when he and two councillors were unable to counter the tag-team approach followed by four other councillors.

Being the boss in a business means you are in charge and you can make arbitrary decisions. But on a city council, there are seven distinct personalities with different perceptions of what is best for the community.

If Mund is to succeed, he would be wise to follow the lead of Sawatzky, who was a conciliator and tried to prevent wide-scale disputes.

On another front, it’s quite clear that change didn’t occur.

Jim Garlick was acclaimed to a third term as Coldstream mayor and five of his six councillors were returned to office Saturday night (the retiring Maria Besso has been replaced by former councillor Glen Taylor). In the electoral areas, directors Bob Fleming and Mike Macnabb were uncontested.

The lack of new faces in the neighbouring communities could make it challenging for Mund if he wants to go in a dramatically different direction on water or culture. Mund and all of city council favour a review of Greater Vernon governance options, but that will hit a dead-end as officials in both Coldstream and the electoral areas oppose amalgamation.

Mund will be sworn into office Dec. 1 and then he has four years to pursue the change he believes voters wanted.

But given all of the familiar faces at city hall and at the regional district, it could be a lot of the same old, same old.