BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Mayor speaks out

Rob Sawatzky can’t be accused of going quietly from Vernon city hall

Rob Sawatzky can’t be accused of going quietly.

He has just a few weeks before he retires as Vernon’s mayor and while others in those circumstances have remained neutral during elections, Sawatzky is pursuing a far different approach.

“I think you have been a very good council and you should be proud of your body of work,” he told his colleagues at the end of Monday’s council meeting.

“You have developed an excellent style of healthy debate involving your various perspectives and working towards common goals despite differences of opinion. This morning’s in-camera discussion was another example of how you always work towards solutions, not towards disruption and impasse.”

Sawatzky went on to say that the public has no idea of how many meetings councillors attend or the extra research they do.

“All of the work you do is for the good of your community. You try to do the right thing for the right reasons and that is often the hardest thing to do,” he said.

“There is no financial gain in this for you. I’m sure you would all be much better off financially if you put your efforts toward your own private financial affairs. I have been privileged and honoured to work with you. And you all deserve support from the public for your efforts to do the right thing for all the right reasons over the last three years.”

It was that last sentence that led me into the mayor’s office after council ended. I wanted to know if Sawatzky was endorsing the  four incumbent councillors seeking re-election.

“I feel I would vote for every one of them but that’s the public’s decision,” he said when approached.

But he was a little more cautious when asked about Mary-Jo O’Keefe, a two-term councillor who is running for mayor.

“She has done a good job as councillor and I am pleased she has put her name forward for mayor and I am pleased the others have also put their names forward for mayor,” said Sawatzky, who has lined up behind Victor Cumming for mayor.

As a soon-to-be former mayor, Sawatzky took the rare step of wading into the election because he’s concerned voters have been distracted over where campaign signs are located.

“I did not support the majority vote (to suspend enforcement) but I wanted to speak on this issue because I think the discussion is diverting attention from the more important issue of the stellar body of work this council has done over the last three years,” he said.

When asked later to elaborate, Sawatzky said, “This should not be an issue in which the public judges them and makes a decision (on how to vote).”

That is fair comment, but if there is broad opposition to the last term, it’s unlikely the public will be focused on just allowing signs on right-of-way in contravention of bylaws. If anything, there will likely be a cumulative consideration of the decisions made, whether it’s moving the tourism booth or increasing water rates.

As mentioned before, it isn’t common for a mayor who is leaving by choice to hit the hustings for others (of course the last retiring mayor was Wayne McGrath. The others either lost their re-election bid or resigned from office).

It will be interesting to see if Sawatzky’s intervention bolsters the chances of Juliette Cunningham, Catherine Lord, Brian Quiring and Bob Spiers. On the other hand, if Sawatzky proves not to be a popular mayor, then it may be an endorsement they want to avoid.