BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Tapping into talent

Team Vernon has been handed the playbook and it’s ready to hit the field.

Team Vernon has been handed the playbook and it’s ready to hit the field.

And specifically, there will be five players carrying the ball for the city when they go up against other jurisdictions in the region.

All eyes will be on Mayor Rob Sawatzky, who campaigned on the need to improve relations with Vernon’s neighbours. He even went as far as sitting down with Coldstream’s Jim Garlick prior to formally taking the official oath of office.

“The only way to resolve these things is to communicate,” Sawatzky said recently.

And while open dialogue is vital on common interests like water and parks and recreation, Sawatzky may have to reconcile his desire to be friends with Coldstream and the Regional District of North Okanagan with ensuring his actions are in the best interest of city taxpayers. They aren’t necessarily the same thing.

A good leader is one who recognizes his own flaws and that may be the case with Sawatzky.

He’s new to politics and doesn’t fully understand the protocol and legislation, let alone the history and complexities of the issues at the table. That’s why it made sense to take along some seasoned players to the RDNO board.

Coun. Patrick Nicol has two decades of local governance under his belt and he has shown a keen interest in what happens outside of Vernon’s border. In fact, it’s common for Nicol to seek specific details about a matter in a rural area even though he doesn’t have a vote.

It was also Nicol who recently tag-teamed with Garlick to sell the Agricultural Land Commission on a proposed sports complex in Coldstream.

The city’s other representative at the regional district is Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who served as a director when she was on council prior to her failed mayoralty bid in 2008. She knows how the process works and while she has been absent for three years, you can bet  Cunningham has been keeping on top of things through the media and political contacts she has.

At the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee, Sawatzky has drawn on Coun. Bob Spiers, who may be the only person besides Coldstream’s Gyula Kiss who understands the intricacies of water utility billing and the various methods for ensuring funds for necessary infrastructure.

Perhaps Sawatzky’s most interesting decision though, was sending Coun. Catherine Lord to GVAC.

Lord will be sitting beside Garlick and Kiss, her former employers when she was Coldstream’s director of financial administration. She quit in 2009, saying that, “They (council) are going in a different direction. It’s not the direction I want to go.”

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Lord, Garlick and Kiss unfolds given their shared past.

But Lord could be invaluable because she has worked for both Coldstream and Vernon and understands how they operate. It’s possible she could help smooth over potential areas of misunderstanding or find common ground.

Time will tell if Sawatzky’s appointments made sense, but at least mixing experience with new faces is an attempt to change the status quo regionally.

It’s certainly more than was done in Coldstream, where there have been no changes to its RDNO and GVAC representation.  Perhaps some fresh opinions, if any exist, might have helped ease the stalemate.

But if Sawatzky’s actions don’t pan out and the turf war erupts again, he can take solace in the fact that appointments are only for one year at a time.

He will have the ability to shuffle the deck chairs next December in the hope that he gets it right that time.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star