Council seats open up

Beyond the Headlines: Richard Rolke

New faces are guaranteed at Vernon city hall after Nov. 19’s civic election.

Buffy Baumbrough is walking away from her duties after six years, while Bob Spiers is preparing to pull the plug after just one term.

Baumbrough was first thrust on to council in 2005 because many residents feared the direction Vernon was taking in terms of development. They wanted someone who had an environmental background to provide them with a voice.

Particularly in the first term, Baumbrough challenged what she deemed as sprawl, and she advocated hard for a major rewriting of the official community plan.

Re-elected in 2008, Baumbrough also became focused on affordable housing, air quality and beautification projects. But critics will claim she rarely raised her hand to reduce taxes and didn’t have a major problem with spending bucks on things like transportation demand management.

When asked to reflect on her time on council, Baumbrough says that question is better posed to residents.

“I hope I’ve had a positive influence on the community. It’s very difficult for me to say whether I accomplished that,” she said.

Spiers hasn’t officially decided if he will run again, but he’s always suggested his civic responsibilities would be limited.

“I’m inclined not to go into the next election. I could possibly be more effective on the outside,” he said.

And in a sense, Spiers lost some power when he got elected. Prior to that, he had been a thorn in council’s side, observing all meetings from the public gallery, providing thoughts on his blog and scrutinizing financial documents with a fine-tooth comb. As Citizen Spiers, he was able to grab media attention and had some success influencing councils of the day.

But as an elected official, it’s not unusual for Spiers to be the odd man out as he raises his hand in opposition while the rest of council are financially peas in a pod. He is growing weary of the situation.

“It’s frustrating. I’ve not been able to convince my fellow councillors on implementing policies for fiscal sustainability,” he said.

Spiers will advise the media of his plans in September or October.

“I will decide if I run depending on who else comes along,” he said of potential candidates.

With Baumbrough departing and Spiers apparently packing his bags, the other one to watch is Jack Gilroy. After almost six years, he loves being part of the action but he’s still considering his options.

Shawn Lee and Mary-Jo O’Keefe, who were first elected as councillors in 2008, have committed to seeking another term, while Mayor Wayne Lippert declared his intentions for a third term earlier this year.

Not surprisingly, the ballot will also include Patrick Nicol, who has served eight terms as a councillor.

“I enjoy the constituency work and helping citizens,” said Nicol of why he remains a force at city hall since being first elected in 1986.

“There’s a passion for the community. It’s a labour of love.”

Of course it will be up to those who get out to vote Nov. 19 to determine whether O’Keefe, Lee, Lippert, Nicol and possibly Gilroy return.

Depending on the level of satisfaction in the community and what other candidates bring to the campaign, they could resume their duties.

But if citizens decide there needs to a wholesale purge at city hall, or just a couple of individuals need to go, then Baumbrough’s and Spiers’ chairs won’t be the only ones with new occupants.

-Richard Rolke is senior reporter at The Morning Star. He writes a weekly column for the newspaper.