The 16 people running for Courtenay council gathered Tuesday evening at an all candidates forum at the Sid Williams Theatre. The Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted the event.
The candidates include Will Cole-Hamilton, Brennan Day, Darwin Dzuba, David Frisch, Tom Grant, Doug Hillian, Kiyoshi Kosky, Jin Lin, Penny Marlow, Melanie McCollum, Wendy Morin, Judi Murakami, Murray Presley, Deana Simkin, Manno Theos and Starr Winchester.
Hillian, Frisch and Theos are incumbents, meaning there will be at least three new councillors voted in. There are six council positions to be filled. The mayoral candidates participated in a separate forum, also hosted by the Chamber.
The municipal election is Oct. 20.
Following is a summary of the questions and answers:
What attributes from your personal or professional life will you bring to council?
Kosky, a progressive candidate who embraces inclusiveness, said his interpersonal skills and collaborative nature helps to create mutual respect.
Theos believes his food and service background creates a comfort zone that enables conversation.
“As a council member, it’s critical that we listen and hear the public, and take action on what they say.”
Grant, a former Comox councillor and co-founder of the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society, feels that his management of several companies has resulted in his leadership ability, which “gets things done.”
Cole-Hamilton, a law school graduate, says his education has enabled an ability to break things down, such as housing needs. Finding multiple ways of communicating solutions tends to result in consensus, he added.
Frisch brings an open-mindedness, and an ability to see the big picture. At times, he recognizes the need to step out of the box.
Presley, a former Courtenay councillor, has a long background in accounting, along with management and business.
Winchester, a former Courtenay mayor and council member, is a team player.
“That is so important when you’re making decisions on Courtenay council,” she said.
One of Simkin’s strengths is bringing people together — like the 15 people in her business. Listening is important to have people on the same page. Leadership, she added, is about “stepping back and letting someone else shine.”
Hillian, who is not good at blowing his own horn, read a statement from an acquaintance who said he is a natural leader who communicates thoughts clearly.
Day brings a dedication to hard work, and a commitment to budget deadlines.
“I understand what it takes to put in a 12-hour day.”
Morin brings people skills, and an ability to inspire others to work together — a combination of grit and diplomacy.
Murakami would bring perseverance to the council table, and a dedication to thoroughness to be ready for meetings.
McCollum said an interest in municipal issues, particularly land use planning, drew her into local government. She feels she is a good communicator and is open-minded.
Marlow considers herself to be a hard worker and a good listener who wants the Comox Valley to become a better place to live.
Lin is a longtime business person who owns the Maple Pool Campsite. As president of the CV Multicultural Society, she understands diversity and sense of community.
As a maintenance tech, Dzuba understands troubleshooting of complex systems.
“As a tradesman, you need to be able to work with others and get along and get the job done. And you have to know that no one person has all the answers.”
What steps have you taken to educate yourselves about the city, its operations and services? For the incumbents, what skills have you developed over the past term to enhance your effectiveness as a councillor?
Cole-Hamilton has met with community groups such as Project Watershed to determine their needs and concerns. He’s a board member of the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association (DCBIA).
At times, Frisch will question City staff reports, if he doesn’t agree with the contents. He’s learned to be patient while keeping motivated.
Since serving on council, Presley has kept abreast of most developments and construction concerns. He’s an avid reader of the newspaper.
When she was president of the DCBIA, Simkin attended many council meetings. She listened closely and gained an understanding of the issues at hand.
Though she left the City four years ago, Winchester continues to regularly watch meetings, and keeps in touch with City staff.
Hillian has learned about making difficult decisions in relation to scarce resources. He has retired from his day job, so he hopes to do a better job of articulating issues.
From watching hundreds of hours of meetings, Day feels that council is straying from the basic issues, and not engaging in detailed discussion.
“We need to make sure we’re focussed on the bottom line issues that are critical to this city remaining sustainable going into the future,” Day said.
Morin says she’s a passionate person with a sense of restraint, so she does everything in her power to gather as much information as possible. She has reviewed guiding documents, and interviewed people in various parts of the community to get a sense of what the job entails. Murakami, Kosky, Dzuba, Marlow and McCollum have also attended council meetings, and met with members of council. Murakami interviewed the three Valley mayors to understand their challenges and accomplishments.
Kosky and Lin believe in attending a business or non-profit office in person to determine their issues and needs.
“I will ask questions, then hopefully together we can find the best solution for our community,” Lin said.
Theos advocates standing behind one’s beliefs, and being consistent with decisions for the greater good of the community.
“Instincts and intuition are also very critical to being a good elected official,” he said. “One of the other most important things is being far-sighted.”
Of the 1,300 municipal politicians in B.C., Grant said he is among the 51 who have a level two certificate from a local government leadership academy. He tore apart the 2017 budget, and wrote numerous emails to the City, but was referred to the Freedom Of Information Act.
As a city councillor, you’re responsible for representing all citizens you serve. Do you believe that each issue should be decided on the benefits it provides to the whole community, even if it does not align with your personal belief or opinion?
Simkin says council needs to respect each and every citizen, be it a sports team or a literacy group. Support, she added, is not always financial. Council can provide liaisons.
Winchester said each decision at the council table should be made with the benefit of the community in mind. Over years, even if at first in disagreement, she’s realized the correct decision has been made after a discussion.
When someone calls or emails, Hillian said it’s not appropriate to ask about the person’s partisan affiliation.
“We’re making decisions for the entire community,” he said.
Day said council needs to make the best decisions with the available information. He feels council cannot continue to not make decisions on hard issues.
Morin advocates listening to diverse opinions and then trying to find a common ground.
“My responsibility is to listen to those concerns,” she said.
Murakami would first determine if a concern falls under municipal jurisdiction, then determine what an organizations needs.
“There’s always an answer, we just need to help them to find it,” she said.
McCollum believes diverse membership on council would help look after the interests of all constituents.
“Having various demographics and ages and genders at the council table means that citizens are better represented,” she said.
In the workplace, Marlow says employees need to deal with decisions, even if they don’t agree with the decision.
“We represent all of our citizens in our community,” Lin said. “Every single citizen, we have to listen. We have to help to solve the problem, doesn’t matter if rich or poor.”
As a councillor, Dzuba will work for the community, and City staff will work for him. He will represent and follow the directions of 50 per cent plus one of the community.
Theos notes the importance of being proactive to find solutions — enabling businesses to feel they can thrive, seniors having attainable services and youth having hope for the future.
Grant advocates prioritization. He strongly believes in a strategic plan funded by a budget that everyone works on. If the plan is not followed, council gets pushed and pulled in different directions from various.
Cole-Hamilton believes in seeking a creative solution to meet two sets of needs.
“If we cast a wide net, think with open minds and creativity, it is entirely possible to find solutions to most of the problems, without anyone having to leave the table empty-handed,” he said.
Frisch says council needs to work for all citizens, though eventually a councillor will upset everyone in some manner. He notes the importance of being willing to compromise.
“The two main questions I ask myself on issues are: Are we getting value for our money, and are we maintaining our quality of life, and our opportunities to succeed?”
Presley advocates gathering available information, listening to different opinions, then making the best decision for the city, whether he agrees or not.
Kosky said the Community Charter states that elected officials need to consider the social, economic and environmental well-being to foster a vibrant, healthy community.
In conjunction with this year’s municipal election, a non-binding referendum will be used to determine if Courtenay residents are in favour of conducting a study to review governance structures, municipally within the Comox Valley, to consider the feasibility and implications of restructuring. If a majority of voters support that question, what priority do you believe it should be given?
Day said most issues boil down to amalgamation — which is what he feels the governance review question will trigger. In the meantime, he feels council needs to more efficiently provide services.
Morin, Simkin and Cole-Hamilton said if people want the study, then council should respect their wishes.
Murakami says council needs to prioritize its tasks, and determine where a study, if approved, will fall under its mandate.
McCollum had a difficult time answering the questions without results of a governance review. But if citizens support it, then it’s the mandate of council. Marlow, noting the expense of studies, concurs with McCollum.
“Why not? It’s just a study,” Lin said.
Even if amalgamation receives a positive vote, Dzuba said council’s primary job is to look after core services.
Kosky said council needs to abide by the will of the people, while considering the cost benefit analysis of doing so.
“If it means that a project like Stotan Falls can get developed against our Regional Growth Strategy in a violation of climate change, then I’m sorry, that’s not a good thing,” Kosky said.
Theos notes a non-binding question is a “temperature test” of interest among residents — interesting, but not top of the priority list.
“But with amalgamation in the future, the concept of being able to provide effective and most efficient services? Good idea,” Theos said.
Grant said it’s a low priority because Courtenay’s neighbours don’t want to amalgamate.
“We have so many more problems in Courtenay,” Grant said. “Comox doesn’t want it. So why would we enter into a marriage with a reluctant bride?”
Frisch wouldn’t be surprised if the question is favourable. He notes that Courtenay already works with neighboring communities on services such as water and sewer.
Presley has advocated for amalgamation since 1996, and heard about this need since the ‘70s.
“We need the objective information to make a rationale decision on possible amalgamation, and not rely on our neighbours to influence us,” he said.
Winchester has said for years that a restructure of governance is needed in the Valley. She’s in favour of the study to determine the facts.
Hillian said there’s many reasons — business permits, for instance — why it makes sense to share services.
The budget process relies on balancing the tax revenue and service provision. Do you believe the current balance is appropriate? If not, what would you like to see change?
Murakami doesn’t believe the current tax structure is fair, noting Courtenay’s mill rate is too high compared to other municipalities.
Given the need to run a balanced budget, McCollum said it comes down to whether or not council wants to cut services to realize tax savings. As far as she’s aware, taxes are on par with other municipalities. She’d like to see a budget in line with inflationary increases, hopefully without cutting services.
Marlow feels the tax rates are rising higher than people’s ability to pay.
“I think they need to prioritize services and they need to cut back some of the spending,” she said.
Presley concurs that property tax increases over the last five years have exceeded the costs of living.
“This is not sustainable,” he said.
Lin notes a senior on a fixed income who moved from North Vancouver to the Valley paid less tax on the other side of the water. She advocates using money wisely, attracting more people to Courtenay, and developing housing.
Dzuba believes we need to grow the economy to keep taxes down.
Kosky plans to get informed, find ways to do things more efficiently, and hopefully decrease taxes.
Theos’ interest is to get maximum value for tax dollars. He notes small businesses are paying three times as much as residents — which could adversely affect jobs in the future.
Grant said Courtenay has not put forth a balanced budget but has run huge surpluses, which means people pay taxes for services not received.
Cole-Hamilton believes council needs a long-term view to deal with taxes. He said the more spread out a city, the higher the taxes. Densification and infill helps lower the tax burden.
“Most of us don’t want to lose the services that we receive from the City,” Cole-Hamilton said.
Frisch notes that most cities face an infrastructure deficit. Courtenay faces a number of underground repairs.
“We’re running reserves and building our reserves so in the future we have money set aside for it,” he said.
Simkin said increased taxes place a bigger burden on those already strapped. She suggests a councillor can streamline expenses and still keep the City running properly.
To keep taxes down, Winchester said the main focus should be spending. She notes tough decisions are made at the council table: the “must dos” versus the “nice to dos.”
We’d all love to live in a tax-free world, but Hillian thinks most people would agree that certain costs, such as policing, shouldn’t go down.
“Our choice is, do we pay for them (taxes) and enjoy the services and incredible quality of life that we have, or not?”
Day said that finding efficiencies doesn’t necessarily mean a cut to front line services, from a business standpoint.
“We need to make sure we’re getting value for our money, and making sure we’re always looking for efficiencies in the delivery of services,” Day said.
Morin notes a long list of things to pay for.
“I’m like everybody else. I feel that my taxes are high enough, but we’re in the position of playing catch-up,” she said.