What was scheduled as a “debate” for mayoral candidates instead offered Sicamous residents some insight into the job, the workings of the district and how its relationship with the regional district needs work.
It was a full house at the Sicamous Seniors Centre Tuesday night, Oct. 4, with people attending the last of four council all-candidate forums hosted by the Sicamous Chamber of Commerce. Following an afternoon forum for those vying for the job of councillor, the community’s five mayoral hopefuls, Colleen Anderson, Brenda Dalzell, Larry Emery, incumbent Terry Rysz and Mike Sheehan, sat front and centre to take questions.
After introductions, the first question of the night had to do with facilities in Sicamous manged by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), and related issues of local concern. Candidates were asked how they would “repair the situation.”
Sheehan said if elected, and if it’s what the public wants, he would work towards getting the district control of the CSRD-owned Sicamous and District Recreation Centre.
“I know everybody here or a majority of people here would like the district to take over the ice rink,” said Sheehan.
Emery too thought the community should be running the arena, though admitted to not knowing the whole story about the relationship between Sicamous and the CSRD.
Rysz, the District of Sicamous’ representative at the CSRD board, described that relationship as having some “complications,” noting the district spends $330,000 to support the rec centre. Rysz said the district has no say in programming at the rec centre and that is “totally unacceptable.”
Anderson said there’s more to the story, and “the story is steep.”
“It’s not as simple as having issues with the recreation centre alone,” said Anderson, adding the district’s relationship with the CSRD will need to be a priority for the new council “because we need each other.”
Another question for candidates had to do with projects the district is invested in such as the Eagles Nest housing facility, the Little Bears day care, the medical centre and the planned healing centre, which have “taxpayers asking questions about fiscal responsibility.” Candidates were asked how they’d respond.
“I’m going to say I would need to take a look exactly at what’s been laid out, the fiscal and operating costs of all these different projects,” said Dalzell. “Are they making us money… Are they providing the right service? Are we taking advantage of every opportunity that’s available to incur income? As a taxpayer myself I’m curious about that and I believe that listening to what your concerns are first, and then being able to address those particular concerns, is likely the way I would approach that.”
Sheehan said if elected, he’d put a temporary hold on things.
“If I’m elected mayor, I’m going to stop everything temporarily for at least a month until we get all the facts figured out, what our costs are into the program, what… do we get out of the program, and then I’m going to ask you guys what you want to do,” said Sheehan.
Anderson stressed the projects mentioned were pursued at the request of the community.
“We’re not running out there like a bunch of mad councillors and finding things to spend your money on…There’s a lot of projects that are not council driven, they are community driven. Let’s not lose sight of that,” said Anderson.
While answering this question, Rysz said one of the problems he sees is that there are too many in-camera meetings, “too many confidential meetings” at the district. He noted discussions on anything to do with land, legal issues or labour are in-camera as per B.C.’s Community Charter.
“Once we have those conversations, we have to release them from in-camera so you know what the hell is going on,” said Rysz. “Really, too many in-camera meetings. I realize that. It’s a mistake that we’ve made and we’ve got to correct that.”
Another question to candidates had to do with staff turnover at the district. To this, Emery made reference to former Sicamous chief administrative officer (CAO) Evan Parliament.
“Our CAO, he left in a hurry and nobody knows why,” said Emery. “None of the public does, a lot of the public would like to know why and how much was his settlement when he left?”
Rysz responded, again referencing the Community Charter.
“That was a confidential conversation that we had with the CAO… It was confidential for a lot of reasons, so he was also protected in this particular conversation and that’s his right,” said Rysz.
Towards the end of the debate, candidates were asked how they felt council did over the last four years. Candidates, in their answers, sustained the civil, respectful tone present from the beginning of the forum.
Sheehan said he thought council did a really good job but, “I don’t think they did enough.”
Rysz and Anderson, who have served the past two terms as mayor and councillor, respectively, spoke positively about council as a whole and what it has accomplished.
Emery too said council did a good job, but there is still need for “good paying jobs for people that want to move here and live here and grow their families here.”
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