Reflections from the first two years on council

Reflections from the first two years on council by Council Member Jen Comer

Jen Comer

We have come to the halfway mark of this council term. Between that, and having some holiday down time, I’ve been reflecting on these first two years. I am so grateful to those in the community who elected me to serve the Town of Creston, and hope that their aspirations for our community are being realized. The municipality has a by-election coming soon, to fill the seat left by the late Joe Snopek, and perhaps this article will give some insight into what the candidates are getting into.

It can be a challenging process for someone who is not familiar with how local governments work (methodically, with evidence-based decisions, that are often a lengthy process). For instance, changing a bylaw or rezoning a property first requires staff time in documenting the current state of the situation, reviewing the data at hand, and comparing how other municipalities operate, if applicable. This information is brought to council at a Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, where council discusses the topic. Usually this results in questions to Town staff and it will come back to another COW with those answers, and any more questions that Council might have. Next, any zoning change includes the opportunity for the public to weigh in, which can include written submissions or speaking at the Public Hearing. While the public process is a legislated requirement under the Local Government Act, we truly want to know community members’ thoughts on the proposed changes. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how a change will end up affecting individuals, businesses and community organizations if they don’t share their thoughts. Best case scenario, a couple of months have passed. The final steps include having the bylaw/zoning changes passed by council, and this requires at least two council meetings for all the readings. Since our council meetings are twice a month, this takes at minimum another month. Realistically, changing a bylaw or rezoning takes a number of months, along with the staff time and financial costs associated. That’s all for a fairly straight forward bylaw or zoning change; the process for anything bigger takes even longer.

In council columns past, I’ve talked about the significant commitment of attending meetings and participating on committees. Typically, this involves three to four council or COW meetings every month, plus the additional committee work. For most councillors, this is usually an additional four to eight meetings a month depending on what is going on. All these meetings require some prep ahead of time and reporting to fellow council members after.

My key priority in wanting to be a part of council was developing a new Official Community Plan (there were four council members who wanted the two available seats for councillors on the OCP committee. Councillors Elford and Unruh were the lucky ones.) It’s been amazing to watch the process unfold – it has been a huge undertaking for our town staff who are working on the project, plus KES who led the community engagement component. Council has seen the first draft of this document, and I have to say how excited I am that this will set the foundation for future years in our community.

We have got a great team of people on council, with a diverse set of strengths and perspectives. We certainly do not agree all the time, but there is a high level of respect for the various viewpoints held by each individual. To the public that may attend only council meetings, it might seem from the outsiders’ perspective that we all vote the same way, as most of the votes in the end turn out that way. But this is simply due to the COW process beforehand where we have the chance to really dig into an issue. (Insiders tip  – attending COW meetings is the more interesting meeting if you want to see how the Town operates and decisions are made. But be prepared to hunker down in a 3+ hour meeting for many of them.) At the COW meetings, we exchange perspectives on the topic, understand from staff the potential impacts of a decision and, in the end, what is brought to the Council meeting reflects this process that we’ve all had a chance to contribute to.

Working with the RDCK directors has been a huge highlight over the past two years for me. Our region is lucky to have four dedicated directors (three rural directors, plus the Mayor); they all work so hard for our community. The Creston Valley Services meetings at the Community Complex, usually held the first Thursday of the month, are where the Directors meet locally. They have come up with innovative approaches to working together to benefit the entire region. The Creston Valley has seen direct success with the Doctor Recruitment program, and more recently, the hiring of a Community Initiatives Coordinator, and a new skatepark underway. The directors have also helped initiatives like Fields Forward and the Community Investment Co-op really take off, which in-part was able to happen because of the coordinated approach of the directors.

I’m continually amazed by the dedication by my fellow elected councillors and the directors, and am so thankful to be in the Creston Valley where the future is looking so bright.

With a by-election coming up, I’m looking forward to seeing who throws their name into the hat, and who the people of Creston choose to join this team!

 

 

Creston Valley Advance

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