NOTE: These interviews are only very slightly edited for clarity. They consist of the actual words spoken by the candidates, who were not given any opportunity to prepare answers in advance. My intention is to give readers an idea of how well the mayoral candidates are able to think on their feet and to express themselves extemporaneously. Readers can assess the candidate's suitability for the role of mayor for themselves, and I hope these interviews will help with that.
SG: Let's start off with the basics: please tell us what the role of City Council is.
KM: Okay. The role of Council is to set the strategic direction for the City. I think it's really important that the direction be set in consultation with the community, with input from the community; also, looking at what our resources are, what we can afford, what needs to be done in terms of basic services -- infrastructure, core services, those things have to be addressed, and must be entered into our strategic considerations. But really the role of Council is to direct staff to fulfil the goals and objectives that Council decides are important to the community.
SG: What about the role of mayor? Some people say, well, the mayor is just one vote among several on Council, but it's not quite that simple, is it?
KM: No, I think the mayor has a special role. I think one of the main things the mayor can do is set the tone at the top. It can be dictatorial, or it can be positive, encouraging and inclusive, or not. The mayor does have just one vote, and that's important. But the mayor also helps set the agenda, and directs the conversation in the Council chambers by encouraging people to speak, or discouraging people from speaking. So I think the mayor has a very important role.
SG: Can you outline for our readers your qualifications for the role of mayor?
KM: I've been a councillor for six years, so I've had some municipal experience. It's been a terrific learning experience. In my personal background, I worked in sales management for many years; I was a national sales director for a company and managed thirty-six people -- hiring, promoting, terminating, doing contracts, all that. I also have a law degree, and although I was called to the bar, I never seriously practiced law, but it was a great background for learning critical thinking, not being afraid to ask difficult questions, pursuing issues -- and also, just for me, I feel very comfortable asking questions when I don't fully understand something, because the more questions I ask, the greater understanding I gain. And that's a big part of my educational background.
SG: How do you think the mayor and council should communicate to the residents of Rossland ?
KM: I think it's really important that the mayor and council communicate with the citizens in a variety of ways. There's the attitude of "Council must speak with one voice", which I can understand, but I don't totally support it, because I think when people are elected to council, they're elected as individuals, and while a council decision is a decision of council, and we all go along with that decision, I don't have a problem with people saying, "Well, that was a council decision, but really, these other things can be considered too." I think to do otherwise is disrespectful of the community, because the community knows there are opposition positions, and I think they have a right to hear those positions. So I'm fully supportive of people being communicative to the community, in a variety of ways. It's important that people remain civil -- the old saying, "be hard on the issues, but soft on the people" is really, really important. And that should be communicated publicly as well as in council chambers.
SG: What degree of input should mayor and council elicit from residents, and how do you think that can or should be done?
KM: I'm a huge believer in public engagement. As you probably know, I worked with "Thoughtexchange" running up to the election, to find out what's really important to Rosslanders, what matters to them To me, we are the servants of the public. We serve the public interest. And, how do we know what that interest is if we don't talk with them? I think it's really important to get out and speak with people. I want to walk around town and talk to people. I just had a call with someone today who had some issues and I said, "Yeah, let's get together and have coffee, and bring your friends, I want to hear what they have to say." We had a wonderful "beer and ballots" thing, where people came and spoke to the candidates. I'd like to see that sort of interaction continue. I think it's really, really important. A lot of people are intimidated to come to council chambers, because it's formal, and they're not comfortable there. And I think we need to go to them. It's really important that we go to the community, do outreach with the community, and try to engage them.
SG: You mentioned earlier that there are often different points of view on council, and the importance of remaining civil. Do you have any thoughts on how to ensure that council discussions are effective, and produce the best decisions, considering all the circumstances?
KM: I think it's really important to allow people to fully express themselves. It can be awkward; councillors are elected -- we're your friends and neighbours, we're elected from the community, we're not professional public speakers. It's not always easy to get a viewpoint out there, especially if it's an opposition viewpoint. So I think one of the roles of mayor is to encourage people, to get the councillors to have their say at the council table, and to ensure that they don't feel intimidated or cut off or any of those things. Regardless of what their position is, everyone is equally valued at the council table. We've all been elected by the public. And I think that's one way that will encourage full discussion of the issues, and ensure that all viewpoints are heard.
SG: Following up on that, I've been watching this council for almost a year now, and it seems to me that time is so limited in council meetings, that it seems difficult for council to have enough time for fulsome discussion of important issues. Do you have any thoughts on that?
KM: I think we can change some of the ways we run council meetings. Some councils have committee-of-the whole meetings, where they discuss the issues in a much more relaxed set-up. Some councils don't run their meetings in as tightly-regimented a way as Rossland council has done. You can have it a little less formal, which makes people a little more relaxed, which I think helps. Obviously you have to keep control of the meeting, you can't just let conversations run far afield, but keeping control of the meeting means keeping it on point, it doesn't mean curtailing discussion. I think if we did more committee-of-the-whole meetings, where we could more fully explore the issues, without coming to a decision -- because you don't come to a decision in committee-of-the-whole meetings, but you make recommendations out of that, that then come to the council meeting, and then there wouldn't be as much discussion at the council meeting but the agenda could move along, and you'd still have that full discussion before.
SG: And of course committee-of-the-whole meetings are open to the public as well, aren't they?
SG: How do you think the relationship between the mayor and council, and the CAO and staff, should operate?
KM: The CAO is council's one employee. I understand that structure, and that is important. And the mayor and the CAO often work together collaboratively, to make sure things move forward. I think it's important that council also has free access to the CAO, and can ask senior staff come questions too. I don't want the CAO to be a complete bottleneck; but on the other hand, you can't have councillors monopolizing staff time, so there has to be some structure to it, where if there is a request -- only of a senior manager, not line staff -- but if a councillor has a question of the planner, it doesn't have to go through the CAO to the planner, and then back to the CAO and then back to the councillor -- that's just cumbersome. The councillor could ask their question to the planner, copy the CAO, copy all of council so everyone gets the benefit of the response, that to me is workable. If it ends up that council is monopolizing staff time, that's a problem; but let's wait and see if it's a problem that develops. I don't think it will.
SG: I'm wondering whether Rossland council has ever done, or considered doing, a performance review of itself; a 360 review, where you have peer review, and input from all of the people you work with regularly. Would you consider that, after a year in office?
KM: Yes! I strongly believe in performance reviews. We don't have a strong culture of doing that here, we've certainly never done it on council and the mayor, and we've also not had a robust performance review for our CAO. Coming from the private sector, that was a very big part of what happens in a normal employer - employee relationship. We did suggest that, in fact Andy Stradling in my first term, had suggested a 360 review and it was not supported by the majority. But I think it's an excellent idea. I believe strongly in the philosophy of continuous improvement. It's not a "gotcha!" exercise, it's a way to improve, and that's what we should all be doing. So, if there are people out there who can give me feedback on how to be a more effective mayor, I'd love to hear it.
SG: What are your thoughts on how to resolve our current CAO dilemma?
KM: Currently, our CAO of record is off on medical leave. She has exhausted her sick-leave payments, so the City of Rossland is no longer paying her anything. So while she is the CAO of record, she is not actively participating in the daily life of the City. And the two people who are doing the functions she had been assigned, Tracey Butler, who's the deputy CAO, and Lois Hunter, who's the acting CFO, are doing a good job. So at this point, we will continue and see if our CAO regains her health enough to come back to work, and if she does, it's very important to me to put in performance guidelines and do regular performance reviews. And then we'll see where we go. If we get to the point where we are looking to fill that position, I believe very strongly that we need a public and competitive hiring process -- for any job, that's what needs to happen, and the best person will be hired for that position. And if it's a person who's currently in a job, or a similar job, they are welcome to apply.
SG: A local person wrote a very thoughtful pre-election piece on Facebook, and he gave examples before stating his concern that "both these candidates (Jill Spearn and Kathy Moore) might be prone to perpetuating the kind of behaviour that has darkened our Council chambers for so many years." How do you think you could avoid manifestations of what I'm going to call "primate behaviour"?
KM: I think we can avoid it completely. It goes back to "tone at the top". I think, regardless of who is elected, the tone will change; and I think that's really important for people to know. It will also change because there are all these wonderful new people who've stepped forward as candidates; and some of them, if not all of them, will be elected. And I think the communication styles of the people who have put their names up are quite different from the existing crew, and that will make a change. I had a number of the candidates over here, just to get to know them a little bit, and it was such an invigorating and inspirational little coffee-klatch, that I really envision great things for the next council.
SG: What are your thoughts on bylaw enforcement, given that we don't seem to have much of it these days?
KM: Bylaw enforcement is an interesting problem. And I've heard it said that, well, if you're not going to enforce it, you shouldn't pass a bylaw. And I agree with that somewhat; but I also see the advantage of, if you pass a bylaw, and then you communicate to the community about it -- part of the problem with bylaws not being followed is that people don't know about them. If they know about them -- and they can learn about them in other ways than just enforcement, right? So I think that's a step that we don't do really well. Then, in terms of enforcement itself, if there are problems that are recurring problems, and people keep saying to us, "Whoa, you've got to do something about this," then we do need to direct more resources into bylaw enforcement. At this point, I do hear some stuff about dogs, so, maybe there needs to be more enforcement of the dog issue, or maybe we need first to determine how serious it is -- I personally haven't had any problems with dogs.
SG: What sort of support, if any, should the City contribute to maintain the option of K-12 in Rossland?
KM: The school is a complicated situation, because education is a provincial mandate. So, we have to be really careful -- we already get a lot of downloading of things from the federal and provincial governments. My concern is that if we start supporting the school financially, the province is going to say, "Great! have at it, it's all yours!" and not give us any money for it, just the responsibility. That said, I think it's really important that we support the Seven Summits school. There are things we can do, in-kind things we can do -- let them use our buildings, for instance. The permissive tax exemption is one thing (that the City already does for Seven Summits) . Down the road, we might want to look at a municipal school district. Aaron Cosbey has done a lot of work on that, I don't know that much about it, but that might be an avenue for us. There are other things to do -- I mean, the importance of keeping education in our community is huge. I know one business owner who said that she lost 25% of her fall business when the upper-grade students were taken down to Crowe. So it's more than just, we want to keep our schools close to home so our kids can walk to school; it's way beyond that. It has an economic impact. Of course, the kids benefit from having more classes available. So that gets back to, if we had broadband, and you can transform education, transform the way people learn, that's a big thing too -- so, if we could bring in broadband, that's a huge support for education.
SG: What are your thoughts on the Regional District, and our relationship with it?
KM: The regional District is another complex entity. We have some shared services with them, that are really important, we have had some differences with them, you know, the whole recreation thing hasn't worked out very well. I feel very confident that with the elections in all of our communities, that's going to change. I see a much more collaborative teamwork approach, we see it at the LCCDT (Lower Columbia Community Development Team) which is our regional economic body; there you have elected officials, you have business people, you have non-profit people, all sitting around the table working for the benefit of the region. I think that with this election, we're going to see a lot more collaborative energy from the other councils as well as from our council, and I think we'll be able to tackle some of these problems that have bedevilled us these past few years. I'm really looking forward to that, I think it will benefit all our communities. The other thing I want to say is, I think we have some huge expenses that are going to be coming up, with the regional sewer situation, and it's going to be really important for us to go after big grants as a region. We need to work together as a region, and I think it's important that we work together collaboratively and robustly with our elected officials at other levels of government -- the provincial as well as the federal; we need to establish relationships with those elected officials, and that's something that I have a lot of energy to do, too.
SG: What about the money that goes into the regional district? I've heard indications from a few people that they think the regional district gets quite a bit of our tax dollar for what that buys.
KM: I think that's a good point. We talked earlier for the need for performance review and evaluation. I think that would be an excellent thing to do at the regional district. Every organization needs to focus on continual improvement. There's a lot of money that goes down the hill, the representatives are paid quite well, there's a lot of different ways they are paid. We pay a lot for fire service, and we need to look at that. There's a good opportunity for review and revision. I'm not a big fan of form over substance, and we need to get policies and procedures in place that best serve our residents. And if it means changing how some protocols work, then we need to work toward that. It's not completely within our control, but we need to work with the body that made the rules, and figure that out.
SG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell people?
KM: Well, council member for six years , and in this term I've been to 97% of the council meetings, which is pretty stellar. I think it shows dedication to the job. I love municipal governance. It's very satisfying; municipal governance is the place where citizens can have the most impact, so who they elect really matters, and what the people they elect do -- the decisions we make around the council table -- have a huge impact on the people in this community, you know, where we live. We can raise taxes, fund programs, de-fund programs, do all these things that really have an effect on people's lives. I think it's an awesome responsibility, and one that I really enjoy. I love this town -- I'm passionate about this town. I've been a taxpayer here since 1997, and I was lucky enough to retire at 50, so I've been devoting myself and my considerable energies to volunteering. And to me, city council is public service.