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From The Public Gallery: Confidence in Kamloops council

What I like about the makeup is that there are council members who represent almost every significant viewpoint in the community
arjun-singh-column-head-2023

I’m likely soon going to break one of the “rules” of former city council members. I might, from time to time, sit in the public gallery and watch council meetings in person.

I actually enjoy council meetings and have at times taken gentle offence to comments that suggest such meetings are really boring. There are a lot of interesting and important discussions and decisions had at council.

Oddly enough, I don’t feel sad that I’m no longer on council. I’ve been fortunate to have a pretty smooth transition into new business and service opportunities. I’m simply a lifelong civic and current affairs nerd and I love exchanging ideas with all sorts of people about community building. 

What has been striking to me, though,  is how fast a former city councillor loses touch with many of the goings-on in city hall and in the larger community. Unless you are elected and paid to serve on council, or completely retired and somewhat obsessed with civic affairs, it is almost impossible to put the time in to keep really up to date.

Like many, I’ve been watching the new council with interest, as much as I can.

Some thoughts about council and the community as we start 2023:

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s win was decisive. And his election, along with the elections of Mayor Tom Dyas in Kelowna and Mayor Ken Sim in Vancouver, seemed to send a strong message to the provincial government that it needed to improve its work on community safety, mental health, substance use and poverty. Many new provincial initiatives are rolling out now and that already is a big win for Kamloops. 

Our mayor’s election win does not, however, give him a lot of ongoing power. Our system of local government is often called a “weak mayor” system. The power in city hall rests with council collectively. The mayor only has ever had one vote. Kamloopsians have collectively, for example, asked all of council to really lean into solutions to community safety. And, at the very least, five out of nine council members need to agree on what those solutions need to be.

While at least five out of nine need to agree (in order to achieve a majority vote), it’s much better to try to get unanimous support for the really important issues. This is often a tall order, so seven or eight out of nine are important numbers for which to strive. 

I still have confidence in this council to work out the best ways of serving the community during the next four years. What I like about the makeup is that there are council members who represent almost every significant viewpoint in the community.

As council and the community roll into discussions on the 2023 budget, I am curious to see how we approach funding community safety work.

In the last budget, council provided funds for an increase in the number of RCMP officers. The problem is there are not, and likely will not be, enough RCMP recruits to fill the spots. And we continue to ask the RCMP and bylaws/community service officers to do jobs for which they have little training. As many RCMP superintendents have stated, we can’t arrest our way out of our current troubles.

I’ve long advocated that the city should help build a skilled, well-paid group of outreach workers who can become trusted supports for our most vulnerable, who would act as the best eyes and ears for residents and businesses, something that would cost less than traditional enforcement approaches. 

Arjun Singh served on Kamloops council for 14 years and was a member of the previous council. Singh’s columns will appear occasionally in KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com. He can be reached by phone at 250-377-1797 and by email at arjun@bettercitizen.ca.