Will Rogers once quipped that he didn’t have to write jokes about civic politics, he simply watched what happened and reported the facts.
While that observation undoubtedly elicited some wry chuckles at the time, the truth is that we rely on the participation of citizens to come forward with a willingness to serve the community. Freshman Coun. Jeff Bateman made that observation during what was a series of recent interviews with the rookie members of Sooke council.
Bateman was one of four new councillors elected in last fall’s civic election, creating a council where the rookies outnumber the incumbents.
“I had attended a lot of council meetings in my capacity with Transition Sooke, so I sort of guessed there was a lot going on behind the scenes, but now I have a deeper perspective,” Bateman said.
“The district is clearly still a work in progress. We were founded on the basis that we would be thrifty and not impose too much on the taxpayers, but the district is growing very quickly so there are pressures on council to make some things happen. But it’s also been a pleasant realization that we have a very professional staff who care deeply about the community and are there to help.”
Megan McMath, who at 30 years of age is the youngest of the fledgling councillors, said she had few surprises on assuming her council seat.
“I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. I was realistic about the commitment and sacrifice needed so, no, it’s no surprise,” McMath said.
She added her belief that her presence on council has helped to address the detachment that many younger people have toward civic government.
“I have people approaching me at the Stick in the Mud or when I’m getting my car detailed … all over. In my social circle and within my demographic they are showing more interest in municipal government.”
McMath went on to observe that people are sometimes too certain of their positions and that it might be better if they gave others the benefit of the doubt.
“I hear people say, ‘we’ve never done it that way so we shouldn’t try’ and I think that’s nonsense. If it makes sense, then we just have to work a little harder (to try a new approach).”
Coun. Al Beddows echoed Bateman’s assessment of the district’s staff.
He recounted how, on a tour with parks staff, he noted how they stooped to pick up bits of garbage during the tour.
“It was a small thing, but it showed how they took pride in what they do,” he said.
Beddows noted he had been a little surprised at the amount of reading required to meet the demands of the office, noting that meeting agendas are delivered three days before council meetings and can easily run more than 300 pages in length.
“There’s a lot to digest and a lot of work behind the scenes.”
Beddows noted he’s happy with the council and the people with whom he shares the responsibility of civic service.
“We don’t always agree, and there have been 4 to 3 votes, but that’s the sign of a healthy council.”
Coun. Tony St.-Pierre said his background as a planner helps him navigate the demands of his new position.
“People ask me how it’s going and I tell them to come back and ask me in three years or so. If I haven’t accomplished what I want to do by then, well maybe it was a waste of time. But I’m pretty sure that if I keep reminding myself of the core values that got me into this in the first place, that won’t be the case.”
Like his newcomer counterparts, St.-Pierre praised the staff and the leadership of Mayor Maja Tait in keeping the business of council going.
“There’s always a risk that you get so caught up in the minutia that you forget why you’re there in the first place. They help to keep that from happening.”