The scene in Mark McKee’s office was ebullient. A who’s who of Revelstoke’s business community was giving hugs, shaking hands, giving cheers and celebrating with beer, wine and champagne.
Connie Brothers, Scott Duke, Trevor English and Gary Sulz – who were all elected to council, were there for the party. Only Aaron Orlando and Linda Nixon were missing from the newly elected group.
The occasion was McKee’s victory in Saturday’s election and his return to the mayor’s chair, the seat he held from 2002 to 2008, when he stepped down to run as the Liberal candidate in the 2009 provincial election.
McKee received 1,443 votes – 47. 4 per cent of votes cast in the mayoral election. Michael Brooks-Hill finished second with 860 votes and outgoing mayor David Raven received 738 votes.
“Its nice to get a resounding victory,” said McKee. “I’m looking forward to the challenges. I’m looking forward to sitting down at the table and getting things on track and moving forward.”
The results saw almost wholesale change at the council table, with only Linda Nixon retaining her seat. Gary Starling finished seventh in voting, while Chris Johnston and Steve Bender finished second-to-last and last in voting respectively. Also falling short of election were Chuck Ferguson, George Buhler and Karen Powers.
“I’m so happy to be in, but to get the most number of votes, I’m pretty humbled by that,” said Sulz, who lead all council candidates with 1,943 votes.
Voter turnout was much higher than in 2011, when only 36 per cent of the electorate voted. This year, 3,043 votes were cast out of 5,664 registered potential voters, a turnout of about 54 per cent.
The results were being hailed by people in the room as a huge step forward for economic development in Revelstoke. Words like “toxic” and “poisonous” were used to describe the development atmosphere at city hall over the last six years.
It marked a repudiation of Raven’s administration, with only Nixon being re-elected, and Raven, Johnston and Bender finishing at the bottom of their respective polls.
The new council includes two women (Brothers and Nixon) for the first time since the 1990s, and three councillors under the age of 45 (Duke, English and Orlando). Four councillors have lived in Revelstoke for less than 10 years.
McKee’s road to victory began last year, when a group of local business people began holding open meetings under the banner of Focus Revelstoke. The informal meetings were held to brainstorm ideas to spur economic development.
Out of that group, a slate of candidates emerged to run for council. First, Scott Duke announced his candidacy, then Trevor English. Connie Brothers said she would run late in the summer and McKee announced he would run for mayor in September. Chuck Ferguson threw his hat into the ring, saying he was running because McKee was.
They campaigned with a promise for a more transparent and active administration that will focus on economic development. McKee portrayed himself as someone who gets thing done and would act decisively to deal with Revelstoke’s problems.
“I feel that we have a very positive future in Revelstoke right now,” said Duke. “The team that Revelstoke chose is going to deliver.”
Raven ran for re-election along with four incumbent councillors – Nixon, Starling, Johnston and Bender. They attempted to defend their council’s record as it was attacked for poor fiscal management, an unfriendly development atmosphere, and a reputation for secrecy.
They were hit with a brick midway through the election campaign when Tim Palmer, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, suspended Alan Mason, the director of economic development, without consulting council. Council was forced to discipline its CAO, but never came out with a strong statement either condemning Palmer or supporting the popular Mason.
Raven was not gracious in defeat, calling the campaign vicious, accusing some of the media of bias and saying his victorious opponents “created an aura of negativism in the community.”
“I offered a solid reputation and commitment to good governance,” he said. “(Revelstoke) is going to go in a very different direction. I think there’s some parts of the direction that it’s going to go in that I wouldn’t be proud of if I were them.”
Brooks-Hill announced his candidacy for mayor mere hours before the deadline. A tree planter, he was an unknown, with no record in community affairs at any level. He portrayed himself as the true candidate for change — someone untarnished by the previous 12 years. Despite his inexperience, he showed an awareness of the issues and put forward good ideas, but his lack of experience was a strike against him.
He believes his showing indicates many people were dissatisfied with the other two candidates.
“I was hoping it was going to be closer but considering I started at zero, I think I did pretty well,” he said. “It was certainly a really interesting experience and it was really nice to get out and talk to so many people. I really enjoyed it.”
He plans on remaining active in the community, though he’s not sure in what form yet.
Four other candidates also ran for council – Sulz, Orlando, Powers and Buhler. They were seemingly unaffiliated with the Focus Revelstoke group and the current council.
With four members of the Focus Revelstoke group at the council table, a pro-business, development friendly approach will be likely at city hall. Nixon, the sole survivor of the outgoing council, said it was a privilege to be re-elected, but also called her victory bittersweet.
“I just want to make sure the broader view of the residents of Revelstoke are represented, especially seniors who live on limited income,” she said.
The current council has one more meeting on Nov. 25, though it’s unlikely they’ll be presented with any major decision. The new group will be inaugurated on Monday, December 1, and their first official meeting will be on Tuesday, Dec. 9.
They will have to get quickly up to speed on the Big Eddy Waterworks, which is currently being studied in preparation for a potential Building Canada Fund application that is due in mid-February. McKee said he will also be following up on the sewage lagoon odour issue and a solution to re-open the wading pool in Farwell Park.
Council will also have to deal with management issues and resolve the dispute between Tim Palmer, the Chief Administrative Officer, and Alan Mason, the director of economic development. McKee threw his support behind Mason.
“The most important thing is sitting down with council and going through with taxes and budget, seeing how we’re doing and how we can do better,” he said. “My promise was I’m going to look at every department, I’m going to look at every line.”
Here are the complete results:
Mark McKee – 1,443
Michael Brooks-Hill – 860
David Raven – 738
Gary Sulz – 1,943
Connie Brothers – 1,810
Scott Duke – 1,563
Aaron Orlando – 1,543
Linda Nixon – 1,398
Trevor English – 1,395
Gary Starling – 1,235
Chuck Ferguson – 1,092
George Buhler – 1,088
Karen Powers – 922
Chris Johnston – 911
Steve Bender – 684