Former Revelstoke councillor Steve Bender was politically incorrect.
Whether it was as a broadcaster, a columnist or a politician, Bender expressed provocative opinions.
For example, in his satire column under the pseudonym “Ms. Anne Trope” (note that title sounds like “misanthrope”), Bender questioned the intelligence of those who wore ball caps, ranted on the “revolving door for department heads,” and criticized council’s “delay-to-death tactics” regarding marijuana sales.
“Holy Redundancy, how much more discussion on wacky tobaccy do we need? The only can that’s been kicked around more is the stench from our sewage lagoon,” he lamented.
If Bender was still alive today and serving alongside the current councillors, they might find his self proclaimed “social sarcasm” a bit uncomfortable.
Bender did not take himself too seriously. When others did, he would — with a mischievous charm — point out the contradiction.
Today, in British Columbia, many first term municipal politicians are feeling pretty confident in their abilities.
Some so much they are contemplating giving themselves hefty remuneration increases. (Think of it as your Christmas gift to council). I think Bender would have voted against the raise.
According to him, it takes three years to get up to speed on the complexity of municipal governance. “You are in a fools paradise if you don’t think you have a lot to learn, because you really do,” he said.
Here are tidbits of advice that Bender or other seasoned councillors might give to elected officials with one year of experience:
• Ask questions.
If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Keep asking until you fully comprehend. We don’t expect you to know everything. If you play the know-it-all role, the public may stop believing you.
• Don’t be the expert.
“The truth be told, you often go to the executive summary,” Bender honestly stated in an interview. Many councillors depend on these summaries and for the average citizen, they are critical. Insist that staff reports are clear and concise. If the information from staff isn’t clear, what are they hiding? Do they understand the material?
• Staff are often not experts.
I remember Bender proclaiming this is why they hire consultants. When staff give authoritative statements, council and the public need sound supporting evidence. That is often absent.
• Have opinions.
Bender had opinions. He also loved others who had opinions.
His views often differed from them. He was okay with that; he enjoyed a good debate.
Differing opinions make sure there isn’t a herd mentality or confirmation bias in the council decision-making process.
• Express your opinions.
What good is it to have an opinion if you don’t express it.
Bender would always give his perspective, even when he knew it would not sit well with fellow councillors.
• Be cynical.
Bender would sign off his opinion articles with phrases like “yours in social sarcasm,” “yours in civic concern,” or “yours in social satire.” He would make a point but still be kind.
Play the role of a skeptic when staff are presenting a project or program. If their proposal is that good, why wasn’t it done before?
• Be kind.
“Steve was a real gentleman,” said fellow councillor Gary Starling. Even though other councillors sometimes disagreed with him, Bender had a way to make sure it never became personal.
Every meeting, he came with a pocket full of candies and would share them with councillors and staff alike.
• Have fun.
Bender always had fun. He was like the naughty school boy, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He could find delight in almost any situation.
• Be cheerful.
Bender was always cheerful. His cheerfulness often helped diffuse tension in meetings. Cheerfulness is a valuable skill for councillors.
•“Do your homework!” is the advice Bender would give first-term councillors, according to his wife, Adelheid.
He admired her. Although Bender rarely missed a council meeting, even attending shortly after being discharged from the hospital, it did not overshadow the importance of his family.
• Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Bender would see through those who thought higher of themselves than they ought. Many politicians’ seemingly self-importance sometimes results in cerebral edema.
There is political wisdom available by seeking the input of past seasoned elected officials.
Tim Palmer served council during most of Steve Bender’s tenure as a Revelstoke city councillor. Bender passed away from health complications in November.