By ROY WOOD
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes told a crowd at Wednesday’s all candidates forum that if he is re-elected later in the month, it would be for the last time.
The announcement came as part of an answer to an audience member, who asked if Hovanes would commit to serving out his term rather than stepping down half-way through to run provincially.
The mayor, long touted as a possible successor to Liberal MLA Linda Larson, declined to make such a commitment, saying that he prefers to “keep my options open. … What plays out in the future will play out in the future.”
Hovanes has served two terms as a councillor and three as mayor. “If I’m re-elected, this will be my last term as mayor.”
One person in the room hoping that the current term will be Hovanes’ last was the other mayoral candidate, Martin Johansen, who presented himself as an agent of change. “(It is) clear there is an appetite for change in leadership,” he said in his opening statement. Later in the evening he told the audience that Oliver is at a “fork in the road’.
“You can go with me, or you can go around in a circle and end up back at the fork in the road.”
While a bit short on specifics about the new ideas and approaches he would bring to the town as mayor, Johansen did take the time to criticize the current council for its decision that led to the new hotel on the site of the former Centennial RV Park. On the 10-year tax exemption that the hotel enjoys in particular, he said: “I think we sold the farm to get the hotel.”
A bit later, Councillor Maureen Doerr attempted to set him straight, pointing out that the 10-year exemption on improvements was not specific to the hotel but open to anyone as part of council’s efforts to spur development.
Doerr was first elected to council in 2011 and re-elected in 2014.
Elsewhere during the question-and-answer event, much of the focus was on public safety and policing in the community, which recently has come to see itself as at least somewhat crime-ridden. The first questioner demanded to know why residents need to fill the gaps in policing with organizations like Citizens on Patrol and Crime Watch.
Hovanes repeated his view that Oliver shares with other BC municipalities the increase in crime resulting from more highly addictive drugs on the streets. He praised volunteer crime-fighting groups and suggested it is a good thing for community members to “look out for each other” in a multi-level approach to policing.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger lauded Crime Watch and Citizens on Patrol for their work and said he would support more money for them in the town budget. As well, he said, he is in favour of “vastly increasing our bylaw enforcement budget” to help take up the slack caused by chronic under-staffing of the RCMP.
Schwartzenberger was first elected to council in a 2013 by-election and was re-elected in 2014.
Responding to a questioner who suggested there is a disconnect between town council and residents, Councillor Petra Veintimilla said: “There is no disconnect. We are part of the community.” She pointed out that while it may seem council is not responding to issues, “Everything (in government) takes longer than you think it will.”
The 10-officer Oliver RCMP detachment has been running three members short for more than a year. One of the results is that there is routinely no on-duty police presence in town in the overnight hours.
“The cops can’t do it all,” said Doerr. “We need to be a community and help each other.”
Johansen said he first step in solving the public safety problem would be to better define it and gather the stakeholders in some sort of committee to seek solutions. “Increasing bylaw enforcement and random patrols is not a plan, it’s a guess.”
On the subject of economic development, Councillor Dave Mattes said he has spoken with some potential investors who would be willing to create an RV park on the one-acre parcel left over from the hotel site. “An RV park would bring a different kind of customer to town,” he said, adding that such customers are necessary to any economic revitalization.
Mattes was elected to council in the 2017 by-election following the resignation of Councillor Jack Bennest. Mattes was elected to council in 2011 but was the only incumbent to lose in 2014, when Veintimilla topped the polls as a rookie candidate.
The challengers for a council seat this time around are Aimee Grice, who finished second to Mattes in the 2017 by-election, and first-time candidate Dermott Hutton.
Grice is a self-styled “community advocate,” having recently started a local affordable housing society. She vice-president of the chamber of commerce and works as the marketing person at the Frank Venables Theatre.
Hutton is a small business owner who moved to Oliver two years ago but says he has developed a passion for the community. He promises to bring a “fresh perspective and a new energy to our town.”
He got the biggest laugh of the evening when he recounted his slogan as a candidate for grade-6 class president: “Don’t be a hermit. Vote for Dermott.”
For the first time that anyone could seem to remember, there is an election for water councillor. The positions are usually acclaimed by Rick Machial and Andre Miller, who have been there since the jobs were created. (Water councillors represent the rural users of residential and agricultural water provided by the town. They attend council meetings but only vote on matters related to water).
The new candidates are both younger and actively involved in the local agricultural community.
Parminder Sidhu said he was born in Oliver and intends to stay here. He said his family farm employs conservationist strategies to reduce their water use and sees the water councillors’ main role as protecting the area’s water supply.
David Machial, who is Rick’s nephew, said that the experience that his uncle and Miller offer is important, but succession planning is as well.
He has a business degree and the intention of staying on the family farm for his career. “If you think that renewal is important, vote for me.”
The two candidates to replace Area C Director Terry Schafer are Rick Knodel, who is the current alternate director, and Randy Toor.
Toor is proprietor of Desert Hills winery and has lived in the community for 30 years. He is a former town councillor and a former RCMP auxiliary officer.
Knodel said that the complexities of the role of area director make it a full-time job and that because he is retired, he has the time and commitment to fill the role.
Election day is Saturday, October 20 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Oliver Community Centre.