Buckway reflects on nine-year career with city
It’s a time of transition at city hall.
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
MOVING ON – Mayor Bev Buckway will finish her work Monday when mayor-designate Dan Curtis along with the other members of the new council are sworn in to office.
It’s a time of transition at city hall.
In August, city manager Stan Westby came to town from Powell River, B.C., replacing Dennis Shewfelt who retired.
Also, staff at the city are currently undergoing a reorganization of departments and on Monday night outgoing-mayor Bev Buckway will hand over the reigns to mayor-designate Dan Curtis who enjoyed a solid victory against four other candidates in the Oct. 18 municipal election.
As Buckway gets ready to leave public office, she’s been showing Curtis around and bidding the staff farewell, looking back on nine years in council chambers that began in 2003 when she came out on top of 16 councillor-hopefuls vying for six seats with 2,945 votes. Her support continued in 2006 when she beat then-incumbent mayor Ernie Bourassa by 530 votes, taking 1,874 votes.
When she sought re-election in 2009, she was easily handed the mayoralty once again with a lofty 2,540 votes, defeating her only opponent Al Fedoriak by 960 votes.
She opted not to run in this year’s election, stating it was time for someone else to be in the mayor’s chair.
In an interview Tuesday looking back on her years in council chambers, Buckway noted it seems there’s always people saying they want change.
The challenge, Buckway said, is keeping up to changes that are inevitable.
“So when you see growth in your community you have to adapt to that,” she said. “When you see new regulations coming out – as we went through with the water regulation – then you have to adapt to that and that’s got budget considerations right through… I don’t believe you set out to say ‘I’m going to change the world’ because you have to get (three) other councillors to agree with you and they’re going to change the world in their own way too.”
Many of the decisions of council are aimed at keeping up with the changes that are already underway.
Throughout her terms on council, Buckway has also been involved with the Association of Yukon Communities (including a stint as president) and with the northern forum of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
While many citizens may not see how that work trickles down to impact residents of the city, Buckway pointed out changes were made to regulations around waste water as well as long-term infrastructure plans to accommodate smaller communities.
In pointing to many examples of the changes that have come forward during her time on council, she was also quick to state there were many others behind those decisions.
“It takes a whole team of people,” she said.
During the planning of Whistle Bend, for example, a whole new approach was taken with the city hosting its first charette – a multi-day planning exercise focused on various aspects of the development. It’s a process that’s commonplace now for many of the city’s public input exercises along with the online surveys, open houses and others.
“And the staff brought that forward,” she pointed out of the charette. “(They) said ‘we need to try that. And that was a great success so we have a different process of engagement that can work in the right circumstances with the community.”
When she sought the mayoralty for the first time in 2006, improving communication and accountability with residents were among her main goals.
Six years later, Buckway feels that’s been accomplished.
She was involved with the hiring of the city’s first public relations manager. Many may have disagreed with the new position which had a pay range of $56,097 to $65,975 annually when Matthew Grant took on the role in 2009, but Buckway believes its worth has been shown over and over in letting residents know what’s happening at the city.
Prior to Grant taking on the position, she pointed out, media would have learned details of the Snow Mobile Bylaw, for example, only through what’s available at the council meeting. Now, Grant organizes press conferences on such matters, making bylaw officials available to the press to answer questions all at one time which Buckway believes helps provide more in-depth information to the public than would otherwise be inaccessible.
He is also able to get background knowledge on various issues for council and was instrumental in the city’s update of its website, she said.
“So we’re just seeing much more concise information flow where we’re able to say, ‘here’s the city information. People need this. Here it is.’,” Buckway noted.
That information flow has also gone beyond the traditional media and city website and into the social media realm during Buckway’s time as mayor.
“Yeah, (the city’s) getting into that a bit more; recognizing that the demographics are changing and that different people access information in different ways so there’s still the people that will come in personally into city hall, but there’s also people that like to read things in the paper, listen to the radio and then there’s others that rely on their little gadgets,” she said. “And some do all of it, you know.”
While the city may have made efforts to get its message out and involve the public in its planning, after nine years on council Buckway recognizes that many are still not happy with the municipal government.
“There are people who make it their part-time work to oppose government, including municipal government,” she said.
“And even if you explain policies to them, it doesn’t appease them. They’re just still very unhappy and also if you don’t take their idea or suggestion and implement it completely, you know people don’t like that either.
“The reality of it is, with 27,000 people you can’t take everybody’s idea and make it into reality, you know.”
While criticism is inevitable with an elected office, Buckway said it’s not something you ever get used to, especially when it goes beyond your office to your family.
She noted even her 93-year-old adopted grandma has had people come to her with criticisms of the city.
If there’s anything she could change she said she’d like to see residents not only offer their complaints and criticism, but also their compliments when they feel something is being done right.
Buckway noted she has learned not to take things too personally in public office.
While the continued tax increases during her time as mayor have perhaps garnered a major part of criticism, Buckway continues to stand by them.
“They’re inevitable,” she said. “Absolutely. We have some of the lowest taxes in Canada and people that move here from other places are always surprised at how low our taxes are.”
Pointing to a cup of water, she noted it’s supplied by the city’s system. Getting to the interview, she noted, sidewalks and streets were used that are also kept up by the city.
While some argue they don’t use all the services the city provides, she noted those services are part of what makes the community.
“Maybe you don’t go sit in a park, but you contribute to that overall pot of money that makes sure there’s parks there, again, because you’re building a nice vibrant community that people want to come and live in.”
Just as residents have to deal with increases in costs of things like electricity, so to has the city seen its bills rise over the years and therefore needs to cover those costs through tax increases.
While new properties bring in more taxes, Buckway pointed out there’s a gap between when a new neighbourhood is developed and when homeowners move in and begin paying taxes on those properties.
During Buckway’s terms, the city’s population continued to grow and it seemed the city and territory couldn’t keep pace in making lots available despite new areas like Ingram, Stan McCowan Place and new lots in Takhini North and on Grove Street opening up.
The first phase of Whistle Bend also happened during Buckway’s time on council, from the planning phases for the entire neighbourhood to the first sale of lots through the Yukon government.
Despite an ongoing demand for more lots, many of the Whistle Bend properties weren’t sold in the lottery.
“But the good news is there’s now a 50-lot inventory so you or I could walk in there and over the counter we could buy a lot,” she said. “And our protocol that we have with the (Yukon) government says that we want to have a 200-lot inventory. So we’re not caught up yet.”
Hopefully, she said, as more phases of the new area are completed, the 200-lot inventory will eventually be met. There’s also other areas suggested for development to help continue that as well, she noted.
Many also criticized the city’s $1.3 million in funding for Mount Sima last year. Buckway pointed out that the decision came about because funding from the federal government was made available to do work on Black Street, thereby freeing up funds for Mount Sima. How the funding became available seems to have gotten lost, she said.
Along with dealing with development issues, taxes and other day-to-day matters of the city, Buckway also learned first-hand just how big the city’s volunteer community is through hosting events like the 2007 Canada Winter Games, Hockey Day In Canada in 2011 and the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, among others.
“To have so many events in such a short time, I think that’s where it’s really overwhelming because you just see again and again people just keep coming back (to volunteer),” she said, pointing out that in Whitehorse its not hard to spot a volunteer jacket from any of the various events the community has hosted.
Buckway said she’s also enjoyed what’s come from having an open-door policy at her office.
She’s met a mayor from Texas, visitors from Australia and even locals she might not have otherwise met, getting their perspectives and often showing those not familiar with the city around town.
Buckway recalled the visitors from Australia saw Whitehorse as a clean community with a vibrant downtown and a happy population.
“We’re fortunate to have such a great little city,” she said.