Wells, Frisch and Eriksson will battle for Courtenay mayor

Wells, Frisch and Eriksson will battle for Courtenay mayor

This article has been updated to include Rebecca Lennox’s announcement to seek re-election.

This article has been further updated to include Bob Wells announcement to run for mayor of Courtenay

 

Courtenay City Council member David Frisch announced early last week that he is running for mayor.

Frisch is the second sitting councillor to enter the mayoral race, just 225 days away. Erik Eriksson launched his campaign for mayor several months ago. Then, late in the week, Bob Wells announced that he would also compete for the mayor’s chair.

That makes half of the existing Courtenay Council running for mayor. It means there are now three open seats on council and two of the mayoral candidates will no longer serve on Courtenay council.

Mayor Larry Jangula remains undecided about whether to seek re-election. In early January, Jangula told Decafnation it was “too early” to decide and that his decision will be based on his wife’s health, his own health and “an examination of who might be running.”

Jangula is out of town and could not be contacted after Frisch’s announcement.

FURTHER READING: Who’s in, who’s out for Election 2018; Eriksson announces mayoral bid

Frisch told Decafnation that he’s running because he’s the best person to keep Courtenay growing in a healthy direction.

“I’m running for mayor because I have a vision to keep Courtenay’s natural beauty, access to recreation, and affordable living for generations to come,” he said. “My focus is on fostering an inclusive community and planning for growth in a responsible way, balancing economic needs with the need for a healthy and vibrant community.”

Frisch was the top vote-getter in the 2014 election and is serving his first term on council. He received 3,671 votes, hundreds more than his nearest competitor at 3,033.

“I’ve had the privilege to serve with the mayor and my fellow councillors for four years and have learned a lot,” he told Decafnation. “When I imagine how the valley will look in another 10, 20 or 30 years, I can’t think of anyone better to create an inclusive, people driven agenda.”

By seeking the mayor’s chair, Frisch, Wells and Eriksson will give up their council seats.

“The fact that my seat as a councillor will need to filled is only an invitation for another community minded leader to step up,” Frisch said. “The people of Courtenay will take care of choosing that person and I can work with whoever that may be.”

Rebecca Lennox, another first-term council members announced on Facebook late Thursday that she would also seek re-election.

“International women’s day is here​ so I thought I would tell you that​ I have decided to run in the 2018 election​,” Lennox posted. “It has been my greatest honour to serve on council these last years and I will always be so grateful of the opportunity to do so. If I am lucky enough to be elected for a second term I will continue to do my best in the role of councilor.

“I hope to see a few more ladies round the table next time as one out of seven is not a great balance,” she wrote.

And newcomer Kiyoshi Kosky, who recently sought the provincial NDP nomination, said he is running for a council position.

In an email interview several weeks ago, when Frisch was considering a mayoral run, he told Decafnation:

“As mayor, I plan to embrace the opportunities we have and lead our community to grow in an environmentally responsible way while capitalizing on our opportunities for economic growth – particularly in internet technologies, destination tourism, and retirement living,” he said.

“This includes doing as much as possible to support affordable housing options for young adults, families and seniors, as well as doing the much needed long range transportation planning to keep us all moving.

“My role as mayor will allow me to lead the city to engage with the people of Courtenay and create a long range plan particularly for sustainable development and efficient transportation.”

Voters go to the polls on Oct. 20. Candidates for the 2018 municipal election must file during a 10-day period beginning Sec. 3.

 

Municipal election 2018: Who’s in, who’s out around CV

Municipal election 2018: Who’s in, who’s out around CV

PHOTO: Courtenay Councilor David Frisch will seek a second term to finish work on transportation, zoning and the city’s downtown core (See story below)

 

With just 257 days before Comox Valley voters choose the 29 elected officials who will run local governments and school district through 2022, only a few people have declared their candidacy.

That’s not unusual for this community, where candidates historically wait until summer to announce they are running. But it’s not the norm in other communities.

In the Capital Regional District, for example, most of the 13 incumbent mayors have announced their plans to stand for re-election.In a Decafnation survey of the Valley’s three municipalities, only four incumbents say they definitely plan to seek office again: Courtenay’s Erik Eriksson and David Frisch, Comox Valley Regional District Area B Director Rod Nicol and School District 71 Board Chair Janice Caton.

 

FURTHER READING: David Frisch, “There’s a lot of work to do” — (SEE BELOW); Eriksson to seek mayor’s chair.

 

No one from Comox Town Council replied.

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said his decision whether to run again weighed on several factors.

“It is far too early to make any decisions now,” he said. “I will make my mind up in the summer.”

In reference to City Council member Eriksson, who announced in October that he would seek Jangula’s mayoralty seat, the incumbent said, “It is very distracting when people indicate they are running a year away from an election. It takes everyone’s mind away from what they are doing and it politicizes every decision made at Council.”

Jangula said his decision will be based on a number of factors including his wife’s health, his health and “an examination of who might be running.”

Eriksson said, “I just had to get my campaign started. It takes time to put together a successful support team for the mayor’s office.”

Courtenay councilor Rebecca Lennox said she’s undecided.

“The opportunity to serve on council has been life-changing and I am so honoured to have had this experience,” she said. “​Being diagnosed with cancer half-way through​ this term​ has defin​i​t​e​ly changed many things for me​.

“At this point I am undecided​ whether I will run for a second term,​ and will see how I feel and how my results are looking nearer the time.” she said.

Cumberland’s Roger Kishi says he’s leaning toward running, but will decide in the spring.

Jesse Kelter, also a Cumberland councillor, said she has not decided “one way or the other about running in the next election.”

“As you can imagine, as a parent of young children and a professional it is a very tricky balance to give so much time to Council and all the committees that go along with it,” she said. “I have a lot of things to weigh ….”

School District 71 Trustee Cliff Boldt said he and his wife, Maureen, were mulling over a re-election bid, but that there were “lots of considerations.” He hasn’t decided yet.

Former NDP hopeful for the provincial Comox Valley riding, Kiyoshi Kosky said he’s also considering a run at municipal office.


 

David Frisch hopes to finish zoning, transportation work

 

First-term Courtenay Council Member David Frisch didn’t originally intend to seek a second term.

“I thought I would do a shift,” he said. “But I discovered it takes so long to do things; I’d feel like I was quitting now. There’s a lot of work to do.”

In his first term, Frisch has focused on two primary issues: zoning and transportation.

“That’s the core of what we do,” he said. “The roots of what we have today go so far back, to the Joseph McPhee layout of the city in the late 1800s, that it’s a big weight to move now.”

But Frisch believes the current council has made dramatic and positive shifts in the city’s direction. He points to the fact that council now approves all development applications and questions the value of each application to the city’s future and the Regional Growth Strategy.

He sees his role in supporting that shift in direction as one of the accomplishments of his first term.

“We’ve steered developers toward multi-unit projects and opened the door to secondary suites,” Frisch said. “There’s no easier or better mechanism to get affordable housing.”

Frisch has championed the creation of multi-use lanes. Three years ago, he pushed for protected bike lanes on Willemar Avenue, which is a corridor for three public schools. But he couldn’t move council at the time, “It was too progressive for them.”

But three years later, those bike lanes are in the transportation plan.

Frisch sits on the Comox Valley Regional District Integrated Resource Transportation Select Committee whose two main goals are: one, to create a multi-use path for bicycles, scooters and walkers along the Dyke Road; and, two, to establish a single point of contact for future transportation initiatives between municipalities.

If he’s re-elected next fall, Frisch says he will pursue more transportation and zoning solutions. He’s particularly excited about creating a scooter/cycling plan to help people move through all of west Courtenay. He envisions a grid of pathways connecting Willermar, Fitzgerald and Cliffe avenues.

And he’s not limiting his transportation vision to traditional infrastructure. Frisch believes the city can have important transportation corridors that aren’t on existing roadways. He points to the Rotary Trail alongside the E&N rail tracks and the Courtenay River Trail as examples of alternate ways for people to move around their community.

After becoming engrossed in these issues and seeing how long it takes to make progress, Frisch admits the work “might take a lifetime to do.”

But for now, he’s simply committing himself to serve a second term.

 

Courtenay opens the door for private digital signs

Courtenay opens the door for private digital signs

Courtenay City Council appears to have opened the door for businesses to erect electronic message boards, despite unfavorable public opinion of digital signage.

At its Nov. 20 meeting, council defied its existing sign bylaw and approved a variance for an electronic message board for Prime Chophouse, a restaurant visible, but not accessible, from Ryan Road.

Chophouse owner Kory Wagstaff told council people have difficulty finding his restaurant, which is threatening the viability of his business. He said his location makes it a challenge to stay open for lunch and the business itself may not be sustainable without help from the city.

Wagstaff argued that digital signs are more representative of “the style of the Comox Valley.”

The current sign bylaw prohibits electronic message boards except for institutional uses. The Lewis Park Recreation Centre has one, as does St. George’s Church and Mark Isfeld High School.

Prior to 2013, the city disallowed all such signs. But the parents association at Isfeld High School lobbied council to amend its bylaw after they had raised the funds for an electronic sign.

A staff member told council that the city receives frequent requests from private businesses for electronic signs, but rejects them because during the 2013 public hearings for the Isfeld amendment, people were clearly opposed to them. Staff said people don’t like the esthetics and the added illumination of digital signs.

Council member David Frisch moved to reject the Chophouse application for a development variance permit, because “The city … sign bylaw was passed in 2013 to ensure that the character and visual appearance of our community would be maintained, and that traffic safety would not be compromised.”

Frisch’s motion was supported by councilors Doug Hillian and Rebecca Lennox.

   

But they lost the battle to Mayor Larry Jangula and councilors Erik Eriksson, Bob Wells and Mano Theos. Their support seemed to be based on the Chophouse’s support of local charities, that it’s a “great restaurant” and its location has access problems.

The most surprising support came from Councilor Eriksson, who has announced his candidacy for mayor in this fall’s elections. He had previously opposed the electronic sign at the Lewis Centre, but supported this variance application.

“I support this … it’s a great restaurant,” he said.

Eriksson later said via email that “ Lighted digital message signs are becoming more commonplace, where appropriate … I think the applicant made a good case for a variance ….”

Only Mayor Jangula addressed the key issue of whether council was opening a Pandora’s Box.

In an emailed statement to Decafnation, Jangula said, “During the meeting I commented that this was a unique problem requiring a unique solution. This is not a precedent for other electronic signs in Courtenay, and there are no plans to update the sign bylaw at this time.”

“Prime Chophouse has some unusual access problems,” Jangula said. “Council acknowledged that the lack of access off Ryan Road, which is under MoT jurisdiction, has been a challenge for this business.”

But Councilor Hillian worried about precedent.

“There’ll be no rationale for refusing any future (similar) requests,” he said.

Lennox told Decafnation, “While I have compassion for the inconvenience people have when trying to locate the entrance to The Prime Chop House, I didn’t support the resolution.

“I feel the community has been very clear about it’s hopes for modest signs without illumination​ and felt the applicant could have used a traditional sign to convey the same information,” she said.

Frisch, who moved the motion to reject the private business sign, said electronic message boards are allowed at schools, churches, rec centres and other public assembly locations.

“I believe this reflects the general will of our community and I support the idea that too much signage detracts from our natural surroundings, while providing limited benefits to our citizens,” Frisch said. “I am always open to revisit and discuss our bylaws and would consider variances as well. However, the benefits of changed and variances must be in line with our community values and must not simply be for the sole benefit of a few.”

Lennox and Frisch offered solutions other than an electronic sign for the Chophouse dilemma, but Jangula shot them down saying the sign bylaw wouldn’t permit those concepts.

But, in fact, those alternate solutions could have been permitted by a variance granted by council, which it then proceeded to grant the business owner.

 

Who wields the real power: staff or elected officials?

Who wields the real power: staff or elected officials?

PHOTO: The Edmonton organics processing program is the largest in North America.

 

Who do you think makes the important decisions that affect our communities?

It’s natural to answer, “Our elected officials.” That’s who we hold accountable for our government’s performance. But all too often elected officials haven’t read or can’t understand technical information presented to them by staff or independent consultants, and so they simply acquiesce to recommendations put before them. 

And that puts staff in charge.

This natural tension erupted at the Comox Strathcona Waste Management (CSWM) board last week, creating a showdown over where to build the new organics composting facility.

During a routine process to award the contract for engineering services, board member Marg Grant, representing Comox Council, triggered a debate that angered many directors. She asked if there would be one or two composting facilities.

Comox Valley Regional District Senior Engineer Mark Rutten answered that the CSWM’s advisory committee wants to explore all options for siting the facility, including Pigeon Lake or having two facilities.

“It’s worth reviewing,” he said.

The advisory committee consists of one staff member from the municipalities of Comox, Courtenay, Campbell River, Tahsis, Gold River, Sayward and seven staff members from the CVRD.

Rutten’s remarks set off a firestorm of angry comments from elected officials on the board, which has previously debated the issue and decided to build the organics facility in Campbell River.

Upset directors, such as Larry Samson, of Campbell River, accused staff of attempting to subvert the board’s decision.

Larry Samson
CR Councillor

“We’ve already debated this. Staff doesn’t like the answer, but we’ve already hashed this out,” he said.

Comox Valley Area B representative Ron Nichol said, “This is the first I’ve heard of two facilities. We debated this for over a year.”

Charlie Cornfield, of Campbell River, suggested staff was trying to change the Terms of Reference for the consulting contract without board approval. He was alarmed that no communication had come back to the Campbell River council about reconsidering the facility’s location.

The board amended the motion to award the contract to specify the Campbell River location. They were, in other words, admonishing Rutten for suggesting the advisory committee could disregard a board position.

The incident exposes the potential for staff to subtly direct projects by only feeding elected officials the information they think will get them the results they want.

Marg Grant
Comox Councillor

Marg Grant, of Comox, cast the lone vote against the amended motion.

“The Town of Comox Council’s position has always been: the entire region would be better served with two small compost facilities vs. one large facility in Campbell River,” she said via email.

Grant said the organics pilot project at Pigeon Lake has proved successful, it has existing infrastructure, it’s compatible with the site and staff have already been trained.

She also questioned the costs of backhauling organics to Campbell River, which Comox town staff raised in the advisory committee.

According to the minutes of the March 30, 2017, advisory committee meeting, “Town of Comox staff expressed concern regarding potential higher tipping fees associated with this project if hosted in Campbell River rather than the Comox Valley.”

But the other directors said it’s unlikely a Campbell River location for organics would increase garbage dumping fees. Campbell River, like every other north Island community, will truck their municipal waste to the Comox Valley, and the Comox Valley will send it’s organics back to Campbell River on what would otherwise be an empty truck.

This furor over siting the organics facility highlights the delicate relationship between the CSWM board and its staff advisory committee.

Directors also expressed concerns that the advisory committee receives reports before the board gets them, including in-camera reports, and that staff recommendations appear to give more weight to the advisory board’s suggestions than the views of elected board members.

Erik Eriksson announces bid for mayor of Courtenay

Erik Eriksson announces bid for mayor of Courtenay

The 2018 municipal election campaign got a jump start this week when Courtenay Councillor Erik Eriksson told Decafnation that he’s running for mayor.

Eriksson is the first Comox Valley candidate to formally announce his campaign.

While most incumbents and potential newcomers are still mulling the pros and cons of committing to a four-year term that won’t end until 2023, Eriksson said he couldn’t wait to start building support.

Eriksson said it wasn’t his intention to contest incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula for the mayor’s chair, but he also couldn’t wait for Jangula to finally decide if he’s retiring or seeking another term. Jangula has hinted at stepping down next year.

“I just had to get my campaign started,” Eriksson said. “It takes time to put together a successful support team for the mayor’s office.”

Voters go to the polls on Oct. 20 next year. The official nomination period for candidates begins on Sept. 3, 2018 and runs for 10 days.

Eriksson, who begins his sixth year on Courtenay City Council in 2018, is running on a simple platform: building partnerships.

He believes people who live in the region’s three municipalities and three unincorporated regional districts have common goals, and that by working together they can be more effective.

Eriksson isn’t using the “A-word” (amalgamation) because that’s a long and complicated process, which Valley voters have rejected in the past. But he believes there’s ample space for municipalities, the regional district, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox to share more services.

It’s one of his best skills, he believes, to resolve problems by helping people to find a common purpose.

“It’s amazing how effective you can be if you just talk … and discover that common ground,” he said.

Eriksson points to his support for the Committee to End Homelessness, the Community Health Network, the Food Bank and the Courtenay Youth Music Centre  as examples.

If elected, Eriksson would apply those skills to bring the council together.

And he’s motivated by a single purpose, “to make things better for people who don’t have it so good,” he said.

Some candidates like to work on building campaigns privately, and announce at the last minute. But Eriksson didn’t hesitate to publicly announce his candidacy early.

“It’s going to take time to show voters all the ways we can work better through partnerships. I want to use the credibility I’ve built to champion this cause,” he said.

 

The story behind recent Comox union negotiations

The story behind recent Comox union negotiations

In a press release published by the Comox Valley Record recently, Comox Mayor Paul Ives put a positive spin on the town’s new five-year collective agreement. But there’s much more to this story.

It is good news, of course, that the town finally reached an agreement, considering that the last contract expired in March 2016, about a year-and-a-half ago. But why it took so long hints at the unreported backstory.

What Ives and the rest of the Comox Council don’t want you to know is that they tried to crack their public employees union with a two-tiered wage proposal.

Ives didn’t mention that the union staged multiple flash mobs waving signs of discontent around the Comox Valley, or their overwhelming strike vote, or the reason for such unrest by good, hard-working people.

According to several sources with inside knowledge of the negotiations between the Town of Comox and CUPE local 556, which represents municipal employees throughout the Comox Valley, the town hired an out-of-town negotiator who pressed a proposal that would have divided employees.

The town proposed that all new hires in certain categories would be compensated according to a different, and lower, wage structure. For example, when the town hired new custodians and gardeners, they would have worked under a separate compensation agreement, and the town would have paid them less.

That idea didn’t sit well with the town’s working people.

During the negotiations, Comox employees staged many flash mobs around the Comox Valley, waving signs that urged support for protecting the livelihood of future town employees.

So, after 80 percent of the town’s employees voted unanimously to strike, the town withdrew its proposal, terminated its hired-gun negotiator and a contract agreement was reached.

Surprise! All the employees wanted was a fair deal.

Did Mayor Ives and council members want to break the union? That is a logical interpretation of its proposed two-tiered wage structure. The purpose of the proposal is clear: At some point in the future, as existing workers on the current pay grid retired or moved on to other jobs, the town would employ only these lower-paid workers.

What other explanation is there? I suppose is it also possible that the Town of Comox’s finances are in such bad shape that they have to reduce expenses by squeezing their working-class employees.

But it wouldn’t seem so, considering the town just spent nearly $2 million on a twin-sail-roof building, and other upgrades at Marina Park, without knowing exactly how it will be used. The town is only now holding meetings to figure that out.

And that dollar figure doesn’t include the new children’s splash park, which is a nice addition.

Mayor Ives refused to comment for this story, except to say that all my “facts are as usual wrong,” but he declined an opportunity to specify and correct the errant facts to which he referred.