GUEST COLUMN: Council role involves listening and learning

Former Summerland councillor reflects on her years spent at the table

GUEST COLUMN: Council role involves listening and learning

What kind of life and activity comes from being a member of municipal council?

First and foremost, one must be prepared to listen, question and learn.

Everyone has special talents, backgrounds and skills. However, being on council, more topics will be brought for your consideration than you ever expected.

At the time I first thought of running in an election, I had lived in Summerland for 25 years. My husband had a job in Penticton, our daughters were at university in Victoria and our son was finishing his final year at Summerland Secondary School. With the family all taken care of, I felt free to start something new.

I nominated myself to begin with. I knocked on a lot of doors in town. Few people knew me.

I was elected on my second try and then again for an 18-year stint.

I never accepted any special support as I felt it was in the best interests of the community that I be free to represent Summerland.

I had my own special interests, which included promoting local businesses so we could have a healthy downtown, to keep the commercial enterprises along the highway to a minimum, to assist agri-businesses, foster environmental concerns and to encourage educational opportunities.

I knew nothing about roads and sewage and electrical upgrades. In fact, when I started, I realized how much there was for me to learn. That was also part of why I found listening and asking appropriate questions so helpful. It allowed me to understand fairly well as these topics were being discussed.

When a public hearing was held, council members were told all should attend with an open mind. We were there to listen and learn.

There are always people who hold strong opinions and their points must be heard even when they seem to contradict each other.

It is most helpful to visit each location which comes before council.

Summerland is a large municipality with some difficult landscapes. Few places have an extinct volcano in their minds with moraine and silt hills, gulches and numerous valleys. Exciting, but a topography that requires careful thought.

Developers are important and it is necessary to again listen, learn and ask questions.

It is important to keep in mind that developers represent one component of the community just as environmentalists do another. Both have value in a healthy community.

Councillors are there to represent Summerland as a whole and to be sure that all zoning or special permits are very clear so that the community does not end up with unforeseen consequences.

It is important to remember that however you vote, you are unlikely to please everyone.

Just be sure that you have considered all possible ramifications and then be satisfied that you had the best of intentions when you voted as you did.

As a councillor, I enjoyed greatly my years on the Regional Library Board and the Union Board of Health. I attended many conventions, heard some great speakers and met numerous civic and political leaders. All in all, a wonderful experience.

I also made sure to report on these events to council so that we could all learn from each other.

Growing up in Vancouver, I did not have a special interest in the city as a whole, but Summerland is a rural size that can create a great sense of affection and loyalty.

Many young people who leave to study and work come back to Summerland to retire. They continue to support the great volunteers that are throughout Summerland and are such a large part of what makes this a special place.

Serving on council was, for me a most interesting and satisfying time.

I hope there are others who, maybe as green as I was, will consider this important and very challenging possibility.

Sheila White was a Summerland municipal councillor from the 1970s to the 1990s.