Friday, November 25, 2011

There Is More Than Meets the Eye

With a new Council and the highest election turnout in Lake Country's history of local government elections, interest in what we do and how we do it has increased. I am very pleased about this, because one of the biggest issues we face at the local level is apathy for municipal government. I love my job and I have passion for what I do and the community I serve and live in. In addition, as a local government administrator I deal with a very complex field and a wide variety of issues: from road construction and maintenance, to parks amenities and recreation centres; from water quality and conservation, to saving lives and properties; and the list goes on. In addition, as the Chief Administrative Officer of a municipal corporation I have the blessing (or for some the curse) of two main responsibilities: first to advise Council to the best of my ability on the options they have in order to make an informed decision; and second, to carry out those decisions with the assistance of staff. It takes an entire organization to do that.

In my life experience, I have worked in many jobs. I sold computers, I reported for newspapers, I served in the military, I practised law, I consulted private corporations on management and business plans, I taught, and finally I worked (and work) in local government. I believe that my variety of experiences has provided me with good common sense and decent business practices. I have to say that, in all honesty, working for local government is not for the faint of heart. You have to keep motivated all the time and you have to fight constant misinformation on what staff do and how we are organized and operate. Notwithstanding all that, my job is a constant inspiration to me and to the majority of our staff. I remember a few years ago I hired a new Director of Finance for a municipality from the private sector. She had never worked in local government but she was the best fit for the job and I was right. She did a wonderful job and she earned the respect of many colleagues who have never worked in the private sector. She used to tell me that she had never been so busy in her entire career. Indeed her job with that municipality was very demanding on her. Just a couple of years ago she left that local government and is now working for a progressive, rapid growing private company expanding its business throughout BC and Alberta. In fact, she has become a partner in the company. One day we were having a conversation about differences in work environments and she said to me: "I never thought working in local government would be so hard, busy and demanding. Compared to the work I did in private corporations, some of them very big, local government is the most challenging and demanding." I believe so too.

Lake Country as a community will face hard times and the new Council will have to meet new and old challenges, especially doing more for less. So, if working in a municipality was busy and demanding in the past, it is even more so today. In thinking of these challenges, may I suggest that it is our responsibility, collectively, individually and in all of our respective roles to do the following:
  1. Be informed. Get to know your local government by approaching staff and asking questions on how things work and what we do. Try to understand the demands of your community and how we are trying to meet them. Finally, approach your elected officials and ask them good questions about the goals and objectives of your municipality.
  2. Be connected. In a society where social networks are the norm of communication now, the District has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a You Tube account. Subscribe and keep informed on what's happening in your community. Our Parks & Recreation department also has a Facebook page. Visit our new beautiful website at and the information in it. You will find useful stuff that will help you explore our community in more depth.
  3. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Your feedback is important to us and we understand that sometimes you can be frustrated by the bureaucracy imposed by the many laws that regulate us. Sometimes even staff scratch their heads at some of the legislation they have to deal with. The reality is that local governments have a very limited autonomy and it all comes from the provincial government. They pretty much decide what we do and how we do it. In addition, they are downloading more and more responsibilities to local governments without giving them the resources to do it. It is as frustrating for us as it is for you.
  4. Be positive. Recently, I received an e-mail from one of my staff who also has had a long experience in the private sector. In a nutshell, he was concerned at the tone of some election campaigning, not just in Lake Country but everywhere else in BC. He commented: "... I've been thinking a bit about working in local government lately, with the election coming and some candidates, journalists, and forum respondents passing various types of comments about municipal staff being lazy, incompetent, etc. While I know it is a common misconception for people to think that public servants are lazy, incompetent, etc. due to the bureaucracy, it concerns me how advocating and voicing these misconceptions can affect the entire organization [and the community] in the long term… I don't believe they consider how attacking the reputation of the municipality has many unintended impacts. .. I'm sure these claims do not help how employees see themselves. Worse yet, they will no doubt affect our ability to attract the bright talent that we need to develop and improve as an organization, or to retain the talent that we have already. I believe that while we do have areas to improve upon as an organization, we have taken many steps lately to get better and we have many highly qualified and talented professionals working [in local government]. As someone who has worked in the private sector and in various municipalities, and is committed to working in the local government field, I find it troubling that public service … seems to be valued less [than other services]."
Staff are here to help and are committed to provide the best service to the public and the community. I know that, like all organizations, there is always room for improvement and we are working hard on making those improvements happen. The majority of our staff are local taxpayers and care for the community as they care for their family's and individual quality of life. Also those who don't live in our community are caring individuals that take pride in what they do. Give us the benefit of the doubt. There is much more to local government operations than meets the eye.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Future is Now

The municipal election is over and the dust is settling. In Lake Country, the Mayor, James Baker, was re-elected and so two of the incumbent councillors, Penny Gambell (at Large) and Barbara Leamont (Carr's Landing). We also have four new councillors: Jamie McEwan (at Large), Rob Geier (Winfield), Owen Dickie (Oyama), and Lisa Cameron (Okanagan Centre). I congratulate the new elected Council and I am looking forward to the new term with them. I also wish to thank those who were not elected for their dedication and hard work. Each one of them brought a unique set of skills that provided good leadership and vision for the community.

What now? I would say: the future is now. There is much that needs to be done and the new Council will begin working immediately to understand their role, their function, and their responsibilities and to set the priorities for the next three years. On December 6th, the new Council will be sworn in and a number of orientation sessions will be held beginning next week. We will also hold a priority setting session at the beginning of December and an initial budget session. We do not waste our time at the District but we work hard to get things going.

One of the things we are working on is a business systems review with the purpose of streamlining our organization and operations and alleviate potential tax increases in the future. In addition, there are critical capital projects and plans that need to continue to be pursued. We have not heard from the province yet regarding our grant submission for the expansion of our sewer plant. The Regional District is contributing to the project but we cannot proceed without the bulk of the funds that could come only through a grant. Lodge Road design is near completion and we should be able to start the work in the spring of 2012. This is a much needed improvement that will benefit both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, especially the many students that walk that road during the school year. The province will contribute to the funding of the project and we made an application to ICBC for some money as well. The Water Master Plan will be discussed as part of the budget process as the model calls for fee increases in the next two years.

Then there is some important stuff that will need to be addressed. Boundary readjustments with the City of Kelowna and possibly more collaboration at the political and administrative levels between the City and the District; increase partnership opportunities with the Okanagan Indian Band through the provision of services and the implementation of economic and tourism development projects; and of course our Town Centre and the District economic development strategy.

On top of all of this, there are many other projects that are in progress and there is the day-to-day operational load. It is good to be busy and we welcome opportunities. Definitely, we will not be idle and the new Council will begin its work at a rapid pace. Again, the future is now for Lake Country.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lake Country Endorses Progressive Plan to Reduce Municipal Carbon Footprint

Lake Country, BC – In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of their municipal operations and meet the terms of the provincial Climate Action Charter, the District of Lake Country Council recently developed and endorsed a new Carbon Neutral Operations Plan. Lake Country signed the province’s Climate Action Charter in 2007, requiring them to become carbon neutral in their municipal operations by the end of 2012.

By reducing or offsetting their municipal carbon emissions, Lake Country intends to provide an example of how municipal carbon neutrality can become a reality, and by doing the right thing can also position themselves for continued senior government grants. “This plan has allowed us to inventory all aspects of the municipal operation over time, identify cost saving areas and historic trends, as well as narrow in on those facilities needing the most attention” says Mayor, James Baker.

Development Services Manager, Mark Koch, explains that “the different energy sources used by the municipality over the past three years were tabulated, and converted into tons of carbon equivalent, allowing the municipality to understand the true carbon footprint of the District’s water system, sewer infrastructure, arena, works facilities as well as other District functions”. While not tying the District to any one solution, the plan provides a framework for future green technology investment decisions to be made in the most impactful areas, favoring local reduction solutions over offsetting, where possible.

While the District believes that reducing their consumption of electricity, gasoline, natural gas, and all other fuel sources simply makes good business sense, they also plan on using revenue from the award winning Lake Country Hydroelectric Generating Station to help offset costs associated with becoming carbon neutral.  

For more information, contact:
Mark Koch, Development Services Manager

Alberto De Feo, Chief Administrative Officer

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November 1st Council Meeting Highlights

Due to the upcoming election, Regular Council meetings will not be televised on Shaw Cable until after the General Voting Day on November 19th. In addition, there will be no Public Comment or Councillor Comment periods during Regular Council meetings until after the Election.

Lodge Pine Estates Bylaw 675, 2008
Bylaw 675 rezones a narrow strip of land from Rural Residential to Direct Control and Park to construct 4 duplexes has been on the District’s books for several years because of outstanding issues.  The applicant has dedicated the required park land to the District and Council gave final reading and adopted the bylaw.

Carbon Neutral Operations Plan
In 2010 the District signed the Climate Action Charter and made a commitment, along with all BC municipalities, to achieve operational carbon neutrality by 2012.  Staff presented an operational plan to inventory District emissions and establish broad principles for reductions opportunities. The inventory will help calculate carbon-offsets that may be needed to achieve carbon neutrality but does not commit the District to anything. The emissions inventory will be reviewed and updated annually to provide up-to-date information on the amount of carbon being emitted by the District. See the complete Carbon Neutral Operations Plan that was endorsed by Council.

Shanks Road Development Variance Permit
Council approved the application to vary the floor area of a number of accessory buildings at 8051 Shanks Road from 100m2 to 460m2.  The applicants would like to build a new residence on a farm property and convert the old residence into a storage building.  The total floor area of the old residence and a variety of storage buildings on the property used for farming purposes exceeds the total allowable floor area for accessory buildings on property zoned Agriculture 1 which does not have farm assessment.  The approval of DVP2011-009 will allow the applicant to build a new single family dwelling and keep the existing accessory buildings for storage and farm use.

Whiskey Cove Road Development Variance Permit
The applicant applied for a variance to construct a new pool and outdoor lounge area on the property at 15510 Whiskey Cove Road.  The proposed plan requires a variance of the sight line and north and south side yard setbacks.  Staff recommended that the variance not be supported as there are opportunities for the plans to be modified to eliminate the need for both the side yard setback variances and the sightlines variance.  After a lengthy discussion Council approved the applicant’s request to vary the site line requirements and the south side yard setback although denied the request to vary the north side yard setback.

McCreight Road Development Variance Permit
The applicant for the property at 13210 McCreight Road applied to vary the sight line requirements from 120 degrees to 80 degrees to remove the exiting dwelling and construct a new single family dwelling with a pool and outdoor living area facing the lake.  Council approved the Development Variance Permit DVP2011-013 as the existing views from the neighbouring properties are skewed to the south and will not be significantly impacted.

Sawmill Road Development Variance Permit
Kon Kast Holdings Ltd. applied to relax the requirements of the District’s Subdivision and Development Servicing Bylaw in order to construct a 36,600 sq. ft concrete production and casting facility at 15670 Sawmill Road.  The servicing standards require sidewalks, curbs and gutter, community sewer, underground wiring and street lighting.   Staff recommended approval of the variance as none of the surrounding properties have urban services and the economic development value of the development will expand the community’s industrial base.  The applicant will be required to provide full water service and roadway improvements along Sawmill Road in order to accommodate anticipated loads.  Council approved the variance adding the requirement that a buffer be installed to shelter the neighbouring properties and also that additional lighting be installed on the existing hydro poles along Sawmill Road.

MTI & Bylaw Enforcement Amendment Bylaws
Due to a minor error the current MTI and Bylaw Enforcement bylaws do not cite the correct sections of the new Building Regulation Bylaw 709, 2011. Council gave 3 readings to Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw 805, 2011 and Municipal Ticketing Information Amendment Bylaw 804, 2011 so that the bylaws accurately cite the relevant sections of the municipal bylaws that the ticket is issued under.

Padel Licence of Occupation at Jack Seaton Park
There are two PADEL courts set up in Lake Country on the old tennis courts with a third one being planned. Mr. Thorburn operates the PADEL courts and since the sport began in Lake Country, has run camps, junior programs and ladies programs, all of which have met with great success. PADEL supports the District’s drive to increase physical activity for Lake Country citizens and Mr. Thorburn has already invested in the development of the site such as walls, fixing cracked areas of the old tennis courts and the re‐anchoring of the nets. The proposed Licence of Occupation to operate the courts at Jack Seaton Park will require the maintenance of the area, an annual fee of $500 and appropriate liability insurance. There has been great enthusiasm from the community for the sport which was showcased by CHBC and there has also been some early discussions about an interprovincial tournament that could be held in Lake Country next year. Council approved the Licence of Occupation for the period of June 2011 to December 2015.