What's it like being a mayor of a tiny island municipality?

We did a short Q & A with current Bowen mayor, Murray Skeels

We at the Undercurrent are starting to look toward the October 20 municipal election. As this council starts wrapping up their term affairs and community members start thinking about running for office, we’re asking current and previous politicians about their experiences running for municipal office. To start off  we spoke with current mayor Murray Skeels who has already announced that this will be his only term as mayor. 

 

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Why did you run for mayor?

I had recently retired and felt I had the skill set required to help the community realize some long-standing goals.

What do you wish you had known before running?

Just how open-ended the job is.  You have to deal with everything from time limits on parking spaces to how best to obtain government grants.

 

What would you do differently if you could redo the past four years?

I’d push for increasing staff capacity and reducing the role of council in operations. Council’s main function should be to protect the public interest if staff makes a poor decision. 

But our staff are the professionals who know how to run a municipality. When you are understaffed council members start helping out and that can lead to a lack of oversight

 

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being on council?

I think the community is more harmonious now than when we started. We worked hard to be fair and balanced and I think people appreciate that.

 

 

What’s an unexpected challenge of being mayor of a small town?

I realized that I’m not very good at being a public figure. I’m fine one on one, but speaking to larger groups isn’t something that comes easily to me.

 

What’s an unexpected pleasure of being mayor?

I really enjoyed meeting with other mayors and politicians and learning just how our system of government works.

 

What’s an issue you feel will be very important for the next council?

We have to decide whether we want to have local light industry or not. If we don’t zone some land for light manufacturing and service industries we will be destined to become a residential suburb. 

West Vancouver decided on very restrictive zoning in 1927. Today it is an enclave for the very wealthy. Some islanders want that for us. 

If that is the route we’re going it should be a conscious decision rather than simply blocking individual rezoning applications.

 

What do you think Bowen will look like in 20 years?

It will still be a very good place to live. We are a pretty happy lot with a strong sense of community. We’ll work together as needed to protect our natural spaces while slowly building the infrastructure we need to support the vulnerable among us. 

Climate change will push a lot of people in our direction but I believe our culture is strong enough to attract those who share our ethos. 

Tourism will be a strong growth industry worldwide, including here. I don’t know how that will play out.

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