As she officially took office Monday evening, Nelson’s Deb Kozak told a packed room at the Prestige Lakeside Resort that it was “no small thing to be the first woman elected mayor in 117 years.”
Judge Richard Hewson administered the oath of office to Kozak, the only woman to hold the position since the city was incorporated in 1897, along with returning councillors Bob Adams and Robin Cherbo, plus newcomers Michael Dailly, Anna Purcell, and Valerie Warmington. Janice Morrison was absent.
They were elected November 15 and will serve a term of slightly less than four years.
During her inaugural address, Kozak said she “felt the weight of the chain of office” on her shoulders, and thought Annie Garland Foster must have felt the same way when she became the first woman elected to city council in 1920. Foster ran unsuccessfully for mayor two years later. Her biographer, Frances Welwood, said Foster would have been “delighted” that Nelson finally has its first female mayor.
Kozak, who has served nine years on city council, defeated three-term incumbent John Dooley.
“Inclusiveness is important. The best decisions are made when people who come from different experiences and backgrounds work together. I think our newly-elected council is a great demonstration of that diversity in our community,” she said to applause.
Kozak pledged to work hard to build relationships locally and elsewhere and said she believed in having “difficult conversations. I’m good at them. If we can’t have a tough conversation around small issues, how can we move forward on the larger issues?”
She said she heard repeatedly during her campaign about rising water and sewer rates, and has asked city staff to see if there are “more creative ways” to continue rebuilding infrastructure and reserves by spreading the work out over time so the burden isn’t as great on citizens.
On the issue of affordable housing, she said the city won’t become a provider, but can work with groups like BC Housing to ensure there are more low-income units: “It is well within our means to reach out to organizations providing housing to see how we can help them.”
Kozak acknowledged concerns around the Hall Street corridor redevelopment and said city staff expect to present design improvements to council and the community soon. “That came about as the result of some difficult conversations. With challenging thoughts come better solutions.”
She quipped: “Another conversation we’ve had and continue to have is about dogs. Need I say more?”
Kozak also spoke of a larger vision for Nelson as a community where people of all ages and incomes can afford to live, and of growing Nelson Hydro to the point where it produces all of the city’s power. (Today it accounts for about half — the rest is purchased from FortisBC.)
Kozak said people don’t just dream of coming here, but “they come and they do.” She pointed to Nelson-based science and technology firms, health services, small business, and “green thinking.” She called the city’s investment in broadband “very inspiring. Nelson can become a centre of excellence. We can step forward with confidence towards the next evolution of our community.”
Two votes required
Although mainly ceremonial, the meeting did contain some official business: Kozak was unanimously named the city’s representative to the Regional District of Central Kootenay after serving as the alternate during the last few months of the previous term.
However, the vote for alternate director exposed some divisions on the new council. Adams nominated Morrison, seconded by Cherbo, but the vote was tied and failed. Subsequently, Warmington nominated Dailly, seconded by Purcell. This time the vote passed, with Adams asking that his opposition be recorded.
Adams, Cherbo, Warmington, and Morrison all sought one of two seats on the recreation commission. Cherbo nominated Adams, but found no seconder. Dailly nominated Warmington, seconded by Purcell, and the motion carried. Adams then nominated Morrison, seconded by Warmington, and that motion carried.
There was no discussion before any of those votes.
Near the end of the evening, Kozak asked all those in the audience who had previously served on council to stand and be recognized. Among them were former mayors Dooley, Bill Ramsden, Dave Elliott, and longtime councillor Donna Macdonald.