Retired Nelson cop Pat Severyn announced today that he will challenge incumbent John Dooley for the Nelson mayoral seat in the upcoming municipal election. After 30 years serving on the Nelson police force, and having been born and raised in Nelson, he believes he has the experience necessary to excel in the role.
“I understand Nelson. If I was new to Nelson in the last six, seven years and wanted to feel my way through how the city operates, more than likely I’d run for council first. But I’ve lived here all my life. I know Nelson and I know the people of Nelson as well as can be expected, so I’m going to skip the council step and go for mayor,” he said.
Severyn began his career in 1981 as a reserve officer, and eventually moved his way up to a full-time gig in 1982 that saw him through to his retirement in 2011. Now that he’s had a couple years of retirement, the 58-year-old feels he is ready for this new role.
“I had a fair amount of pressure from friends of mine and the public to get involved in council as the mayor, and I told people all along that one day I would attempt that mission. I think I’ve recharged my batteries now and I’m ready to tackle something new,” he said.
And though he’s hesitant to criticize the current council or Dooley, he has some ideas about how he would approach the role differently.
“I’m not a negative person. I don’t use negative phrases or instances against people. I’d rather say that my best asset is that I’m a team player. All the sports I’ve been involved in, councils, boards I’ve sat on, I’ve been a team player and I’ve been a leader in most of them. It’s time, in my mind, that we had a real team.”
That doesn’t mean he wants all the councillors to necessarily be in agreement about everything, but wants them to work collaboratively. He said the priorities he hopes to work on, if elected, would be focusing on maintaining the vibrancy of downtown, attracting clean industry to the area and addressing homelessness.
“We’re very busy here. There’s no other municipality like that in the Kootenays. I’ve driven into downtown at 9 p.m. on a Thursday and I can’t find a parking spot on Baker. That doesn’t happen in other places. I’m very passionate about downtown. I hate seeing empty buildings. So one of my top priorities is I want to see it stay vibrant,” he said.
He praised the EcoSociety’s MarketFest events, and said he wishes there could be more events like that in town. He’d also like to see Nelson launch its very own music festival, akin to the Kaslo Jazz Fest or the Shambhala Music Festival.
Severyn said one way to encourage that is to expand the financial base by attracting clean industry.
“We’re here because it’s clean and everybody gets to do their own thing here. We need to show that we have a real interest in clean industry coming here,” he said.
Homelessness is an issue that Severyn has plenty of experience with, and he said his unique perspective as a police officer may help him come up with new solutions.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have a home. Homelessness in Nelson, it’s a very unfortunate situation. And I think we need to find some permanent solutions. Nelson CARES does a great job. We need to maintain what they’re doing and even advance it somewhat. But we have to be doing other things too,” he said.
He said the solutions that have been put forward so far, such as the proposed campground for homeless people, aren’t satisfactory.
“That’s a Band-Aid fix. I’m not a magician. If I had a permanent fix to homelessness in Nelson I think I would get everyone’s vote tomorrow, but I don’t. What I think we need to do is, if financial aid or grants are needed, we have to look at them very carefully. You get the biggest bang for your buck when you deal with grants that are matched by provincial and federal governments,” he said.
And in the meantime, those who are struggling should be treated with respect, he said.
“It only takes one turn or one bump and anybody could be in that situation. The biggest thing I learned from being a police officer is homeless people want respect like everyone else.”
But Severyn said he’s passionate about serving all members of the community, not just those in need.
“If you spend too much time on the rich people, the poor people say ‘oh, he’s in it for the rich people’. If you spend too much time with the poor people, the rich people say ‘I don’t want my money going to people who don’t help themselves’. It’s a juggling act. But I honestly believe in my heart you can have a relationship with everyone.”
That doesn’t mean he’s trying to make everyone happy.
“I’m really comfortable with saying no. I would rather have people hear ‘no, I can’t do that’ than ‘yeah, I’ll look at it’ and nothing happens,” he said.
What does that mean for development, then?
“There’s certain people here that don’t like change. They’re worried we’re going to end up like Kelowna or Vernon. But that’s not the ideology we have here, the grow at all costs mentality. We have to be careful about how we do things, and I don’t believe anything has an easy answer.”
Severyn said he plans to be transparent and accountable to the public, and will be constantly looking for feedback and support from constituents.
“If I was successful in this venture, I would have an absolute open door policy. In fact, if I could take the door off it would be easier,” he said.
He shared his cell phone number with the Star, and said he would endeavor to personally connect with everyone who calls him.
“It may blow up my phone but I’m prepared.”
Severyn’s cell phone number is 250-354-7117.