Rossland’s surprise candidate for mayor says seeking the city’s top job seemed like a “natural progression” after three terms as councillor.
Jill Spearn originally submitted nomination papers for council before changing her mind just before the deadline this month to run for mayor. “I had been thinking about it for some time,” she said in an interview Monday. “I’m close to retirement and think I’ve got the time to dedicate to that position.”
Spearn said she talked to incumbent Greg Granstrom — who at the last minute decided to run for council instead — before joining fellow councillor Kathy Moore in the race.
However, she said her decision wasn’t entirely based on Granstrom, as she contemplated running against both him and Moore before opting to seek a council seat. “When he made the choice to run for councillor, I finalized my position,” she said. “I thought it makes good sense to have some choice.”
Spearn acknowledged the Jason Ward affair, in which a former city building inspector’s company secured the contract to perform upgrades to the arena, would be a key election issue with at least a “certain segment” of the population.
But while Moore has been credited with bringing it to the forefront, Spearn said she wasn’t the only one who was concerned.
“I supported her from the get-go,” Spearn said. “It’s something I had never dealt with on council or otherwise. When it came to light, I asked questions. I was in the [city manager’s] office a number of times. I was taken aback by that whole affair and issue. Very few people knew what was going on.”
Spearn said former city manager Victor Kumar kept council in the dark. “That causes a problem, but that’s the way it was.”
Spearn called the matter a “series of unfortunate events” that she took “extremely seriously,” going so far as to consider stepping down. “I felt so accountable and responsible as a council member that I wondered if should I resign,” she said.
While the Ward affair has dominated headlines in Rossland for the past couple of years, Spearn said during her nine years on council, there have been “a heck of a lot of things we’ve done well.”
She pointed to the downtown revitalization project and progress in tourism and economic development. She was also involved with the Neighbourhood of Learning committee that lobbied to retain K-12 education in Rossland.
She has also been the city’s liaison to the Chamber of Commerce and sustainability commission.
“I have always been a strong ambassador for Rossland and do relate to numerous types of people,” she said. “I want to spend more time with the next council making sure we follow policies and procedures and understand those policies. But I’m not interested in micromanaging. Council needs to operate at a higher level.”
Spearn said if elected she intends to run meetings efficiently and collaboratively, “where we do a lot of sharing of ideas in a respectful tone.”
She also called for greater teamwork with neighbouring communities and said the recent sewage agreement is a good step in that direction.
Spearn has lived in Rossland for 34 years, and been a teacher for almost 30, all in the Kootenay Columbia district. She presently teaches Grades 4/5 at Rossland Summit School.
“Regardless, honestly, of who wins, we’re going to have a good mayor and a good new team,” she said, adding that she hopes the next council will be a mix of incumbents and newcomers. “If I am not elected, I know I will find my place doing community endeavours otherwise. I hope it’s my chance to lead a great team that’s going to serve Rossland well.”
Moore says Granstrom run ‘highly unconventional’
Does it make a difference to Kathy Moore that she will face Spearn for mayor instead of Granstrom?
“My answer is yes and no,” she says. “I was looking forward to having Jill on council because I was confident I could work with her. I am thrilled that there will be a female mayor, but it’s a pity there will be no other women on council.”
All eight council candidates are men.
Moore described Granstrom’s run for a council seat as “highly unconventional” and said it had the potential to “perpetuate a dysfunctional council.”
“I will work with whomever is elected but Mr. Granstrom will present a challenge,” Moore said. “Council functions better as a congenial and non-adversarial group. The notion that one should be ‘hard on the issues and soft on the people’ was, in my opinion, missing from the current council under Mr. Granstrom’s leadership.”
Moore said if elected, she intends to change council’s tone to a “more respectful atmosphere” while “engaging in healthy debate, communicating with the community, being accountable and transparent in our governance.”
“I am very excited about the possibilities for the next term,” she said. “There are some terrific candidates for council. I will trust the citizens of Rossland to elect those that will contribute to the most constructive and productive atmosphere so we can make the best, most informed decisions that will benefit our community.”
Voting day is November 15.
Family factored into Granstrom’s decision
Granstrom said his decision to run for council instead of mayor came from his desire to spend more time with his family.
“I’ve been doing the duties of mayor now for quite some time; it’s time for me to take a bit of a break from those duties,” he said. “It’s also very important to me that I am still able to contribute to the city of Rossland.”
Asked about council’s accomplishments of the last term, he pointed to its continued commitment to financial stability and sustainability as well as the completion of the Columbia-Washington corridor project, and the recent approval of the regional sewer plan that will see a pipe and pedestrian bridge built across the Columbia River at Trail.
As far as the most important election issue, Granstrom said “infrastructure [is] always going to be on the forefront. We run a shortfall according to our asset management plan of about $37 million so infrastructure to me is one that we have to remain focused on.”
Granstrom said as Rossland’s population grows, it’s important to address shortfalls in areas such as sewer treatment and water supply as well as road maintenance.