Duncan Mayor Phil Kent talked to more than 100 people who crammed into Cowichan Preschool recently to discuss a proposal for a daytime warming centre for the homeless in McAdam Park.

Elected Cowichan Valley officials required to work hard in local politics

Impromptu meeting provides a prime example of having to defuse situations

My hat’s off to Duncan Mayor Phil Kent.

I watched Kent closely as he tried his best to answer questions and explain the city’s position at a recent public gathering about the possibility that the field houses at McAdam Park could be used as a temporary daytime warming centre for the homeless.

It was an impromptu meeting that was quickly organized and was intended for people in the neighbourhood to come together to gather more information on the proposal and express their concerns with it.

Kent had heard about the gathering and decided to attend to listen to the people, and bring their concerns back to the rest of council to consider as part of their deliberations on using the field houses for a warming centre.

It should be said that finding solutions to deal with the growing number of homeless in Duncan, and in the Valley in general, is ultimately the province’s responsibility.

The City of Duncan got involved after a letter was received from the United Way stating that provincial support and funding could possibly be acquired if the city agreed to use its field houses at the park to assist with the initiative.

Council is currently waiting for a staff report on the feasibility of the request before any final decisions are made.

But many at the meeting seemed to be of the impression that the whole proposal was concocted by the city, and made no bones in telling Kent what they thought of it.

There were more than 100 people at the meeting, all crammed into the small Cowichan Preschool that sits next to McAdam Park, so dozens of concerned and upset people were standing almost eye-to-eye with Kent while raising their issues.

Mind you, nobody got out of hand and, despite being angry, people kept their cool and listened carefully to Kent’s responses and explanations of what was being asked, and the city’s role in what was being proposed.

But I had to admire Kent who, I suspect, knew very well he was wading into a large group of upset people who, understandably, took great exception to any idea of their public park and neighbourhood being used for such a purpose.

Kent, who, it should be said, made just $23,891 in his role as Duncan’s mayor last year, answered each question that flew at him as best as he could.

By the time the meeting ended, I felt he was successful in explaining exactly what was going on, and where the responsibilities lay.

I don’t think many at the meeting changed their minds about the warming centre as a result of their conversations with Kent.

But it appeared to me that they understood it better and I sensed a general appreciation among that crowd that the mayor took the time to attend the meeting and talk to them.

I reflected on Kent’s participation at the gathering on my drive home afterwards, and concluded (once again) that it must take special and dedicated people to do well in municipal politics.

Local politicians, many of whom work at other jobs as well, dedicate thousands of hours every year in boring meetings dealing with their community’s finances, infrastructure, environmental issues and any number of other concerns, as well as spending many nights at meetings like the one at Cowichan Preschool.

They are obviously not doing it for the money, so I expect in most cases their dedication comes from a genuine desire to make their communities the best they can be.

The next municipal elections in B.C. are set for Oct. 20, 2018, and many are already considering whether they will throw their hats in the ring in efforts to take a seat at a local level of government.

I just hope they know the hard work they will face if elected; and for so little thanks, not to mention the pittance of financial remuneration.

Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.

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