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Penticton mayor aims to retain grip on regional reins
Dan Ashton’s political aspirations could cost him one of his jobs.
Penticton’s mayor has since 2001 also chaired the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, a position to which fellow directors have elected him each year, mostly by acclamation.
But there could be some serious competition Thursday when the board elects its leader for the year ahead, which will see Ashton represent the B.C. Liberals in the spring provincial election.
He plans to take leaves of absence from both the city and RDOS during the campaign. If he wins, he’ll then resign his local government jobs. If he loses, he’ll simply resume his duties. Despite that uncertainty, Ashton said he is still the best choice to serve as chair of the RDOS board and can still “absolutely” be effective by keeping the two levels of politics separate.
“I’m known as a very regional person and that needs to carry on,” he said, adding that the provincial campaign will probably only force him to miss two RDOS meetings.
Allan Patton, the outspoken director for rural Oliver, said Ashton is the only director who has approached him to seek support for a bid for the chair’s position. However, Patton thinks Ashton ought to step aside.
“In the past I’ve supported him (but) I’m not sure I’m going to this time, because he might not last very long in it,” Patton said.
“If he’s going to step down anyway, I think it’s more appropriate that he step down now.”
Patton said he intends to nominate a host of veteran directors to provide real competition that has been absent from Ashton's wins by acclamation.
“I want to see a race this time… Whether it’s Dan or somebody else is not an issue for me. It’s more that I’d like to see some action happen on this one.”
But Patton said he himself has no interest in the job, because the chair is expected to be a moderating influence on the board.
“I think I’m better off being in the assembly just as a member so I can ask the nasty questions, the tough questions, rather than being in a position where it’s not appropriate to do that.”
Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells said via email that he will nominate and support Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes for the chair’s job.
Mark Pendergraft, the current vice-chair and director for rural Osoyoos, said he is leaning towards another run as second-in-command.
“I have always thought Dan has done a good job as the board chair there and I guess that’s probably one of the reasons I’m a little hesitant about running for the position,” Pendergraft said.
And he doesn’t think Ashton’s possible move to Victoria is a problem.
“I don’t see it as a huge issue,” Pendergraft said, “but it may be a bit for some people.”
Regional districts are required by B.C. law to elect a chairperson each December at what is known as an inaugural meeting, according to RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell.
He said it’s his understanding that the requirement is in place because the public doesn’t get a direct say in the matter, so the annual vote helps restore the democratic balance.
Being board chair comes with a monthly salary of $1,643. That’s on top of the $317 base salary collected by municipal directors and $1,095 paid to rural directors, plus the extra cash they collect for each board and committee meeting they attend.
In 2011, Ashton’s RDOS compensation package totalled $40,177 on top of $4,376 in expenses.
Ashton on Thursday will also use his power as chair to have the board reconsider its Nov. 21 decision that gave preliminary approval to a 12-lot housing development on Vaseux Lake that is in apparent conflict with a regional growth strategy.
He said Patton asked for the reconsideration because there “may have been some mixing up of some information” before the 9-4 vote.