New councillors bring fresh perspective

Wes Hopkin and Helena Konanz change the demographics on Penticton council

  • Nov. 22, 2011 5:00 p.m.
New Penticton councillors Helena Konanz and Wes Hopkin spend a moment in council chambers this week. The pair will be sworn into office at the Dec. 5 regular meeting at City Hall.

New Penticton councillors Helena Konanz and Wes Hopkin spend a moment in council chambers this week. The pair will be sworn into office at the Dec. 5 regular meeting at City Hall.

Penticton residents decided to mix things up a bit as they chose their neophyte councillors.

Helena Konanz and Wes Hopkin were chosen as the newest additions to council after the votes were counted Saturday, which brings down the average age of Penticton council and adds more of a gender mix as well.

Hopkin, a 22-year-old Harvard grad who campaigned on the concept of balanced representation, garnered 3,233 votes in total.

“There’s now two women on city council, which is good,” he said, in a nod to his fellow incoming colleague and incumbent Coun. Judy Sentes. “There still isn’t an ethnic, diverse mix on council, but there’s someone younger there as well.

“There’s a move to recognizing that we need a more diverse local government to make better decisions.”

It was guaranteed that at least one new face would appear on council in the coming term, as former councillor Dan Albas resigned his post after winning the federal seat in Okanagan Coquihalla for the Conservatives. The electorate decided to add to the vacancy by voting out incumbent Coun. Mike Pearce, making way for two new councillors.

Konanz received 3,737 votes, which placed her second in the polls. The business woman and tennis coach said announcing her campaign in the spring helped her focus, forcing her to look at the election as a marathon, not a sprint.

“With 19 candidates, you just had no idea what would happen. The votes were spread out so far and really anything could have happened. So I was just so happy when it turned out that way, and I never thought I was going to come in second place in vote count,” she said. “I would have been happy to just barely get in.”

Most sitting councillors will return. Garry Litke topped the polls with 4,340 votes, followed by Andrew Jakubeit with 3,664, Judy Sentes posting 3,303 and John Vassilaki garnering 3,216 votes. Voter turnout was up from 2008, with 8,589 out of 25,632 possible registered voters participating, for a 33.5 per cent voter turnout rate.

The strength of how incumbent councillors finished raised some eyebrows.

“Particularly given what I’d heard from voters that I had spoke to in the campaign, I was surprised in the result. There was a sense of a strong anti-incumbent feeling, but still five of them were back on council,” Hopkin said. “I think it’s just interesting to me.”

Konanz said the results were a function of the number of choices, as there was only a 300- to 400-vote difference between fifth and ninth place.

“It’s just because of the fact that it was just such a spread of candidates,” she said, adding the city needs to engage voters. “From the voting experience, a couple of things I would love to do is talk about getting more people out to vote. I think there’s things we can do to get them out there.”

Heading into the next term, both say the budget will be the top priority as the new year approaches and express excitement about the challenge ahead.

Hopkin said it’s a prime opportunity to continue the line of conversation with the community.

“How do we relate the information and decisions we’re making on how we’re spending our money to the people so they feel more involved? That was honestly a very consistent message that I heard from everyone. They just don’t really know what’s going on, but they want to be more involved,” he said.

“I am excited. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m really excited to be involved in that decision making process. I like these political discussions. That’s why I studied it in university. There’s just a general interest there and I think it will be fun.”

The complete councillor results from the 2011 civic election were as follows: Garry Litke, 4,340*; Helena Konanz, 3,737*; Andrew Jakubeit, 3,664*; Judy Sentes, 3,303*; Wes Hopkin, 3,233*;  John Vassilaki, 3,216*; Gary Leaman, 3,125; Mike Pearce, 2,974; Jason Cox, 2,967; Jeannie Cavallo, 2,452; Frank Conci, 2,169; Lynn Kelsey, 1,209; Kevin Noonan, 1,190; Poonam Chahal, 1,176; Randy Kirkoski, 997; David Greenwood, 605; Burga Black, 471; David Korinetz, 378; and Terry Yeatman, 308. * elected