While it may look like a cushy job to some, filling the mayor’s chair on Penticton’s city council is no easy feat.
Busy days, long hours and very little time to rest are just some of the working conditions Mayor John Vassilaki has faced in his first year in the role, but he said he knew exactly what he signed up for.
“I promised the public that I would make it a full-time position, and I have,” said Vassilaki.
“I go to work every day at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and I’m there most of the time until 3:30 or 4 p.m. and there are many, many dozens of emails I have to answer every day, phone calls, meetings galore — with city council and outside city hall and I work Saturday and Sundays even when I wish I could have those days off.”
Despite the heavy work load he said he enjoys the job, even when he’s not on the clock.
“I’m very, very approachable and I’ll see anybody, any time no matter what. I get phone calls in the middle of the night because someone’s garbage wasn’t picked up. But I don’t mind, I knew what I signed up for and that’s why I do it. The most important thing is I enjoy going to work every day.”
Vassilaki credits his years of experience as a city councillor for his smooth transition into the hot seat, but he admits it’s still a learning process.
“It’s a great experience. I would recommend to everyone that if you want to run in municipal politics to start out with a city councillor position rather than mayor right off the bat,” said Vassilaki. “Even though I was there for 13 years, I don’t know everything and I’m learning every day.”
He said he is grateful for the city’s new CAO, Donny van Dyk, who has helped streamline council processes and kept the city on track.
Vassilaki likes to joke that he was “put to pasture” during his four-year break from politics after he lost the 2014 mayoral race.
But he never stopped caring about politics during that time and said his decision to throw his hat in the ring again arose because he saw the need to restore the people’s trust in municipal politics.
“The people figured that they needed youth at that time (2014), which was fine. Democracy is what it is, the man with the most votes wins,” said Vassilaki. “I decided to go back because (during) those four years, there was a lot of mistrust of city hall by the public. There was no respect left for city council. So I thought ‘No, this city is going the wrong (way). It’s time for me to go back.’”
Looking back on his first year as mayor, Vassilaki is proud of what he and the other members on council have been able to accomplish. He noted that some of their bigger accomplishments were started by the previous council.
“We took on the Official Community Plan, which was started way back by the previous council but a year or so later it was still uncompleted. That was one of the main things that city staff was working on for two and a half years, that’s a long time for a project that guides the city and our developers as to how we wish our city to be built and grown,” said Vassilaki. “So we finally passed that and we can finally see the fruits of what it’s bringing forward.”
He highlighted the work council has done to continue the restoration of Ellis Creek, an ongoing project that the city has parsed out into phases. Vassilaki said he’s also proud of the Good Neighbour Bylaw, which was implemented to prevent people obstructing downtown sidewalks and blocking access to businesses, something he said was a big problem that also affected community safety.
“We also had a little success when Air Canada cancelled the early flight at the Penticton Regional Airport. We got together with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and Summerland Mayor Toni Boot and MP Richard Cannings and went down to the airport at 5 a.m. to get the point across that for us to lose that flight means a lot to our community,” said Vassilaki. “It affects business people, tourism and all the other people too. So they compromised and made the early flight a little earlier.”
He also said he was proud of the city’s new budget process and the master plan for the Robinson Property on South Main Street.
Looking to the future and his next three years as Penticton’s mayor, Vassilaki said he wants to continue tackling the big ticket items on council’s agenda and continue to improve communication and engagement with residents.
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