With a schedule that averages between eight and 20 meetings a week, Darnelda Siegers says her first year in the Sechelt’s mayor’s chair has flown by. The seven years she spent as a councillor gave her some insight into the demands that being mayor would bring. “Compared to being a councillor, as mayor, there’s a lot more to do,” said Siegers.
Siegers sees facilitation as an important part of her role as a local government leader. On issues where the municipality does not have a direct mandate but there are impacts for the community, her focus is on bringing involved and impacted parties together to talk about what is possible. She views the work done in Sechelt around affordable housing and homelessness as good examples of this. “I think one of the things that I have fostered is connecting with key stakeholder groups,” said Siegers.
Since becoming mayor, Siegers encouraged her council to establish regular meetings with numerous community groups, Sechelt’s community association forum and the shíshálh Nation council. In addition, council advisory committees that are comprised of local citizens have been formed. These groups are harnessing the expertise of residents to look into the issues of affordable housing, airport development, water resources, and harbour development and provide recommendations on how to move these projects forward.
Siegers may have to dig deep into her connections and facilitation skills to bring resolution to one of the most difficult situations that has faced her as mayor; the Seawatch subdivision closure. In February, Mayor Siegers declared a state of local emergency that closed the subdivision and forced a number of families out of their primary residences. Siegers took the action on the advice of a geotechnical firm after its investigation of a sinkhole that appeared on Dec. 25, 2018. She explained that, unlike previous sinkholes that had occurred in the subdivision over the past five years, the nature of the December 2018 land collapse called into question the subsurface stability of the entire area. In earlier cases, surface areas around the forming sinkholes showed signs that a collapse may be imminent. In 2018, the surface appeared undisturbed until a sinkhole opened that took about 40 dump truck loads to refill.
Every week since mid-February, Siegers’ office has requested and been granted extensions of the order by the provincial government. These have allowed the district to close roads and bar public access to the area. While agreeing that the situation meets the criteria for a continued local state of emergency, the province has yet to provide assistance to address the situation beyond two days of emergency accommodation costs for displaced residents that was initially provided. “That is because the Seawatch situation is unprecedented for both local and provincial governments,” said Siegers. She noted that discussions between the district and the province are continuing and remains hopeful that a resolution to the situation can be found.
Despite the challenges, Siegers feels positive about her term as mayor, so far.