With the 2022 Civic Elections quickly approaching, it is important for voters to become familiar with the people running for Mayor in the City of Merritt. The Herald sent out some questions to the four candidates running for Mayor: Mike Bhangu, Tony Luck, Mike Goetz, and Linda Brown. We will be sharing their answers individually with you each week, leading up to the elections on October 15. 

Why do you want to be Mayor?

“My wife Wanda and I chose to move to Merritt and make this our new home. We had raised our children and were looking to move out of the Lower Mainland like many people do to get away from the rainy and grey days. We have embraced Merritt and love living here. We both see the many positives of Merritt and the people of this great city, and I am running for the position of Mayor to help move Merritt forward after a rather tumultuous year of fires, floods and other challenges. I am committed to working hard as a team with the members of council as well as listening to the citizens of the community to bring out the bestin our community.

I want to work with the new council to help shape our future in a positive way. I am concerned about maintaining continuity of process as we continue to work hard advocating on behalf of the community to secure the funding to rebuild the Voght St bridge, the diking and other infrastructure around Merritt. It is going to be critical to have a strong voice for the city who can clearly communicate our needs to the senior levels of government and to the citizens.

Merritt deserves someone who can listen to the citizens and organizations that look to the mayor’s office for leadership. I want to work to restore trust in those working hard and serving our community everyday. We need to continue working to break down the silos and barriers to deal with the issues that are preventing us from being the great community Merritt can be. I have been involved in several organizations in our city and I know I have the relations with them to work together. During my campaign, I have already been taking the time to build relationship with other leaders and organizations in our community in regard to what we need to do to move forward.

One thing I will not be doing during this campaign is over promising and under delivering. It is easy to make promises. It is even harder to keep them. I have been at the table long enough to know that it just doesn’t work that way. I have been on several councils and regional districts and know we need to be focused on our needs. We need to be firm in our asks and collaborative as we press our ongoing needs with the senior levels of government. We must continue to work together and communicate our needs firmly with the senior levels of government.”

What makes you the best candidate for Mayor?

“I think it is important to recognize the role of Mayor is very complex in today’s environment. It is going to be extremely important in the next four years to have a mayor who can listen to the citizens and can communicate clearly and firmly the needs of our community. The people of Merritt need to know that their mayor, the leader of this amazing community will be visible, accountable and approachable. I will be accountable to you the public who have put their trust in me in the past four years and I have delivered. I have brought an elevated level of discussion to the council table by being prepared, listening, asking good questions and challenging decision of the past. I am a taxpayer like you and am deeply committed to this city and my actions have shown that. It is going to take good communication, empathy and negotiation skills to continue the hard work of building relationships and getting the funding we need to rebuild our community. I have shown time and again that I know the issues. I have the knowledge, proven experience and skills to work with the various interest groups, senior levels of government and community organizations to bring people together and understand the needs of our community. I have worked on various boards and organizations that have taught me to work collaboratively with people to get things done. It is important to have the trust of the team you are working with. I know people are angry in our city and many are frustrated with the current situation, and many want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Unfortunately, with that you end up having an empty bowl. No history. No experience. No continuity. As a citizen myself, that concerns me greatly. I can relate to the frustration many are feeling. This is not unique to Merritt. It is happening in lots of communities in BC. Crime, homelessness, mental health issues are all having a huge impact on many communities. As your mayor I will work hard with the new council to bring confidence back to the process by working to involve more citizens in some of the research and decision making. I understand there is a lot of work to do to find solutions to many of these issues. My role and council’s job will be to look through the windshield to bring changes and efficiencies to the process only occasionally gazing in the rear-view mirror to make sure we haven’t left anything behind. A new council must be creative and explore all ideas to find the solutions to our community’s challenges.

Another reason I believe I am good candidate for mayor is the knowledge and experience I bring to the table. With my previous work and volunteerism experience on boards of organizations I have built up my skillset including chairing and directing meetings and understanding development and investment processes. I think this is important as we work to bring jobs and housing to our community.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein. I will make mistakes, but I also realize it takes courage to stand up and be counted. I am ready to work hard for the community. I have recently made some decisions to make sure the public can put their trust in me to work in their best interest and to be available as a full-time mayor. The more I investigate the work that needs to be done to unite our community the more I understand the scope of the work to be done.”

Give an example of a situation where you demonstrated leadership abilities.

“I have been involved in many organizations. In the past I have been the Chair of the University of Fraser Valley Alumni Association working and collaborating with Deans, staff and students to advocate for better learning and funding opportunities from senior levels of government. As a Vice-Chair of the Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce the Chair and I strongly advocated on our member’s behalf to get legislation to deal with grow-op remediation. We worked to get remediation resolutions to the Provincial Chamber of Commerce to move to the provincial and federal governments. Most recently I have been a strong advocate for housing not only in our community but recognizing the need for housing in BC.

I am currently a director with Southern Interior Local Government Association, and we have been leading out in discussions around improvements needed to the Emergency Management BC and ESS. During the flooding I took the opportunity to speak to Merrittonians standing in line at the ESS center in Kamloops to see how they were doing and giving them as much information that I had to share. I also participated in online broadcasts to educate the public on various aspects of city hall’s processes and procedures.

I have a very different leadership style, “management by walking around,” listening face to face with people and organizations. I do not believe we can manage a city like ours from an office at city hall 100 percent of the time. A good leader in business or public service must be visible and approachable. They must be out and about meeting with community leaders, organizations and most important the citizens of this great community. My promise to you is that I will be front and centre. I too have been frustrated like many in our community with the lack of presence and timely updates at critical times. Part of being a good leader is being able to have confidence in your communications from your team members. Sharing the workload with my team member’s, combining our skills, will play a big part in our community’s success. Instilling trust and confidence in your people demonstrate great leadership.”

What issue should the city prioritize?

“This is a tough question to answer in the context of one priority. We have so many areas that need to be discussed we build Merritt into a strong vibrant and resilient community. Housing, jobs, community safety, homelessness are but a few of the issues we are wrestling with now. The process of deciding what issues should the city prioritize next will be determined by the elected 6 councillors and mayor on October 15 th . Each with one vote. To put one as a priority over another is difficult for me to say here. Especially for the mayor who needs to have that broader vision and who must juggle many priorities in a day. I also need to be aware that there are six other people around the council table who also have their ideas of what we need to prioritize for the city. As someone pointed out, when I am elected “I’m going to fix such and such situation.” This is a very misguided statement that reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of how councils’ function. It’s an interesting dichotomy, since each candidate runs as individuals then we must work as a team to get anything accomplished once elected. A lot of those ideas will come forward as we go through the strategic planning process. Having said that, I would turn to my vision statement where I envision a thriving and vibrant Merritt supported by the core values of family, a caring community and economic stability. Basically, this encompasses a lot of the things I believe we need to accomplish in the next four years and working with a strong council will be important.

I am committed to working hard with the council I am elected with to move Merritt forward in a very meaningful way. I would like to make a list of promises to you but just feel at this time that would be irresponsible. I have been sitting at the council table for four years now and see the limitations and challenges we are confronting. For example, over a year and a half ago I was warning staff and council about the need to start watching our budget closer as we were going to see a substantial increase in inflation in the next year that will put tremendous strain in all areas of our finances. Today we are seeing higher inflation rates that will have a huge impact with our budgeting process. It looks like the next council you elect will be having some very tough decisions to make regarding our financial position.

Hence, I am NOT going to make any outlandish promises to you that I know I may not be able to keep. I will promise you this though, in the words of a great leader from the 1940s, “I will promise you my blood, sweat, tears and toil,” in the next four years.”

What is the goal you want to accomplish by the end of your term?

“With the extraordinary year we have experienced it would be difficult to identify

any one priority for the term moving forward. However, as I think more about it, I am tempted to say, “Community Well-Being.” Our community is hurting in several key areas, and we need to come together to turn our challenges into opportunities. It’s time we remove the silos that are prevent us from working together for the best of the city. We need to find ways to work together to revitalize our wonderful community. I want to recognize the past embrace the present and work for a brighter future. The community wellness theme embraces several ideas that need to be done for the well-being of our city. To achieve this goal, it would mean we have worked through some of our homeless, mental health and addictions issues. It would mean we have been able to deal with some of our major infrastructure challenges. It would mean we have secured the funding to build back the resiliency of our community. It would mean we have been able to move on past the negativity that is too prevalent these days. It would mean we have been successful in seeing more housing built for those displaced during the flood and for our seniors, families and more vulnerable. It means that we have been successful in bringing new employers to the city which will helps broaden the tax base and provide jobs. It will mean securing a solid plan for a new community theatre. It will mean having better communications links with organizations within the community, service providers such as Interior Health and of course the people of Merritt. It will mean council working as a united team to “get things done.” It will mean better communications to the citizens including regularly scheduled town hall meetings. It will mean more citizen involvement on committees. It would mean that we have secured more grants to add badly needed infrastructure to the city. It will mean that we have developed an effective emergency plan. It will mean that we have been able to build a sustainable relationship with the First Nations in the area. This community wellness theme embraces several ideas that need to be addressed for the well-being of our city. Danielle Klooster, a former Penhold town councillor, has some good advice for anyone running for office. She said “An individual with a personal grievance who runs for office is not just in danger of being an ineffective councillor (or mayor)— these folks can be downright destructive. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: anybody can tear down; tell me what you are going to build. I am committed to building up our community and providing good leadership for everyone.”