Suffering the slings and arrows

Posted on Jun 28, 2018 in Election, Media


There will be at least two new faces on Prince George city council after Oct. 20, with Tuesday’s announcement that Albert Koehler will not be running a third term.

Rookie councillor Jillian Merrick let it be known earlier this month that she would not be running again.

To both Koehler and Merrick, thank you for your work on behalf of the residents of Prince George. The city is a better place because of your commitment to public service and you earned every dollar of your city councillor income.

Koehler’s letter to mayor and council announcing his decision was a textbook in personal and political class.

Instead of talking about the many hardships of public life, he stressed only the positives, starting with how honoured” and blessed he felt to have been chosen by local voters to make important decisions on their behalf. 

He thanked his council colleagues for the respect he was given. He thanked Mayor Lyn Hall for his leadership. He wished Merrick “all the best for the future” and he wished the remainder of his council colleagues – all seeking re-election Oct. 20 – “much success.”

His reasons to not run again were simple and straightforward. Five young grandchildren. A bucket list that isn’t getting any shorter, the impending retirement of his wife and some health concerns.

Even with those considerations, he said the decision still wasn’t easy. He loved the work because it was more than just a job, he loved the people, he loved making a difference.

Koehler did things his own way during his seven years on city council. He paid for his election campaigns exclusively out of his own pocket. He spoke firmly but carefully at the council table. He let his warmth and sense of humour shine. And his pocket of Werther’s candies (a reflection of his German background) seemed bottomless.

How Koehler saw his role on city council was reflected in his remarks made during Monday night’s debate on increasing the pay for the mayor and councillors elected this October. 

“The question is ‘why are we here?’ For the mayor it is a full-time job, no doubt,” he said. “(But) when it comes to us councillors, I have a different opinion.”

Coun. Terri McConnachie, hardly an obvious political ally of Koehler’s, echoed the sentiment.

“This is not my full-time job, it’s my privilege,” McConnachie said. “A large portion of what we do is public service.”

Not everyone feels the same, both on council and in the public. Some feel paying a part-time wage for putting in the full-time hours councillors are expected to contribute is a barrier to broader representation. Coun. Murry Krause made that argument, supported by Merrick.

But Koehler framed it best with his question – why are we here? If someone wants a seat at the city council table strictly to be gainfully employed and cash a cheque every two weeks, they need to find a different job. Political service should be taken up out of a sense of duty, of giving back to the community. 

That’s why Koehler was there and that’s the desire that motivates most people who let their name stand for public office. And when they do get elected, they feel – to use Koehler’s words – honoured and blessed by the trust placed in them by fellow residents to do essential work.

That’s not a job, that’s a calling.

And that’s not romanticizing political responsibilities, that’s properly placing the emphasis on constituents over putting in time and getting paid.

Particularly in light of the federal government’s move to claw back tax-free allowances, the current mayor and council deserve the raises, the first in four years, that will go into the effect for the next city council, 

After all, if they wanted to really get paid, they’d apply to work in the bureaucracy where the real bucks are, not in the public eye.