As the nomination period opens, the first potential candidates for Salt Spring’s newest governing body have hit the ground running.
Three islanders announced plans this week to run for four positions on the new Salt Spring Island Local Community Commission (LCC). Gayle Baker, Earl Rook and Brian Webster were first to declare intentions to run for election Saturday, May 27; candidates have until 4 p.m. Friday, April 21 to submit nomination materials.
Baker has served as founder and facilitator of ASK Salt Spring, commissioner and chair of two Capital Regional District (CRD) commissions, chair of the LCC Advisory Committee and director of various boards, including the Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to moving to Salt Spring 18 years ago with her husband Howard, Baker was the dean of Santa Barbara City College, where she oversaw a $6-million budget and 600 staff. Earning her doctorate while juggling the demands of raising three children taught her the need for perseverance, commitment and a good sense of humour. Baker said she believes in “transparency, not mysteries” when it comes to the often-complicated budget reports currently used by CRD and its former commissions.
“It’s time to lift the veil of obscurity on the CRD budget process, and to fully and openly champion the efforts of volunteers to do things that staff cannot accomplish,” said Baker, adding she believes in volunteerism instead of an over-reliance on overstretched CRD staff resources to provide good value and maximize the efforts of the island’s talented and engaged citizens.
“We need collaboration and openness to address our housing crisis, fix our transportation challenges, build our pathways, maintain our parks and enhance our sense of well-being,” said Baker. “I know I can be a voice of reason to ensure that the LCC is open to input and not afraid to push when necessary to get priority projects done.”
Baker said results matter, so it will be crucial for the LCC (and the broader CRD) to develop a comprehensive set of measurements for all initiatives and track progress each year.
“Prioritization, not paralysis through planning,” said Baker. “Delegating and overseeing groups of volunteers and setting realistic action targets should be one of the first tasks of the new LCC.”
Baker said she would be stepping away from her role on the Chamber of Commerce during the campaign.
Rook has lived on Salt Spring Island as a full-time resident since 2015.
“I love the natural beauty and quirky culture of this island,” said Rook. “I’m an avid gardener, serious birder and musician. This island has become home, and I want to do everything I can to support and protect it in trying times.”
Before retiring to Salt Spring, Rook spent 25 years with the Minnesota Department of Health, working in finance, administration and facilities management. He spent the preceding decade in the private sector as a manager and comptroller. He holds a BA in music and a master’s degree in management. On Salt Spring he is president of the Salt Spring Garden Club, serves as treasurer for the Bandemonium Music Society and Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre, and is on planning committees for two other non-profit organizations. This is Rook’s first time seeking elected office.
Rook said he considers the formation of the LCC an essential step in gaining greater local control over government services on our island.
“I am committed to making the LCC a success for this community through thoughtful prioritization, evidence-based decision-making and attentiveness to our residents,” said Rook. “My years of experience in government operations, budgeting, policy development, planning and project management will allow me, as a new commissioner, to get up to speed and get to work quickly.”
He also thinks it is important that the LCC look beyond its current mandate and work to reduce fragmentation in the delivery of public services to Salt Spring. He sees the most serious challenges facing our community — such as adapting to climate change, providing workforce housing and ensuring a quality water supply — as complex and cross-jurisdictional.
“I’d really like to see the LCC take the lead in advocating for cooperative intergovernmental action with the Trust, the CRD Board and other involved organizations to make meaningful progress on our biggest problems.”
Webster is a farmer, small business owner and former Parks and Recreation Commission (PARC) commissioner. He and his partner have owned and operated an organic apple orchard and nursery on Salt Spring since 2011, opening a cidery on their farm property in 2019.
“Our community faces serious issues and the LCC can play an important role in addressing them,” said Webster. “It’s important for the LCC to be effective from the start and I believe my knowledge, experience and commitment to act decisively could help it fulfill its potential.”
Webster currently sits on the boards of Salt Spring’s Agricultural Alliance, Community Market Society and Saturday Market Society. Previously, he was self-employed as a writer/editor and communications consultant. B.C.-born, he has lived on the south coast since early childhood.
Webster brings extensive local government experience to the campaign, having served seven years on PARC. He also worked for more than five years to help develop a proposal for the LCC, serving as lead writer for the Community Alliance Governance Working Group’s 2018 report Where to From Here: A Discussion Paper on Salt Spring Island Governance, and again as lead writer for the 2022 discussion paper A Local Community Commission for Salt Spring Island: Options and Recommendations. This latter paper served as the starting point for the proposal that was approved by voters in last October’s referendum to approve establishing the LCC.
“It’s time for Salt Spring to move beyond divisive governance debates and get to work actually improving local government services,” said Webster. “Establishing the LCC is great, but it’s only a first step. We need to do more to break down decision-making silos and take action on pressing issues. That requires broadening the LCC’s authority, working with our two large improvement districts and exploring neglected areas such as housing for working families.”
The new LCC will have administrative authority over several CRD services, including parks and rec and transportation/transit, as well as economic development, liquid waste disposal — specifically the receiving stations and storage at Burgoyne — street lighting, determination of compensation for livestock injury by dogs, the Fernwood dock and approval of grant-in-aid applications. Commissioners will also act in an advisory role to “review and recommend” budgets for Salt Spring services that receive CRD funding, such as ArtSpring, the public library, and search and rescue.