Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Area E / West Boundary Director Vicki Gee marked the end of her first year in office last week and, in an interview with the Times, was not at all reticent in admitting that the job has proven more intense than she had initially expected.
“Ordeal by fire, in more ways than one” is how she described her inaugural 12 months, which began with her election victory over incumbent Bill Baird and concluded with the Rock Creek fire and its ongoing aftermath of recovery.
The position, which Gee knew would present a very steep learning curve, quickly consumed her life and she soon found herself working seven days a week as she brought herself up to speed with the complex machinations of the regional district.
“My husband Rodger had always wanted to explore Australia, and we decided that this past January would be a perfect time for him to take that opportunity so that when I woke up at 3 a.m. I could start reading work-related material for a few hours without disturbing him,” Gee smiled. “He went off for three months and it worked out well for both of us!”
Gee was surprised by the detailed nature of RDKB meeting agendas, which can be as lengthy as 900 pages, and demanded she dedicate a significant portion of her week to district matters. Not that Gee is complaining, as she has found her new position to be a perfect fit for her professional sensibilities.
“I really enjoy the work,” she said. “I enjoy working with people, and the way I describe it is that there are so many organizations and people doing interesting things that it’s like I’m holding on to their shirt tails. It’s a lot of fun and really motivating.”
While the demands of her new position continue to be very challenging, Gee has familiarized herself in depth with the formal aspects of a regional director’s responsibilities and is now able to turn more of her attention to more creative aspects such as applying for grants and helping organizations find gaming money, which is a component of the job she derives great satisfaction from.
“When I first took office I was flooded with requests for grant-in-aid money,” she said, “but I had no idea how to be fair with the disbursement of funds, so the first thing I did was take a look at a five-year history of grants-in-aid to see where the money had been going. Then I started to formulate my own set of rules as to how to disburse it; otherwise I could have spent it in the first two months of the year!”
Now, when an organization or individual applies for a grant, Gee requires them to submit an overview of their current financial profile, which is not only useful in guiding Gee’s decision-making, but also can prove beneficial to the society or organization. She works closely with communities to help identify their primary needs and match those needs with appropriate funding.
Asked what the most difficult part of her job has been thus far, not withstanding the recent wildfire disaster, Gee was quick to cite the unexpectedly negative reaction to her proposed official community plan (OCP) process for the Bridesville/Sidley mountain section of Area E.
“There were so many misunderstandings surrounding the OCP, which led to many residents signing a petition against a plan that simply did not and still does not exist,” Gee said. “When formulated, which may take years, the OCP will clearly reflect the wants and needs of the community, which is what such a plan is designed to do. It will not force current business interests to cease operations, but simply allow us to plan for the future, and that, I believe, is vital.”
As for the Rock Creek fire that brought the summer to a grinding halt for many, it saw Gee, as regional director of the impacted area, join hundreds of volunteers and professionals to ensure that those impacted by the blaze were cared for immediately and thereafter. She helped establish the Rock Creek/Westbridge Fire Needs Committee, which has been working tirelessly to establish the needs of those directly affected by the fire and ensuring that rebuilding efforts are executed in a timely and logical fashion. The committee expects to be working with the fire recovery for the foreseeable future.
Currently, Gee is focused on a number of regional issues, including working with the Trails to the Boundary Society, which now has an agreement in place with the province regarding maintenance and usage of the West Boundary section of the Trans Canada Trail. Gee would like to see the trail utilized primarily by non-motorized vehicles, though is more than willing to help develop sections of the trail that would also be accessible to motorized vehicles on their way to nearby ORV trails. She hopes to help fund the two entities equally, noting that both cyclists and ATV riders are important contributors to the area’s tourism economy.
When asked which of her characteristics make her ideally suited for the role of area director, Gee said matter of factly, “My persistence!”
That desire to “get things done” has made Gee’s first year in office not only a productive one, but also very memorable, and she is looking forward to an equally constructive 2016.