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Penner won't throw hat in ring

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 06/5/2018 2:25 PM

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Cari Penner, a four-term Steinbach councillor who blazed a trail for women at city hall, has announced she won’t seek re-election this fall.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Penner thanked the citizens of Steinbach, city employees, and her colleagues on council, and called her time in office "a privilege."

She later told The Carillon her decision was prompted by a desire to spend more time with her family, and pursue unspecified opportunities with community organizations.

"Municipal politics requires a lot of sacrifice as far as family time and other opportunities, just like any other job," she said.

"This was a good time for me to just reassess."

Appointed deputy mayor last fall, Penner’s 1992 election made her the first female councillor in Steinbach’s history.

She went on to serve two consecutive three-year terms through 1998, when she stepped back from municipal politics to spend a decade chairing the board of enVision Community Living.

Penner successfully ran for re-election to council in 2010, and again in 2014.

While more than half of her 14 years in office were spent alongside Mayor Chris Goertzen, Penner said her choice wasn’t influenced by his decision last month not to run again.

She pointed out the benefits of serving alongside three different mayors, including Les Magnusson and Wes Reimer.

"I’ve had an opportunity to work with different styles and people with different strengths, and that’s always been a good thing."

Reflecting on her four terms, Penner listed several downtown projects as highlights, including reconstructions of Main Street and Elmdale Avenue, and the building of T.G. Smith Centre.

Recreation projects were another bright spot, she said, such as developing L.A. Barkman Park and the city’s active transportation network.

Penner recalled how council was challenged during the 1990s to ensure city reserves were robust enough to handle future projects and position the city to take advantage of cost-shared grants.

"That was a big lesson for me because a city needs to have not only control over its expenses, it also has to make sure it can meet any new opportunities that do arise."

No stranger to committee work, Penner said she especially enjoyed serving on the public safety and RCMP advisory task forces, which at one point involved weighing community policing options.

"That was wonderful because we did some field research ourselves and went to different areas to talk to communities," she said.

The nuts and bolts of council work will be what she misses most, she said. 

"I’ve really enjoyed the work—policies, governance. Making decisions that affect everyone’s daily lives is, I think, so important."

Looking ahead to general elections in October, Penner said she hopes her exit will encourage a diverse array of individuals to run for office.

"I certainly hope that there will be more women running. I think it’s great to have a balance on council of different voices," she said.

Her advice to new candidates was to announce early, communicate a clear platform, and work hard for every vote.

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