On February 4, Weyburn's Mayor Debra Button was elected president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA). She was the fourth Weyburn Mayor to rise to this position, but she is, in fact, the first woman to ever be elected SUMA president.
Button was nominated by the Mayor of Fort Qu'Appelle and SUMA board member Ron Osika, as well as Tiffany Paulsen, Saskatoon City Councillor.
SUMA offered each candidate a space on its web site, for which Mayor Button and her team created a professional-looking layout that was then tweaked to make a handout flyer for the SUMA Convention. Her platform, summarized as 'experience, vision and values' was distributed to as many of the voters at the convention as possible.
Weyburn City Councillors Laura Morrissette, Mel Van Betuw, Rob Stephanson and Nancy Styles, as well as City Manager Bob Smith, assisted Mayor Button with her campaign at the February 3 to 6 convention.
"I said that was the way to win this, because you don't have a lot of time," explained Button. "We were there Sunday and the election was Monday afternoon."
Plenty of other people at the convention offered their help as well, including handing out business cards and speaking with as many people as they could during the trade show.
"We had five minutes to address the delegates," she said. "That speech is pretty critical, when a lot of people have never met you before and they're basing a lot of their faith on your five minutes in front of them."
Mayor Button had decided to run for SUMA president in December, after the incumbent Allan Earle had announced that he was not going to run again.
"He has done a remarkable job for municipalities across Saskatchewan in the last six years," she said, noting that Earle ended up putting in his nomination papers after all, but by then she had started to mobilize her campaign. She said that the role was something she wanted.
"Hopefully, in four years I'll believe that it's still a good decision, because life is going to get busier, but I'm always up for the challenge."
Before any campaign planning began, the Mayor first consulted her husband, Greg, who, of course, was absolutely encouraging of her ambition.
"I have to say, I think I have the most supportive husband in the world," she said. "We're not a conventional family. A lot of times, Greg has to take a different role and my children have to accept that sometimes mom's not there. I'm there a lot for them and I'm there when it matters. So, we've learned quality, certainly, over quantity."
She added that she hopes her children will grow up with a 'new view of the world' regarding traditional roles.
Mayor Button noted that SUMA is a provincial body that brings municipalities together and that the best example is always the convention floor, when municipalities are able to network and to discuss best practices.
Since SUMA is closely tied to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as SUMA president, Button will no longer have to run for her FCM seat every year. SUMA lobbies directly to the federal government in addition to the provincial government, including being very strategic in lobbying for municipal operating grant funding.
This is the first SUMA election that will include a four-year term, with previous terms being three years.
Button said that she is still learning her role, but she will be busy for quarterly board meetings and will have executive conference calls on a monthly basis. She noted that the SUMA staff has been in touch with her daily. She will know more in about a month's time, after her first board meeting, but she is assuming that her work load will be a considerable amount.
Weyburn City Councillors have all been supportive of Mayor Button's SUMA presidency.
"It's a big role, a great job and a super opportunity for me and for the City of Weyburn," she noted on February 8. "In the past week, 'Mayor Debra Button from the City of Weyburn' has been in the news. I don't hear 'Debra Button', I hear 'the City of Weyburn'! So that's exciting for me, because I love this place and I wouldn't have done it if there wasn't some benefit to Weyburn."
Previous Weyburn Mayors who have served as SUMA president include J.H. Stavely (1959-1960), T.A. Hart (1973-1977) and Don Schlosser (2004-2007).
Button noted that while it is an honour to be the first woman elected to this role, it does not have any bearing on the job. She is, however, hoping to inspire young girls and women of all ages to consider leadership roles.
"If they put their mind to it, they can do anything that they choose to do," she said, noting that gender should never be the determinate factor in choosing a career path.
"This is changing times for municipalities, there's no doubt about that," she said. "We're feeling it and seeing it every day here in the City of Weyburn."
Button noted that Weyburn has become a key player in the rapid growth of the province and has done well to influence other communities.
"But we're not done yet," she said. "It's exciting."