On Bill Turlay’s final night on the Vancouver City Council, he was presented with a fitting gift: a framed chart, showing the decline of the city’s debt over his tenure on the council.
It’s the pride of his eight years behind the dais, he said, that the city’s debt dropped from $177 million in 2011 to $67 million after he pushed for Vancouver to adopt a pay-as-you-go plan and save on interest payments.
Accepting the gift from Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle on Dec. 16, Turlay choked up.
“Vancouver is such a wonderful place,” Turlay said to a crowd assembled in the lobby of City Hall for a farewell reception. “We try to build a better place for our family to live, our business to prosper. This is the place to do it.”
The Columbian caught up with Turlay following his final meeting to reflect on his eight years in office, touching on his notable accomplishments, biggest regrets and some of the views which have earned him a reputation for what McEnerny-Ogle called his “unique principles.”
In addition to getting the city debt under control, Turlay said his biggest point of pride was helping develop The Waterfront Vancouver. The $1.5 billion project was years in the making and opened the north bank of the Columbia River to the public with apartments, restaurants, trails and art installations.
“The public now has access to its waterfront, first time in 100 years,” Turlay said Friday. “If you look at all of the entities that were involved in it — you’ve got the federal government, state, county. … It was all hands on deck.”
At 83, Turlay said his biggest regret is that he didn’t get into city politics sooner when he moved to Vancouver about 20 years ago. He wanted to serve one more four-year term, he said, but after a health scare and some reflection with his wife, Stephanie Turlay, he thought better of it.
“Healthwise, it puts a strain on you. Campaigning, you’ve got to get out among the people,” Turlay said.
“Next month, I will be 84, and in four more years, that’s pretty close to 90. I think I can handle it mentally, but to get out among the neighborhoods and this kind of stuff, and to do a real good job campaigning and representing the people, it would be a pretty tough trick. And a lot of wear and tear on the old body.”
The conservative voice
Ideologically, Turlay’s stances tend to divert from the rest of the seven-member council. He holds what City Manager Eric Holmes called during the farewell reception a “wide range of views” that “kept us on our toes.”
Turlay is a proud denier of climate change, a view he’s brought up repeatedly in public forums and in other interviews. He still scoffs at the idea of global warming, including any insinuation that human activity could impact the earth’s climate.
“Climate change? Yeah, it’s called spring, summer, fall,” Turlay said.
He also holds some strong opinions on national politics — “the Civil War wasn’t over slavery,” he said, unprompted, during an aside on U.S. history — and windmills, which he said he hates for killing birds while contributing a meager percentage of energy production.
Asked if he had any parting words of advice for the city council, Turlay urged his colleagues to avoid slipping too far to the left.
“Council members are human, and we have our likes and dislikes, our own political bent or whatever it might be. And now, you look at it, it’s pretty far left,” Turlay said. “That does bother me, because liberals have a tendency to get into a lot of programs that are expensive to maintain.”
In January, the two-term councilman will be replaced by Sarah Fox, who emerged from a seven-person primary and defeated general election challenger Jeanne Stewart to win the empty Position 6 chair.
Like Turlay, Fox is a military veteran, but that’s the only place their resumes overlap. An urban planner nearly 40 years Turlay’s junior, Fox has expressed a willingness to look into some expensive projects like the ones laid out in the Stronger Vancouver plan. She’s also said she hopes to continue the city’s increased involvement in solving the homelessness crisis, pointing to flexible, proactive policies that get and keep people housed.
Turlay said he’s especially concerned with the city’s entanglement in homelessness services. Because homelessness often intersects with mental health issues, he said, those resources should remain under the purview of the county.
And he repeated another mantra for which he’s known: he supports “a hand up,” he said. “Not a handout.”
But ultimately, Turlay said, he’s happy as long as Vancouver is represented by city councilors who care about the city and are willing to put in the time. And they haven’t seen the last of him, he added — he’ll be back at City Hall to participate and offer feedback as a citizen.
“I want people to come in who have a good idea of how important that job is, to be a city council member. It calls for dedication above and beyond what you see,” he said.