Red Deer County’s new mayor Jim Wood said bolstering communication lines across the County is his number one priority as the newly-minted leader.
Wood landed the top position in Monday’s municipal vote with 2,116 votes.
Opponents Stan Bell, a former County councilor and County resident Debra Hanna trailed with 1,217 and 1,145 votes respectively. Numbers are unofficial until the end of the week.
“I was really happy to see the size of the numbers,” said Wood from his home where he was celebrating his win with friends, family and supporters. “It really let me know I was on the right track.
“I’m a community person and it just gives me pleasure to help the community,” he said of his passion for politics. Wood has completed two terms as councilor with Red Deer County.
“Our first order of business is to work on improvements to County residents’ communication,” he said, adding he always had a policy of carefully listening to constituents. Wood said he wants to see more town hall meetings and have more input from people in specific County regions when there are decisions to be made.
“We want to make sure we’re spending money the way they want us to,” he said. Ultimately, when communication is strong between council and constituents, “everything else will fall into place,” he said, adding other priorities include ensuring service levels are up to par and handling road maintenance.
Wood said he also wants to listen to what’s on the minds of council. “We will be taking those ideas forward, and work as a team to make these decisions.”
Wood also credited a strong team of supporters for fueling the energy behind his campaign. “I had a tremendous team behind me, and everyone pitched in. There was good organization from a lot of people.”
Earlier this year, former Mayor Earl Kinsella announced he would not seek re-election.
Meanwhile, Bell, 52, was hoping to make a comeback to municipal politics after being away from the scene since 2007. “The people chose, and I respect that. I thought I ran a good campaign and I felt I was going to be a little closer than I was (numbers-wise). But at the end of the day I think it’s hard to beat someone on council who had never stepped out,” he said. “Jim ran a good campaign, so kudos to him.”
As for future political aspirations, Bell said it was way too early to know what’s next.
“I think I’ll go home and lick my wounds to be honest,” he said with a laugh. “Now you re-evaluate whether you want to do it again. I really enjoyed the experience of campaigning – it was a good experience overall. I wish it would have led to a victory, but only one gets to win.”
Hanna, 53, said despite the results, she was glad she made the effort.
“That’s what democracy is all about. So we have to be willing to put it out on the line and walk away gracefully when the people choose someone else,” she said.
“They’ve got a lot of issues out there, but Jim’s got a good handle on them. He knows what needs to be done, and he wants to make a lot of changes,” she said. “He’s got the County’s best interest at heart. He’ll do a good job.”
Hanna said one of the best things about a campaign is that it raises issues of discontent.
“A lot of people won’t phone you or tell you what their problems are until you are into an election race. Then you start hearing it.”
Meanwhile, incumbent Jim Lougheed, who represented Division 5, lost out to Richard Lorenz. Rod English was also in the running for Division 5.
Lougheed, 61, who had completed three terms on council, was very disappointed at the turn of events. “There’s all kind of things going on behind the scenes, but I have no idea really what it was. I should have had really good support – Division 5 has done really well under my watch. I guess obviously a lot of people disagree with me, so that’s the end of that story.
“I did lose a previous election and life carried on. The sun came up the next morning and I’m sure it will come up again tomorrow.”
Incumbent Penny Archibald is starting her eighth term of County council representing Division 3. She beat Doug Malsbury for the spot.
She wants to focus on infrastructure needs across the County and keep up the momentum behind construction of the Ottawa-based Plasco Energy Group plant which will handle a huge chunk of garbage disposal.
“We have to continue working hand in hand with our neighbouring communities, making the best place for our citizens to live and prosper. I think we’re doing a good job, we just have to continue,” she said. “I believe in all of us working together. We have agriculture, industrial, oil and gas and residential. We can all be happy here, and we can balance things so everybody can work together and get along.”
Incumbent George Gehrke, who represents Division 6 and is starting his fourth term, said one of the main issues he wants to target in the next three years is amending the inter-municipal development plan with the City of Red Deer. Gehrke, 57, beat Gea Phagoo for the council seat.
“It’s one of the main issues I’ve been working on for the last three years,” he said, adding he’d like to see the time frame for annexation moved into an incremental pace.
“I like looking out for things in development and how our municipality is moving forward with their neighbours. You can stand back and complain or you can step up to the plate and try do something,” he said, adding this will be his final term on County council. “My brother said you should have a term to learn, a term to do and a term to finish,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
As for the other County races, in Division 1, Philip Massier won over John Perry and Philip Reay and in Division 2 Don Nesbitt edged out Jean Bota-Kuntz, Donel Bryck and Wade Martens. Division 4 incumbent David Hoar held onto his spot against Bruce Stigings.