New councillors eager to tackle challenges ahead

  • Jan. 2, 2014 5:00 p.m.

The newly elected City councillors continue to settle into their roles as they get ready to tackle the upcoming operating budget.

Councillors Ken Johnston, Tanya Handley and Lawrence Lee joined the ranks on council after last fall’s election.

“The best way to describe the learning curve is ‘drinking from the fire hose’. The incumbent councillors have been helpful and welcoming,” said Handley. “The greatest challenge so far has to be the sheer volume of information to learn. The City has developed a comprehensive orientation process that starts with ‘Governance 101’ so to speak. City staff did an excellent job carrying it out and continue to provide support as needed.”

Handley added going forward into this year she hopes to make an even greater impact on council.

“In 2014, I am looking forward to giving my input in our strategic direction going forward. I hold to my belief of common sense decision-making. I brought forward my first motion with Councillor Johnston, to revisit the Snow and Ice Policy and it will be debated in January in conjunction with the operating budget. This has been on the forefront of everyone’s minds with the record snowfall we have had. The challenge, in my opinion, will be reprioritizing to improve snow removal without increasing taxes.”

Lee said one thing that surprised him after being elected was the amount of time councillors put in.

“Certainly, you are aware of the commitment of time as you research the role of a councillor and talk to the councillors that have held that position but I did not expect just how much time you actually spend doing council work,” he said. “In the first two months of the job I think I have had seven days off including weekends. Really, I would tell anyone that this is a full-time job where they can expect to invest around 50 hours a week to the position.”

Lee added for him, the orientation portion of council in terms of the depth and breadth has been a challenge.

“There are so many departments that you need to become familiar with in a very short time. The City doesn’t stop being a City just because a new mayor and council are elected. A good example which I am sure you will have had as an example from others would be the November snowfall. With council having to implement an emergency committee to deal with that shows the importance of having good policy and procedures in place,” he said.

Meanwhile, Johnston said there are four goals he would like to accomplish in 2014.

“The first goal is the operating budget. That document will define what services, at what cost, council will be prepared to undertake. It will touch on every aspect of our City. I will consider the exercise a success if we can deliver quality and efficient services at a rate of tax expense no greater than inflation and growth. The snow and ice realities will affect that and there are always some unanticipated items, but that’s the goal I will strive toward,” he said. “The other three goals this year are getting public input and committee creativity around the aquatic centre vision. The citizens see the need for the project. We have to come together on what we can build/afford to service the gaps we have, allow for growth and attract events to the City. It would be great if we could include the project in the 2015 capital plan.

“Goal three would be a successful Winter Games bid that will serve as a catalyst for a project that will truly energize this City like none before. The engagement of volunteers sets us apart as a City. I’d like to be a part of that. I would also like to see the revitalization of our community associations. I look forward to the work that will be done in 2014. I remain convinced that these associations are vital in bonding neighbourhoods, promoting safety and wellness and building vibrant places to live.”

Johnston added he has enjoyed the support from the mayor and veteran councillors as he has begun to learn his role.

“Greater than that has been the support of our City administration and staff. I felt immediately part of the team and feel a real sense of optimism going forward.”

He said he encourages everyone to keep giving input to the council team and City administration.

“That’s how we find ways to think creatively. Find a way in 2014 to strengthen the community you live in. Call your community association and get involved. Help a neighbour, join a service club, your church committees, or other non-profit groups. Resolve to be a builder of Red Deer in 2014.”