As Morris Flewwelling enters his final weeks as the City’s mayor, he reflects on his career as a politician and how Red Deer has experienced much change since he was first elected to council 39 years ago.
Flewwelling, 72, served his first term on council from 1974 – 1978 and then ran again in 1995 when he was re-elected. He has since served as a councillor, being elected as the City’s mayor in 2004.
Since the last election in 2010, Flewwelling has said he will not run again for another term.
Looking back on his career on council, he said there are many things that he is proud of but two stand out in his mind.
“One of the things I’m most revved about is developing a relationship with the County. It was really fundamental for setting the framework for the last nine years on council. It was absolutely critical in moving forward the Central Alberta agenda,” he said. “The other thing that was huge in my time was moving the civic yards and freeing up Riverlands. That is my only regret leaving council at this time is that I won’t be around as Riverlands unfolds.
“For me, those are the two biggies that stand out in terms of significance, but there are hundreds of things that we could talk about as well.”
He added another initiative he is proud of is the City’s plan to end homelessness.
“That was a real burning issue when I became mayor. With help from so many people and the leadership of the community we have led the way in ending homelessness and providing affordable housing.”
Flewwelling said the people he has worked with have also made a difference during his time as a councillor and as mayor.
“One of my best memories are the people I work with – both from the public and the people I work with within the City. We have a powerhouse of people here in our City administration and in our workforce.”
With being elected into such a prominent role, Flewwelling said he has had to develop a thick skin over the years.
“People will take a run at you on an issue or an idea and when I read what they have to say, I think to myself do they honestly think I come to work in the morning and think how can I mess up the paving job out here? Do I love the potholes? Do I not want them fixed?” he said. “They tend to write or speak in a way that suggests that he just doesn’t care or he just doesn’t get it. Do they know the constraints? No. Do they know the budget limitations? No. Do they know for example in the last 10 years we have put 1,000 per cent more into crown paving and pothole filling?
“One of the things that you learn quickly is you learn to consider the source. When I get a complaint about something from someone who provides me with a measured reflection, I take that very seriously. When I’m just simply attacked – let me tell you, I get a very thick skin.”
Over his time on council, Flewwelling has seen a number of changes over the years.
“With our budgeting and our finance system and all you need to do is just hit a key (on the computer) and you have everything you want now. Not only is the budget up to date and instantaneous every day, the accounting is up to date and instantaneous. And the public have access to it online,” he said. “The communication goes without saying. In my first election as mayor, email was just coming on and I used to check my email once a week – once a week! Now we check the email constantly – it buzzes all the time.
“The next election we had email as a tool and the last election we had facebook and now people are dropping the facebook and are using Twitter.”
He added the growth of the City is also a major change he has seen while on council.
“The growth of the City in terms of size is enormous. We are now living in areas that were cropped and grained when I was first elected as mayor and when I was elected onto council, those areas were not even imagined. When I came back onto council in 1995, I asked the city manager at the time when he thought we would jump Hwy. 2 and he said not for 100 years.”
Flewwelling was first elected to council in 1974 and served one term before stepping down to help raise his family. When his two boys were grown up, he ran again in 1995. During his time on council, he said he never thought he would become the City’s mayor.
“I guess I have been called the reluctant mayor. I taught in the public schools and I never wanted to be the principle – I always wanted to work with the kids. When I was at the museum I wanted to work with the artifacts and the programs, the teaching stuff. I became director and did it and did it well, but the fun part for me was working with the artifacts and programs and the public stuff,” he said. “When I look at being mayor – I loved being on council because you’ve got your hands on some levers and you can help steer the ship. I didn’t imagine myself as mayor. Well it turned out I got drafted.
“When I was elected I said I would do one term and one term only, but I can tell you that by the third day I realized that I loved it. Something that I did from a sense of duty and responsibility went to something that I absolutely love. It’s the most fun I’ve had in my working career and it’s the hardest that I’ve worked.”
Check out next week’s story where Flewwelling and his wife Hazel look ahead at life after politics.