Morinville Councillors reflect on their ups and downs over past four years

by Jennifer Lavallee

For nearly four years, Lisa Holmes, Barry Turner, Nicole Boutestein, Brennan FitzGerald, Rob Ladouceur, Gord Putnam, and Stephen Dafoe have led Morinville’s local government. These seven residents have been tasked with leading the governance of our Town; it’s been a job ripe with both its rewards and its challenges.

When it’s all said and done, Council members will have served about 1,500 days in office during the term. The Morinville News spoke with Town Council and asked each of them to reflect on what they are proud of accomplishing over the last four years, and what is still left to do.

Lisa Holmes. “I’m proud of the open and transparent culture we’ve developed on council; I think we’ve redefined the role of municipal councillor in Morinville,” stated Mayor Holmes, who said there have been many successes over the last four years. Implementing programs such as Incredible Edibles and the Junior Mayors have been personally rewarding, she said. Council has also worked hard to rebuild relationships with its neighbours, which is the key to the future in regional government, said the Mayor. “Investing in regional economic development…opens up so many options for the Town, including the new rec centre,” she stressed.

The Regional Recreation Centre has also been one of the challenges faced by Council, according to Holmes; “I wish the rec centre project was completed faster.” Other things that Holmes wishes had been tackled this term include more work on internal policies to ensure they all reflect modern provisions.

All-in-all, Holmes believes the touchstone of this council was their availability to the public and their open communication style. “I think we are a Council of the people, and we’re very representative.”

Barry Turner. Coun. Turner said one of the things he is most proud of addressing this term are concerns around the Morinville Community Culture Centre’s ‘Concert Series’ program. “During the last election there were many serious questions about the program and how much it actually cost taxpayers to support,” he explained. Bringing a sense of transparency to that issue was important to the councillor, who said by working with the Administration, Council was able to change the way things are done. The expectation now is 100 percent cost recovery (and 70-80% on children and family shows), he said. Another success, in Turner’s books, is how this Council has interacted with the community, in comparison to past councils. “Without the voices of residents and local businesses regularly advising Council, I felt an ever-growing divide between Council and the residents that we represent,” he said, “…[with stronger Council presence on local boards and committees], Council can now lead rather than react.”

Regarding what’s left, Turner wishes they could have developed a more meaningful strategic plan. This document is how local government communicates its vision and goals to residents, and provides governance direction to its Administration. “The next Council has the tools it needs to be much more successful in this area,” said Turner.

At the end of the day, Turner believes people will remember this group as one that got some contentious issues under control — such as the MCCC’s concert series, the Automated Traffic Enforcement Program, as well as construction of the new arena.

Nicole Boutestein. Highlights, according to Coun. Boutestein, have included the opportunity to contribute to a wide range of issues such as: the (forthcoming) pedestrian crossing lights on 100 Avenue and 107 Street, odour mitigation in Town, supporting the upcoming Midstream Support Society building, advocating to budget for an Organizational Effectiveness and Efficiency Review, and the implementation of marked pedestrian/bike paths on the industrial service road.

“Hopefully residents will see that we worked hard and that collectively we have accomplished a lot in four years,” remarked Boutestein, who also said, this Council can be proud of their work on policies such as that for photo enforcement, pet ownership, and other community safety initiatives. A better working relationship with the Town’s CAO and Administration is another thing Council should be proud of, she said.

In terms of what’s left, Boutestein would have liked to have seen more advocacy work done for the Highway 2 and Cardiff Road intersection. Timing on the new regional recreation centre was another item the Councillor wishes had turned out differently; “I think we could have announced that all the Town could afford was an arena and that the remainder would be done in phases due to our borrowing capacity.”

Brennan FitzGerald. “I’m proud of our group,” said Coun. FitzGerald, who describes his six fellow councillors as people he greatly respects. “Having a solid group like this is the most important thing,” he explained,” because nothing can get down if there’s in-fighting. It’s so important to maintain a strong relationship.”

FitzGerald said Council has found many successes, which includes internal policy changes of which the community may not even be aware. We’ve made those changes, such as to how the budget is developed and on conduct–that took a lot of work to get through but will set the new group of Councillors up for success, he said.

Regarding challenges, FitzGerald said it is sometimes hard for elected officials to stay focused on long-term goals, rather than dealing with the day-to-day emergent issues. “There’s never just one thing to deal with; there are a million things; but, where do we set our priorities?” he asked; It’s just the nature of politics.”

The Councillor said, after this term is complete, he thinks residents will remember the group as being the most representative of all segments of Morinville’s population. “I think we’ve reflected the community better; we’ve breathed new life into Council and we’ve also been more transparent.”

Rob Ladouceur. “I’m proud of being part of a great team,” reflected Coun. Ladouceur, who said he learned a lot about himself during his term on Council. The Organizational Review is something he believes has been a success and has made the Town stronger. “We put into place some different processes that have helped to make us better governors,” he said.

The legwork on the beginnings of the regional recreation facility is another highlight for Ladouceur. He described the arena, which will be constructed first in the rec centre, as ‘great’ and said the community should start seeing development on the building underway before the next Council’s term begins. The rec centre has also been a great challenge, he noted, however, wishing funding with neighbouring communities could have been secured.

“I know that we don’t have a lot of blockbuster moves that will define us,” he said when asked what this Council’s legacy will be, “[but] we have the new arena that is going to be built….[and] Council dealt with the first photo radar referendum also…I believe we were the first in Alberta, ever.”

Gord Putnam. Coun. Putnam said he wasn’t sure how this Council would be remembered by residents, though he does have things in which he is personally proud of achieving. “The chance to work on the merger of the Sturgeon and Westlock Foundations into Homeland Housing was a great example of regional cooperation that we clearly need more of in our region,” he said. Supporting affordable housing in the area has been important to Putnam, who gave credit to the Town’s CAO and Senior Planner for their roles in the initiative.

Other highlights for Putnam include the installation of traffic lights on Highway 2 and Cardiff Road, approving the Organizational Review, and increasing transparency in local governance (including public input into the budget).

Putnam said there are things he wishes Council could have accomplished this term, including solidifying long-term partnerships with regional neighbours on local rec, pointing out the upcoming rec centre and library funding; “this work has commenced but has not moved to the level I personally had hoped to see,” he said.

Putnam remarked, “my observation is that substantial resources are being spent on trying to resolve issues such as library, recreation, fire, and policing funding because of borders when I think the residents of the region are more interested in seeing less government overall and more efficient delivery services and fiscal accountability.”

Stephen Dafoe. “When I ran for office, I didn’t make any promises other than to communicate, be committed, and use common sense—and, I think I’ve done that,” said Coun. Dafoe, who pointed out that he has had 100 percent attendance in all council meetings, as well as those for his [internal] boards and committees. When asked what he’s most proud of accomplishing this term, Dafoe said it was having an open door policy to all community members on any issue they wished to raise. “…even if I didn’t support [that particular issue], I still brought those concerns to the table (either via council or directly to the Administration].”

A particular highlight for the Councillor was bringing forward amendments in the photo enforcement policy, ensuring now that revenues are used only for specific community safety initiatives. Being open and transparent is another thing Dafoe said Council should be proud of; reinstating the Committee of the Whole meetings, holding public budget meetings, and embracing new technologies (such as live-streaming Council meetings) to reach residents have all been positives in his book and something for which he believes residents will remember this council.

What more could have been done? Dafoe believes more meetings may have been a positive for the Town. “Giving us more time to meet together could have allowed Council to work on some additional social and community pieces,” replied Dafoe, who explained this could have been achieved through the Mayor calling for additional meeting times. Some face-to-face time with council as a whole (rather than email communication), he said, would have allowed them to “clean house” on individual policies that needed it.

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