t8n: You’ve stated a need for the new council to re-establish trust with the public and that your plan for achieving this involves council members committing to building stronger bonds and more positive working relationships with each other. In light of previous council’s difficulty establishing positive dialogues, what would you do if faced with council members who chose not to cooperate with this plan?
Heron: Well first off, I hope I don’t have to face that. There are steps you can take, even before the election, to prevent that. I’m trying to meet with as many of the candidates who are open to meeting. I’ve told them all that I’m available to answer questions and just talk about what kinds of projects they might want to pursue if they win. If I am elected mayor, I will meet with each council member one-on-one, right away. It’s important to understand where they’re coming from and what they want out of the next four years. They have their projects, and I can help guide them on how to get it done, and put them on committees that will help them learn what they need to do in order to achieve their goals.
But as for what I would do if I was faced with a councillor who wasn’t cooperative? We have a stronger code of conduct, and I’m hoping that with the support of the rest of council that we can work as a team to bring everyone into the fold. It’s been very obvious this term that when you spend time in-fighting, you forget the good work that you should be doing for the city. From what I can tell, everyone that’s running has a really strong foundation of love for this city. And that’s a great place to start building a new team. I think it’s also important to do a bit of socializing—get to know them—meet the spouse, meet the kids. Then when someone does something, you might have a better understanding of where they’re coming from.
t8n: Are you worried at all that the existing hostilities will carry forward?
Heron: I am. I’m seeing some division already in the campaign, but I’m staying out of it. So hopefully that division doesn’t direct itself towards me personally. But that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross when we get there.
t8n: You haven’t publicly announced your support of the library/pool/arena plebiscite’s outcome. Why is that?
Heron: It’s a complicated issue. None of the issues are black and white. I supported this plebiscite, and I still support it as a way of gathering opinion from the public. It’s going to be very simple. If there is an overwhelmingly strong “yes” to one of the three outcomes or a very strong “no,” then we have our marching orders. But if it’s somewhere in the middle, that’s where it gets complicated. My problem with the plebiscite questions is that there are three. You tend to go into a voting booth, and you’ll decide on one, maybe two or even none. It would be so much simpler if there was one question. If all three get 49%, that indicates to me that there is a strong support to build something. We just have to figure out what that is. But what if they all get 51%? I can tell you that we cannot afford to build all three right away.
The plebiscite questions don’t give any wiggle room in private funding models. We’ve had a company come to us and say that they want to build ice and a gymnasium and some courts. They would require some city funding, but not nearly as much, and they would cover the upkeep costs as well. To me, that is a very good option, but it isn’t one that is included in the plebiscite. So the “50% +1” scenario is difficult. I would say that this community is made of lots of different people with lots of different interests.
Not everyone likes a library, not everyone likes to swim, not everyone knows how to skate and so on. For facilities with such a narrow focus, it’s hard to find 50% of the population who will support it. Servus Place had 54% of the vote on a non-binding plebiscite question. That building has just about everything, and it only received 54%. So my strong suspicion is that it is going to be hard to achieve 50% support. But I think what builds a community is having all of those things available, and I think that just because you don’t get 50% support, doesn’t mean that it isn’t needed, we need to figure out a way to do it.
t8n: Would you say that it’s acceptable to disregard the plebiscite’s results if you don’t believe it’s in St. Albert’s best interests?
Heron: Well I would caution the use of the word “disregard,” because it’s not disregarding. You take every piece of information you have when you make a decision. And so that, for me, is the multiple studies done on the library. We’ve done a study on the ice, we’ve done two statistically valid surveys, and I’ll be door-knocking about 15,000 doors, and those voices will be important to hear, too. It’s a non-binding question, so to say “disregard” is not the right term. It’s the mid-range results that will be the most difficult because there is a demonstrated need for these facilities. We’ve got people driving to Bon Accord to get ice time. There is no question that there is a need for all of these projects. If it was one question, it would be very different. But if all three get 51%, and we start building all three because of a mandate that 50% +1 decides the outcome, and I get a phone call because someone who voted only for a pool is upset that their taxes are going up, that’s not fair. They didn’t know the ramifications of their decisions on the ballot that day. So it’s very hard.
t8n: Was the re-phrasing of the question that happened in council on September 5th an attempt to combat that?
Heron: It’s helped somewhat. My problem with the phrasing on the first version was that the construction costs are still so unknown at this point. They really are. I think we could build these projects cheaper if we combine them. If we share land, share parking, things like that. There is also the conversation that we have to have with the county and places like Morinville. Because they use these facilities, and the province is really encouraging inter-municipal funding frameworks. So they should be supporting these projects too, just like we should be supporting anything that St. Albert residents use in other communities. Those conversations are yet to be had.
t8n: You’ve stated on your website that you want to revise the city’s budget model. What key changes are you planning to make, and to what advantage?
Heron: Some municipalities will sit down with their staff really early on in the budgeting process and say “we can only afford to go 1.5% over our projected costs, so make sure you stick to that model.” But in St. Albert, we find out later on that we’re already at 3% over budget, and then it’s on us to try to bring it down. So a closer conversation with our city manager and council on our projections would be a good starting point. There are also some things with staffing. We currently approve every position within the municipality. Other cities just present the city manager with a budget and say, “You get 2% of the operating costs for the new staff. You can’t go over that.” It’s awkward when different departments come before council and say that they desperately need a new position created, when the running of the city is not our job. We’re supposed to govern. These are questions that should be presented to the city manager. He should be making those calls. We should be instituting policies that allow our manager to make decisions on his own, within the budget set.
Click below for our interviews with:
Cam Mackay Cam MacKay 2017
Malcolm Parker Malcolm Parker 2017