Will St. Albert Council listen to residents?

Our last city council was a small disaster on many counts but mostly they simply didn’t get along. Everyone had personal agendas and even though they got stuff done, they missed so many marks.

Last fall’s election brought several new faces to city council and I had very high hopes for them… I suppose I still do. But the fact remains that they are still bringing personal agendas to the meetings and their roles.

During the campaign, I had a couple questions asked of me that I wish I had better answers to but they were what they were.

Question 1

Why do you want to be on City Council?

I don’t.

It was a simple answer yet it screams for some explanation. I enjoy making fun of politicians way too much to believe that I would truly enjoy being one… I want to see some common sense on council but I would way rather see other people bring it… and the pay is crap.

Question 2

What would be the hardest thing about being on council?

The hardest thing would be having to work toward a goal that I believe in my heart is not in the best interest of St. Albert and the residents.

The example I used was the Branch Library. We had a plebiscite question on just this topic…

Are you in favour of the City proceeding with further planning of a branch library?

I believe in my heart, that the facts are very clear on this. We simply do not need a library for a few decades. We are not big enough and we aren’t growing fast enough. I was not opposed to finding solutions to add program space or investigate what programs the library offered. If 63% of residents voted YES to proceed with planning a branch library, it would break my heart, but if elected, my job would be to find the best way to proceed with the branch library because the people wanted it. That would be my job as an elected representative of the people.

Cloudy Minds and Personal Agendas Abound

There is no doubt as to what the people want… they voted 63% in favor of NOT proceeding with the library planning.

I don’t know why these personal agendas need to be brought into discussions. The people do not want to hear anything about a branch library. There is no way to misinterpret this. They don’t want to spend $20M on it. They don’t want to spend $17M on it. They do not want to spend $3M on it. They do not want a branch library.

Get back to work on the things that the residents do want.

Now you are going to get all huffy, the city does not simply build what the majority want. They need to be there for all people. I agree. All people who pay taxes or live with the social structure that the city provides, voted to not proceed with planning a branch library. So stop.

For two days this week council will be locked behind closed doors to discuss the plebiscite questions. It makes sense that they don’t want to hear from the residents because they already made it clear that they have no interest in hearing what the people that they are supposed to serve.

The St. Albert Gazette quoted Mayor Heron as saying that “Every council member will approach that plebiscite in a different way. I’m really hoping it’s a good, honest and open discussion.” If it’s honest it should not include any library discussion.

Plebiscite Not Black And White

I would agree with anyone that the questions were not worded well at all. It was almost as if they were looking for ways to confuse people. The library question was actually crystal clear but the other two were deliberately misleading.

Are you in favour of the City proceeding with further planning of a 6th sheet of ice?

Although this is what many people saw when they voted, I begged everyone I met to vote NO for the simple fact that the question was split up to confuse people. The top half of the questions aimed the rink and pool questions directly at expansion for Servus Place.

The City has in its 10-year capital plan three major capital projects: a branch library; an additional surface of ice attached to Servus Place; and more aquatic space attached to Servus Place.

So when you vote YES to further planning of a 6th sheet of ice, you are in fact voting to add another rink to Servus Place and that simply isn’t feasible and everyone knows it.

The same thinking must be attached to the Pool question…

Are you in favour of the City proceeding with further planning of additional aquatic space?

You are not voting to add aquatic space… you are voting to add aquatic space TO SERVUS PLACE! If you don’t believe me, please check out the city website. This is the exact wording that you voted on last October… and here is how you voted…

The voting clearly showed that 63% of people want no library planning. That is double the number of people saying NO than said YES. That is not insignificant.

On the ice question, 52% were a NO while 48% voted YES. I agree that council has a long discussion on the table about this and I hope that I had some small part in helping to get the NO vote over the 50% mark.

With groups like Active Communities Alberta interested in building ice rinks and groups like YMCA who could add aquatic facilities, the idea of adding these things to Servus Place seems counter to common sense.

The Big Debate

With 57% in favor of adding aquatic facilities to Servus place, we see almost 15% more people voting to plan further aquatic expansion than voting against it. I would be the first to agree that you will never be able to figure out if people were voting for another facility in the North or West of the city, expanding Servus Place or adding another outdoor pool… but we have to do something.

Many will disagree with me but the pool discussion should be 80% of the discussion at this week’s meetings to discuss the plebiscite responses. The people clearly want more swimming facilities. Everyone is furious that the city spent so much money on an aquatic facility that didn’t have room for competitive swim clubs or diving boards or swimming lessons for the thousands of kids that try to get lessons each year in St. Albert.

While I oppose any idea that shuts down Servus Place’s swimming pool for renovations, if they could shut down the hot tubs for 6 months to add to the pool I would vote for something like that.

servus-now

Existing pool areas

servus-proposal

There are potential solutions to expand without closing the entire facility during renovations.

The problem with allowing someone like the YMCA to build a rec center in the North end of St. Albert with a wonderful aquatic facility is that families like mine, who buy eight annual memberships every year to Servus Place, would likely never set foot in Servus Place again. The new building would have a cool river and allow swimming lessons and have a pool for lane swimming and probably enough room for scout groups to take Paddle Canada courses with canoes in the evenings. And how long would Servus Place afford to keep their pool open?

There are so many other conversations that need to be had that I would need to write a book instead of a blog post to cover them. If we let Active Communities build a multi-purpose center with ice rinks and gymnasiums and gymnastic studios, we must also be looking at a real fitness center. The one at Servus Place can have discounted memberships for seniors and youth. And for crying out loud, can we please find a way to let seniors use the track without paying the same membership rates as a senior who wants to swim, work out and hit the basketball court every day? They just want a place to walk indoors. If we book the track as a free seniors zone during slow hours I think they would be ecstatic and we would lose nothing.

Like I said, there is a lot to talk about but the conversation should be about ‘how could we add ice without going in debt’ and ‘is adding pools to Servus feasible’.  I simply want a common sense conversation here that doesn’t involve adding a crippling tax burden to my children for something else that doesn’t solve any issues that we are facing.

 

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