Council needs Chris Stephan’s perspective
I have to admit that I am a fan of Red Deer city Councillor Chris Stephan.
It is very tough to jump into a firmly entrenched system like City Hall politics and try to make a real difference, but Stephan has come as close as anybody since Bill Hull and Jason Volk were on council. It should be noted that Hull and Volk were businessmen who could read a spread sheet and analyze the financial repercussions of City Hall decisions.
For instance, many people have probably forgotten the giant cost overrun generated by the Collicutt Centre project and the questions asked by Hull and Volk along the way. The $10-million-plus cost overrun for the Collicutt (that was announced very shortly after the municipal election that year) was mute testimony to the legitimacy of their concerns.
This city council has Stephan to ask the tough questions and he has come under attack because he wants to understand the worth and need for City Hall expenditures.
It is an honorable pursuit that should be the goal of every elected official, but it has inexplicably gotten him into hot water on council.
It should never be wrong for an elected official to ask questions about where and why publicly funded project money has been spent on the public’s behalf. Stephan has ruffled feathers because he chooses to examine every issue for its relative merit as it appears in front of him and that is the logical course of action.
My thoughts about Red Deer’s major priorities revolve around basic issues of infrastructure and public safety. Are the streets safe, both in a pothole sense and a crime sense?
Everything else falls in behind the ability of a city to address these basic requirements, including arts funding and any other extraneous expenditure that does not serve the needs of the majority of this city’s residents.
Some of you may remember the controversy from many years ago when the city generously funded sculptures that closely resembled a pile of junk that was bent and welded together into a puzzling mass of metal. Not too many people in Red Deer understand the point of this art and even less of them wanted the City of Red Deer to write a cheque for these abominations.
There is always a hue and cry about the need for culture and art in this city and it may be a reasonable point for consideration.
However, is it really the City of Red Deer’s duty and responsibility to fund these pursuits at the expense of infrastructure and public safety investments?
My answer would be an emphatic No.
People who have an interest in the advancement of culture in Red Deer also have every opportunity to support these activities with their own money or volunteerism for fundraisers who canvass like-minded people.
Their default position should never be a plea for financial help from City Hall when it comes to cultural pursuits because this city is too busy trying to keep its head above water with its investment in streets, sewers and emergency services.
Stephan has every reason to question the way City Hall spends money and I suspect that I am not the only city resident who likes his style.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer.