A former Red Deer city councillor voted in favour of spending $118 million on the civic yards relocation project, contrary to earlier reports that he had supported far less expenditure.
Minutes of city council meetings show Jeffrey Dawson, now running for councillor after an unsuccessful mayoral bid in 2007, voted in favour of the civic yards development project as part of the 2007 capital budget. The budget bore two separate costs of $24.4 million and $81.6 million for concept design. In April 2007, Dawson also voted in favour of an amendment bringing the total to $118.45 million.
Dawson recently criticized current civic leaders for not holding the line on expenses. The civic yards were opened in 2009.
Dawson said he approved the original budget of $30 million and then along the way, he thought that he was approving budgetary items as “placeholders” in the process. He said he also tried to get details through the process, but that didn’t happen.
Dawson said he expected the civic yards project to escalate to $50 million due to inflationary costs and he was comfortable with it reaching $80 million.
“After that, I said ‘No more,’ yet there was no opportunity to vote against it until they actually asked for approval to go forward,” said Dawson. “I could have voted against the other steps, but as the mayor (Morris Flewwelling) and the (former) city manager (Norbert Van Wyk) kept on saying, these are just placeholders, they are not approvals.”
“There must have been 20 votes on that project,” Dawson said. “And every single time, that (the civic yards project) came forward, the mayor would say, ‘We’re not approving the project, this is just a step in the procedure and if you want to continue to investigate this further, we have to approve this.’”
Mayor Morris Flewwelling said the template requires the project to go through various categories before it is approved. Council was being asked to approve motions that were coming up through the process, for instance the civic yards development concept design in 2007. They were not “placeholders” as Dawson describes them, Flewwelling said.
“At any point, council has an opportunity for a ‘Go’ or ‘No go’ vote,” he said, “but when you give your final approval, the project is going to go ahead.”
Flewwelling said if Dawson didn’t support the project, he should have voted against it.
“You look at the template and match it up with the resolutions that went through council and as mayor, I would say it was totally transparent,” Flewwelling said.
Dawson said the first time council saw any sort of design was when administration asked to go forward with construction.
“I was hearing from several managers in the City Hall that this thing was extravagant and yet they refused to show council information,” said Dawson.
Flewwelling questioned what details council needs to know.
“Council makes policy, budget and planning decisions,” he said. “They don’t get into the colour of the paint, the woodwork. . . we’d never get anything through if council had to review all that. That’s what we have our staff and consultants for.”
Vesna Higham, who served on council from 2001-2004, remembers the City of Red Deer’s template for approving major projects being introduced in 2004.
Higham said council was told that “nothing has to be approved in terms of money at every phase. These are just design phases so at every point, we can say ‘go’ or ‘no go.’”