Mayor Morris Flewwelling will be one charismatic act to follow.
As Red Deer’s mayor for the last nine years and a member of council for 21 years, Flewwelling has been known for his stylish flair as well as his ability to lead the city.
His list of accolades is long. It includes most recently being named Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People in 2013 and the Alberta Museums Association Lieutenant Governor’s Award for his commitment to heritage in 2012.
Now, at age 72, Flewwelling is ready to turn the page on his public life and move on to the next chapter.
Flewwelling says while he hoped he made being mayor look easy, being in public office came with a heavy load.
“You’re never not the mayor,” said Flewwelling. “I am looking forward to R and R and zipping my lip and not becoming engaged in the new council and mayor. I’m a bit like a firehouse horse. You set a political issue up the pole and I have to got something to say. I have to learn the lips have to be zipped.”
Flewwelling came from a family heavily engaged in public service. In the 1970s, he decided to take the leap because he wanted to foster change.
“Quickly once you get into politics you realize you don’t have any power, you have some influence,” said Flewwelling. “And as mayor, you have no power but you have a lot of influence.”
Flewwelling said he is wiping the slate clean and not making any commitments while he settles into his new life. Rest and relaxation with some travel thrown in are the first orders of business.
In his first mayoral term, Flewwelling helped put an end to the bitter feud over land and development with Red Deer County. He said building the existing strong relationship with its sister municipality was the biggest point of satisfaction as mayor.
“The relationship between the city and the county had been souring and festering for years,” said Flewwelling.
“I thought, this could not continue. We struggled as the two mayors, as the managers, as the councils and we could not come to any sense of relationship at all. Then just as we were in the third year of my first term, we able, with the help of the planners, to come to resolution.”
Since 2007, the two municipalities have forged new relationships, signing an inter-municipal developmental plan and joining forces for initiatives like the Canada Winter Games bid, annexation and the regional waste water line.
Other moments of satisfaction include this year’s centennial celebrations and legacy projects, seeing the civic yards successfully relocated and initiating the re-development of the downtown.
Flewwelling said the city has strong relationships with the local MLAs and the MP.
But he said the federal government’s weak stance on the environment has not allowed the city to move forward in this area. Flewwelling said environmental issues at the municipal level including water, solid waste and wastewater are right in your face.
“We are in control of a lot of the environmental issues … but we are not getting the support from the federal government in terms of environmental initiatives,” he said. “I believe we should. Looking at alternative sources of energy and production. Looking at a number of things that we could do to improve the environment. They just aren’t on the page.”
Another disappointment was the collapse of the Plasco Energy Group’s waste-to-energy deal involving nine Central Alberta municipalities. The Plasco deal fell through in February 2012 when the nine communities couldn’t guarantee enough garbage in a long-term contract.
“That was disappointing but it allowed technology to change and improve while all that was going on,” said Flewwelling. “We’re now positioned so we can look at better technology. It was a silver lining to a cloud.”
Flewwelling said Red Deer has an infrastructure deficit because the provincial and federal governments have provided insufficient funding to keep up with growth and development.
While the city has made headway with homelessness and its affordable housing strategy, Flewwelling said the last piece of the puzzle — helping poor children — has caused some personal frustration.
“The disappointment is that despite what we do at the city, despite the Poverty Reduction Alliance, despite the homelessness and housing, it is still a limiting piece in our community,” said Flewwelling.
He said this is a municipal issue because poverty affects housing, the need to offer free recreation facilities and free events in the city.
“It is important that we have free, not just low cost,” he said. “Free. If you are living on the knife edge of the budget, you don’t have $2. We need free events. Of course, when we look at the big picture … a $10 increase in any expenses together in taxes and rent will sink them.”
Over the years, Flewwelling has had his fair share of personal challenges due to health concerns.
In 2006, he took a two-month leave of absence while he was hospitalized for pneumonia.
During the 2010 civic campaign, he was in the final phases of treatment for prostrate cancer.
Resigning from office never crossed his mind until his wife Hazel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 12 years ago. The couple recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. Flewwelling said there’s no way he would have continued if she didn’t make such a miraculous recovery. Her condition is now considered dormant.
Flewwelling said the only unfinished business he would have liked to see through is the development of Riverlands, the downtown west area that once housed the civic yards.
“That is a potential that most municipalities would give their left arm for,” said Flewwelling. “Because here you have 35 acres of city owned land and privately held land in the downtown on the river, adjacent to our parks. It’s a dream. The challenge is to get it right.”
Before being elected as Red Deer’s mayor in 2004, Flewwelling served as a councillor for three consecutive terms. He also served one term in the 1970s.