When you put yourself into public service — as a community volunteer or as prime minister — you have to endure occasional criticism from the people you serve. The wider the community, the more shots you’re going to take.
That would include Red Deer’s mayor and city council. Sometimes, it seems council is little more than a lightning rod for the complaints of unhappy residents. The grief that councillors have to deal with ranges from their inability to eradicate crime to the cost of parking (that you can’t find less than 20 steps from the door of the building you drove to), to stray cats peeing in your bougainvilleas.
But of all unfair and hurtful complaints people level at their local council, the worst is that they don’t care, or that they serve for personal gain.
Which, from the viewpoint of someone whose job includes closely examining the actions of authorities, is completely untrue in our city.
At the last civic election, this column attempted to focus on issues to guide voters on choosing their votes. Today, few (if anybody) remembers what those issues might have been to affect the decisions of the mayor and councillors who won their seats.
But it is a good exercise to look back over the past two years of this council’s work, give voters a mid-term report card and to set our thinking toward the next election a year from now. That’s what the Advocate did with a series of stories on Saturday.
If anything, the record shows our city has made a lot of progress.
Covering the end of Alberta’s economic boom, its rapid economic decline and nascent recovery, our council posted significant landmarks.
• The city repaired relations with its county neighbours. This smoothed planning issues and saved both parties millions in potential lost revenues from development.
• The civic yards moved out of the downtown — at a cost of $118 million — making possible the next phase of the city’s evolution. Land yielding business opportunities and tax revenues worth far more than that opened up, not to mention redeveloping the downtown area — which happens to be the place where cities define their character.
• The Recreation Centre got a total refit, as did the G.H. Dawe Centre. We also have a new police station on the north side.
• Several major civic upgrades were moved forward, including a new downtown police station, a multistorey parkade, a recreation ‘superpark’ at Rotary Recreation Park, and Alexander Way.
• Red Deer became a major partner in the Plasco project that will (we all sincerely hope) use groundbreaking technology to turn household waste into green energy.
• The city was also a major partner in a Housing First campaign against homelessness, which will save taxpayers millions every year in prevented expenses in policing, courts, social work and health care.
That’s a pretty good list for any city council to accomplish, while dealing with taxes, stray pets and secondary suites. People who don’t care, or who are in this for themselves, can’t accomplish these things. Neither can people who don’t get along. We’ve seen dysfunctional councils in the past and they were never this productive.
There is always more to be done — the Northlands Drive project, making this city more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly, keeping the city from growing with all the jobs on one side of the city and all the houses on the other. Nobody mentioned this when we asked them, but Red Deer does need a museum and art gallery adequate to where we will be 30 years from now.
We have an election coming in about a year. If you think you could do better for the $27,000 a councillor gets, it’s time to start thinking about throwing your hat into the ring. You’ll have to come willing to work. And you’ll have to care, too.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.