In this unprecedented time of the pandemic, of polarized political views I have tried to stay out of commenting on decisions our political leaders have to make. We all know there is not usually a clear-cut answer. But this delay situation by city council regarding the Westerner baffles me.
First, I want to send out a thank you to both the Westerner and city administration for their hard work and excellent reports and options for this very unfortunate situation. Second, I want to thank the Westerner board for not running from a situation but rather staying to try to sort out a mess. As a volunteer myself, I know this has not been an easy situation for you and your families. I also want to acknowledge councillors Dianne Wyntjes and Michael Dawe for wanting to move this forward, whatever their decision would have been.
The city’s vision statement and strategic goals clearly lays out a pathway to help guide council to make a positive, community benefiting decisions. “Innovative Thinking, Inspired Results, Vibrant Community” are their key words.
Strategic goal #4 “A chosen destination: We are a four-season destination where visitors and residents enjoy our parks, trails and distinctive amenities, all within our ‘city in a park.’ Centrally located in the province, we attract events that generate investment and enhance our community identity.”
My question is how by delaying a decision does city council justify following their vision statement and strategic goals.
I add these queries and statements:
• You have had more than year to gather information, make enquiries, have closed council information sessions, spoke to community members, and should have delved into this. You received the report far in advance of the special session and should have come ready for a decision without delay. Why did this not happen?
• The city has been locked and instep with the Westerner in the last year. The Westerner has fulfilled all requests and have been measured through two (very expensive) audits by Deloitte.
• There is over $3.5 million generously donated by a private family, held in trust for the Westerner Foundation, that could be doubled with a potential matching grant that will be dispersed upon a sustainable decision for Westerner Park, if a deal has been reached by May 15. And our community will most likely lose this because of this delay. Sad.
• If CIBC closes on the loan for default (community this is very, very real), there will be hundreds of thousands of dollars spent putting this into receivership, of which our community will have no gain or say. And further, we will not have an event centre capable of hosting the economic driver our community so sorely needs right now.
• How much staff time has been spent already? Spend more money delaying a decision, no matter what the cost?
• Twice, not just once, in your session, councillors questioned the capabilities of the Westerner’s CEO. Did you not have time in the closed sessions to request a character assessment? Do councillors feel this was the right, very public forum for this? Rather than being able to say you did your due diligence in a professional and respective manner?
• Through the whole poor decision making by the Westerner board that brought this terrible situation forward, there were three members of today’s council that actively sat on the Westerner board. Maybe some ownership needs to happen here and a review of the responsibility process for councillors to be revisited, giving a level of responsibility to council. If you want to sit at the table, then accept all the responsibility as every other board member has had to do.
• Further, the initial loan that started this process way back in 2017 and subsequent refinancing all had to be signed through a tri-party agreement by the City of Red Deer, fully knowing that this result could happen. Why is there any hesitation here?
• The window of borrowing from the province is very small now, missing this will create more costs.
• The Westerner annually, has been contributing a $150 million/year economic impact to our community. They were one of the largest employer’s, well over 600 employees each year and then add all the employees of the supporting vendors, we can comfortably say that in a year well over a thousand of our community members that pay property taxes are impacted by the Westerner directly.
• The Westerner has been a volunteer ran organization for 130 years. These volunteers and eventually along with paid staff have contributed so much to our “vibrant community,” building an asset value of over $57 million. This is a big bump but not a mountain, lets deal with it.
• No matter who you are or what your interests are, the Westerner has been providing experiences for us for 130 years – concerts, sporting events, rodeo events, fairs, shopping opportunities, cultural experiences, first jobs, first dates, health fairs, Agri trade, a place to first learn to drive, the day you wed, celebrating the season, ringing the New Year… all for our community.
In conclusion, what we need right now is council members to host a special meeting immediately and make a decision one way or another. I sincerely hope the decision will be to support, empower, trust and not control or try to compete with the community run Westerner board, volunteers, and staff. It can become a strong thriving contributing member of our broken community once again. We are in need of some strong leadership.
Lyn Radford is a community volunteer and an advocate. She received the Lifetime Sport Achievement Award sponsored by the City of Red Deer in 2019.