It’s shaping up to be a most interesting municipal election year in Red Deer — in fact, one of the better ones in years.
There’s an increasing level of noise from an outspoken — and grumpy — public.
While sometimes it may seem like so much whining, it’s actually very positive to have citizens engaged in public debate about decisions made by the level of government that has more impact on our daily lives than any other.
I should qualify “public debate.” Some of the debate has been going on anonymously, online. It’s not credible and it beats me why anyone would be too chicken to let their real name stand behind their opinions about decisions at City Hall. Hiding behind the cloak the Internet offers while criticizing public officials is unethical.
Back to the year ahead: there is no shortage of issues to bite into, and to add a little extra meat to the spit, in the eight months leading to Oct. 21.
As most people know, after a long and respectable career as a municipal politician, Mayor Morris Flewwelling has decided not to seek re-election. Whenever the mayor’s seat is vacated, civic elections tend to draw considerable interest and, if we’re lucky, a few more voters to the polls. Municipal democracy in action the past several elections has involved a minority of eligible voters deciding who should be on city council.
It’s not a bad gig — the annual pay is about $86,000 for the mayor and about $51,000 for councillors. Comparatively, the city manager makes about $210,000. This time around, for the first time, terms are expected to increase to four years instead of the present three. The provincial government must legislate the change.
For anyone thinking of running: if you want a good idea of what the issues are going to be when the campaign takes off in the fall, try browsing the Red Deer Advocate letters to the editor.
Issues abound, like bike lanes, a possible ward system (a petition is going to be circulated on this), taxes, the crime rate, backyard chickens and smoking in outdoor public spaces.
And oh, don’t forget those perennial issues, potholes and dog and cat control.
Often times, municipal politics is deadly boring. Not this time around. I cannot recall such a potentially big agenda for a coming election. God help us if we get mired down in only one or two issues, like bike lanes and, well, bike lanes!
Council did seem to have dodged one election bullet by finally deciding late last year to continue with fluoride in our water system. Will that come back to haunt those of council who choose to run again?
There was a small but quite vocal group of people opposed to fluoride in water. The rest of us, who have used fluoridated water for decades, still don’t glow in the dark. It may be that some day the vocal minority will change this — the fluoride in the water that is — especially if all eligible voters continue to allow a minority of voters to choose their city council.
Two issues in particular are going to make it quite uncomfortable for current council members who decide to run in the election.
The refusal by council to begin the process to allow for a plebiscite on a ward system has ticked off a lot of people. With a ward system intrinsically tied to an election, we’re going to hear a lot more about this.
As well, the incredibly controversial bike lane issue is only going to gear up again as warmer weather arrives and more cyclists begin to share the designated routes with motorists.
The biggest issue of all is who will lay claim to the mayor’s chair. A few people, including current city Coun. Cindy Jefferies, have declared already. The days ahead will reveal more major candidates.
These are interesting times indeed.
Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached at 403-314-4332 or by email at email@example.com.