A year ago today was my first full day after being elected as a Councillor for the City of Port Alberni. Of course it was another few weeks before I was sworn in and almost two months before we actually had our first full council meeting. But today seems like a good day to reflect on how everything has gone since last November. First though, I have to say a part of me still can’t believe that so many people voted for me last year and allowed me to represent them on Council. It is and will continue to be a huge honour and responsibility that I take very seriously and I thank you so much for the opportunity.
Accomplishments by Council
It is honestly much harder to pick out stuff that “got done” than I would have thought when we got started. (See “Reality Check!” below) Since council is a continuing board of government many of the things that have got done, like Dry Creek (final time-lapse coming soon when paving is done!), or improvements at the Multiplex or the new Water treatment system, were initiated by previous Councils and we simply carried the torch forward. We are just now getting ready to go into the Budget process and this will be the first one where we as a Council will really have the most control over where we are headed so I think you will see a lot more coming in the near future. There are also many things, like web streaming or electronic participation in meetings, that are still being worked on by Staff. That said, here are my top 4 changes and impacts made by Council in 2015.
- First Impressions are incredibly important. And two small changes this Council made I think have helped in this regard both for visitors and residents alike. The picture shows part of the Mayor’s office with the new carpet, cleaned up wall and new board table made from rough edge lumber from McLean’s Mill. The other improvement I don’t have a picture of but it is the return of the big flower planters along Johnston Road. These are small and inexpensive but I think great improvements that will have a lasting impact on how visitors, residents and businesses see us.
- Learning and Working as a Team. Just as important as first impressions is ongoing work ethic and I can honestly say that I believe this Council has worked extremely hard to be inclusive of all views on Council, in Staff and in the public. This is harder to do than you might think! However, I think that while especially the rookies including myself still have a lot to learn about ourselves and how we can operate best in this environment, I think we have worked well together including when we disagree and that bodes well for the next 3 years. One of the biggest learning moments in this sphere I think was when we got thrown into the fire that was also known as the Public Hearing for the Rainbow Gardens expansion. I won’t soon forget that meeting! But I think we all learned a whole bunch just in that one night alone and it will continue to inform us as we move through this term.
- Watershed Issues. The previous council had called for regular meetings with Island Timberlands, Western Forest Products, Timberwest and other stakeholders to deal with impacts of logging on the City’s water supply. This council had to make it happen and it has and I think it has helped with the Forest company’s awareness of our concerns. Council also initiated a process to create a new and wider watershed advisory panel to include the whole Valley watershed and all stakeholders in the Valley. This is something that is ongoing and I hope we can see it start to bear fruit soon, especially with ongoing concerns about low snowpack and summer water restrictions.
- Marijuana. Funnily enough, I think one of our biggest accomplishments has been the one we just did. That was a very difficult topic and it took a lot of work by all of Council to come to the solution that we did.
I obviously had some part in the things above that Council has accomplished, but we are above all a team. That said, there are also some personal things I have taken from this experience in the first year.
- So Much Learning – One of the reasons I decided to run for this office was because I knew how much there would be to learn. Learning is growth and boy, have I grown a lot.
From the first few days when I started to learn about the Committees I would be on, to the multiple meetings in the first couple months on Strategic Planning, to the Local Government training in Parksville, the Public Hearing on Rainbow Gardens, the Financial Planning process, the conferences in the Spring, the ongoing meetings with Advisory Planning, the Community Stakeholders Initiative and the Food Security and Climate Change Committee and the UBCM this fall and of course just learning how the City really works, how it interfaces with higher levels of government (often through AVICC and UBCM) and how the people within it make it go. It has all been a little overwhelming at times, but also a lot of fun to get to know what it all means and how it all works together. I don’t intend to stop learning because if I do… then it’ll probably be time for someone to take my place.
- Reality Check – Along with the learning comes an understanding of what is realistic to expect from City Staff and from ourselves as Council in terms of what can and cannot be done. It all seems so easy and simple when you first get in… it ain’t! lol.Through no fault of the City Staff or anyone but the grand processes of the world… it just takes a really long time to make things happen! When I look back at my campaign pledges around “Accountability“, “Climate” and “Community“. I see things in there that I know now are not realistic at least in how I understood them at the time. An example? “Limit residential tax increases to 2%.” I used to think that 2% was a good target that might allow some growth while keeping the shock to a minimum. Now, after seeing the finances and honestly living with them for a year, I know that if we want real growth in the community and real change, it will take more revenue than that 2% would give us. That will be something we will have to address in the coming weeks and years with the budget process.
- Openness, Accountability and Honesty… and fun. – One of my biggest personal goals had always been to try to achieve a more open and accountable Council and that started first with my own performance. While it has been difficult to keep this blog as up-to-date as I would like, I have tried very hard to always be available for people to ask questions, to engage in debate in the community and with Council openly and honestly and to try hard to ensure I am always open to new ideas and suggestions. Facebook has been more central in this than I thought it would be, but so too has been simple emails and the cellphone for concerned citizens on all sorts of issues. I am feeling pretty good about how I’ve done so far for listening and responding to concerns and I have heard many kind words from people so I hope I am doing OK in that regard and I will continue to use every means possible to improve myself and my performance. I have also tried to have some fun in the process… and just generally, it all is kind of fun… especially when I make a fool of myself by trying to paddle board.
- Connections – Without a doubt one of the most valuable things I have taken away from this first year has been the connections I have made and conversations I have had with the public, and with councillors, directors, mayors and staff from other communities and organizations. I am generally not the most in-your-face kind of person… but I have worked hard, and in many cases simply been thrown in (which is OK with me! lol) to situations where I had to strike up conversations with seemingly random people about issues that affect the City. This has been a big source of personal growth for me… I am getting slowly better at it… I am one of those people who could write a novel most the time (as I seem to be doing right now!) with all of the things bouncing around in my head but sometimes don’t always get it out my mouth. Definitely working on it!
Personal Highlight so far:
UBCM was exceptional, as I already said in this blog, but in particular, a chance 1 on 1 meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary (pseudo-Minister) of Environment led to a really great discussion on a walk through Vancouver. That was a place where I realized just how important and informative one-on-one conversation can be. (and since it was private, I really can’t say what it was about! Which is stupid in a way… but another bit of “reality” to add to my learning.)
I thought I would go down the list briefly to give an update on where I think we are… many of these aren’t really going to start to get addressed until at least this first budget and some will be in the background for a long time but here we go.
- “Cutting services and people is just as unsustainable as raising taxes forever. Priority has to be balance, fairness, and focus.” One of the hardest decisions we’ve made as council was to cut Commercial Garbage service. This ended up being focused on me as I was a deciding vote after the initial vote was tied and the issue was brought forward again. I still think it was the right decision in the long run but it was a great example where we had to struggle with whether to cut, or increase.
- “Council pay raises should be determined by third party committees and a public forum.” Council cancelled the pay raise that was due in 2015. We have yet to move forward on how to address this in the future.
- “investigate the creation of a Valley wide District Municipality to expand the tax base, reduce duplication, and provide a voice to all residents of the Valley on affairs in the City”. While I have brought this issues up in Council and Council has discussed it both in Strategic Planning and in other forums, it’s something that is much more difficult to get off the ground and it will take time. I think though that you’ll see some movement on these kinds of issues, even if it isn’t in a “District Municipality” specifically in the coming months and certainly next 3 years.
- “Limit residential tax increases to 2%.” – As I already said, this was a reality check for me. I thought 2% was a good number to achieve that “balance” of fairness and growth. It turns out, 2% is likely only going to lead to cuts on the ledger, so fair warning, don’t be surprised if you see me advocate for investment that will add up to more than 2%.
- “Live Streaming Council Meetings” – This is getting closer and closer to happening. The equipment is all in place, and I am hopeful that we will see our first full scale test within the next couple meetings.
- “Public should be able to ask questions for Council meetings online.” – This is more difficult to manage than I may have thought before, but I still think it is something that is achievable especially once we move to live streaming.
- “All meetings with councillors participating should be available and prominently displayed on the website so the public knows what their Council are doing.” – This already happens!
- “Public should not have to ask for Information. The goal should be automatic (web) publishing of all City created or received material including all minutes and agenda of all meetings unless confidential under the Municipal Act.” – This already happens to a large extent but there is more I think we can do, especially when questions are asked of Council at regular meetings.
- “Better adherence and reference to the values and goals of the OCP.“: This is something that is harder than I thought but I think Council can work harder on achieving this. It might in fact be time for a full review of the OCP.
- “Continue the use of the Strategic Plan to direct the actions of Council.”: – Council recently updated the Strategic Plan in September so I think we are definitely always aware of the visions in the plan and that we have to keep the plan’s goals achievable.
- “create a permanent Climate Committee”: The Mayor created the Food Security and Climate Change committee immediately and it has been working throughout the year to get familiar with other groups and initiatives in the community as well as now bringing forward some suggestions for Council. You’ll see those suggestions soon!
- “Encourage residents to switch to efficient electric heating”: You’ll see that soon.
- “pursue more renewable energy partnerships and projects including the District Energy plan.”: The District Energy system will be coming back with an update soon. I am still hopeful we can get this done.
- “Create a tax break or grant for big home efficiency upgrades (PassivHaus).”: Hopefully coming soon!
- “Join Solar Community (Solar Hot Water and PV)”: This is not something we have pursued yet, but it’s definitely still on the list.
- “Bike lanes and paths throughout the City.”: News Coming soon!
- “Roger Creek foot/bike bridge at 10th Ave or North Island College to Johnston Road corridor.” – Unfortunately I don’t think this will be happening in the near future, but it is still on the radar.
- “Designated truck route along Highway 4 and new Waterfront Industrial road to keep costs to City maintenance at minimum.” – The Truck Route Issue has been in the paper very recently. My position on it has shifted a bit in that if we are true to our Strategic Plan I am not sure the waterfront is the right place to send those trucks, but I am still very committed to figuring out the best solution for this problem and I expect to hear back from Staff soon on some options.
- “Reactivation of railway”: This is an issue that has been more on the back burner than I would have liked, mainly because of the inaction at senior government levels around releasing the funds to get upgrades going on the mainline on the east side of the Island. Now that we have a new Federal Government focused heavily, hopefully, on infrastructure, I am hopeful that that funding will come through and those repairs will be made, then we will be able to start looking at making the same kinds of repairs to the line coming in to Port Alberni from Parksville.
- “investigate summertime free city bus with an extension to Sproat Lake.”: This is still something I’d like us to pursue perhaps in the upcoming budget.
- “Continue to encourage Farmers Market and Market Gardens.”: Happening!
- “Edible City. New trees should be fruit or nut trees.”: We’ve talked about this at the FSCC Committee and I also made a motion that gained the support of Council to have the city plant vegetables in amongst its flower garden beds. Hope to see those ‘bearing fruit’ next summer!
- “connections between local farmers and local stores and also attract young farmers to Valley.” – Happening! In fact there was a public open house just two Sunday’s ago specifically for connecting farmers and local restaurants.
- “Pursue full slate of Air Quality Monitoring”: I need to throw this at Councillor Minions, who’s on the Air Quality Council!
- “Work with Forest Companies to reduce in-Valley slash burning and protect water.”: This is an ongoing thing through the watershed meetings and also potentially through resolutions to the AVICC (Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities).
- “Continue City/RD Wood Stove Exchange program.”: Happening!
- “Pursue a new Pool.”: Happening – A new fund was created to save money for the pool.
- “Continue improving Canal Beach.”: Ongoing.
- “Encourage more high density and low cost residential spaces in the City like apartments and townhouses.”: This is something that I’ve learned is hard to personally make happen but is something that Council can influence and I think it has. The Uchuklesaht building is a great example.
- “Continue strong Parks and Rec programs”: Continuing!
- “Maintain full Professional Fire Dept. but consider blended Paid on Call and more cooperation with Regional Depts.”: Continuing!
- “Keep City Staff lean, but supported.”: Continuing (also as part of the Management Review”.
- “Support and promote Steam Train, McLean Mill and WCIHS and encourage the sale of products to defer City costs.”: Continuing (and note use of wood in Mayor’s Office!).
- “Limit Export… expand our Forest holdings and use them to create jobs, in forestry and in other industries (food/tourism/other).”: This is one of those “easier said than done” things… but it is something that is on the radar and being actively worked on behind the scenes (and was before I got here).
- “Develop and Beautify both South and North Port Business Areas.”: With the planter boxes on Johnston and the pocket park on 3rd Avenue, we’re making progress I think.
- “Pursue the Port Authority’s innovative PATH project.”: This is a huge project that will be still in the works long after this first term… but I still support it in principle and believe it could be of great benefit locally and beyond.
- “Encourage small marine ship building like Canadian Alberni Engineering and other small to medium industry.”: This continues!
- “expand the airport to encourage both local job creation and more recreational and commercial access to our skies”: This was already underway and happening and we are already seeing the benefits!
- “Better, direct communication with neighbouring First Nations.”: A place where we area always working hard. I’ve made good friendships and working relationships already with many of our local First Nations leaders.
- “More partnerships to enhance learning and understanding in the community.”: We need to do this more.
- “Consider as a community what to do with the Martin Mars?” – An ongoing issue. At this point I think we need to still fight to keep her fighting fires for as long as she can!
- “Support Library and Early Learning initiatives.” – Continuing!
- “Work with School District to increase student use of all Facilities.” – This is one priority that I might drop off the list, not because it wasn’t a good thing to aspire to, but because I realize now the School District is very much its own entity and we have little influence (though certainly some!) over it. I know the SD70 is working hard to make the most of its facilities.
- “Keep improving WCGH, expanding services and finding doctors” – Something that is always ongoing.
- “Build more Seniors facilities” – This is starting to move forward again with the public meeting Wednesday (Nov 18th) night about the Rainbow Gardens expansion. There is also continued work to see what to do with the old ADSS lands.
- “Support more health programs at NIC.”: Something for the future.
Phew…. that’s it folks. Lots to do in the next year. See you at the next Council meeting!