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The municipal election is not a popularity contest

This is an article that I have wanted to write for some time but was unable to do so because I worked for the City of Airdrie and saw it as a conflict of interest. Now that I have retired from that position, I can say my piece.

This is an article that I have wanted to write for some time but was unable to do so because I worked for the City of Airdrie and saw it as a conflict of interest. Now that I have retired from that position, I can say my piece.

I was pleased to discover via local media that many Airdrie residents are willing to step forward to help build and lead our community, of which we are all proud, as mayor or alderman. Actually, this is nothing new. For as long as I can recall, there has always been healthy competition for the aldermanic seats, not necessarily for the mayor’s position. However, I am concerned that some of the candidates are treating their campaign no differently than that of a high school student council election: They erect signs and promise the world, hoping that no one will realize or care if the candidate really knows what he/she is talking about. Unfortunately, many candidates are uninformed; many of their campaigns consist of fear-mongering and pushing emotional buttons.

Well, I do care and I believe many Airdrie citizens do as well. An election is not a popularity contest. Candidates, in reality, are applying for a board position of a multi-million dollar corporation. The candidates’ campaigns need to be viewed as the interview process. It is our responsibility to ask the questions and it is the candidates’ responsibility to have done background work and research in order to provide accurate and informed responses and strategies.

For example, candidates would be wise to contact Legislative Services about the roles of mayor and/or alderman in order to learn about the legal responsibilities of the positions. (There was a workshop in Airdrie recently; I wonder who attended.) Information can be easily obtained from City staff or the Alberta government through the Department of Municipal Affairs. Instead of treating City staff as the enemy, candidates could use them as a resource to learn about the types of boards and committees the mayor and aldermen are required to join once elected, directly impacting the amount of time required by these positions.

The mayor and aldermen do the majority of their work in the evenings, not just on Mondays. Are candidates aware of the amount of time they will need to devote to these positions?

Have the candidates actually looked at the Municipal Government Act, the document that outlines the powers and direction for a City council? Have they reviewed the City budget for 2010? Actually, it is obvious that some candidates have not since they claim the City is going to experience a 12 per cent tax increase for 2011. City council has not approved a budget for 2011; in fact, it hasn’t been developed as yet. One of the first responsibilities of the new City council will be to develop the 2011 budget. Being familiar with the previous 2010 budget would be required information for this task. Each year, City administration prepares projections for City council, an educated guess provided so that council has an idea of a worst-case scenario. Projections for 2011 and 2012 are not the budgets. In the past 13 years, City administration has never asked council for more than a five per cent tax increase. Yet previous projections were always greater than the amount determined by council.

I wonder if any candidates have read the Municipal Development Plan. It is a rather important document that outlines the future growth of the city. Have they spent time at council meetings....not merely dropping by to present an opinion, but attending a number of meetings from start to finish to get an idea of the kind of business council does and the direction it provides for administration? Have any candidates reviewed the minutes of past council meetings or have they contacted administrators of City departments in order to understand operations and opportunities. We need candidates who understand the balance between the resources, opportunities and challenges that face the City.

Possibly the most important factor of all is the reason each candidate is seeking election. Is it really to build a community or is it to cater to personal ambitions or special interest groups? For example, at this time, I do not use transit or Genesis Place but I realize that I would not want to live in a community that did not have either one. I am confident my property values would plummet without these two City services. Can you think of another community of 40,000 people that does not offer those services? If you were a national chain looking to expand your business, would you consider locating in a community that does not have the vision to provide this level of quality of life?

Many of the candidates have said they can ask the tough questions. That is important because they will need to do that. Believe it or not, tough questions are welcomed by City administration, but probably not by the special interest groups that pressure council to see only their side.

I urge candidates to do their homework, to be ready with tough questions. We need a mayor and aldermen who will be dedicated to working in collaboration with City staff and citizens, rather than making fools of themselves and of my community. As the saying goes, when one assumes things, they make an “ass out of you and me” (my community).

George Keen, former City of Airdrie Manager.

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