City hall shows positive signs
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 15, 2012 06:00 am
While there are reasons to feel puzzled by the City of St. Albert’s latest moves toward putting a consolidated economic development effort together, there may also be reasons to feel optimistic about the city’s overall direction in this regard.
Landing under the puzzlement heading is the recent hiring of an investment attraction manager to serve as the right-hand man to Guy Boston, the city’s executive director for economic development.
Boston, the long-time general manager of the planning and engineering department, took over the economic development reins in early June. His appointment came after a months-long recruitment search to locate a provincial and national mover and shaker who could pick up the phone and get meetings with business people across the province and the nation.
Now the city has ushered in a new investment attraction manager, Aaron Latimer. The justifications for the new position have been vague, but it seems that Latimer and Boston will somehow share the duties previously performed by Boston.
“I needed someone that can do what I can do,” Boston said while explaining the hiring move to the Gazette.
The other most recent move at city hall is an administrative restructuring highlighted by removing some responsibilities from the planning and engineering department and lining them up under a new department called infrastructure services.
This could easily be interpreted as a simple shuffling of deck chairs, but there’s merit to the explanation from new city manager Patrick Draper that the previous structure was spreading the general manager of planning and engineering too thin.
One of the complaints we’ve heard in the past is that the city’s planning and engineering department was at odds with the city’s economic development efforts, that the city’s economic people would find businesses who were willing to develop, then the rules and bureaucracy within the planning and engineering department would go to work on this willingness, sometimes whittling it away to nothing.
With this latest restructuring, it appears the city is taking real steps towards improving that situation, especially when viewed in combination with last December’s move to create a growth initiative team that combines economic development expertise with planning and engineering knowledge.
A St. Albert issue for decades, the lack of a significant industrial base to provide taxes to city coffers leaves residents to shoulder a much greater portion of the overall tax burden than in more balanced municipalities. For those who want to see residential tax relief in St. Albert, developing a stronger industrial base is a must.
Council took a step to address this issue earlier this year when it designated 700 acres of land in the city’s west side for industrial development.
And now, under Draper, administrators are continuing to better position the organization to take on economic development. The city is thus managing to avoid the trap described by Einstein’s famous saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
Chamber of commerce CEO Lynda Moffat hit a key note this week when she said the city needs to show consistency in its efforts to spearhead economic development. There are signs now, after many months of small steps, that a track record of consistency is starting to take shape. Let’s hope that continues and that tangible results are to follow.