Morinville speed-dating forum draws 200
Mayoral discussions include communication and economic development
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 16, 2013 02:00 pm
More accountability, more transparency and better communication with the town’s residents was the overwhelming sentiment at Tuesday’s political forum in Morinville.
The forum, organized by the Rotary Club of Morinville and held at the Community Cultural Centre, began with 18 council candidates and three mayoral contenders sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on stage.
Candidates spoke about everything from diversifying the tax base, to a more business friendly community, lowering the number of consultants working for the town and providing more fiscal responsibility. All of them agreed though that council needed to be more open with the public.
“To me it’s not just about communication, it’s about collaboration,” mayoral candidate Sheldon Fingler told a resident later on. “You have to talk to people.”
The forum gave each candidate three minutes for an introduction before they left the stage and moved on to a more private, speed-dating format.
Candidates stood and sat at tables set around the main hall and entranceway of the centre to answer questions. After three minutes, residents could switch to a new table for a new conversation, leaving a total of 20 potential conversations after an hour.
Mayoral candidate Christa Naughton did not attend the forum and was said to have announced her intention to withdraw from the race previous to the event.
The three other mayoral candidates – Sheldon Fingler, Lisa Holmes and Carrie Foss – promised to work closely with residents and be more accessible.
Holmes said she developed strong relationships with everyone in Morinville during her time on town council.
While the last council race was dominated by big issues, people are now concerned over specific concerns about the city’s finances, shopping locally or fixing sidewalks, she said.
“We need to look at fixing the small issues because that will help us address the big ones,” she said.
Carrie Foss said she has lived in the community for the better part of 14 years and is frustrated by the lack of open dialogue on town council.
“We need to form relationships. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with the other councillors you need to be able to have a conversation with them about how we are going to make this work,” she said.
If he’s elected, Fingler plans to have monthly open houses for residents to meet with him and discuss pressing issues. He also wants to create an early morning mayor’s walk with local youth, he said.
Asked by residents to share their thoughts on creating a new business park and strengthening the local business community, all three mayoral candidates agreed that Morinville needs economic development in order to strive in the region.
Holmes said the town will likely look east of its borders for a new industrial park. Morinville could share the cost and revenue for the park with Sturgeon County, which would allow existing businesses to expand and bring in partners and other companies to help supply them, she said.
“I think we can get that immediately,” she said. “We have the servicing capabilities and (Sturgeon County doesn't) so it’s not like we are going into this on an uneven level.”
She stressed that Morinville lacks the population to attract big stores such as Costco but is able to support smaller, unique businesses. Residents need to support local stores, she said and if products are not available people can always ask the store owners to bring them in.
Fingler said Morinville is second in the region for residential taxes, but tied for the lowest business taxes. The town needs to attract new businesses to change its tax split and bring money into the community, he said.
“If the developers aren’t doing it, we have to do it,” he said about building a business park south or east of the town. “I think it’s the only opportunity and I think it’s vitally, vitally necessary.”
Foss said councillors have to sit down with business owners and land owners to talk about what the community needs and what type of business could survive in Morinville.
“There are all kinds of communities that are right outside a major centre that are self-sufficient,” she said.
Library, community groups, mayoral duties
Asked whether she thought the library plays an important role in the community, Foss admitted that she doesn’t use the library much since she owns a Kindle. But she stressed that libraries are one of the fundamental things every community needs.
“There are children, adults and seniors who can’t afford to go out on a regular basis and spent $10 on a book. They need to have the accessibility to the library,” she said.
On the topic of making the community centre more affordable to smaller groups – such as the local scouts – she said the centre is already in debt. If the centre lowers its cost it could attract more groups, which would eventually balance out cost issues, she said.
On the same question, Fingler said council needs to work more closely with community groups to assure that they keep their services in town and can afford local facilities.
“If the building is sitting empty on whatever night you are meeting, I think we have to work with you,” he said.
At her table, Holmes was asked about mayoral duties and accepting campaign money.
Being a part-time employee and having to look after her family, Holmes said she did take money from residents for her campaign, saying that she needed the money.
Questioned whether she should have become the town mayor after late mayor Paul Krauskopf passed away in early July, Holmes said she wanted the position and tried to convince council to allow it, as she was the deputy mayor at the time.
But council members voted against her taking on the mayor’s role since she was running in the upcoming election, she said.
“I would have (filled the role of mayor) if I had been given the chance,” she said. “Politics came into play.”
Almost 200 Morinville residents attended the forum on Tuesday night that ran from 7 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m.