Bob Russell joins council race
Byelection now a race, while other expected candidates opt out
Saturday, May 16, 2015 06:00 am
A familiar name will be on the June 24 byelection ballot.
Bob Russell, 84, is putting his hat in the ring once again. The long-time St. Albert resident has been a frequent feature on municipal ballots, serving a few terms on council, but has also run unsuccessfully as a Liberal both provincially and federally. He was, for a time, leader of the provincial wing of the Liberals.
Russell has also sat as a school board trustee.
Russell last ran municipally in 2013, placing eighth out of 16 council candidates.
“We’ve got problems to solve,” Russell said at the Gazette office on Wednesday.
The 84-year-old worked as a realtor for years, but rather than retire switched careers to working as a paralegal.
Russell has been involved in the community for years, with roles in everything from the garden club or the chamber of commerce to sitting on planning commissions.
As soon as the byelection was called, he had people approach him to run, he said.
He highlighted a number of issues that he’d like to address if elected.
Some of them, like the need to keep Villeneuve Road open to support the county and the airport, have been consistent planks of Russell’s previous platforms.
Other transportation issues for Russell include his desire to see Ray Gibbon Drive expanded and extended to Highway 2.
He’s concerned about the transportation of dangerous goods through St. Albert. Council should work with St. Albert’s MLAs to get the road extended, he said.
The plans to re-route St. Anne Street as part of the downtown area revitalization plan (DARP) are also on his radar.
He thinks DARP needs to be rethought, pointing out that much of the land in the Perron District is privately held.
For the lots that are owned by the city, he thinks a consultant should be hired to look for the best use for land like the lot on St. Anne Street that is currently a parking lot.
Utility bills were a hot topic during the last election, and Russell wants to re-visit a plan to phase out provincial grant funding from utility infrastructure budgeting.
When it comes to the general municipal budget, Russell said he’d like to look at what he calls zero-based budgeting. By that he said he means that the budget increases for departments like police or public works are linked to the population growth rate.
He's not impressed with the current practice of putting operating budget surplus money into reserves and would want to cut down on that practice.
“It becomes a piggy bank,” he said.
Other issues include a desire to reinstate a policing committee where the community and council can keep in touch with the RCMP, that he thinks school site allocation should be a council responsibility, the need for more transparency and fewer in camera meetings and a desire to see more organics collection earlier in the year.
Another major area of concern for Russell is the hiring of Gilles Prefontaine, the councillor whose resignation triggered the byelection, for a management-level job with the city. He wants to look at the processes in place and perhaps look at creating policy rather than talk about the individual with council.
“The whole process needs to be questioned by council,” Russell said.
Russell has been in St. Albert for more than 50 years, and said he likes being on council.
“I enjoy it and I want to tackle the issues,” he said. He thinks he can get along with the current mayor.
He pointed to his past experiences with council and in land planning as reasons to vote for him.
“You need somebody with experience on council,” he said.
So far, the field is thinner than expected, with St. Albert Housing Society executive director Tash Taylor the only other officially announced candidate.
A few others are expected to join the race, but some likely candidates have already said they won’t be joining the fray.
Poliwings co-founder Dana Popadynetz had publicly mused on social media about running but tweeted earlier this week he’d decided to not to run this time.
Former councillor Malcolm Parker was just about ready to launch his campaign earlier this week but ultimately decided against running.
Parker, who served on council from 2010-2013 and lost his spot on council when he came seventh out of a field of 16 candidates in 2013, would probably have been an early front-runner.
He contacted the Gazette to explain his decision, noting he’d already received an outpouring of support if he had decided to run. He’s remained involved on various community boards.
“It just wasn’t there for me right now,” Parker said. He said if he commits to something, he wants to give it 100 per cent and, since he wasn’t sure he was fully on board this time, he decided to not run in the byelection.