“We’re nothing if we can’t work together.”
Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett said his top two priorities for the remainder of his term would be the restoration of good relations with the county and the reconstruction of the North Bridge as soon as possible.
In a wide ranging interview assessing the first half the council’s term and the prospects of achieving results in the second half of the council’s tenure, Bonnett admitted that mistakes were made.
“There are some things we’ve done OK, there are some mistakes we made and are there other ways of doing something after looking back, yes, absolutely,” he said.
He added the last two years had been “a steep learning curve”, reminding that there are five new council members with no prior experience in a leadership role.
“I am not going to tell you that everything is rosy and everything is going really, really good.”
Bonnet blamed, however, some of the shortcomings of the town administration on the provincial government’s inability to renew the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
“We have seen three premieres since we were elected,“ the mayor said, complaining that each time a new premier took office, the MGA was put on the back burner. “Wheels of government turn very, very slow.”
Describing the current Municipal Government Act as “a mess”, the mayor said it took away a lot of powers that municipalities should have. “It has been the toughest job I have ever had to deal with.”
He blamed the provincial government for failing municipalities with populations of over 5000, by refusing to solve the problem of paying for the policing while the counties generally can avoid those payments.
Relations with county
Touching upon the recently deteriorating relations between the town and the county, Bonnett said the current trend had to be turned around.
“If we don’t work together, the town and the county are both in trouble, if we can’t work together and if we can’t get things done as a group, then we just don’t have the dollars and cents necessary for everything,” he said.
“We’ve got to work with them very closely.”
Commenting on the reasons for the negative developments in the relationship, Bonnet blamed lack of proper communications.
“We don’t get to direct the communications officer as council, but our administrator does, and at some points in time, maybe they are not being used in the right light because communications should be about the citizens and the other municipalities, we are trying to work on that,” he said.
Admitting that things were still unstable in terms of the relationship between the two municipalities, Bonnet predicted “There is going to be some more whirlwind stuff on the fireball before it’s done, but we are going to work through this. Again, if we don’t come together as a group, we are going to go nowhere.”
Responding to a question why the management of fire services had emerged as an issue, Bonnet said it came out of nowhere.
“It is something that I had never foreseen coming. The fire thing was never an issue.”
“We’ve got to get this turned around, if we don’t, the next two years will be just a wash.”
The role of the new fire chief
Commenting on the recruitment of the new fire chief, the mayor said he believed he could play a key role in bringing a proper solution to the matter.
He said while the fire services were managed by the town, it was the county that predominantly used the services, and the matter of renewal of the fire services agreement had been the result of the need for a revision.
The mayor explained that the new fire chief, who has recently taken up his position, had come from a region where there were five fire halls within a single county.
“He has a lot more experience on these matters than we do,” he said in reference to the problem of how to share fire services and how to manage them.
“The idea is to give him some time to put something together, he is more experienced than the rest of us.
“We are hoping to let cooler heads prevail in the meantime, and let him come up with a plan for all of us to work through.”
Bonnet said he wanted to get things started for the reconstruction of the North Bridge within the next two to three weeks.
“The bridge is our number one concern,” he said.
He said he was angry that despite the country being in a recession, the prices in the tenders for the bridge reconstruction were getting higher and higher.
Speaking of the required resources to get the job done with regard to the bridge, the mayor said they had some money ready to be spent but also that they would have to borrow more.
“We have to debenture, there is no doubt it, we have to debenture some money to do it,” he explained.
In the matter of reconstruction of the bridge, Bonnett admitted that the town was already at least 10 years behind.
“The bridge has to through,” he stressed.
The mayor said he was willing to work with a company, which would be able to start work within weeks once the tendering process was over.
“I will be pushing the council to make sure that somewhere, somehow we get this bridge up and going this summer.
Moving on with transparency
Rounding up his assessment of their work so far, Bonnett said his primary objective was getting more and more residents involved in the process of governance.
“One of the things we have done fairly well is that we have been a lot more transparent,” he said. “We have opened our council meetings, we have let people speak and what I want to see is more inclusive, more citizen participation in government.”
“It is not about getting elected, it is about making the community a better place,” he concluded.