Town’s new direction

Within two months or so, municipal councils in Alberta will mark their second year in office.

Within two months or so, municipal councils in Alberta will mark their second year in office, the halfway mark through their tenure, which will end in 2017 with new municipal elections.

As many in the community will remember, elections for Ponoka Town Council were quite an excitement with the mayoralty being decided by a single vote.  Following the conclusion of elections, there appeared to be an enthusiastic wave of positive expectations on the part of both the residents and newly elected council.

The town council was almost completely renewed with only one former councillor retaining her seat and another being elected mayor, the other five members being completely new faces at the town hall.

There was further excitement and expectation when the new mayor announced that the town would take “a different direction” and the former town CAO Brad Watson was let go.

So it might be a good time for all to look back and take stock of what has happened over the last 22 months or so.

Among the many hot discussion items during the election campaign were revitalization of downtown Ponoka, enhancement of recreation opportunities in town and improvement of services to residents.

When one looks at the current state of affairs, it does not look like much has been accomplished.

In the course of the coming weeks, town is apparently planning another community engagement process to discuss the matter of recreation. One such forum was held soon after the elections but not many steps were taken after that event. And it is not known whether the forthcoming process features new initiatives or we are back to square one. But one should remember that the town council did look into how neighbouring communities are handling the recreation matters by taking a bus tour of a few municipalities.

On the matter of downtown revitalization, not much seems to have been talked about let alone getting done.

The switch to new water meters was the source of bitter controversy and it looks like the matter will still go to litigation.

While there was little action on issues, town has done some recruitment work and filled four positions, those of the chief administrative officer, economic development officer, planning officer and fire chief, the last being vacated recently.

From another angle, though, there have been some developments, which could hardly be interpreted as positive.

First among them is the controversy over the management of the fire services, an issue where the bridges between the county and the town are at the point of being burnt, if not already irreversibly damaged.

The dispute over the ownership of the land that the county donated to the gym club in an exchange of plots with the town has been another source of tension. The fact that county councillors did not mince their words in expressing their displeasure with the way the issue was handled by the town does not seem to be a harbinger of good things to come with regard to the future of the vital relationship between the two municipalities.

The same matter also created tensions within the town council itself, with the mayor being accused of acting arbitrarily by a councillor in his attempt to resolve the matter.

So all in all, the picture does not seem to be a bright one.

At this point, one might be justified to ask whether the town leadership has now established its new direction or is still in a search for one.

If what we have been witnessing are the landmarks of the new direction, it is not difficult to see that it will not lead to a garden full of flowers.