Change is needed at city hall: candidates

Cory
Cory Hurley
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CORNER BROOK — With only one of the incumbents participating in the first of two forums for Corner Brook municipal council candidates, the theme of the evening was change.

There were eight of the 10 invited candidates in attendance at Memorial University Grenfell Campus Tuesday evening. Paul Wylezol and Tony Buckle did not attend, while Gary Kelly was the only member of the current council who participated. Wylezol — who is in Scotland dealing with business related to the International Appalachian Trail — and Buckle — who did not provide a reason he was unable to make it — provided written submissions to the four known questions.

While fresh faces and new ideas on council were commonly suggested in answers to the six questions posed to the candidates, it was about more than electing new people to serve the city. Many of the candidates said there was a need of a change in attitude and behaviour from council, management and staff — particularly in the way the city handles its business.

Keith Cormier, Dave Wells, Gerard Lee, Llew Hounsell, Glen Keeling, Bernd Staeben and Danny Park were also in attendance.

Each had the opportunity to sell themselves as candidates with two-minute introductions and one-minute concluding remarks. They each gave one-minute responses to how they will ensure the city can finance its share of the waste water effluent project and meet the project on time, what part of the municipal plan should be focused on first, how Corner Brook can increase and improve affordable housing, and their support an art procurement program and/or public art space in the city. These questions were provided to them beforehand.

The candidates were then subjected to two unknown questions. The first of which fell right in line with what many of them had been repeating throughout the forum — What is your strategy for economic growth in Corner Brook? What would you do to support local business?

Gerard Lee had some of the strongest statements about the change that is needed at city hall. He said there is a need for a “sweep” and “wholesale change” throughout.

“We have to really take a hard look at management, the way we do business, and we definitely have to get rid of some of our regulations,” he said.

Cormier, Wells, and Park were among the other candidates who referred to a business person who went outside the city and set up shop in another municipality because of the frustration or inadequate service they received at city hall.

“We are getting to the stage now where, if we don’t do something soon, we are going to have to put a sign outside Corner Brook saying open for business — because nobody wants to come here anymore,” Park said.

When Cormier spoke about the municipal plan, he spoke about this issue.

“What needs to be addressed first by the City of Corner Brook is, we need an attitude adjustment,” he said. “We need to move from ‘that’s not going to work, to what can we do to help you get that done?’”

Hounsell said there is a need for flexibility and a willingness to interpret the regulations to allow for proposals to move forward.

“If you are rigid in the way you approach this proposal or that proposal, people will walk away — as we just heard a couple of examples,” he said.

Wells said the city needs an economic development office that reports to council rather than staff.

“I find it hard to believe that council knows exactly what is going on when all of these businesses are walking away,” he said.

Buckle — who emailed The Western Star his responses Tuesday evening following the forum — stated individual staff should be assigned to the case of a specific business or individual to help move it forward.

“That person should broker the necessary connections to other departments or other governmental organizations on your behalf and go that extra mile of customer service until the opportunity is realized,” he wrote.

Staeben said there is a need to create an environment that is business friendly. He thought he was a part of the solution in 2006 when he was asked to chair a committee that did a regulatory review for the city. After four months, 40 recommendations were made to council.

“From staff, I have heard very little was implemented,” he said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It’s there. We just need to use it, and do it.”

Keeling agreed with the other candidates about the need to reduce red tape and opening the city to business, but he said it is about more than that too.

“We have to make this a liveable city,” he said. “We have to make this a city where everybody wants to go to.”

He said available and affordable housing and adequate public transit go hand-in-hand with economic development.

Meanwhile, Kelly also agreed that a better job can be done in opening the city for business, and there are efficiencies that can be made and red tape eliminated. However, he said there are instances of great relationships between businesses and the city, and examples whereby there were no problems with developments.

“We need to look at specifics when we are celebrating our successes, and we need to look at specifics in the areas we need to improve on,” he said.

The second unknown question was what would you do to keep the Pepsi Centre affordable for all those who use it.

The remaining candidates are invited to take part in the second forum scheduled for tonight.

Organizations: Corner Brook municipal council

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Scotland, Danny Park Western Star

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