Mission’s mayoral candidates faced a number of questions Tuesday night, each trying to convince voters they have the abilities to lead the municipality.
Approximately 350 people were at the Clarke Theatre to hear Ted Adlem, James Atebe, Mike Gildersleeve and Dan Williamson articulate their vision for the future.
After brief introductions, the first question of the night was about a core services review, and if the candidates undertook one, and it indicated tough decisions were required, could they be the “axeman.”
Adlem answered first, stating if elected, he would become the CEO of the District of Mission, and that he was “willing and able to be the axeman,” but only after weighing the recommendations against the best interests of the taxpayer.
Incumbent Atebe said the oft-mentioned core review was part of the “misinformation” being spread in the community.
Mission does a core review every year just before the proposed tax rates are offered up to the residents, he said, as the budget is looked over in the attempt to find inefficiencies. To hire an independent company to do one would cost around $100,000. Mission’s finance department has been given awards twice in as many years for its accounting practices, Atebe noted.
“I’m tired of the talk, talk, talk,” said Gildersleeve. Perhaps the tax rate is good enough for you, he said to the current mayor, “but not for us.” He said he would work with the community to find a solution.
Williamson said he would do what the community wants. He believes there is a lack of communication from municipal hall and that a revamped website that offers information to citizens would help.
“We need more public meetings to find out what people want,” he said.
Each candidate was asked what they would do to create an open and transparent government.
“This is a major theme. There are too many in-camera meetings,” said Gildersleeve. “We need meaningful dialogue with citizens. We need to know what council is up to. The respect is not there. We need a more collaborative approach.”
Williamson reiterated the need to hear directly from residents, and that for those
who are too nervous to appear as a delegation or pose queries at question period at council meetings, an improved website where comments could be submitted would be useful.
Adlem opined that many of the items discussed in-camera by the current council perhaps did not meet the standard for removing them from the public meeting.
“I’m fully prepared to have open and honest government,” and that only issues relating to legal, land and labour should be heard in-camera.
Atebe defended council, stating all closed meetings are governed by the Community Charter and that if any rules were broken, the provincial ombudsman would step in.
“Every [in-camera] issue has met the requirements,” said Atebe.
Gildersleeve said more information should be gathered for taxpayers before public hearings so that everyone understands the issue. The information is not being shared, he alleged.
The panel was asked whether they would maintain council’s April 4 refusal to enter into a public-private partnership (P3) for a new water system, and what were their personal position on P3s.
Adlem said he would look at every possible alternative and make the best decision for the district while ensuring the plan would be cost-effective for taxpayers. He noted that if Abbotsford votes Saturday to pursue a P3 option, Mission will have to find a way to work with them.
Council made a decision not to get involved in a P3 after “listening to the community,” said Atebe. “I think Abbotsford jumped the gun. I don’t believe water should be in the hands of the private sector.”
Atebe said he has written to the prime minister requesting the federal government revert to the pre-P3 way of funding infrastructure projects, such as new water systems, on a three-way, one-third cost sharing basis between all three levels of government.
“My how things have changed,” said Gildersleeve, saying Atebe was one of three members of council who voted to move forward with the P3 discussion.
Even after listening to residents who “vociferously” spoke against a P3 plan, Atebe still voted for it, Gildersleeve continued.
On rebuttal, Atebe said he voted in favour of the recommendation so that the district could get more information about P3s, and that after Abbotsford decided to move ahead with that model, he had a responsibility to re-examine the issue “for the good of the community.”
Williamson asked whether anyone present would look a privately run, for-profit police force. Some things just don’t work when corporations run them, he stated. Some public services, such as water, should be run by an entity such as a Crown corporation.