The Mountaineer - Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada
© 2007 The Mountaineer Publishing Company Limited.


Meet the Candidates - Town of Rocky Mountain House Town Council

Editor’s note: There are ten people vying for six positions on Rocky Mountain House Town Council. Only one, Jason Alderson, is running for re-election.
Randy Brown, Scott Collinson, Jennifer Courtis, Merrin Fraser, Georgia Howard, James Kult, Kirby Muyres, Michelle Narang and Leonard Phillips will fill out the rest of the ballot.
Polls will open on Monday, Oct. 16 at 10 a.m.

 

Jason Alderson

"Making no decision is a bad decision. By putting something off because it’s easier than dealing with something in the moment – that is a cop-out."

Jason Alderson is a manager, entrepreneur and dad. He was elected to the current council in the 2016 byelection.
Alderson is the manager of the Co-op liquor store, as well as owning a healthy vending machine company and a mentoring company.
“I hope everybody’s running for the right reason, and the right reason is that they care about the town,” he said. “I don’t think there is any one answer to anything. If somebody says they have all the answers then you have to run the other way. If they have all the answers already they’re done growing and they’re done learning and that’s a problem.”

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“For one, we need to focus on a joint development area. Whether that means the north development area or not I don’t know, but certainly a joint development area. That goes above and beyond what the new Municipal Government Act is asking. It’s asking municipalities to start new partnerships with each other. We’ve already gone beyond that with a baby step, our Stronger Together Agreement. This would just be a bigger step if we could do things jointly, and joint taxation. What it is a bigger step towards is actually potentially in the future a specialized area between town and county. That’s a possibility in the future and this would be a first major step. That’s something we have to seriously look at as a big budget item.”
“Another thing I think we need to focus on, especially being a resident of Creekside – we need to spend some money on a second entrance. I don’t know if that’s solely on us or the development, but we need to work towards a second entrance/exit for safety reasons. Being that we’re one of the highest-taxed areas in town I would like to see us have a sidewalk connected to the rest of Rocky. We’re taxed like we have one.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“It’s one that actually was voted down before, but it deals with openness or transparency. We need to look into doing live-streaming. Whether it’s real or not, there’s certainly a perceived notion that there’s no transparency and I think that needs to be alleviated, needs to be dealt with. A great way of dealing with it is doing live-streaming of the council, and that should be as soon as possible.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“I believe that anything that red tapes what we do and delays something unnecessarily from happening, any decisions being made. We do it to ourselves. When council feels they need all the answers before moving forward, before doing anything, I believe they’ve got it wrong. I believe council is there to make decisions for sure, but they’re there to provide a vision and a direction to administration and it’s administration’s job to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and find out all the specifics of how we can move forward… When we keep delaying things because everything has to be perfect, nothing would ever get done. Nothing in business would ever get done that way.”
“Making no decision is a bad decision. By putting something off because it’s easier than dealing with something in the moment – that is a cop-out and I absolutely believe that’s a bad decision.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“The focus on tourism. I don’t know why, for as old as Rocky is, it’s taken so long to put a strong focus on tourism, but I’m glad that this particular council has put a focus on that area. Rocky has so much potential and it’s untapped. It’s a hidden gem. You just have to look at Canmore and say, ‘why can Canmore have that? Why can’t Rocky have that? We can have that we just need to start focusing on it. There’s a lot of room for growth in the tourism industry.”

Randy Brown

"I look at Main Street now and I see the possibilities 20 years down the road…"

Randy Brown had a 25-year career as a search and rescue technician.
“Living from one end of the country to the other you end up with a pretty good grasp of how [people] think and how they deal with things. How we think in Alberta is considerably different than they do in B.C. I’ve gained an understanding of how things can be different when it comes to the same topic,” he said.
Since retiring, he has worked as an arena operator in several municipalities.
“I learned to be a leader, I learned to think on my feet. I consider myself approachable, and a lot of that comes from the military.”
He is seeking his first term on council.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“As one of six prospectives [councillors] I don’t know what the big budget items are, but some of the questions that will have to be asked are what is it competing with and what benefit does it have for the town? The whole idea of spending money so often receives rubber stamps when it needs to be investigated further. Without knowing what the projects are, what the choices are, and what the town thinks of it … people in town have to have an understanding of what their money is being used for. I’m not wholly committed to the thought that we’ve been doing things right in terms of communicating with the town.
“I don’t have an axe to grind with the town – I left less than satisfied with the ways things turned out with the new arena, and so when I look at the money that was spent on that, the cost overruns, and that type of thing, I would be very hesitant to say anything should be funded at this point until we’re happy with what the citizens have decided what they want and what they need. The best example I have with that is the rink.
“Should we have gotten a new facility? I didn’t think so at the time, but I’ve gone from this end to that end.”

Describe both a good and bad decision made by the previous council.
“I think a bad decision that I think really strikes home with a lot of citizens is also tied to a good decision. To do Main Street was a good decision. How they did it turned out to be a bad decision. When you’re spending $16,000 on lampposts, is that the best use of your funds? I think there are some pretty nice looking lampposts out there – not that I have a fetish for lampposts – but there are some really nice looking lampposts that didn’t need to cost $16,000.
“I look at Main Street now and I see the possibilities 20 years down the road when the trees take shape and have grown somewhat. But there’s gaps in railings and stuff like that I just scratch my head – is it complete or is it not complete?”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“The first thing the new council is going to have to address very promptly is hiring a new CAO. I don’t know the policy about hiring CAOs but I would be reading it very carefully to make sure they get the CAO they wanted. I believe town management has a role to play in all the problems we’ve had in the town. Every candidate has a list of those and whether they are all encompassing remains to be seen. The new CAO has to understand the situation we’re in now and acknowledge that it exists before we can move forward. The loss of 1,000 residents, the extremely high turnaround rate of full-time employees in the town – 60 employees since the time I was employed and I started in 2009 – is excessive and that, among other things, leads first and foremost to leadership. Our CAO needs to be scrutinized and from that point on how well a prospective CAO is scrutinized and how well they are vetted – him or her – is critical.

 

Jennifer Courtis

"…staff accountability and [the town’s] safety program are a
huge concern."

Jennifer Courtis was raised in Rocky Mountain House, and has four children of her own. She currently works as the oilfield safety manager for Pidherney’s, handling all of the safety concerns and incidents that arise.
In the past, Courtis spent three years working for Parkland County in the public works department. She worked her way up to the manager of the waste transfer stations around Stony Plain and Spruce Grove.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“At this point in time with the economy, I think that the spray park should not break ground. I can’t think of anything else; before it would have been the arena.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“I think that the policy behind the staff accountability and their safety program are a huge concern. You’ll see them around town on a corner, blind on one side and they don’t have anyone directing traffic. Their policies really aren’t put in place.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“[The town] hasn’t pushed forward for what it should have for a recycling program. Currently, unless you have a vehicle you can’t access it, and that is leaving so many people without the opportunity. Not everybody has a vehicle, like the seniors in the community.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“The waste authority’s automatic pickup machine is more effective [than other methods].”

Scott Collinson

"As a businessman I don’t sit back in my chair and wait for things to come to me. I don’t wait for them to happen. If I did, I wouldn’t be in business."

Scott Collinson owns Red Tail Contracting and has been in business for 25 years.
“I know what it’s like to hit the high times and excel in those times, and on the flipside of that coin I know what it’s like to see the low times, to tighten your belt, knuckle down and make the hard choices for survival. Right now, that’s what we’re in,” he said. “As a businessman I don’t sit back in my chair and wait for things to come to me. I don’t wait for them to happen. If I did, I wouldn’t be in business.”
Collinson coaches minor football and is seeking his first term on council.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“That’s a really good question. What we need to be doing right now is just tightening our belts. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to cancel big budget items, but scale them back to a reasonable scale. To put it this way: during our slow times in my business I’m not sending my wife out to buy a brand new BMW. In the case of the town here, we’re not going to send the people in town to go out and put up a big ag complex and throw the expense at the citizens. It just isn’t going to work like that. But in the good times, when things pick up, definitely. Without an increase in population right now, we can’t increase our spending.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“Not off the top of my head; not right now, not until I get my feet wet. Ask me in a month after I get in there.”
Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“The facelift on the arena isn’t necessarily a bad decision; how it was approached is a bad decision. When you have cost overruns on the arena, those cost overruns should fall back on the engineers who designed it, not on the town. There should be clauses put in there for that.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“A good decision was the arena, absolutely, but how it was handled was not 100 per cent good.
“I think it’s beautiful, an amazing thing, a showpiece for the town. But I’ll go right back to the cost overrun thing. That shouldn’t be happening, not in business. There’s a thing called professional insurance that doctors have, lawyers have and engineers have.”

Merrin Fraser

“I think if you’re looking for more people to settle in Rocky, if you want people to stay in Rocky, you can’t price them out of the market."

Merrin Fraser was born in St. Albert, Alta. She attended the University of Alberta, graduating in 2006. She began her teaching career at Caroline School, and taught at other schools in central Alberta. She is curerently raising her family and manages the social media accounts for the Rocky Co-op.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“I’m not sure if it’s a single item that I’m really focused on, but we shouldn’t be afraid to invest in the future. Personally I would like to see something done with the Lou Soppit Centre so that there is something more accessible for our arts community. I know that we have concerts, and we have plays, and we have dance troupes and separate drama groups in town. So there are a lot of arts community, a lot of music community and bands. There are a lot of people who are artistic and it’s not a really good venue for them to affordably put their art out there so it would be nice to see that happen.
“I would like to see a lot of the big budget items, buildings-wise, become dual use facilities. I believe it’s Olds that has offices on the top floor for the town employees, and then the theatre is on the bottom floor. It cuts down on the administrative costs and the maintenance. So it’s not even that the big budget item needs to happen, we just need to think more creatively about how it’s going to work.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“I think we need to look at the zoning for houses because I think that a lot of people have been pushed out of the opportunity to ever purchase or own their own home. It’s kind of a snowball effect with rising house prices and rising salaries so we ended up with a large boom and developers built a lot of large houses whose average cost is $400,000, and that’s out of reach for a lot of people. I think it’s like 80 per cent of the population who will never be able to afford a $400,000 house, so I’ve been looking at projects all over and it’s mainly in Detroit, but I was really excited about the tiny house movement. I was looking at the zoning and currently the minimum amount of house that you’re allowed to have is 1,000 square feet, and the maximum number of dwellings you can have on a property is controlled by the zone. It would be nice to see if there was some way that we could attack the zoning laws that will allow us to put in some of the more affordable options. They’re good for students, they’re good for seniors, they’re good for farmers, they’re good for people who are just starting out and for people that are retiring. They’re really versatile. I think if you’re looking for more people to settle in Rocky, if you want people to stay in Rocky you can’t price them out of the market. If you have a small property where the lot and the house together are $100,000 or under they can pay that off in a decade so that when they’re ready to have kids or buy a bigger house they have a nest egg. You’re setting them up to continuously be home owners as opposed to just saying tough bananas, you should have 20 per cent of $400,000 saved at all times.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“I think that Main Street was an important project. I really love the beautification they’ve done. I think that’s the right direction, really focusing on improving our town, not just for businesses and industrial attractiveness, but also to pay homage to the residential taxpayers who live and breathe and are part of the town. Main Street, to me, was a step in the right direction for livability, and the attractiveness of the town.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“That being said I feel that the way it was rolled out may have not suited everyone, because people felt surprised. So my big concern about how council does things is not necessarily the decisions they may make, it’s the lack of communication with the community. I feel that they might do better if they had somebody monitoring social media, and if their social media presence was a little more extensive. That way even if you don’t agree with the decision that council makes, you see the research and the discussion and you can feel like you participated. Of course you can attend council meetings, but not everybody can, so what I would like to see, and what I think would do council a lot of credit, is more transparency and more attempted communication with the people of Rocky. Because, what I’ve found is that if you provide people with the information and explain the information as you see it and provide the choices, most of them will agree with you. Most of them will say that, yes that makes sense, looking at all the information that was a reasonable decision even if they don’t agree with it. They won’t think that there are wild decisions being made in some back room without reading anything.
“So I think that council is doing a really good job, they just need to communicate how they’re thinking as well. I think Main Street is a really perfect example of that, it’s a fantastic project, it’s a project for the people and I think it could have been super positive—more positive than it’s been already—if people felt more communicated with.”

Georgia Howard

"The Town of Rocky needs strong-minded and strong-willed people to lead it in a good direction."

Georgia Howard was born and raised in Rocky, and has worked as a professional artist and icemaker. This is her first time running for council.
“We’re at a critical point – new mayor, new CAO,” she said. “Our town has been [losing] citizens the last four years and we need some growth.
“The Town of Rocky needs strong-minded and strong-willed people to lead it in a good direction.”

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“Right now, yes. What shouldn’t be funding. I’m probably going to be hated – but the spray park. Not so much not funded, but could we do something better? Could it be in a better location? Ecologically, spray parks are horrible. The water is treated, goes into the gutter, there’s no recycling the water. The spray mechanics themselves are continuously down in any of the communities I’ve worked in anyways and it’s a big pile of money that only gets used three months of the year. If you want to have a park for children of all ages, with a water feature, not a spray park. And if it has to be a spray park has anybody looked at having it joined with the pool?”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“I would say best work practices and safety. Our town has an extremely high WCB rating. It’s unfortunate for the folks who have been injured. Either they haven’t been trained properly or they’ve been hired without proper training, whatever the reason it’s not acceptable that our WCB rating is as high as it is, and our safe practices need to be looked at immediately.”

Describe a good decision and a bad decision made by the previous council.
“It’s kind of part and parcel the same. I love the fact that Main Street was upgraded; I love the fact that the rec centre had some money thrown at it. The downside is the functionality of both. The functionality of Main Street went from one incline plane to tiered systems with multiple stairs that shop keepers have to take care of. It just doesn’t make sense. With the rec facility there is so much space that is not user-friendly. For instance, it has an enormous foyer which is beautiful and grand, but there are two toilets for women and one toilet for men and one urinal, so it’s not functional. You have an expanded bar in the curling rink, which has one toilet, one urinal for men and two toilets for women. It’s not functional. If it had been just planned slightly differently – and it could still be revamped, but who wants to revamp a brand new facility?”

 

Jim Kult

"The big thing we’re looking at in the next few months is picking a town administrator. That’s a huge budgetary item and it’s critical that we pick the right person for the job."

Jim Kult has lived in Rocky for the last nine years, and in the surrounding county for most of his life. He has a business education and a wide array of experience to draw from. His time with the oil and gas industry and the municipal planning commission have given him the ability to direct and navigate administrative duties.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“The big thing we’re looking at in the next few months is picking a town administrator. That’s a huge budgetary item and it’s critical that we pick the right person for the job and not just suffice with anyone that happens to come along. There are some other big items that are coming along; we have to get our specs with the waste water management system up to par, and we might have to do a little thinking out of the box to make that happen in a cost-effective way.
“Of course, we do have aging infrastructure and will be needing to put a little bit aside in reserve to do capital replacement.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“Definitely the off-site levies will need attention, that’s critical. Also the intermunicipal development plan review needs to be completed.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“I don’t really think it’s fair, with the benefit of hindsight, to knock people too hard. I definitely might have made some different decisions had I had a vote in the matter, but I think that a little bit more effective public consultation might help to make better decisions in the future. I think we can learn from the mistakes of past people and not repeat them.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“A good decision I believe was to work in a collaborative fashion with the surrounding county. Basically, we’re joined at the hip and we need to work together. They need us and we need them and there’s no getting around that. The county people would like the amenities that the town provides and there are businesses that do need a town atmosphere, and there are other businesses that thrive better in a more rural area because they aren’t suited to an urban environment. But they still contribute to the community, so we have an interest in both what happens in the county and in town. It’s a case of deciding what’s going to happen best where and negotiating how we are going to actually place businesses and people and make it work for everyone.”

 

Kirby Muyres

"I’m just trying to see and do what the people want."

Kirby Muyres believes that listening and learning what other people want is a qualification for council candidacy. He has no experience with politics, but he has been working in this area and listening to people’s suggestions of what they want and don’t want.
“I just thought that maybe this was a time for somebody like me, who doesn’t know a whole lot about it but is willing to get into it and learn about it, and try to get what the people want,” said Muyres.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“I think that’s really up to the people of Rocky Mountain House. For example, the spray park; personally I think it’s a good idea. There’s other issues that have to be looked after too, obviously. Taxes: nobody is in agreement with overpaying for taxes, I mean that’s another issue that needs to be looked after.
“Another big ticket item would be tourism, bringing in tourism. What can we do to better that? Bringing in businesses, what can we do to improve that and bring in those people to the county.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“That’s a pretty wide question, I mean there’s a lot of things. Can they all be fixed? No I don’t think so, but we certainly can try. Number one issue? To me they’re all equal.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“Main Street. There are a lot of people who are not happy with Main Street. Yeah the idea was great but I don’t think there was enough thought put into that. To me and what I’m hearing out there is that Main Street is not very accessible to the pedestrian. To me and other people, I mean it looks great, but it’s made it more difficult in other ways for people to get to these businesses to do their shopping.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“As the saying goes, everybody remembers the bad things and nobody remembers the good things. Unfortunately, right now I’m in that position. Right off hand, I can’t think of anything. My mind is more tuned in to the things that we ‘shoulda coulda woulda’ and I think with that there were a lot of decisions that were made that townspeople definitely did not agree with.
“I’m not going into this to change the world but change Rocky Mountain House, I’m just trying to see and do what the people want.”

Michelle Narang

"It’s not enough to say that [the information] has been posted on the internet or the webpage. We need to, as a council, be actively engaging with constituents in a manner that is going to best reach them."

Michelle Narang has lived in and around Rocky Mountain House since 1998. She has a Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies and native North America. She is the executive director of the West Country Family Services Association, managing a $1.7 million budget and is responsible for ensuring that it is used properly.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“That’s a difficult question, because we need to look at what infrastructure is in place and look 20, 40, 50 years down the road and see what needs to be done, so that when we do start to grow our infrastructure can support that.
I know that there are issues in town and I don’t have all the information about that, and I don’t think I should have all the answers, but I think that making sure that our town is prepared for growth is probably one of the biggest things right now.”
Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“Well I don’t know about policy, but we need to get a really solid CAO in place, I think that will be the first order of business. Also, looking at our partnership with the county and what’s going to be happening with the north development.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“You know what; I can’t, to be honest with you. Because, unless you’ve sat down at that table and listened to the information and had the presentation and you’ve weighed all the options of what’s been presented, I don’t think it’s fair to necessarily state ‘this is a bad decision’ because I don’t have all of the information. I think that’s one of the biggest problems [in the town] is that people don’t have all of the information and the successful candidates of this council need to make that information readily accessible. It’s not enough to say that it’s been posted on the internet or the webpage, we need to, as a council, be actively engaging with the constituents in a manner that is going to best reach them. I think we’ve learned that open houses are not necessarily the best way. People don’t want to come out to them. Those are sort of the bad decisions that are being made, with how we’re reaching people and how the town is soliciting information.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“Largely my answer is the same. The last election I’m told I lost votes because I supported the Main Street redevelopment. I’ll still support that decision, it’s beautiful. I’ve hosted events where we’ve brought people from all over Alberta and British Columbia where people were blown away by how beautiful it is. Did it cost too much? Probably. Do we have an asset now that’s going to last past my lifetime and probably past my kids’ lifetime? Probably also. We’re built on a hill, it’s not exactly the easiest place to design or develop. I think that if we can make that decision to at least move forward and do something that’s going to better the community and promote our town and make it more beautiful and attractive I think that’s a good decision.”

 

Len Phillips

"We need to grow our population and our tax base, and we need to grow our tax base through commercial and industrial, that’s where the large dollar amounts come from. Residential typically shouldn’t be the bulk of the tax base, which in Rocky it is, which is one of the reasons why our taxes are a little higher."

Len Phillips has lived in Rocky for more than half of his life. He has experience as the president of the Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Kinsmen Club in the town. He has run both large and small businesses.
“I’ve pretty much run the whole gamut of things that I can do, between non-profit organizations, large organizations and my own businesses, so I think I’m suited to help the town grow and prosper just based on my experience,” he said.

What big budget items do you think should or should not be funded and why?
“Well, basically one of the things needed in the town is land. Commercial, residential and industrial land is non-existent. We need to develop land, and if the developers aren’t going to come and do it for us, then the town has to become the developer in the interim and get things moving until the developers are back on board. That’s one of the biggest things that I want to see happen, is that we get land. We can’t grow our tax base without having land for businesses, houses and industrial to come into. That’s going to be one of the biggest things I want to focus on, is getting more land so that we can grow and prosper.”

Is there a specific municipal policy that you feel needs immediate attention from incoming council?
“I don’t know if there is any specific topic that needs to be addressed; obviously I just addressed one of them. We need to grow our population and our tax base, and we need to grow our tax base through commercial and industrial, that’s where the large dollar amounts come from. Residential typically shouldn’t be the bulk of the tax base, which in Rocky it is, which is one of the reasons why our taxes are a little higher.
“Definitely balanced budgets would be an ideal situation, without having to have the taxes go up to accommodate what we need to fund the town. I want to make Rocky a great place to live.”

Describe what you believe to be a bad decision made by the previous council.
“Without knowing full details behind it, bad decisions in the past would be when developers came to the town wanting to develop and the town wasn’t open for business. That was a sign that was probably put out not in full view, but from a developer’s point of view it wasn’t open for business. That includes things like Walmart, other retailers, developers, commercial and industrial. Rocky just wasn’t open for business and that’s something that I need to address as a councillor so that we can make Rocky open for business . . . so that Rocky can be a destination rather than a black-listed cow town.”

Describe what you believe to be a good decision made by the previous council.
“The town has done lots of good things as well. I know the arena project has had some good and bad things said about it, and maybe some of the ways it was done weren’t quite as popular or community-minded, but the project itself was good for Rocky. We need something for our kids to do, we need places for them to go. We need rooms for various non-profit groups. As much as some of the decisions on how to build it weren’t quite as popular the concept is good. We need facilities like that. We need to have things for people to do where kids can go play. If kids don’t have productive things to do with their time they’ll find non-productive things to do with it. The spray park and things like that. We need to give the residents of Rocky a reason to stay in Rocky, and make the town prosper so they don’t have to go out of town to find amenities.”