Estevan voters will be going to the polls Oct. 24 for the municipal election and for the first time since 2005, they will have the chance to vote for a mayor.
Roy Ludwig, Lynn Chipley and Jim Halladay are all vying to replace outgoing Mayor Gary St. Onge. To help voters get to know their candidates and what they stand for a little better, Mercury co-editor Chad Saxon is conducting an interview with each person.
This week it is current Councillor Lynn Chipley, who is running for mayor after serving six years on council. In this interview, Chipley speaks about her plans for the city and her feelings on the City's operations.
Estevan Mercury: I'll start with the same question I asked Councillor Ludwig; what do you feel is the biggest issue in this election?
Lynn Chipley: If I have to narrow it down to one, I guess it would be infrastructure. Without that being in place, the rest can't happen. All of the other things that we want to see happen, which is more housing, more green spaces, better intersections; that doesn't come without planning and infrastructure. And I think planning and infrastructure go hand in hand, we can't just go barrelling out there building things without knowing how they go together.
EM: Obviously the City has had an (infrastructure) program in place going on for many years. Are you happy with the program that is in place right now or would you like to see something change were you to become mayor?
LC: I would change up the processes we have in place right now. I don't want to say it's the tail wagging the dog, exactly but I think that our management structure has become really comfortable. They have their community plan, they've had traffic studies and they've put it together and they are driving it right now.
Although I absolutely believe that it is management's responsibility to execute the plan, I don't think that council has really taken ownership of it and in the end if it fails, it's not management's responsibility, it's council's responsibility. So I would like to see council take far more ownership earlier in the year in terms of seeing exactly where we are, not overpromising and underdelivering, which I think has been a problem. We do this budget every year and there is always all these carry forwards, and that has been consistent for five years. I think that people would prefer not to hear the excuses; I think they would rather see what is going to be done, done. I think that makes people more skeptical and that is true in any business, if you overpromise and underdeliver you are going to be in trouble.
EM: Do you think that is the reason there is a level of negativity in the community?
LC: We are the best place in the world to be, just ask the world, so I don't know why we don't believe it's the best place to be. That attitude has to change. We have nothing but opportunity here. If you have a heartbeat, you'll find a job. So, there is no reason to be unhappy with (Estevan) because the climate for people to succeed is absolutely there.
So, if we are not perfect in the sense that we haven't got a pathway everywhere yet and we haven't got everything built that everyone would like to see, I think that is typical of any community right now in Saskatchewan that is trying to accommodate growth. Attitude is paramount; if we are not proud of ourselves and really happy with whom we are, it's going to be really hard for people coming in to see it differently than that.
I look at Mayor (Pat) Fiacco and people don't think of Regina the same way they thought of Regina 10 years ago. He decided it was a great place and he was going to make sure that the world knew it was a great place. But people's idea of what Regina is has changed and I would like to see that (here).
EM: Do you think the City has to take a larger role in trying to bring that attitude up?
LC: Yes, absolutely we do. I think we have to partner far better with the (Chamber of Commerce.) We had a really good relationship with the chamber when I came on council six years ago and in all honesty, it has deteriorated. I think a few things happened that were probably miscommunications. There are good people there; we have great people at the City. Looking at all the candidates, regardless of who gets in, it is going to be a very strong council and that relationship needs to be fostered again and everybody has to know who is doing what and why, but if the chamber and ourselves aren't promoting the city then I don't know who will.
And I don't think you should run for this position unless you believe strongly in the people of this city. I came here kicking and screaming 27 years ago and said I wasn't staying, but it's the people that get you and it's what you see people achieving that makes you think, this place is different than a lot of places. It's hard to explain, but if people in Estevan believe in something, they will support it. I'm glad they believe in Spectra Place because it is a fabulous facility, but we have to get them believing in more. I have no doubt this city can be anything it wants to be but it has to have the will to do it.
EM: Do you think the will is there?
LC: It is sporadically. I had a small group of women that were determined that we were going to take drainage ditches and useless spaces downtown and show people that you can take things that don't look like much and turn them into something.
I had a few women that were passionate about doing that and they made a few things happen — a few of the sculptures, different things around the community. That is all that has ever changed things are people. But you have to give them a reason too, and they have to believe it will happen and it took awhile even for the buy-in to Spectra but once people bought in to the whole thing and really believed it was going to happen, there was nothing stopping it. So I think we can make that happen in other aspects of Estevan too.
EM: Similar to a question I asked Councillor Ludwig, there seems to be a thirst for change in the way the City operates. You have been in there for six years, and there is a concern that the longer a person has been in, the more they become part of that status quo and the status quo is going to be maintained. What would you say to voters?
LC: I have always been the black sheep in the family at council and sometimes so have one or two of the other people on council because we don't go with the flow as easily. That isn't because of my gender; I've never been a go-with-the flow type of person.
I don't believe in change for change sake but bureaucracies can be lulled into 'we have always done it this way' very easily and can be resistant to change.
I have been there long enough to see what we do right and there is plenty. I know the leisure services staff and they are doing plenty right with the resources they have. That is where I spend a lot of my time, so I see that.
But where we are doing things wrong, we don't want to admit it and it's just easier because change is hard and because it might upset the odd person or it might mean replacing a person or moving them into something else and that is always a hard thing to do. If we are going to run it like a business, and that is probably the thing that has frustrated me in the last three years, then let's run it like a business and we don't.
The customer has to come first, not the needs of the City. The City has to have rules, you can't build a house that doesn't fit certain parameters, there has to be rules. But what has to be understood is that relationships are the most important thing in business. I can't sell a house to someone if they don't trust me, and I don't think that people can do business with the City if they don't trust the people they are doing business with, and I think there is a certain level of distrust between the business community in Estevan and the City administration, and we have to put an end to that because that is hampering growth.
EM: Could you expand on that? Why is that level of distrust there and what do you think that could be done to fix it.
LC: I don't know exactly. I think that the odd thing about being on council is we only get a limited perspective of what is happening in the day-to-day operations because we are not supposed to be involved in directing people and I don't want to be doing that.
I want to make sure we have the management in place that doesn't generate those kinds of (problems). The person in charge of running the City has to be the voice of council but it also has to be the person that is having a positive influence on our employees.
EM: You said you think there are a few areas where the City doesn't operate well or things that you are not doing well. Could you expand upon that?
LC: I have to understand why we are having such difficulty having people come do business in Estevan. Yes, we want to support local, but our locals are so busy that we don't always fit into their program either. What would it take? We know a big company here that had to bring in most, or a lot of their tradespeople from Alberta and B.C., so there is obviously a lot of people elsewhere that are looking for work. So what can we do to encourage that if we need it just to get work done?
EM: Do you think the city is ready to grow to what everybody wants?
LC: See, that is a big, missing component. I am sure there are people out there who say I wish that Estevan was like it was 20 years ago, nice and small. And there are people that say if we keep growing, we'll get this and we'll get this, and that is true. You start getting the chains and the national things coming in that you don't get if you remain small.
But we really haven't had that conversation and that is one thing I would like to see is far more public engagement in terms of talking to people and seeing what they really want the city to turn into. Would they be happy at 15,000 or do we aspire to be 30 or 50,000. It can happen, but you have to want it to happen. There has to be that will.
EM: What experiences do you take from your six years on council, both good and bad, to possibly becoming the mayor?
LC: On the good, I am fortunate to prior to being on this, and while being on this, I have sat on some provincial boards and the Access Communications corporate board for the same length of time.
It has been interesting to parallel those six, seven years. That is where I have noticed the disconnect; there is very specific planning processes in place with a corporate entity and they are responsible to the shareholders, which to me is like the citizens. There are plans and targets and goals and there are accountabilities at the end of the year, and if you don't reach them, somebody's head is going to roll, it's very stringent that way. I don't believe anything less should happen at the City. I think we have become a little lackadaisical that way.
On the good side, that experience with Access and the experience I have already had means you have to listen to everybody, and at the end of the day, there is seven people there, there is going to be a vote and you have to live with the decision.
In both instances there is always lots of debate. I would like to take the debate out of in committee and into the public. There is very little top-secret stuff that really needs to happen in chambers and somehow we have been lulled into believing we have to have those conversations before we get to the public. I don't think the public wants us to and I don't think that is particularly transparent.
EM: If you were to become mayor, what is your vision of Estevan after the four years?
LC: My vision is that when people drive in they say 'this doesn't look like a bad little place.' That and for the people who are here, no matter how they are getting to work, whether they are driving or they are riding a bike or they are walking, that they can get their safely.
I am really concerned about the speed with which we are getting our city connected, which is why (my campaign) is vibrant, safe, connected. The connected part is about two things: connecting with each other again because I think we have let some relationships go by the wayside that we have to rebuild.
The other thing is connecting us to each other physically. That Kensington thing, whether it was an unintended consequence of development to have completely missed pedestrian access through there … it was missed so we have to deal with it.
So four years from now, it should be a better looking city, that is growing, that is doing things that encourage outside development to come here and build housing for us and hopefully some provincial incentive plans and be connected.
And we are getting prettier, I don't care what anybody says, they can't tell we're not, even when the dustball blows through. I don't know how exactly we are going to pave every street in Estevan, but if I had a goal it would be that every street in the city would be paved one way or another.