10.07.2013

10 Questions: Strathcona County Ward 5 Candidate Clinton Alexander

* Part of a 10 Questions series with local candidates


1.      The number one issue facing Strathcona county:

Taxes and Spending.  As Elected Officials we are entrusted with making decisions with your money.  While this issue may not be top of mind for everyone today it certainly is the number one issue we must deal with.  All of the other issues I hear about in the County are localized to certain areas. This does not mean they are not important.  The mature neighbourhoods strategy is very important to those it affects and the growth issues facing the County are very important to Ward 5 specifically. 

We overtax and overspend.  Our local government is too big. We waste millions of dollars on projects because we don't “do it right the first time.”  Our budgeting system is the same antiquated system we have been using for twenty plus years.  We have faced large percentage tax increases in recent years that far outweigh inflation and cost of living increases.  We have one of the highest (possibly the highest) ratio of employees per residents in Alberta, yet last year we budgeted for more than two and a half times the number of new employees the population increase supported. 

We collect a large portion of industrial tax revenue and my argument is there should be a noticeable benefit to us.  We should pay lower taxes or receive better services.  I remember a little more than ten years ago this was very evident.  Today, I argue it is not as evident.  It is eroding.  And we must change the trend.  Our taxes are the same as Edmonton.  Our services are a little better but we spend $300 more per resident that other municipalities.  Do we get this extra benefit? I believe no.

In the last year and a half I have spent a great deal of time on this issue.  I have some wins.  For example, the 2013 budget was the first year Strathcona County took some of the surplus funds and did not increase taxes like previous years.  In fact, 2013 was the lowest overall tax increase (property, library, heartland housing, and education) at 1.0% average.  I have stated we can do the same or better in 2014.  We have also formed a finance committee to involve members of the public, and are working quickly to create a new budgeting system based on how much it will cost to get the job done, and not on how much more can we get from Council this year as opposed to last.

It is time we, as your local government, realize when we make decisions we are making the decisions with your money, not ours.  We must do better and regain the advantage we had not too many years ago.  If we can do this today, and not wait until it is too late, then we will maintain our status as one of the top municipalities in Canada for a very long time.  If we ignore the issue then our spending will catch up to us and we will start facing very difficult decisions if we want to continue receiving the services we have become used to receiving.  If we are not smart about it the money to do all the things we wish to do will simply not be there and our taxes will continue to increase at a high rate.


2.     Is there a way to balance infrastructure maintenance and overall county growth without debt?

Yes. See the answer to number one.  We must do a far better job using our money for our future needs.  I believe communities need smart growth in order to be sustainable.  Over the last few years we have seen a decrease in the proportion of industrial to residential taxes collected.  As we rely more on residential taxes to support our needs taxes will increase.  We should focus on investing more dollars in our future infrastructure needs.  This includes building new infrastructure and maintaining and repairing existing infrastructure.  While some debt is ok we have a distinct advantage in Strathcona County in that we receive over 60% of tax revenue from business and industry property tax.  Rather than spend all of this money on operations we must put some of it to infrastructure.  I believe most people would be surprised how much money we could save if we paid attention to it and this would take a lot of pressure away from future debt and infrastructure needs.

3.     What is your take on the Sherwood Park hospital issue? 

The hospital is a provincial issue, however I believe we should have a hospital in a community of our size.  The building is there and will go underutilized until a hospital is completed.  If you asked me if I thought there was a chance of this happening I would suggest yes.  Perhaps not in the short term but certainly in the long term there is a good possibility.  In the meantime our local government can control our relationship with the province and this should be a respectful, yet demanding one.  We must respect the province is large, yet we must stand up for the fact our municipality is one of the largest in our province. I do believe we are doing a much better job of building our relationship with the province in recent months and it will be important to keep this trend.

4.     Transparency is a buzzword for this election.  How will you contribute to an open government?

I support transparency.  I have brought up transparency for priority funds, transparency for tenders and contracts, and transparency for the entire budgeting process.  I question the need for many of our in-camera topics and will continue to do so.
Transparency is not only a buzz-word in Strathcona County, it is a trend in all levels of municipal government.  It is very important we stay on top of the trends and I believe we are.

5.     You are running for re-election.  What accomplishments can you show the voters of Ward 5?  What’s in progress?

I am going to copy an unedited email response to a similar question.

I put the reasonable question to Clinton Alexander (running for Ward 5 Councilor) and his response was quick, succinct and comprehensive.
He's got my vote.

Barry #####

----- Original Message -----
To: Barry #####
Sent: Sunday, September 29, 2013 9:44 AM
Subject: Re: Please advise your top five, most creative and valuable accomplishments in office to date

Barry,

Thank you for your email. Here is my response. 

1. Taxes. 2013 saw the lowest overall tax increase in recent years. My best contribution to this was that this is the first time the County has taken surplus dollars from the prior year and used the surplus dollars towards reducing the tax burden in the current year. I brought this idea forward and worked hard at convincing enough of council to accomplish this. Our administration did not want to do it but I am tired of huge tax increases and huge surpluses. 

2. The changing of staff at the top level. While I cannot take credit for hiring a new Chief Administrative Officer I will take a lot of the credit for removing a senior executive. Back when Bob Weller was the councilor for the area he identified this senior executive as part of the problem. No one could see this until I was elected and showed council why he needed to go. Ten years later he is gone and the County organizational culture has changed. While it takes a long time to change culture, and change is badly needed, removing this senior executive was the first step. 

3. Council has regained control of the governance of the organization. When I was elected a little over a year ago it was clear to me the senior administration controlled council by limiting the amount of information shared with council. For organizations to run effectively this cannot happen. If council is to make effective decisions than council must be provided with as much information as possible to make the decision. It is the job of the administration to provide the information. From the moment I took office I saw this was not happening. I demanded that information come to council. The tail was clearly wagging the dog by limiting and providing misleading information this guiding council decisions. I changed that. The tail doesn't wag the dog any more. This council has taken back control. While there is a long way to go the process has started. Before I got there it had not. This is not a coincidence. 

4. I will talk about a drainage issue on Range road 213. I was able to fix the problem for a few residents. The problem had been ongoing for years. There was so much water the residents could not grow hay to feed their animals. Animals were getting sick. It was bad. county staff ignored the residents, provided lazy excuses and blamed the provincial government for not fixing the problem. I saw right through that, demanded accountability from out staff, called my contacts in Alberta environment and a long story short was able to bring everyone together, and the file that had been open for years is now fixed. This would not be significant except that I have done this with many files that have been open for years. I get results. It is that simple. County staff have learned it is easier to work with me to solutions as opposed to ignoring me like they seem to do to so many other residents and other Councilors. 

5. Coffee service at County Hall for Council. Again a small step. But I have made similar changes all over. When I got to Council we used to order catered coffee and snacks during council meetings. The coffee was about $22 a pot and we would have two or three even though only a few on Council drank coffee. We would order snacks at a similar high cost, most of which would go untouched. I suggested a single serve coffee machine and no more snacks. Both were implemented saving a few dollars and no one on council has complained at all. While small, the message is simple - your tax dollars are not our money and we must do everything we can to ensure every last dollar is spent wisely. 

Barry, I chose some very large accomplishments and a couple minor ones to share with you. I am not in there on Council collecting a pay cheque and showing up to photo opportunities. I am working hard trying to turn the County into the leader of how municipalities should be run. Somewhere in the last ten years we have some right of entitlement instilled in the culture of our organization. We do not respect residents and we do not treat your money as if it is yours. I am going to change that and I am not scared of rolling up my sleeves and making tough decisions in order to do so. 

Please feel free to share this email with others. 

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. 

Regards,

Clinton Alexander
Sent from my mobile device. 

On Sep 28, 2013, at 6:58 PM, "Barry #####" wrote:

Hello Clinton,

Am seeking a bit more information re: the Ward 5 candidates prior to the Oct. 21 vote.
Have reviewed your website and would like to know what have been your top five, most creative and valuable accomplishments (not future goals nor mere contributions to group efforts but your own, personal results)
that you have personally made during your term in office to date.

Thank you.

Barry #######
Ward 5 Voter


6.     Who was your first political influence/mentor?

I used to talk to Steve West in my store when he was on his way home.  He would share stories and I was fascinated.  It kept me asking questions and ultimately led me on the path I am today. 

7.     Salad or fries & gravy?

Fries and gravy.  Should be salad.  But I am still not quite wise enough to know better.

8.     The music in your car stereo:

Billy Idol came on the radio yesterday and I was singing at the top of my lungs.  Well, at least until my four year old started complaining.

9.     What historical figure – living or dead - would you love to have a coffee chat with?

Ralph Klein.  I liked his no-nonsense common sense approach to leadership.   


10. Your vision of Strathcona county in 25 years:

In 25 years we are the model of how municipalities should function outside of Edmonton and Calgary.  We are the economic backbone of the province providing leading edge technology in responsible energy generation that supports North America’s energy needs.  The supporting services and spin offs has built a solid foundation in a community that is recognized around the world.  We provide stability for Edmonton and the region.  We are the safest community in the province and the leading place to raise a family.  We are self sustaining, yet valuable to the region as a whole.  Most importantly, we are proud to call Strathcona County home. 

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His Name Was Steven