The problems of the present Grand Forks City Council haunted the applicants for the vacant seat at the Grand Forks All Candidates Forum sponsored by the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce May 17.
Issues of trust, hope for better relationships and concerns over alliances echoed in the questions posed by the public by the more than 60 people in attendance at the Grand Forks Secondary School auditorium.
Many of the present city councilors and Mayor Frank Konrad were present to hear what their future colleagues had to say. Six of the seven candidates attended including Zak Eburne-Stoodley, Cathy Korolek, Ken Johnston, Kyle Piper, Brian Taylor and Bev Tripp. Patrick O’Doherty was not in attendance due to a death in his family.
Voters asked questions about the situation surrounding the termination and rehire of Chief Administrative Officer Doug Allin, how the slag fund is being used and the current political climate in council chambers.
Candidate and former mayor Taylor was put in the spotlight for the ghosts of council past when asked about the situation behind Allin’s termination and rehire.
“Presently we are dealing with a council in Grand Forks that has basically sandbagged behind the scene [discussions]. What will you do to take the sandbags off of city hall so we have a democratic process?” Donald Pharand asked Taylor during question period. “We have members of this community who want transparency, honesty and a fair shake when it comes to city hall…I’ve been insulted by the mayor and I’ve been insulted by councilors and I want to know how the money is being spent in this town.”
“I don’t see city hall as sandbagging anything and they are putting out as much clear information as they are able to put out,” Taylor said. “You know that on the record the termination of Mr. Allin by the previous council has to do with constructive dismissal … there was nothing secret about that. There was no deception. Clearly this continual vilification of the city is not necessary and not constructive.”
After the second question on the topic, Taylor went on to say that the constructive dismissal was to protect the city from an employee with two positive employee evaluations on file.
“The interference by the new elected council would have immediately enacted the constructive dismissal charges,” Taylor said in reference to labour laws. “We would have lost as a city, which would then have cost us more money.”
It was because of the past dramas that many voters and candidates focused on unification and moving forward for the future of city council.
Johnston, a former city councilor who served three consecutive terms, described the current council as “fractured” and feels his years of volunteerism within Grand Forks will help him lead the way to a better team.
“[The present council] has lost staff, they’ve lost volunteers,” said Johnston in his opening remarks. “Fracturing hurts the people and fractures our community. Little gets accomplished and a lot of time gets wasted and a lot of good money goes after bad. What we need is unity.”
When asked what she saw the present council doing right, candidate Korolek said she saw a desire to move forward.
“[Council] needs to start fresh with some new plans,” Korolek said. “They have an attitude of let’s go forward.”
Other topics of concern included downtown parking, improving the situation for small businesses, attracting young families to the area and the need for a community centre.
Johnston said promoting the town and possibly subsidizing new businesses to help them get established could help.
“Not only some incentives for those businesses, but to approach those businesses when they come into town with very professional people at city hall who are going to help these people through this process of getting set up,” Tripp added.
“Trained professionals who know to deal with business people, know how to direct them and get them on track is what we need in this community.”
Korolek, a Grand Forks business owner of 10 years, jumped in to defend city staff.
“I think the city staff do an amazing job,” she said of her experience getting business licensing.
Parking for existing businesses was at the top of candidate Piper’s platform. As a business owner himself, he finds parking his courier vehicle downtown frustrating and would like to see some creative input on how to improve parking downtown.
“I think the downtown of a city should be a one-stop shop and we need to be welcoming to the businesses,” said Piper in answer to a question about businesses. “I know of a business who was going to open downtown but it required parking that business owners were taking up and that’s why one of the storefronts is empty and that’s why I’ve taken it as an important issue.”
Don’t forget to cast your vote on Saturday, May 28 at Grand Forks City Hall between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. For individual campaign platforms, please see pages 3 and 7 of this issue of the Gazette.