Mayor Colleen Smook reviewed some of the ups and downs of the first half of her term during council’s organizational meeting Nov. 18, when committee chairs and members for the upcoming year were selected.
The highlights mentioned by the mayor included maintaining property tax increases over the first two years of the term at around two per cent and having more than 2,000 responses to the recent community safety strategy survey, which she said indicates that residents of Thompson believe there can be brighter days ahead.
“People that don’t care about a place don’t fill out and answer a survey,” she said, pointing out that the re-establishment of StreetReach North to deal with missing youth and the provincial government funding a sobering centre are also positive developments. She also said that there would be news regarding the proposed sobering centre before the end of the year.
On the downside, the mayor noted that the past few years have seen the city forced to take over operation of the water treatment plant, downloaded onto it by Vale, which has also laid off many workers and unilaterally reduced the amount it pays in lieu of taxes since the beginning of 2018.
“We take it in stride and we continue the work,” she said.
The mayor also briefly mentioned a 2018 video that recently surfaced showing one of the city’s community safety officers punching an Indigenous woman in the RCMP detachment after she hit him with her belt while being detained for intoxication.
“[Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak] Grand Chief [Garrison] Settee, myself, our staff and MKO staff have sat down and working together to deal with this in a timely manner,” she said.
Smook extended an olive brach to perennial council outsider Coun. Duncan Wong by naming him the deputy mayor for the upcoming year. Wong wasn’t appointed to chair any committees at the 2019 organizational meeting, but now he is automatically the chair of the legislative and finance committee.
“I have fellow councillors that are always willing to step up to the plate,” said Smook, admitting that she has questioned whether she has really achieved her goal of being inclusive. “There’s no hesitation, but what about the councillors that don’t always step up? Why is that? I think that is one of my jobs is to find out so that we are all pulling our weight.”
Other councillors Smook appointed as committee chairs included Coun. Brian Lundmark (human resources], Coun. Kathy Valentino (public works and infrastructure]) and Coun. Andre Proulx (development review). Coun. Braden McMurdo, winner of an October byelection to replace the late Judy Kolada, was selected to head the recreation and community services committee.
“This is going to a busy and a big committee and I am giving it to a new councillor today who will need lots of support from us all,” said the mayor.
Councillors Earl Colbourne, Jeff Fountain and Les Ellsworth were not chosen to chair any committees, but Fountain was picked by his colleagues as a member of the development review committee. Ellsworth, who was deputy mayor and head of two committees for the past year, as well as a member of a third committee, twice declined nominations from his fellow councillors. Colbourne wasn’t nominated as a member for any of the committees.
Other committee members selected by fellow councillors included Lundmark and Valentino for the legislative and finance committee, McMurdo for the human resources committee, and Valentino for the recreation and community services committee. Proulx, Fountain and Valentino were selected to serve on the board of revision, with Fountain acting as chair.
The number of committees was recently reduced by council from eight to five. The former legislative and intergovernmental affairs and finance and administration committees were amalgamated into the legislative and finance committee, while the public safety committee was merged into the recreation and community services committee and the communications committee discontinued.
Council is beginning the process of developing a budget for the next fiscal year starting Nov. 19, Smook said.
“We will need input for this year’s budget,” said the mayor. “It is going to be another hard budget.”