City-County Relationship Biggest Win – Heron Says

This story is one of a series focusing on St. Albert council members’ accomplishments and challenges and what their priorities are for the remaining year.
Now in the last year of her second term on council, Coun. Cathy Heron sees several significant accomplishments from council, but also several things left to do.

But this council has done quite a lot, she said, and there is one achievement that in her mind stands out head and shoulders above the rest – developing a positive working relationship with the council from neighbouring Sturgeon County.

“Very shortly after the election in 2013 both councils met. We went out of town and had an all-day retreat,” she said. “I said if I could stand up in front of the Capital Region and say finally St. Albert and Sturgeon County have a working relationship, I would be proud.”

Heron described the relationship prior to 2013 as “horrible,” but said much has changed since then. She said significant progress has been made on not just the relationship, but also several issues of mutual interest like boundary growth and joint servicing.

“I would see that as a huge win in this term,” she said.

In terms of her personal achievements, she cited changes to the utility rate model, work on the Smart City initiative, getting backyard chickens approved and her role in the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

After first being elected to council in 2010, Heron ran in 2013 on a platform that included moving the city’s utilities to a self-sufficient model, where the full cost of operating is reflected in users’ bills rather than the cost being subsidized through property taxes or grant money.

She said while the backyard-hen issue wasn’t big for a lot of residents, she’s nonetheless proud of her role in getting a pilot project approved.

“It’s such a little tiny issue in the city, and it might affect 20-30 people, but it’s 20-30 people I heard and listened to and worked for,” she said.

Heron noted serving on the AUMA board was not something she had set out to do, but after being encouraged by Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes, who is now president of the organization, Heron successfully put her name forward to serve as one of the directors.

“Getting elected to AUMA was a big win for me,” she said. “It’s been an awesome experience.”

But as with any council term, she noted some big challenges over the past three years that only now are starting to be overcome.

Most significantly, Heron said, is the apparent discord caused by some personality conflicts on council.

“This whole term has been plagued by infighting,” she said, noting other councils often have disagreement but aren’t as public about it as St. Albert council appears to be. “We’re getting work done regardless of that, but unfortunately it’s going to be forever this council’s reputation.”

She said the motion she put forward calling for a ministerial inspection of the city, along with changes to the council code of conduct, are ways she has tried to overcome those challenges.

Heron said this council has also struggled with public engagement, spending too much time and effort on doing so many surveys, rather than just making a decision.

“I think this council is wary of making a decision without talking to the public, because the public’s very vocal,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a challenge for us. Is it worth it to spend money on this survey or that survey?”

Looking forward to the next 11 months of this council’s term, Heron said there’s still a lot of work left to do.

Among the many priorities for this council, she said the one that sticks out for her is getting amendments to the residential land-use bylaw completed.

“It doesn’t need to get pushed off for the next election,” she said. “Probably that’s the most important.”

She also spoke of coming to a joint understanding with Sturgeon County about where the boundaries will be in the future and how development will be serviced – something she expected could be finalized before residents go to the polls in October.

Lastly Heron said she wasn’t sure if it could happen this term, but she would like to see progress made on the regional transit initiative, the first phase of which might see Edmonton and St. Albert forming a joint regional commuter transit service.

“That’s going to be a huge focus for me in the next year,” she said.

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