Councillors reflect back and look forward

by Sidney Cohen - May 18, 2018

Though the municipal election is still five months away, three city councillors have already entered the race.

Councillors Shauna Morgan, Steve Payne and Julian Morse, all first-time members of the municipal government, have announced their intentions to run for a second term.

Before the campaign moves into full swing, Yellowknifer asked the incumbents to reflect on the last two and half years.

Coun. Steve Payne

What were council’s greatest accomplishments? What could have been done differently? What problems still need solving?

Steve Payne

“Yellowknife is in my blood,” said Payne on Wednesday when asked why residents should elect him to a second term. “People come to me with issues and I bring them forward.”

Payne is a partner at Ragged Ass Barbers and teaches hairdressing at St. Patrick’s High School.

When Payne campaigned for the first time in 2015, he hung around Walmart, Canadian Tire and the Yellowknife Co-op, and “talked to everybody.”

He spoke of his desire to fight homelessness and make day-to-day life in Yellowknife more affordable, he said.

But after winning a seat on council, Payne realized, “those are pretty tough topics to take on.”

Now he understands that getting things done at City Hall is about working as a team.

Despite some public feuding between his colleagues (last fall Mayor Mark Heyck and councillor Niels Konge each accused the other of bullying in a dispute that ended with Konge receiving a public censure) councillors are getting along and respecting each other for the most part, he said.

The most challenging issue council has dealt with over the last few years, he said, has been launching an inquiry into workplace misconduct at the Municipal Enforcement Division.

“It’s been tough, it’s never an easy thing to do and that played on my mind quite a bit,” said Payne. “Trying to maintain a certain amount of people’s privacy – there’s lots of different levels to this – and trying to get it done as professionally as possible,” has been difficult, he added.

Last November, the city’s director of Corporate Services, said property tax increases in the future will be necessary in order to keep city programs and infrastructure in good working order.

“If we’re not looking after one of our major facilities and small issues are allowed to grow we will be facing major problems or even the inability to deliver a certain service,” Sharolynn Woodward told council.

Payne believes the next council will be able to keep any tax increase to a minimum.

“Are we always going to have zero tax increases? No. We adjust our spending,” he said.

Coun.  Shauna Morgan

Shauna Morgan

Morgan doesn’t want to make any promises she can’t keep.

“There’s no use in focusing on just one thing because as a councillor, you have to look at a huge range of issues and be open-minded,” she said on Thursday. “It’s more about the kind of person you’re electing and how they make decisions and how they’re going to approach any problem that comes along.”

Morgan wants to see as much information and hear as many perspectives as she can before she makes a decision.

“When I do make a decision,” she said, “I’m open about what my rationale is and what my values are what led to that.”

Outside of council, Morgan enjoys a wide-ranging professional life.

She is a piano teacher, a member of the Snow Castle building crew, a harvester of forest products and she does facilitation.

During the last election, she pledged to address poverty and homelessness and to make Yellowknife more walkable, bikeable and liveable. She also focused on cost-effective renewable energy sources for the city.

Among council’s accomplishments, Morgan cited the hiring of eight additional firefighters, the roll-out of curbside composting and the wood-pellet boiler system that will heat a number of major city buildings and cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 829 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Morgan’s take on property tax changes is that it is “backwards” to start with a desired percentage and and then, “work the books to reach that conclusion that you start out with.”

“Cost of living is paramount for people…but we also have to meet expectations in terms of providing basic services that people expect, providing infrastructure that people expect at a basic level and maintaining it,” she said.

Morgan has learned a huge amount since entering public office and is running again so that she has more time to put that knowledge into practice.

As a councillor, said Morgan, “You never get bored.”

“I really enjoyed getting to know…our city and getting to meet so many different people from across the city in trying to figure out these different issues together.”

Coun. Julian Morse

Julian Morse

To Morse, filling in a pothole is about more than meeting a basic duty to maintain the roads.

It’s about improving infrastructure and attracting tourists and new residents, he said on Wednesday.

“There’s a wider vision to consider when we look at different (infrastructure) projects in the city and that’s something I want to put a better lens on.”

Morse is particularly proud of the city’s investments in road and sewer improvements.

“It’s resulted in some short-term grumbling, but maintaining the infrastructure of the city is probably our most important task,” he said.

A regulatory specialist with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, Morse is a lifelong Northerner who attended the University of British Columbia and Aurora College.

On Wednesday, Morse said economic development and working toward a sustainable future in the long-term are especially important issues to him.

Though he acknowledges there is still more work to be done, Morse is pleased with steps the city has taken to address homelessness.

Since 2015, the city has helped fund a street outreach van, which gives free rides to people who need them, established the sobering centre and adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

On council, Morse has been the most vocal proponent of bringing a university to Yellowknife, and pushed to get a university feasibility study included in the 2018 budget.

He once said a Northern university is the “single biggest untapped piece of potential that this city has.”

The city has avoided a major property tax hike for the last eight years.

On taxes, Morse believes small, incremental increases over time are necessary, but that decision-makers must ensure they are using resources efficiently.

“That’s just our job,” he said.

Looking ahead, Morse wants to build on the city’s relationships with Indigenous governments and organizations.