By Tim Kalinowski on September 24, 2021.
Incumbent city council candidate Belinda Crowson says she and her council colleagues have risen to meet the test of leadership over the past four years in the face of some very challenging times.
“We did a lot of things in (my) first term,” she states. “A lot of things that were necessary after a lot of years. Lethbridge became very complacent. We had tax hike after tax hike after tax hike. But we were doing the same thing, and expecting different results. We kept putting things into the same places.
“We (this term) did a lot of changes. When you look at the operational review; that’s the first time in 40 years that the City has done a full operational review of its services. We brought in a city manager who was not from within the system after 30-plus years. Again, change was needed because we need new ideas and new ways of doing things.”
Crowson also spearheaded, alongside Coun. Jeffrey Coffman, policies which fundamentally changed the way city council does governance with the establishment of the various Standing Policy Committees and a new process for broader, more in-depth public engagement.
“It actually gives council the information and the time to make better decisions,” she states. “But even more important than how it changes council, it actually puts the public into a much stronger place.”
She and Coffman also championed introducing a plebiscite on potentially bringing in a Ward system for the City of Lethbridge which will appear on next month’s ballot.
“Whatever happens it’s going to force community conversations,” she says. “It’s going to force council to talk to the public. It’s going to force residents to talk to each other. People need to know the decisions made in city hall have long-lasting effects on them, their kids, and their grandkids. So be part of the conversations, and hopefully this will be the start of better conversations.”
Crowson says she is particularly proud of the way everyone in the city rose to the challenge of COVID-19 by supporting practical public health measures and by helping those in need during the pandemic.
“I am so amazed by what was going on behind the scenes,” she says. “There was leadership on so many levels in this community and, yes, council was definitely part of that. We kept going ahead. We re-created committees. We moved things along. Leadership is about being seen, and being there, and being part of it … I know I was inspired by the community and I hope we also inspired the community with what council did.”
Crowson led the City’s Economic Recovery Task Force as chair. She is proud of the fact the Task Force did not just tackle the immediate challenges of COVID facing local businesses, but also used those conversations as a means to set a course for longer-term prosperity.
“We tried whatever mechanisms and levers we had to try to help and support people as best as possible,” Crowson explains. “And that has to be ongoing.
“I am (also) impressed with how many businesses are actually starting up right now,” she adds. “How people are seeing this as an opportunity and trying new ideas. While we have to support the people who need it during this time, we also have to help the people who are actually going to help transform us and build (new) things.”
Crowson says leadership isn’t about always being popular with everyone, but about doing the best you can for your community with the information you have. She cites as an example the divisive supervised consumption site issue.Â
“One of the things people have to realize is a supervised consumption site, even if it is in our community, is a health facility,” Crowson explains. “It has to be approved by Health Canada, and in this case the one we had was funded by Alberta Health. They chose to get an outside operator, ARCHES. The decision was a provincial decision about who operated the facility. And we still have a supervised consumption site in Lethbridge, because under the Charter once one is opened they stay. And the province has kept it. Even though it is a mobile site, there is a supervised consumption site in Lethbridge because it is considered a health facility. They (the province) recognizes there is a need, and it’s a provincial decision to keep it operating.”
“There were issues around that (SCS) that caused problems for business owners and residents, and are still continuing to cause problems,” she acknowledges. “And we are continuing to try to deal with that (as a council) to the best of our ability.”
Crowson, who is also a local historian, says she is proud of the work city council has done on downtown revitalization and the adaptive re-use of historic buildings there which preserve their historic character while at the same time creating modern spaces for new businesses and new entrepreneurs to come to the city.
“When we fight to save historic buildings, when we fight for the arts, we are fighting for the economy just as much as anything else,” she says. “One of the things we have found is historic downtowns, places that have character, are some of the places that are the best incubators of new businesses.”
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