During the 2010 municipal election here in Brandon, the major difference between the two front-running mayoral candidates, Shari Decter Hirst and incumbent Dave Burgess, came down to a question of ambition.
As part of his bid for re-election, Burgess ran a rather hum-drum campaign, making few promises beyond meat and potato issues such as keeping the city’s property taxes at or below the rate of inflation, pushing for more cost-share deals with the province and the federal government for infrastructure projects and keeping his promise to close the Canada Games Sportsplex pool.
In stark contrast, Decter Hirst came to the table with big dreams for the Wheat City. She had a vision for Brandon that went far beyond average stay-the-course direction championed by the incumbent mayor.
Through what we called a month-long blitz of near-daily news releases and media conferences up until election day, Decter Hirst held up her roadmap for change, which touched on nearly every single aspect of city administration — accountability and transparency at city hall, youth retention, economic development, affordable housing, downtown revitalization and culture, recreation and heritage.
She was a candidate with grandiose plans and she managed to convince enough Brandonites that those plans were doable.
Two years on, and a great amount of spent ambition later, our mayor and councillors find themselves at a crossroads. As of yesterday, two major projects in which our city officials had invested much time, energy and cash have fallen through.
Late last year, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs decided to cut casino talks with the City of Brandon and made a multimillion-dollar deal with Hemisphere Gaming to operate the Spirit Sands Casino on Swan Lake reserve land near Carberry.
And then yesterday, the mayor, together with bid committee chair Jeff Cristall, had to stand in front of local media and say the city would not play host to the 2017 Canada Summer Games.
At the same time, during the first two years of this mayor and council’s mandate, city hall’s attention has been fractured between issues of conflict of interest, a building collapse and the public ire over the 2012 property tax increase.
All of these issues have obscured the fact that the city’s roadmap for growth has somehow staggered forward. As the Sun reported earlier this week, city manager Scott Hildebrand’s roadmap update to council stated that 46 of our 62 projects were already complete or on pace to be completed on schedule.
However, nine projects are behind schedule and still seven others — including the equivalency code standards project — will not be completed by 2014.
In our opinion, this administration’s failures and mistakes have certainly done little to aid the completion of these projects. More than likely, the city has hobbled itself by attempting to do too much, too quickly. And in the process, the city has been slow to address some of the major non-flashy problems in Brandon — basic things like infrastructure, building codes and enforcement, and even land expropriation for future business and residential development.
That’s not to say the meat and potato issues have completely gone by the wayside. That Brandon is finally producing a plan for the Black Farm property is proof of that.
But in her haste to land the big ticket items and establish an ongoing legacy — the casino, the Games and air service (we remain hopeful for that one) — Decter Hirst has done herself no favours.
That said, we still maintain Brandon would be no better served by a mayor who would only have stayed the course and provided no vision for the city beyond planning for their own re-election four years hence.
What Decter Hirst was pushing for was swift, transformative, all-encompassing change. But as we have witnessed, creating change is stressful and highly difficult. And along the way there can be many pitfalls.
There is still time for the mayor and council to salvage their next two years in office, but we suggest that the mayor, as the leader of this city, remember those meat and potato issues matter, too.