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January 2020 Mayor's Column

​As we embark on a new year there is always a sense of hope and optimism in the air at this time. The hope of all the good which may come our way and the optimism of new beginnings. With this renewed optimism, I am excited to look ahead at all of the upcoming opportunities and advancement our city will take on in 2020.

One new beginning for the City of Lethbridge is the appointment of Jody Meli as city manager for up to a six-month term. Our former city manager, Bramwell Strain, tendered his resignation late in 2019 due to personal reasons and his last official day was January 13. Ms. Meli has been carrying out the role of acting city manager for the past four weeks and we were pleased she accepted the appointment from Council to take over as city manager. Ms. Meli comes to the position with more than 35 years of municipal experience, including more than five years at the senior management level, most recently as the Director of the City Manager's Office. Ms. Meli has a thorough understanding of municipal administration and she will provide a steady hand for our organization as we continue with phase two of the operational reviews. A search committee to find a permanent city manager is underway and is actively pursuing recruitment opportunities to fill the position by the spring or summer of this year.

Perhaps one of the most significant economic opportunities on our horizon is the expansion of the Lethbridge Airport. A presentation on the findings of the operational review as they pertain to the airport will be given to City Council at the February 3 Community Issues Committee. This is going to be followed by a presentation to the business community on February 4 where the City will be able to present on a variety of areas including immediate revenue opportunities. We know the Lethbridge Airport has seen a dramatic increase in passenger traffic in the past 18 months plus the addition of WestJet as a carrier. What we want to see now is more opportunity for business and industry to boost our local economy and the airport is a key.

Another area of hope and optimism is the continued work with our Indigenous neighbours and partners as Reconciliation in our community continues to make progress. One timely area of interest is the conclusion of the Indigenous Culture Centre feasibility study. This study was funded during our last Capital Improvement Plan budget in 2017 and the cultural centre could act as a place for a multitude of purposes. It could serve as a place for education and awareness for the community, a space for meaningful daily cultural activities, support local tourism ventures, provide economic opportunities for Indigenous people and become a cultural space in our community. This is a timely area of focus as the outcomes of the study are coming to Community Issues Committee on Monday for information for City Council. We are looking forward to learning more about the study and the engagement done so far.

As part of the recent governance review, we were presented with some areas for improvement and one specific area was our work with advocacy and partnership with government. City Council took a step forward in that direction as we approved a resolution to engage an advocacy firm to help us take a new approach in partnering with the Provincial Government. We're hopeful to see some new relationships and networks being formed by bringing a consultant on board for a 6-month term. This model of engaging with a firm for a short period of time at a predetermined cost gives us a good idea of how working with an advocacy firm may help further the issues that are important to our residents.

One of those issues is the continuing social implications of the substance abuse we see in our community. I updated City Council on Monday that the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Doug Schweitzer had formally replied to City Council's request for a dedicated Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) unit in Lethbridge. Unfortunately, the province informed us they were not in a position to be able to fund such an initiative at this time. This was disappointing to hear for many reasons. There have been two drug houses shut down in Lethbridge in the last month by the Calgary-based SCAN unit and anywhere from 12 to 14 active drug houses operational within our city at any given time. While this news was not the outcome we were hoping for, we look forward to continuing the discussion with Minister Schweitzer on how we can best work with the Provincial Government in addressing the needs of our community.

Locally I am pleased to report there is continued momentum on the proposed crime reduction task force that is being organized. This task force will be made up of people and organizations from across our community to come up with constructive solutions to the real problems we are seeing in our city. We hope to see this group organized and operational in the very near future.

Lastly, I am busily preparing for my annual state of the city address hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 29 at the Coast Hotel and Conference Centre. I look forward to this event every year as it is a wonderful opportunity to talk to our business community and community at large directly about what is ahead for the year and reflect on the previous year's highlights and happenings. For more information on how to register for the event you can go to the Chamber's website.