Thursday, November 18, 2010

Better Know a New City Councillor Part 1 of 2

The October 25th election brought four new city councillors to the horseshoe in Guelph’s City Hall, and on December 6th, the new Gang of 13 will be sitting down together for the first time and begin to sketch out what they’ll accomplish over the next four years. But before they start, I decided to get to them first, beginning with the new councillors for War 4 and 6: Cam Guthrie and Todd Dennis.

Meeting with Guthrie and Dennis last Friday night at the Red Brick Café downtown, it was easy to see their exuberance about their new responsibilities. Both men have talked with Mayor Karen Farbridge, exchanged chats or e-mails with their colleagues and are looking to the immediate concern of the next council: the 2011 budget.

“The main promise is to maintain low taxes,” says Guthrie adding that he made a point of never campaigning on zero tax increases. “I’ve always been taught that if you mind the pennies, you’ll find the dollars, so I can’t wait to get my hands on that 2011 budget so I can start looking for those pennies.”

Dennis is also eager to see the budget. “We know that Fire, EMS, and Police can’t be touched,” he explains, “so we have to get those pennies, as Cam was saying, and figure out how to do things more efficiently. There are some interesting things coming up in conversations with constituents and staff about finding inefficiencies and looking at the whole process, it’s going to be a challenge going in.”

One budget item that has already gotten some traction is Guthrie’s campaign promise to not except the planned pay increase for councillors next year. “No matter what happens, I will be refusing that salary increase. Period. That’s the end of the discussion,” says Guthrie. “I think that’s being effective and I think that’s showing the people of Guelph that I’m looking for efficiencies and if that starts with me, then so be it.”

Dennis, meanwhile, is seeing a change in something he pointed out in his campaign, the perception of his ward as an example of negative growth. “I know it’s a lovely thing to say in the paper, but saying ‘urban sprawl’ and ‘cookie-cutter houses’ you know what? You’ve just offended a whole pile of your population.” observes Dennis who adds that he wants Guelphites to know that Ward 6 is not just commuters, and he says that attitude is changing. “People moved here for a reason, they bought their homes her for a reason, they moved their families here for a reason and you’re insulting them by putting a label or a tag on them.”

Along with that is changing perceptions about the city as someplace unfriendly to business, something that was referenced by both candidates during the campaign. “What I saw in reports was backed up from what I heard from businesses,” says Guthrie, whose day job is selling insurance. “It’s about making sure that the companies we already have here feel welcome to stay, it’s about making them feel welcome when they want to expand, and then attracting new businesses by getting employment lands up and running, and they are, so I’ll give [the City] that credit.” Guthrie also says that we need to rebrand the city and promote business success stories.

Dennis agrees saying that much of council is on the same page in terms of attracting business to the city as a major goal in the next term, and Dennis has some big ideas on how to do that. “We probably have more commercial land in the bank than Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge does, so were in a really good position,” he explains. Dennis says that he’d like to see the tri-cities become a “high-tech triangle” like Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina. It maybe be naïve, he adds, but “Why aren’t we sitting down with Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, leveraging our land and creating a high-tech corridor?”

In the meantime, Dennis and Guthrie will be making their committee selections and doing other orientation-related items. Guthrie has also begun to realize another campaign promise by turning his website into “Ward 4 News,” which will be dedicated to keeping people informed about what’s going on in the west end.

Tune in next week for an interview with Jim Furfaro (Ward 1) and Andy Van Hellemond (Ward 2).

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