Happy City Candidate Survey - Responses Round 1

Happy City Election Survey

Still making up your mind about your choices in the municipal election? We recently sent out a survey based both on the questions you sent us (we weeded out ones that other surveys have caught) and some from the Happy City team around public dialogue and engagement. We'll update this entry as responses come in.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the in-depth responses candidates have provided to:

The Scope

The Independent 

The CBC - Mayoral Candidates Only

 

Part 1:Questions submitted by the Happy City Community

1)    What changes (if any) would you make to the planning process in St. John's?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Our municipal plan, compiled after a great deal of public input, should guide all our future actions. It would ensure decisions are made in the context of a big, long-term picture, rather than on isolated and individual cases. I believe in transparency, so I would put a stop to development decisions being made without full public disclosure. For example, I believe the city should develop a process for divesting itself of unused buildings and land. The recent example of one developer getting to submit a proposal for our vacated Duckworth Street fire station while other developers and community groups were not aware they could submit ideas is hardly a transparent process or one that is in the best interest of our city.

Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

I would insist on the Municipal Plan being updated every 5 years, with an interim review half way through these 5 years. The plan had a considerable time lag before the current process began and we can see the consequences of this. There has been a "piecemeal" approach taken. Would encourage and involve citizens in the process. Other than this, I need to know more details from within the Planning Department to understand what approach they take. Would also place a greater emphasis on the regional aspect of planning.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

First of all, would like the planning process to be made public, so folks like myself, who have never been part of council, will have an idea of what the planning process looks like. Only then, can i make strong suggestions on how it can be improved.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

The planning process needs to actually include planning. Things like parks need to be included in neighbourhoods, so that children can have somewhere to play without having to go far. Streets should be able to accommodate public transit vehicles, so that buses can operate in the area without creating traffic problems. When there is a new residential development public transit should be operating there as soon as people start to move into the area.

 

2)    What should city council and the mayor's office do to make St. John's more pedestrian-friendly?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I am a big supporter of active living in general, and believe that walking trails should be part of new neighbourhoods. However, I think this question refers more to the safety of people who walk to get to destinations rather than for recreation. My first move will be to investigate what more we can do to do a better job of sidewalk snowclearing. I don't believe anything about a city is static, and think we must continually monitor areas where crosswalks are getting more use than they formerly did, and upgrade with lights and signals as it becomes necessary and as we can afford to.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

For the winter, improved snow clearing of sidewalks would be a start. I would also look at a trial run of installing heated downtown sidewalks. If the trial was successful, consideration should be given to introducing heated sidewalks to all new sub divisions within the city.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Sidewalk snow clearing is a major issue. We need to stop driving bulldozers over sidewalks and start using proper plows. we also need to plow the sidewalks at the same time we plow the streets. Other cities have figured out how to do this, and there is no excuse for us not to.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

 Listen to what the pedestrians are saying. There are many people offering suggestions and advice on how to make the city more pedestrian friendly, but nobody seem to be listening to them.

Things like ensuring there are sidewalks for people to walk on, and that they are cleared of snow, are two areas we can improve. As an example, Bowring Park is not even connected by sidewalk to Brookfield Road. So anyone walking to the park from that direction needs to either walk on the street, or in the grass. Given how many people use Bowring Park I don't see why that stretch of road doesn't have a sidewalk.

3)    Please state your position on the idea of mandating that a proportion of units in new residential developments be affordable.

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I totally agree with the need for more affordable living units, whether this is via mixed-use development, a mandated percentage of smaller lots and/or houses in new neighbourhoods, or a combination of these and other methods.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

I would endorse this approach. Discussions would be held with developers to ensure this would occur and the city may have to introduce an incentive package for developers to assist with the process.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

While I want to see steps taken to address the affordable housing, I'm hesitant to create formal legislation forcing this to happen. I'd rather create incentive programs for developers, and partnerships with developers, to ensure that this matter can be addressed in a way that won't discourage developers to take on projects.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

  I did a bit of research on this topic, which is known as 'inclusionary zoning', before answering this question. There is some concern that inclusionary zoning can also cause problems, one of which is that LESS affordable housing is actually built in a community.

A comprehensive review of inclusionary zoning would need to be conducted to get a good comparison of the positive and negative aspects of such regulation, and to see if it would be beneficial in St. John's.

4)    What is your vision for heritage preservation - how can we increase and promote our built and intangible heritage?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Our built heritage focus is currently on the relatively small older portions of the city. We must keep and preserve what we have. We do this through a combination of strictly observed heritage regulations and innovative approaches to development. Our intangible (or living) heritage is constantly developing as more diverse groups move to the city with their own languages, customs and foods. The city actively supports arts and heritage groups in several ways. I am in favour of continuing those and working with artists, folklorists, heritage experts and others from the cultural industries to explore what else we can do.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

The Downtown Heritage program should be retained. Height restrictions should be enforced and Council's discretionary power be reduced or even taken away. Any development of Water/Duckworth Streets buildings would have to ensure the façade of buildings are kept. The City promotes its heritage through the action of Council. This means Council has to be pro-active in maintaining heritage and being consistent in its application of development rules.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Buildings declared historic should not be destroyed, no exceptions!

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

 We need to make sure that all areas designated as 'heritage' areas actually have heritage value. I believe we can look to other cities to see how they've managed their heritage while at the same time allowing the city to become more modern. There is a good balance that we can achieve 

5)    I have not seen green spaces provided in new subdivisions. What ideas are forthcoming to address ongoing developments?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Green spaces and recreational areas should be a consideration in every new development, as outlined in the municipal plan I mentioned above.

 Lionel West, (At-large Candidate)

All new developments will have to have green spaces set aside as part of the development's approval. The City may have to provide incentives to have trees planted within private lots. In larger sub-divisions a mixed-development neighbourhood would be required. 

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

Developers benefit significantly from the creation of new subdivisions. While I'm not 100% how it would work, I would like to see a requirement for green space in all new developments. 

6)    Is the current number of councilors needed? Should it be lower? Higher?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

The number of councilors hasn't changed in at least two decades, but I do  not hear too many complaints of inadequate representation despite the vastly increased population in that time. Having said that, I would be interested in a review to see if there is merit to considering full time positions for Council members. Our five part-time ward councilors and four part-time at-large councilors serve an area represented by eight full-time MHAs.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

If the City wishes to maintain "part-time" councilors then the current number      may be required. I'm not totally convinced the city needs a separate Deputy Mayor position.  I have tended to favour having full-time councilors. If citizens agreed to this, I would imagine a Council of 6 or 7 members, including the Mayor. Overall costs for Council would stay relatively the same with this change. Another option may be to drop Ward Councilors and have all every councilor being an "at-large" councilor.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

As this city grows, I sense the workload on councilors will increase. at the same time, I am not sure we need 4 at large positions. I'd be in favour of reducing the amount of councilors, but at the same time, I suspect we need more than just the mayor to be considered full-time.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

  There is a balance we need to achieve. Too few councillors and we are giving control of the city over to a small group of people, which can be a concern. Too many councillors and things get inefficient. I don't have an issue with the current number of councillors.

7)    Should St. John's build more shared (bike/pedestrian) pathways around the city? Given that many runners prefer to run on asphalt rather than the concrete sidewalk, should the city consider replacing some of its sidewalks with such shared pathways?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I am a huge supporter of both exercise and alternate modes of transportation, and I would like to see the number of shared pathways in the city increase, as our budget allows.

Lionel West (At-large Candidate) 

Difficult question. I do not have all the facts. Our sidewalks are narrow as it is but it may be worth a trial to see if pedestrian and cyclists can share a pathway. The pathway would have to be clearly marked as a "dual highway"

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

If it is feasible to do this, then yes.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

Shared pathways in some areas are a great idea. In areas where there may be high pedestrian and cyclist traffic it may be better to use separate pathways to avoid accidents.

 In regards to replacing concrete sidewalks with asphalt, in general I have no problem with this. The only thing I would want to look at is maintenance cost and frequency. For example, if asphalt pathways need to be repaired much more frequently than concrete sidewalks, it could increase our costs, so that would need to be considered as well.

8)    Some parts of St. John's have an excellent walking trail network. Should green spaces with walking and biking trails be a part of all new developments? What about bike lanes?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

All new neighbourhoods should feature walkability as part of the building plan, and walking and biking trails are an important part of how I see the city growing.

We can design new roads wide enough for bike lanes.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

I would like to see walking and biking trails within new developments. These trails could be multi-purposed trails.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

I am definitely in favour of having walking trails in all neighbourhoods. if the market requests bike trails and bike lanes, then they should also be considered.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

This is where good planning can come into play. We should encourage active lifestyles, and provide people with ample opportunities to get outside. If a new subdivision is being built near an existing walking trail, the developer should be required to provide a connection to that trail. If the area being developed is  large, and can accommodate a new walking trail and some green space, it should be included. Bike lanes are much easier to install when planned from the beginning, rather than trying to squeeze them in afterwards. We should look at the possibility of creating some guidelines to determine which new developments will require bike lanes.

9)    Do you believe that workers in essential services such as public transit should have an alternate means of dispute resolution so that labour disputes do not cause a disruption of services and undue hardship on those relying on those services?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I believe in laying the groundwork for constructive and healthy negotiations, so that neither side feels the need to take the drastic action of a strike or a lockout. I believe that council should consult with union leadership all the time, not just during negotiations.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

At this stage, I believe transit is not declared an "essential service" under Canada's Labour Laws.  So unless the City or Province can convince the appropriate lawmakers to have this changed, we will be faced with possible public transit disruption.  Obviously, it would be much better if industrial action can be avoided through positive negotiations and fair bargaining.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Most jurisdictions have provincial legislation that can require workers deemed 'essential' to report to work, even during a strike or lock out. if this is not already in place, then I would look to engage the Provincial Government to put such a thing in place. 

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

  This is a difficult one for me. As someone with past union involvement I understand the purpose of strikes, and I know that generally they are only used as a very last resort. In many cases they are a valuable tool.

However, as a user of public transit I also understand the great importance placed on our transit system by those that use it. For many people life can almost stop when public transit goes on strike. People lose jobs, drop out of school, and can't get to medical appointments, to name a few of the problems caused by a public transit strike.

I also understand the arbitration process, which is a fair process, overseen by a neutral third-party. The job of an arbitrator is to look at the facts presented by both sides and make a decision based on what is fair. So, in reality, nobody really 'loses' when a case goes to arbitration, they get what's fair and just.

An alternate dispute resolution scheme needs to be developed for public transit. Whether that is binding arbitration, or something else, we need to ensure that we have buses on the roads. Our city depends on it.

There are alternatives to binding arbitration though, which could be negotiated between the parties. For example, the union could agree to keep a minimum level of service during a strike, thereby not completely leaving residents stranded.

Ideally the union and the city could work out an agreement to ensure some continuance of service during a labour dispute, failing which the only other option would be binding arbitration.

10)The St. John's Board of Trade wrote: "Transit Oriented Development increases accessibility and transportation options through land use clustering and mixing, and non-motorized transportation improvements. This reduces distances for car trips, allows a greater portion of trips to be made by walking and cycling, and allows some households to reduce their car ownership. Together, this can largely reduce vehicle travel, reduce total transportation costs and create a more livable community." What is your stance on Transit Oriented Development?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I have been very pleased with much of what the Board of Trade has presented as its platform during this election, and the idea of Transit-Oriented Development is no exception. We have to find creative ways of easing the pressure on our streets and parking, and Transit Oriented Development can be part of the mix we need.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

All for it! Now if we can only change the mindset of our citizens! An educational program and our own leaders leading by example would help the cause.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

100% supportive of this!

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

It's an excellent idea that has worked in other cities. Generally speaking people like to be near public transit. In some cities the value of properties close to an efficient transit system actually increased. (Or, during a depression, they maintained their value while other properties dropped in value.) 

11)Do you believe that the development plan for the North East Avalon Region should incorporate a traffic-reduction strategy?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Yes, and I believe we should work with our neighbours to develop that strategy.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

Yes! We have to use our imagination and think of creative ways of improving our travel around the NE Avalon. Rapid transit anyone?

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Yes!

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

I will keep this answer simple. Yes, we need a traffic reduction strategy for the region. Given that much of the traffic within St. John's comes from commuters and people living outside of the city any traffic reduction strategy also need to include our neighbours.

 

Part 2: Questions on Dialogue, Communication and Public Engagement

 

1)    What changes, if any, would you want to make to the city's system of public consultations on development issues?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

It is vitally important to consult with the public on development issues. People care what happens in their neighbourhoods. I think public meetings are important. I think developers or groups involved in development should make the effort to talk to people in the neighbourhoods before controversy erupts. Perhaps if this had been a more common practice, we would have avoided or mitigated many of the heated disputes we have seen over development.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

Advertise to neighbourhoods when ANY development is proposed - whether the development requires a zone change or not!

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Incorporate interactive online feedback options, in addition to in person and mail-in options.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

The public consultation process needs to be meaningful, and should allow those interested to attend. The scheduling of meetings should allow as many people as possible to attend. Concerned residents should also be supplied with all available information so they can get a full understanding of the development.

2)    What do you think about the City's use of social media? Are there further opportunities available for creative use of these tools? If so, what are they, and what obstacles might they face?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Communication is continually evolving. The City has to find ways to communicate with a fragmenting audience while not alienating the audience it has and, of course, keeping costs down. We don't leap on every new type of social media as it appears, but we find a balance to keep people engaged.

Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

The City does appear to be connected to many aspects of social media. I am not that up on social media connectivity but would be willing to invite appropriate people in to discuss.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

The city currently does use social media. I would strongly encourage growth in social media use to extend outreach and public engagement. 

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

The city could engage people more on social media. There are opportunities for feedback, such as allowing people to post on the city Facebook page, that are currently not being used. (We can only comment on a post they make, or write a 'recommendation' which other members of the public cannot reply to.)

In regards to this one suggestion, the one obstacle I can see is that someone would need to be dedicated specifically to engage people on social media, which may require the hiring or reassignment of a staff member.

3)    Would you support a redesign of the city's public notices to improve readability and increase interest from the general public? Would this be worth pursuing if it meant amending the relevant provincial legislation?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I am in favour of using plain language for communicating. That just makes sense. Sometimes "legalese" has to be used to avoid future litigation. I'm not intimidated by the idea of lobbying for changes in provincial legislation, but I am not convinced this would be the first such change I would want to see.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

Anything that can be done to engage the public is worth considering. If this means changing legislation - so be it!

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Yes!

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

Anything that makes public notices easier to understand, and increases interest by the public, is a good thing and should be pursued.

4)    How could the city engage residents more thoroughly in the budgeting process? Would you support any sort of "participatory budgeting" process that allowed citizens to vote directly on budget priorities?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

A budget is a serious and complicated document, which requires a great deal of time and thought from city residents, staff, and council. I would want to incorporate citizens' views in our budget document, and I would welcome any suggestion as to how to expand the input we get. I would encourage, for example, the development of an online tool which would both allow citizens to get a feeling for everything that is involved, and submit their own priorities for expenditures and cuts to Council. But as for a binding budget priorities vote? That isn't something I would support.

 Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

I was at the forefront of encouraging Council to have public budgetary meetings, many years ago. I have regularly attended budget forums and have submitted proposals on budgetary items. The City does invite the public to budget meetings but I believe the City has to look at the timing of these meetings. Often they are held too late in the process and citizens should be invited in right from the start. Now that the city has a three-year budget cycle, this is even more pertinent. As for budget priorities, citizens clearly have shown that can persuade Council as the recent increase in sidewalk snow clearing showed.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

I am definitely supportive of having as much citizen engagement as possible, yet at the same time, I would raise caution about a small amount of citizens having the authority to vote on budget issues. final say should be in the hands of City Council.

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

We do need to include the public more in the budget process, so that budget priorities are in line with what residents expect. I would support some type of participatory budgeting process.

5)     Happy City has heard a number of ideas on how to make public meetings and council meetings more welcoming to citizens. Would you support the following?

Providing child care during public meetings

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I would be concerned about the potential cost to the city, potential legal liabilities, and the amount of uptake it would get on a regular basis. I would also welcome children to public meetings - many of us have children who grew up attending events when childcare was not available.

 

  1. Taking questions via Facebook and Twitter during meetings

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I am intrigued by this idea, but council meetings do not include time for public questions. This would lengthen the time of meetings. That said, I do check responses to media Twitter feeds, for example, that go out during our meetings.

Posting footage of meetings online

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Council meetings are currently broadcast by Rogers Cable on their community channel. Both livestreaming and archived meetings would be interesting considerations but they would not be free. Would I choose this over other potential expenditures? I am not sure.

Allowing citizen deputations at meetings of council

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Again, not quite sure what is meant by this. Citizens are always welcome at Council meetings, and we have seen many groups in the gallery. There are opportunities for people to present to councillors outside the hour and a half or so of our public meetings, and my plan is to increase those opportunities.

Encouraging developers to meet with citizens and gather input before developing a proposal for a piece of land

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

Yes, as explained above.

Candidates responding to all the points:

Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

I have been asking Council to podcast its meetings for years. The weekly council meeting should be on the City's website. I have suggested that the time of council meetings be changed to the evening with the hope of encouraging more citizen involvement. I have urged Council to allow a citizens' forum at the end of each council meeting. This would enable citizens to directly communicate with Council. On all of these issues, I still await positive action from Council. So yes, I would support anything that encourages and develops a greater and open relationship between Council and citizens.  The same applies to the development proposals.

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Yes to all of these!

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate) 

  1. a.    Providing child care during public meetings - YES
  2. b.    Taking questions via Facebook and Twitter during meetings  - YES
  3. c.    Posting footage of meetings online - YES
  4. d.    Allowing citizen deputations at meetings of council - YES
  5. e.    Encouraging developers to meet with citizens and gather input before developing a proposal for a piece of land - YES

6)    Are there any other ideas you have for making the City more responsive to citizen input?

Sheilagh O' Leary (Mayoral Candidate)

I think electing City council members who have a genuine interest in inviting and responding to citizen input is the best way to make the City responsive. I'd go further - if readers feel really strongly about that, they should encourage their friends to vote - including, or maybe especially, those friends who never bother to fill out a ballot.

I believe we can have a better city, and change can happen, but it has to come from the grassroots.

Lionel West (At-large Candidate)

Shorten Council term? 

Jennifer McCreath (Deputy Mayor Candidate)

Restore Faith in Government Process by the following:

- Better citizen engagement

- More transparency

- Pro-active accountability

- Streamline service delivery

Increase Cooperation and collaboration:

- Get the City working better with neighbouring cities & towns

- Develop better working relationship with provincial & federal governments

- Form stronger relationships between city, citizens, and businesses

Sherwin Flight (Ward 5 Candidate)

Feedback from the public is a great thing. It allows you to understand the concerns of others, and in many cases it can shed light on issues and information you may not have been aware of.

Council needs to do more to engage the public in a meaningful way. The more people feel like their input is taken seriously the more likely they are to continue proving feedback. Unfortunately, in many cases today, people feel as though council "doesn't listen". We need that to change. 

The city belongs to the residents. We elect representatives to make decisions in our best interests. However, it is impossible to do something in the public interest without knowing how the public actually feels about the issues, what their priorities are, etc.

 

 

Written by Happy City at 09:46

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