Rene Gendre said Wednesday that Fort Macleod first needs to determine its purpose before it can move forward.
Gendre, who with a small group of individuals wants to make an economic development plan for the town, said an action plan can be built on a defined purpose.
“Once we define the purpose we can develop a plan,” Gendre said. “If we don’t have a purpose, we can’t develop a plan.”
Close to 80 people turned out Wednesday for a meeting organized by the group at Holy Cross Hall.
The group, which includes Gerry Eversole, Klaas Brobbel and Don Gray, has since April circulated a questionnaire, held a public meeting and met with individuals to discuss economic development.
Gendre said in that time he has never uncovered a consistent vision or plan for Fort Macleod.
“If we don’t have a plan, why don’t we just buy $50,000 worth of lottery tickets and put our chances on that?” Gendre said. “It doesn’t work.”
Gendre said with population growth of just 50 people in 100 years it is clear Fort Macleod accomplished nothing in that time.
Gendre said Fort Macleod is lacking in spirit and pride, which an economic development action plan could revive.
Fort Macleod businessman Derek O’Connor challenged that assertion.
“I find it a great place to live,” said O’Connor, who moved here over 20 years ago. “A year ago when the police college was coming to Fort Macleod everybody thought it was the best place in the world.”
People expected the economy would boom when the $122-million Alberta Public Security and Law Enforcement Training Centre was built.
The police college, as it was known, was to create 75 to 100 full-time jobs and bring in 1,400 police and peace officer recruits to the community each year.
Premier Alison Redford cancelled the project on Aug. 30 last year, even as crews were preparing the 320-acre site for construction and an architect had drawn up plans.
“When that news changed, our town council changed direction — and rightly so,” O’Connor said. “I don’t forget the hard work that they put in, and the community put in, to bring that about.”
“I do take exception to the fact that you say that nothing has happened over the past 20 years,” O’Connor said. “I’ve seen this community just bloom in the last 10 years.”
“I do not think you can stand up there and say this community has lost its pride and done nothing the last 20 years.”
O’Connor defended the mayor, town council and EDC chairman as hard-working and approachable.
“This community is a great community to live in and there is a lot of pride here,” O’Connor said. “You cannot take that away.”
People who arrived at the meeting expecting to have an economic development plain laid out were instead asked for their input on Fort Macleod’s purpose.
The audience responded that Fort Macleod was their home and they hoped to stay there into their retirement years. They want to make a living, see the population grow, tourism prosper and enjoy a safe and secure lifestyle.
Business people talked about Fort Macleod’s location being ideal and expressed a desire that existing businesses be supported and new companies attracted.
Gendre said it is important to strike a balance between the needs of residents and the needs of business.
Gendre said his group plans to incorporate input from people into a plan that will give people hope for the future.
“If we provide hope with an action plan there should be results,” Gendre said. “Development of a rational plan is very important. Action on that plan is critical.”
Gendre said that action includes making sure town administration has a commitment to work with council to deal with frustration that exists in Fort Macleod.
Action also includes developing a catalogue of available land and lots for investors.
At that point Henk Vanee, who chairs the economic development commission, rose and challenged Gendre.
“You’re campaigning,” Vanee said. “You’re working for yourself here.”
Gendre admitted it is his intention to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election, adding, “This isn’t about politics.”
Gendre continued to lay out action steps, which include upgrading the town’s Web site, improving internal co-operation between council, administration and the EDC, creation of an economic development plan by the EDC and hiring an economic development officer.
Don Gray asked if improved transparency in town affairs is part of the plan.
“Transparency is key to co-operation,” Gendre said.
Gendre suggested the suggestion that the business of the town is already transparent and can be followed by examining the minutes of meetings kept at the Town Office.
Gendre said meeting minutes are deliberately bland, recording only motions without the preceding discussion.
The meeting took a turn when Gendre introduced Brent Feyter, Michael Dick and Mike Collar as candidates for council positions in the next election.
“Within the next four years everyone is going to be amazed with what is going to happen,” Gendre said.
Bill Kells observed that what Gendre was discussing was more of a community plan than an economic development plan.
Gendre reiterated that the purpose of Fort Macleod has to be defined before an economic development plan can be finalized.
Kells said Fort Macleod already knows its purpose and has many volunteers working on its behalf.
“I find it offensive and insulting to say that for 130 years nothing has been done,” Kells said. “This town has done very, very well.”
Kells criticized Gendre for using the process of developing an economic development plan as his campaign platform. Other people jumped to Gendre’s defence, noting he is a volunteer like so many others in the community.
Srecko Ponjavic said Gendre was in a conflict of interest in presenting an economic development plan as a platform for his campaign.
Ponjavic also said Gendre did not follow the EDC’s by-law that he helped create, ignoring the fact no EDC communication can be put out without being approved. Gendre’s letters to the editor were not first approved by the EDC.
“You used EDC as a platform to highlight yourself politically,” Ponjavic said.
The meeting’s decorum broke down for a time as allegations and accusations were made toward a number of individuals.
James Vandervalk was moved to stand up and urge people to exercise restraint and return to the purpose of the meeting — making an economic development plan.
Gendre did not present the full plan at the meeting, but later provided it to The Macleod Gazette.
The group is recommending the town not develop a business park as proposed by council on the 320-acre site formerly designated for the police college until a private developer is found.
The group’s long-tem plan also includes postponing the Macleod Meadows residential and commercial subdivision proposed by council.
The group recommends council reconsider a proposal by MD of Willow Creek council to cost-share a public works building.
The group proposes a utility corridor upgrade of Fifth Avenue to reduce power outages in the 12th Street industrial area and provide electrical back-up.
The plan includes additional bike and hiking trails, extending residential development east along the river as the town’s inventory of homes for sale diminishes and concentrating on development in the existing industrial park.
The group also favours an independent audit of town finances and operations every four years and creation of an independent group to oversee the town’s land sales.
The former Lethbridge College building should be considered for a new Town Office and G.R. Davis school should be maintained to accommodate Fort Macleod’s growth. The present Town Office could become a museum.
Intermediate plans include developing 40 acres west of Midnight Stadium for commercial use; building residential or seniors’ housing on land overlooking the golf course and moving the Fort Museum to the 1884 North West Mounted Police Barracks provincial historic site.
The group also advocates tying utilities that run to the former police college site to the east end of 12th Street to allow more development.
Short term plans include town beautification, promoting Fort Macleod to retirees, pursuing construction of an independent senior citizens lodge, using financial reserves to upgrade existing services, utilizing existing undeveloped lots and changing land use rules to allow tourism and arts-oriented business downtown.