Meadow Lake Council candidates confront issues

At the All Candidates Forum Oct. 2 in Meadow Lake, councillor hopeful Bruno Kossmann addresses the audience while others (l-r) Annette Klassen, Dwayne Mysko, Angus McDonald, Merlin Seymour, Terry Schenk and library employee Grayson Marsh look on.

by Phil Ambroziak

Infrastructure, community safety and economic development are among the issues City of Meadow Lake residents would like to see their new municipal council tackle following the Oct. 24 election.

Close to 30 people made their way to the Senior Citizen’s Activity Centre on 5th Avenue West Oct. 2 for a municipal all candidates forum. Organized by the Meadow Lake Library and the Meadow Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, the event featured 10 of the 11 candidates (incumbent councillor Jeff Fechter was unable to attend) looking to join mayor Gary Vidal at the council table come the next term.

The format of the evening included two prepared questions read by moderator Tara Million. Firstly, the candidates were asked to describe the skills, abilities and personal qualities that make them an excellent choice for city councillor. Secondly, they were asked what issues they believe are of the highest priority.

“In my current position (with the provincial Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure), I’m responsible for 2,500 kilometres of road and I manage 25 employees,” remarked candidate Conrad Read. “I know there is a high learning curve when dealing with a new council position, but I also have a lot of skills in terms of infrastructure and planning.”

Read believes the biggest issue facing the city right now is infrastructure, but he also commented on community safety.

“There is a big problem here with break-ins,” he said. “Giving the kids something more to do may alleviate some of these problems.”

Next to approach the microphone was newcomer Terry Schenk.

“If elected, I would bring to council 30 years of experience in marketing and sales,” Schenk said.

Schenk, who formerly sat on a municipal council in British Columbia, stressed the importance of improving economic development in Meadow Lake.

“I’d like to make Meadow Lake a destination rather than a stopover – I want more people to  come here and stay here,” he said. “A lot of folks are leery of bringing larger stores to Meadow Lake, but I think they would do wonders for the smaller businesses because more people would do their shopping here.”

Incumbent councillor Annette Klassen said her major strength is her experience in the world of finance. Klassen is employed as the chief financial officer at Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp Inc.

“I was born and raised in Meadow Lake,” Klassen said. “Meadow Lake is a terrific place, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Klassen spoke about the consideration she gives to all members of the community when voting on an issue at the council table, reminding those in attendance it’s council’s responsibility to work for the people.

Klassen also believes replacing and expanding infrastructure needs to be addressed by council first and foremost.

“All of these things go hand-in-hand with living within our budget,” she said “There has also been talk of creating a police board, which would allow more say in what areas the RCMP should be spending their time.”

Business owner Layne Shkopich commented on his involvement in various boards and clubs, noting he volunteers quite a bit throughout the community.

“I’ve only been a business owner for six years, so I am still learning,” he said. “I’m careful with money, but I’m always open to anything.”

Shkopich believes the biggest issues facing the city include signage and roads. He believes there could be better signage in place to promote businesses while city streets, he said, are in disrepair.

“There are some rough ones,” he said. “It feels like you’re on a bucking horse when going down some of them.”

Incumbent councillor Curtis Paylor, a teacher at Jonas Samson Junior High School, is seeking his third term on council.

“I believe in one word – leadership,” Paylor said. “If I’m re-elected, new councillors could look to me for advice. I am also a critical thinker and don’t make any rash decisions.”

As for issues, Paylor said the city is a long way behind, but is doing its best to get caught up.

“Council is doing the best it can on a skeleton budget,” he said.

He also said it’s essential the city hires a full-time city manager, and expressed his excitement about plans to introduce a new curb-side recycling program.

Former city manager Bruno Kossmann has 23 years of experience in the urban administration field including nine years with the provincial government’s municipal board. He has also been a long-time volunteer with various cultural groups and serves as a baseball umpire and basketball referee.

“I certainly know how to be unbiased and call out fouls,” he said.

Kossmann said the development of the new Northland Pioneer Lodge is a major issue currently facing the city.

“The lodge is a priority, as this is a facility that is needed in our community,” he said. “We need to start fundraising for our share as a whole community – the city and RM.”

Kossmann added he would also like to see necessary sewer and water upgrades made before roads are dealt with. This way, if there are problems underground, the road could be tore up before it’s been repaved.

Dwayne Mysko, who works as a woodroom supervisor, spoke about his family (which includes five children).

“I want to see the community grow so we can have something for our kids to be here for,” Mysko said. “I’m proud to say I’m the fourth generation of my family to work in the forest industry. There are other communities that don’t have the forests, the agriculture, the level of industry we have here. We have the baseline, we just need to make sure it goes in the right direction.”

Mysko also believes the streets would be safer if young people had more options in terms of spending their time.

“There has to be more we can offer them than organized sports – not all kids are into that,” he said.

Newcomer Angus McDonald said he is simply looking to do his part to help the community.

“We must strive to do the things that need to be done with the means we have to do it,” he said.

McDonald said the biggest municipal issue at this time is roads, water and sewer.

“If things get too far, we may not have the means to repair them,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are only so many places to get dollars – taxation, borrowing or grants.”

Business owner Merlin Seymour has a long history with the local Kinsmen, and believes this experience would translate well to city council.

“I’m a hard worker,” he said. “I look forward to getting your vote and working with Gary (Vidal) in the upcoming term. Let’s see what we can do to brighten the community up even better than it is right now.”

Seymour would also like to see water, sewer and roads improved throughout the city.

“Perhaps we could pick two streets to do one year, and the next year we could do two more,” he said. “Eventually, the whole city would be done. We know it’s going to take a lot of money, but we have to start somewhere.”

Incumbent councillor Elaine Yaychuk spoke about experience.

“I’ve taught for more than 30 years, which makes me able to deal with all kinds of personalities and all kinds of people,” she said. “I have common sense and am not afraid to state my opinion even if everyone else has a different opinion.”

Yaychuk said the highest priority right now are infrastructure and dollars.

“You can’t separate the two,” she said.

Q&A

Following a short break, members of the audience had an opportunity to ask questions – both verbally and in writing.

Resident Lois Harris wondered what could be done to address blind corners found throughout the city.

Paylor encouraged her to put her concerns in writing and submit them to the city.

“This way, it has to come to our table and we have to deal with it,” he said.

Candidates were also asked about increased land taxes and how to discourage young residents from moving to greener pastures.

“We need to ensure we’re competitive with other communities to prevent this from happening.” Mysko said.

Schenk agreed, stating the only way to keep people here is by attracting more people here. This, he believes, could be accomplished by welcoming Walmart and other big box stores to Meadow Lake.

Kossmann, meanwhile, suggested the city work with the chamber to see what people want to see in the community as far as businesses are concerned.

Residents also wanted to know if the candidates were satisfied with the level of service exhibited by the RCMP.

“I think the RCMP need to spend more time on the streets,” Klassen said. “Things have improved, but they can improve more. Most problems happen from 3 a.m. onward and on weekends, so I would like to see less staff working days and more patrols during troubled times.”

Read suggested more people challenge young people when they suspect them of partaking in underhanded activity while Mysko said there should be more respect for the work the police do.

Other questions focused on curfew times, improving the outer appearance of businesses and establishing stronger communication between the city and the public.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the public was reminded to make their vote count come Oct. 24.

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