Posted by: Editor | January 24, 2010

Take Me to Your Leader

Take Me to Your Leader

-Mayor Desjardins: Our version of Barack Obama?

I couldn’t help but make some parallels between Mayor Barb Desjardins and President Barack Obama. Like Obama, Desjardins was elected largely because we wanted change. She carried a message of hope and a new direction. When she began her campaign, she was considered the under-dog with little chance of winning. But, she organized steadfastly at the grassroots level and surprised the political establishment with an overwhelming victory.  

Looking south, Obama’s once shiny political standing is starting to fade. He is experiencing trouble. He is still popular, but not nearly as much as when he first took office. Some have even opined that he may not even get re-elected if things don’t start going better for him.

So, what about our own fearless leader? Most people in Esquimalt will tell you that Esquimalt’s hardest working citizen is Mayor Barb Desjardins. She seems to be everywhere. If you are at a community event, most likely the Mayor will be there…that is in between all the other events she is scheduled to visit that same evening. She leads an extensive list of projects, both locally and within the CRD. She has worked tirelessly to increase the positive profile of Esquimalt including greatly improving the level of communication and dialogue that takes place within our community.

Like all politicians, she may have faults, but work ethic is not one of them. We pay her relatively little money for the number of hours she puts into her role, but she never seems to mind. She is focussed, committed, and open.

She is now one-third of the way through her mandate. Less than two years from now, she will face the voters again. Since taking office, she has largely been seen as “a breath of fresh air” for Esquimalt, but there remain plenty of complicated, controversial issues for her to stick handle during the remainder of her term, issues that will certainly test her level of popularity.

To better understand what is on the mind of our Mayor, the following is a recent, unedited copy of the Mayor’s annual address to the community regarding the completion of her first year in office as well as her vision for the New Year ahead.

MAYOR’S ANNUAL ADDRESS, TOWNSHIP OF ESQUIMALT

Mayor Desjardins: "Esquimalt is the community to watch."

By Mayor Barb Desjardins, December, 2009.

It has been an exciting year. I would like to thank residents of Esquimalt for the opportunity to serve as your mayor for the past year and I am looking forward to the next 2 years with equal energy and excitement.

Your elected officials and municipal staff have worked hard on your behalf and there are significant results. I would quickly like to review some of the work that has been done to date.

The Secondary Suites Bylaw was passed, providing the opportunity for safe, affordable housing as well as potentially providing the opportunity for seniors to “age in place” by having financial assistance.

We improved the pedestrian network by building key sidewalks, crosswalks, and park pathways increasing safety for all users including those with disabilities.

Parks and Recreation have had an active and successful year with the reopening of our Japanese Garden, which is the oldest in North America. We received the matching one million dollar infrastructure grant to upgrade Archie Browning Sports Centre, and, thanks to parks and recreation staff, will be hosting a major sporting event there this spring: the 2010 Victoria Curling Classic. In addition, we held the BC Jr. B Lacrosse Championships at Archie Browning, and hosted another international rugby event in the community this past summer.

This past year could be named: the year of the audit for Esquimalt. We have reviewed, audited and evaluated many of our services, committees, and processes over the past year and although it has taken time and money it has been an extremely valuable process.

Quoting from chapter 4 in the book: Good to Great, by Jim Collins, Esquimalt has undertaken over the past year to: “Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet never Lose Faith)”.

I paraphrase:

The path from good to greatness is created through:

  • Confronting the brutal facts of our current reality create a culture where people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard, for the truth to be heard
  • Hitting the realities of the situation head on
  • Having the right people

Council changed administrative leadership, a decision that has proved to be imperative for meeting my inaugural speech priority of “action-oriented, goal driven government”.

The review and changes we made with Township committees has improved our focus and led to an increased number of committee applications, an indication that committees and their work are seen as valued, and interesting to the public. We have even received applications from non- residents.

We initiated an audit of our police services with respect to service delivery, funding model, and governance. I have pushed hard to have a report in front of you by this date and have been provided reassurance that the report is making its way through the Ministry approval process with an expectation of being made public after being received by the Police Board.

A meeting of the Chief Administrative Officers of both Victoria and Esquimalt, with Deputy Solicitor General Morhart and Assistant Deputy Minister Kevin Begg is scheduled for later this week.

I have worked hard to press the Police Board to change its governance model to recognize the fact that it has two mayors and therefore, as per the Police Act, a co-chair model should be adopted. The board agreed to this, however, the request will not be acted on by Police Services until full review of the audit has occurred.

I will continue to press for completion of the audit and action on your behalf.

Esquimalt has just received the audit report regarding our Fire Services and although we are just starting to digest the results, the message is clear that changes are needed.

Council is prepared to make the decisions that will be required to resolve issues that have been lingering since the split of police and fire services, and to make our hall a great place to work.

Council put forward an ambitious strategic plan last year. We have been able to accomplish many successes in 2009 and will focus the plan and goals for 2010.

If 2009 was the year of the audit, 2010 will be the year of action as a result of those reviews. We look forward to continued growth and development in the community.

The village core project is progressing. The acceptance and excitement within the community to make this happen will assist council to continue the process through to implementation. It will not sit on a shelf.

The past year Esquimalt had community forums on sewage treatment, policing, height and density growth, and business.

This year I would like to continue this well attended format of community engagement. Council direction has benefitted from the input we have received at these meetings.

Through community input gained at the sewage forum co-sponsored by the Township of Esquimalt and Sewage Treatment Action Group, we will continue to look into best practices with respect to waste management. We have positioned ourselves as strong advocates for integrated resource management for both Esquimalt and for the CRD. We will look for ways to pilot new technologies, and use this approach toward our climate action charter commitments. Our village core project could be the application for innovation such as district heating and integrated resource management in Esquimalt.

Public input from the height and density forum and subsequent community input sessions has provided council with direction toward resolution of this issue. The community has supported an increase in height and density within our borders but has stressed to council the need to review each project on its own merits and its fit within the surrounding neighbourhood.

There are still many decisions to be made around density bonusing, development cost charges, and the development of subsequent zoning bylaws to support changes we make. I am committed to completing these in a timely manner so that we will be able to take advantage of them when the market for development improves.

As a result of the business forum we will be working with the Chamber of Commerce toward a business directory and promotion strategy in 2010.

We will be reviewing ways that the municipality can assist businesses through revitalization tax strategies, business improvement associations, and other ideas. It is imperative that this sector of Esquimalt be given the opportunity to thrive. A thriving small business sector means a sustainable and vibrant Esquimalt community.

The growth of tourism within our borders must be fostered. With the success of our brochure development and walking tours we need to build on our destinations and activities that continue to bring people across the bridges, down the tracks, and onto our pathways.

The year of the audit is over. 2010 will be very active for Esquimalt. Over the past year media have at many times indicated Esquimalt is the community to watch for positive change. Our intention is to fulfill these prophecies in 2010. Esquimalt is the community to watch.

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