Voices of the city (council)

Six councillors answer our questions and grade The Coast.

From left to right; Whitman, Watts, Craig, Nicoll, Mason and Adams.
From left to right; Whitman, Watts, Craig, Nicoll, Mason and Adams.

Early last month we sent a small survey out to Halifax’s 16 councillors and mayor to learn a little bit more about them. It’s an exercise The Coast has offered for a few previous city council report cards, and always proves of tremendous value. After ten months of personally attending council meetings, there are some councillors I’ve still had only the faintest of interactions with. I wanted to hear their definitions of success, of failure and what they plan to do with the rest of 2015.

Unfortunately, we only received six replies back. It’s understandable, given that everyone’s been a little busy digging themselves out after the last month of nonstop snowstorms. Still, no need to waste good answers.

Presented below, our first multi-voiced Voice of the City by councillors Lorelei Nicoll (Cole Harbour - Westphal), Waye Mason (Halifax South Downtown), Jennifer Watts (Halifax Peninsula North), Stephen Adams (Spryfield - Sambro Loop - Prospect Road), Matt Whitman (Hammonds Plains St. Margarets) and Steve Craig (Lower Sackville).

What makes a city councillor good at their job? 
Lorelei Nicoll: “Being accessible and keeping an open mind. Having a good understanding of municipal processes and the organizational skills to get things done.”
Waye Mason: “Attending meetings, having read the reports and discussing questions with city staff and residents before hand. Communicating clearly, quickly, and regularly with residents.”
Jennifer Watts: “Patience.”

Stephen Adams: “A good councillor is one who ensures residents’ concerns are addressed.”
Matt Whitman: “Need to respond to all communication. Be accessible. Listen. Share info. Work with staff, residents and build consensus with councillor colleagues. Always be learning and becoming more effective. Putting others first.”
Steve Craig: “Being prepared, informed, able to actively listen and make a decision (popular or not). Be respectful and truthful in word and deed.”

What was your biggest failure the past year?
Nicoll: “Each year I attend high school graduations which are pivotal moments for our youth, but I am always saddened to hear parents express the reality that their children will probably have to go elsewhere to find employment. My “failure” is that government may not be focusing on youth retention as much as they should.”
Mason: “Sidewalk snow removal continues to plague us, but I think failing to stop the rezoning on Wellington Street was my biggest failure.”
Watts: “Delegating.”
Adams: “My biggest failure is not avoiding this survey.”
Whitman: “Pending how fire plan turns out today, re: volunteer only status in Black Point.”
Craig: “Not giving my family more attention.”

What were you most proud of in the past year?
Nicoll: “Having worked on the Community Design Advisory Committee it was very gratifying to see the approval of RP+5 (Regional Plan). Pleased to receive approval of an artificial turf field for the Cole Harbour Westphal area. I am very much looking forward (as is the community) to seeing this project unfold over the next two years.  And of course, a big highlight was being selected by my peers to represent them as Deputy Mayor.”
Mason: “I think the support for arts becoming real. It took two years to get all the policy in place, seeing the grants approved, the strategy rolling out. It is a small thing but it was a long time coming.”
Watts: “Participatory budgeting.”

Adams: “My most proud moment was bringing the Chebucto Head Road issue to a conclusion which worked out for the residents.”
Whitman: “Attended many events. Connected with and represented residents. Worked well with colleagues.”
Craig: “Pedestrian safety focus now routine. Governance model refined. Halifax Water governance still under review. Council working well together.”

What is Halifax’s biggest problem?
Nicoll: “Lack of job opportunities for youth. HRM needs to retain more university students post-graduation.”
Mason: “There are so many amazing things about Halifax, but we tend to talk about a few bad things to the exclusion of celebrating our success. Not to say we should ignore things that need to be fixed, but Halifax is a great small city and we should let ourselves enjoy that.”
Watts: “Connecting with residents and connecting residents with one another—communicating the great things that are happening and the challenges that diverse groups are facing, facilitating honest, respectful conversations.”

Adams: “Halifax’s biggest seasonal problem is snow/ice control. Overall, it is the attitude as to why we can’t or shouldn’t do something.”
Whitman: “Resisting change. We complain about the way it is but are often unwilling to change. We don't think highly enough of ourselves. We need to celebrate success and partner better.”
Craig: “Aging infrastructure requiring more capital and ongoing maintenance.”

How do you deal with stress?
Nicoll: “Spending time with my family.”
Mason: “I make sure I don't let the job take over all my waking hours. Family time is important to me, and I like to read novels, and recently have been playing Destiny when I have time, though I am stuck at level 24.”
Watts: “Murder mysteries.”

Adams: “My best stress relief is going to the Spryfield rink with my hockey team.”
Whitman: “I run, shovel, mow or watch Netflix. Sometimes sipping on a light beer.”
Craig: “Physical exercise, and responding to citizens in a timely fashion.”

Who’s your favourite Halifax councillor and why?
Nicoll: “I respect each of my colleagues equally as co-workers. I don’t feel favouritism has a role in the professional workplace.”
Mason: “There are a couple that have become quite good friends but I have to say Jennifer Watts and I are a hell of a team. We sit next to each other in Council, we share the old north end area, we have a lot of similar views, but also she is wicked funny.”
Watts: “Waye Mason—he is such an optimist!”

Adams: “Linda (Mosher). She is tenacious and extremely dedicated to her job.”
Whitman: “Stephen Adams is a legend. He knows how to accomplish.”
Craig: “I respect them all to the point I would not say I favour one councillor over another.”

What’s a secret about council the public doesn’t know?
Nicoll: “That the role of a councillor goes beyond Tuesday’s Regional Council meeting. It has become a full-time job involving continual communications on a multitude of matters.”
Mason: “It's all pretty public. There is far less horse trading behind close doors than you might expect.” 
Watts: “We genuinely care about one another.”

Adams: “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret.”
Whitman: “We rarely see or talk to each other in between meetings.”
Craig: “No secret that we do not get together on Monday and talk about how the previous week went, nor plan out how the current week is going to go. The first time we get together on an agenda item is public. If there is a secret—no one had told me.”

If you weren’t on Halifax council, what would you be doing?
Nicoll: “I have always been someone who gives back to my community and my volunteer work evolved into my role as a councillor. If I were not on Council I would undoubtedly continue to do volunteer work.  A person should always be open to where their next chapter in life could take them.”
Mason: “Still teaching at NSCC, probably.”
Watts: “Sleeping, enjoying my weekends.”

Adams: “If I wasn’t on Council, I would probably work as a consultant to help residents with HRM issues with which they might need help or direction.”
Whitman: “I'd be an entrepreneur. I admire the Volta lab folks and other start ups.”
Craig: “More community service, exercise and travelling as I did while retired.”

What are your goals for this year?
Nicoll: “I look forward to continued development of the trail system in Cole Harbour, Westphal, Lake Loon and Cherry Brook and working to develop opportunities for engaging youth in the community.”
Mason: “Accessibility, downtown streetscaping, completing the Centre Plan, strategic plan and facilities plan for Parks and Recreation, and transportation, the Moving Forward plan and the especially the Road Network Functional Plan.”
Watts: “More direct contact with residents, encouraging people to participate in 2016 election and vote.”

Adams: “I would like to have the transit issue resolved, and keep our local routes in place.”
Whitman: “Continue to be accessible. Continue to work well with colleagues.”
Craig: “Fire services strategy rationalization and approval, Halifax Water governance changes, lose weight, stay open, honest, respectful and professional.”

How would you grade The Coast?
Nicoll: “The Coast originated as a newspaper for the arts scene on the peninsula with a youthful focus. While your readership may have expanded beyond this geographical area, many feel The Coast is primarily a downtown Halifax paper. So as someone who lives off the peninsula but who values the importance of a strong downtown, I would grade The Coast ‘C.”
Mason: “A+ for the new guy.”
Watts: “High.”

Adams: “I can’t rate The Coast, as I don’t read it.”
Whitman: “A lot better since more open-minded, positive reporting by City Hall reporter.”
Craig: “It provides a voice to and from some of Halifax’s citizens that otherwise might not be heard and that is good.”

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