Change was in the air when Dysart et al’s new council was sworn-in Dec. 3, 2018.
Andrea Roberts became the municipality’s first new mayor in nearly 40 years, unseating Murray Fearrey. She was joined by three new council members: John Smith, Larry Clarke and deputy mayor Patrick Kennedy, and three incumbents. People wanted change and things to be run differently.
Two years on, the dramatic shake-up does not feel like it has necessarily manifested. Though council is setting up for a different vision of tomorrow, progress has felt slow, made worse by the pandemic.
To date, this term of council has been unable to buck the generally slow machinations of municipalities. There have not been any major things such as the Minden arena. It took the municipality one year to produce a final list of big ideas for the term: a recreation master plan, improving housing with a task force, a parks management plan, enhancing lake and shoreline health, a long-term Dysart master plan and digitizing more municipal services.
None of these are sexy, other than perhaps the intent to have a shovel-ready plan for a new recreation complex. In addition, there is nothing imminent. Though forethought is important, the list made clear the reality of this term: it was for set-up, in hopes of bringing big things in the future. A year later, in the face of a pandemic, it feels uncertain whether even these plans can come to fruition within two more years.
It is worth noting the conflict that has also been a key aspect of this council, primarily from Smith. The freshman has pushed hard for more radical, faster change and gotten a lot of pushback. Some of his ideas were intriguing, such as a more robust roads budget that has made a bit of headway. Other ideas, such as cutting funding to the museum and art gallery, have been unpopular.
Regardless, his butting heads with council, often over new ideas and slowmoving procedures, has made the progress of this council feel slow: Both because the conversation gets bogged down and because it has made it feel like this is not a table that’s open to anything dramatically new or different.
There have also been issues where the municipality has been slow to react to an obvious need for change. Short-term rentals are a pressing issue. An economic development committee seemed poised to take it on at the start of term, but council let it dissolve into nothingness. Two years on, there has been basically no progress on the file, with council only recently indicating it wants to act.
But with all that said, this council has had positive developments: the Head Lake Park master plan; the roads needs study; and the recent services review. It’s also had a good response to the pandemic. It’s been at the forefront of bringing more things online and is the only area council keeping livestreamed meetings up permanently. It’s passed noteworthy bylaws, leading the charge on fireworks limitations, and a major planning bylaw overhaul.
Despite some good, measured work, the public can be impatient. Come 2022, we will see whether voters believe in the vision this council is putting forward, or if their patience will run thin.