Fort Smith’s new recreation trail, one year in, is a big hit with locals, encouraging many to get out and exercise and enjoy the beauty of the community where they never would have before.
Extending the paved trail along the crest of Axehandle hill has been a great success. Many people talk about how challenging it is for them while biking or hiking. The concerns over running the paved trail along the crest of the hill (some of them noted in a Slave River Journal editorial), including worries over safety or that erosion might take place – appear unfounded. The decision, from all indications, was a good one.
A lot of time and thought was put into the creation of that trail by the current town council. They were overwhelmingly busy at the time, undertaking extensive upgrades to the sewer system and paving most of the roads in the community. All that at once was a huge task. The mayor and council are to be commended for their hard work and dedication.
It is the case, however, that the plans for infrastructure upgrades, paving roads and the recreation trail were all in place when they were elected. The money had been found and squirreled away, the planning and design phase were nearly complete. It was up to the new council to step in and finish the job.
Most of the credit for the work in those initial stages falls to former SAO Roy Scott. There was controversy when he left, but apparently no laws were broken. Is his contribution to be ignored?
The same is true of former mayor Peter Martselos. He led the community for 12 years. He put his heart into it and carried the community. In one term as mayor he won by acclamation, which means he ran when nobody else would. Yet he has never been recognized. He deserves a celebration of appreciation from the community noting his contributions.
Doing that, burying the hatchet and turning the page to make a community stronger, is part of leadership. Ignoring it is not.
When Mayor Janie Hobart and the current Fort Smith town council arrived on the scene they faced a long list of obvious tasks. New senior management staff had to be recruited, infrastructure needed upgrading, roads had to be paved and by-laws updated. All that has been done, quite handily. Now that those immediate tasks are out of the way, the longer-term, pervasive issues need addressing. Some of them cannot wait, yet they are being ignored. Perhaps the current council is catching its breath, perhaps it is burned out from the intensity of effort it has put in over the last 18 months, or maybe it is indeed lacking leadership.
- The sewage lagoon is at risk of sliding into the river. A planning process for removing it to a new location in the long term must commence, including an emergency plan should sewage treatment suddenly become unavailable.
- The edge of the downtown core is slumping actively all along the lower river bank. Remediation work is required to stabilize the bank which requires invoking territorial government action. Studies should commence immediately.
- The industrial zone has to be re-located. Two blocks from the centre of town and near a hospital is no place for a gravel crusher.
- No commercial land is available in the downtown core. A plan is needed, including how the downtown core should evolve and where it will go, especially in view of a possible river bank slide.
- A site is needed for a new town hall, court house and library. That should be addressed as part of a proper downtown core plan.
Fort Smith needs a vision. It has no goals, no plan. Now that the to-do list from the previous council has been cleaned up, it is time for the real work to begin. And that needs leadership.
Poor leadership can be worse than none at all, especially in the case of an emergency. In the Slave Lake fire there was no warning and no time for command and control. The people evacuated themselves and did well at it. Not one life was lost. Cool heads and common sense prevailed.
When Fort Smith was threatened by a fire in 1981, the command operation was characterized by incompetence. If leadership is poor, communication is typically lacking, poor decisions are made and people are treated like sheep. An ineffective, over-zealous leadership bent on control with little knowledge of command and no ability to lead is the worst scenario in an emergency.