From high school principal to Port Alberni’s mayor-elect, Mike Ruttan is used to taking the lead.
Ruttan won the mayoralty race on Saturday, replacing incumbent John Douglas, who had the second highest number of votes.
“First and foremost there’s some training that has to occur before we even start with council meetings…this is how council needs to conduct itself, this is how we are going to work together,” Ruttan said.
Teamwork proved to be a challenge for the past council, whose term was marked by disagreements in the council chambers. That’s something Ruttan isn’t going to tolerate.
“Once we have these discussions and come to agreements, whether it’s a common agreement or not a common agreement… ultimately in this city it comes down to a vote and once that vote has occurred everybody has to support the results of that vote,” he said.
“You can’t have some people supporting it and other people saying ‘oh I didn’t vote in favour it and therefore I’m not going to support it and I’m going to take potshots at people who did support it.’ That’s not okay.”
Once Ruttan gets council cooperating, he wants to expand that cohesion to the rest of city hall.
“First priority is to look at city finance because it’s finances that support whatever it is we choose to do.”
Ruttan, who sees a council composed of both incumbents and new faces as a strength, will be taking time at the beginning of his term to look at what council’s priorities have been over the last three years and seeing if those still apply going forward.
“Are those our priorities? Do they fit in with the larger city vision? It’s my contention that we should because that was established with a lot of community input.”
Part of that vision is keeping the community engaged in what happens at city hall, something that Ruttan said he hasn’t see happen very much.
“That needs to happen but it needs to happen in a deliberate, structured, predictable way that is respectful of the work of the city [staff], the work of the city council and the citizens who pay for it. There’s only one pair of pants. And yes there are multiple pockets in that pair of pants but it’s still one pair of pants.
“There’s one set of taxpayers that pays everything and people want to feel like they’re getting value for money.”
According to Ruttan “some established, supported advisory committees” are the way to get people engaged.
“I’ve heard about various advisory committees that are out there but a lot of them are ad-hoc committees. We need an established business advisory council.”
Ruttan believes that it is crucial for the city to use the connections that the business community has.
“They’re the ones who will help us market what the opportunities here are…and I think that too often they feel shut out, that their ideas aren’t wanted. And that’s not okay.”
Ruttan feels that making Port Alberni business friendly will also make it more liveable.
“The two are not mutually exclusive, one needs the other in order to be successful,” he said. “If you’re going to establish a business… any business needs to have employees and those employees are not going to come to a community where they’re not wanted, where it’s not liveable.”
And Port Alberni is liveable, according to Ruttan but the tourists going through the city to the West Coast and “the people we want to attract here, those people don’t know that.”
According to Ruttan, the key to capturing the attention of some of those people is having something “unique and eye catching” that people driving through the city via Hwy. 4 will see.
“We’ve got the start of something, which is the boardwalk [at Victoria Quay]…if we can extend the boardwalk then people will want to stop and explore.”
His ideas range from the boardwalk to taking advantage of Port Alberni’s railway.
“Right now our track all the way through to Parksville can’t support trains but it can support speeders. What if speeders can be part of some tourist experience? Maybe speeders from McLean Mill to Coombs.”
Ruttan feels that speeders could be Port Alberni’s equivalent of Coombs’ goats on the roof, something to put the city on the map.
But even without the speeders, Ruttan said that “we do have some things that we can pull together to make an incredible experience for people. Yes, we have North Port, yes we have South Port and we can pull all those things together if we can persuade people to stop.”
He sees Canal Beach as a “community asset” that could help with that, while the proposed coal port would detract from it as well as degrade Port Alberni’s already suffering infrastructure further.
Finding the balance between keeping a cap on city spending while dealing with that deficit will be a delicate balance for the new mayor and council. However, Ruttan thinks there are opportunities to cut spending.
“We have models of expenditures for things that are seen as extravagant compared to other cities our size,” including the amount of money spent on policing.
“The city can make some of those difficult but necessary choices from time to time.”