Tim Melnyk has been a councillor in Norman Wells since 1993 – save for the occasional short break – and this year has decided to run for mayor.
Melnyk is running against Harry Cassie and Frank Pope, while 14 people remain in the race for six councillor positions.
He was cautious to state what he wanted to see in the community, stressing it will be up to the seven elected members to work with the community to determine a direction for the town.
He did, however, say that in addition to dealing with "dogs, ditches, and dumps," he wants to increase public engagement and see administration fully staffed.
The October 15 municipal election will be the first for the community since MACA stepped in and dissolved its council last October, following a report stating the town was “experiencing operational difficulties.”
Sarah Pruys: I’ll start with getting you to tell me a bit about your platform.
Tim Melnyk: I don’t really have a platform per se. There’s so many issues that are facing Norman Wells now, due to the last council being dissolved. I’m not one to run on promises, I don’t believe in them. It takes all seven people in the room to debate the issues and come up with the decisions. I think it’s those people that need to... not determine the platform, but deal with the issues. That and we need to engage the public a lot more than we have in the past. A lot, lot more than we have in the past. So, yeah, platforms, I just don’t do.
Do you want to point out some of the key issues facing the community that you’d attempt to deal with over your term?
Well the big one is the town’s administration itself, and that’s the whole complete staff. We’ve had a rough go the past three years, averaging about an employee a month being lost to us whether due to being let go, or themselves voluntarily leaving. It’s quite devastating, when you really think about it. That is the biggest thing; I’ve never seen it in all my years on council. I was trying to add it up, and we’ve lost more staff in the last three years than in we’ve had in the time I’ve been here combined.
How long have you been in Wells?
I’ve been with council since 1993. The biggest thing is to assemble a new staff. For example, the public works department usually has about four people, I believe there’s only one person right now, it’s examples like that. There’s been nobody in the finance department for almost the past three years – I should say finance manager. That’s the first thing council needs to tackle with the new appointed SAO and then the new hired SAO.
And then, I guess the other biggest thing – that I’d like to see anyways, again, seven people in the room – is more public engagement. How that happens, I don’t know. I don’t want to dictate terms. I’d like to see council come up with an idea on how to do that. It’s time to get public more involved instead of just allowing the seven people in the room to do whatever they think is right.
There’s the old saying: there’s dogs, ditches, and dumps. We’ve got problems in every category. So a lot needs to be done.
So as far as assembling a new staff, do you feel that hiring for those positions will solve that problem or is it more systemic than that?
Council won’t be involved in most of the hiring, it’s up to administration. But I think the existing staff are a bit shell-shocked over what's been going on the last three years and so it’s not only hiring new staff, but trying to reassure the existing staff that things will be different, things will change for the better. Just bear with us and we will try to endeavour to make it better.
I guess I’m just kind of wondering what specifically you’re hoping to do that will make it better, or that will reassure people.
Again, I don’t want to fall into a trap of saying if we do this, this, and this, we’ll be in a better position after. That’s not what the mayor should do, the mayor should work in concert with council to address the problem and find the solutions, and also, to engage the public as well. That’s the biggest thing I want to stress about what I’m going to be doing with the council is engaging the public more, and engaging the council. We went through the last three years of a mayor who was seemingly trying to run it by himself and wanted council to rally around him instead of working as a cohesive unit together. To me, I think it’s a trap to say that the mayor is going to do this and the mayor is going to do that. That’s not they way it should work at all. Council as a whole, with guidance from the citizens: that’s how you make decisions.
Where do you see Norman Wells, or where would you like to see Norman Wells, in three years – does that go along with something you’re not comfortable answering at this time?
What I’d love to see is us fully staffed, and staff enjoy the work they do. I’d love to see the citizens engaged on a regular basis, somehow, some way. I don’t want to determine how that works, but the citizens are engaged and there are no dogs running loose on all hours of the day, the ditches are getting worked on on a regular basis, the dump is getting the proper attention it needs, our infrastructure is being looked at with a plan for the future – that’s what I hope for.
We only have a certain amount of time before Imperial Oil will pull up stakes and abandon their field. Until that time they provide a healthy tax revenue to the town and we need to think of the future and see how we’re going to use that revenue up until the time that they leave, for the betterment of the town. And what is the town going to look like after they leave? What kinds of services are we going to expect? Are we going to turn into a hamlet because of the loss of tax revenue? I think that’s a discussion we need to have, maybe not in these three years, but definitely within the next six, I would suspect.
It’s been about a year since MACA dissolved the government in Wells. Do you expect there will be some unique challenges for mayor and council coming in?
I think one of the unique challenges will be that – I don’t have the list in front of me – I think there are only three people running... myself and Frank have been on council before, we’re the two longest-standing council members in Norman Wells, and there’s one more, Robert Greek, who’s been on council. Other than that I think it’s a clean slate. I guess one of the challenges is getting council up to speed.
I know when i joined council back in ’93 I was quite shy. You’re sitting in a room with people that have been there for a while and you don’t want to sound like an idiot so it takes a while to get your voice, to be able to forcefully put what you’re wanting to say forward. So if you have a room of new people, that’s going to be a challenge and it’s up to the mayor to encourage people to speak, to get what's on their minds on the table – that is going to be a challenge. And to not repeat the mistakes of the past three years, because there were mistakes, as noted in MACA’s reasons for dissolving council. We’ll need training, we need to learn how to work properly with administration, but effectively as well. That didn’t happen in the last three years.
I didn’t realize there were so many new people running for council this year. There are 18 running for council positions. [Four people have since dropped out of the race.]
Yeah, like I said, I don’t have the sheet in front of me but the one I recognized that had any council experience out of all of them was Bob, other than myself and Frank.
It seems there is a lot of trust in municipal government has been lost in the community.
I think that’s reflective of the amount of people that are running. You look at all of the other communities – Hay River, what is it? Nine people vying for eight seats? Similar in [Fort] Simpson and similar in Fort Smith. I think when you’ve lost the trust of the people, the people will rise and they will take their town back. And that’s kind of the mentality: that we lost our town, we lost all control of it. MACA came in and took control, and that didn’t sit well with people at all. We had absolutely no voice for the last year, and quite frankly, people are pissed off.
So you see all of these people that are running – they’ll likely be united in that goal to rebuild that trust and find that voice again?
Oh absolutely, I have no doubt. I’ve been in Norman Wells since ’84. Most of the people on that list I’ve known for years and years, there’s a few new people that I haven’t talked to very much, but I know of them. Every single person, they want to be engaged, they want to right a wrong and turn us around.
Not that we’re – as far as I can see – in a bad position. From what I’ve seen from the last financial statements we’re fairly healthy financially, but when you don’t have all the full-time staff you need, and when you have things that were normally done before, like regular ditching and roadworks programs, that aren’t necessarily happening... I’m not saying that no roadwork or ditching has happened this past year, but we used to have a better program and we don’t this year. I would say everybody’s going to be committed to going forward and doing better and making us better.
Other than all of this experience you have on council, why would you say that you’re the best person for the job?
That’s always the toughest question.
We can make it the last question.
I said to some other reporter: my love of the community. And that’s valid and true. I loved it after the first few months that I lived here full-time.
A couple of things, I guess, is the experience: now is not the time for a new mayor, a mayor that hasn’t been a councillor before. Not knocking Harry Cassie who is a candidate for mayor – he’s a good man and a knowledgeable man, but now is not the time for a new person at the helm. Frank has as much experience as I do, so if I don’t get in the town is in good hands anyways.
But, and I’m not going to say this about the other two, but for myself anyways, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not going to sugarcoat things. I have integrity, personally. I’m not saying the other guys don’t either.
I’ve been through this enough that I know the good things to take away from the mayors I’ve served under before and the bad things that I need to stay away from from the mayors before. So what you get from me is just an honest person with integrity. I don’t have lofty ambitions, this isn’t going to become my launching point to become MLA. I am content with being the mayor and then sliding off into obscurity later when I retire and pick up gardening and live in Norman Wells until I die.
It’s hard to say what makes you better than the other two guys – I like the other two guys, they’re great guys and if hadn’t run for mayor I would happily have run for council and hopefully gotten in and served under either of them. Although I’d lean towards Frank because of his experience. I think when it comes down to it, the people are just going to have to decide: who do you think is the best person who’s going to get council into a consensus mode, who’s going to get council to work together and not have factions start? Nobody has to agree all the time, but we have to have frank discussion all the time, and we have to have honest discussion all the time.