Dennis Trepanier, you’ve found our Daily Double

I’ve decided that over 20 days is long enough to wait for an answer from some candidates, even after a follow up email to ask if they’ll have a chance to get to them. In light of this, tonight we’ll be taking a look at mayoral candidate Dennis Trepanier.

Through his postings on social media and his candidacy site, we know that Mr. Trepanier has a been a consultant with the oil and gas industry, held a variety of analyst positions, would run for the Wildrose Party provincially, and is a Canadian whose greatest icons are Ronald Regan and Abraham Lincoln. He also likes the colour beige and, much like his competitor William Horn, advocates that residents read a blog that called jamboree participants paedophiles and called city art devil worship due to a translation error.

Mr. Trepanier lists three major priorities as his focus: safety and security, fiscal responsibility and quality services. Under each, he lists why he feels these are important issues to him and his campaign. His platform does deal with these priorities, but aren’t clearly identified under each one. It would be much easier for voters to identify his solutions were he to identify a major priority, list the problems, and then detail his ideas under the same heading.

On Safety and Security

Mr. Trepanier wants to make sure crime in Red Deer is reduced, and would do everything in his power to make it a safer place. He admits that this will take resources, cooperation and data analyses to have a starting point and comparison point. However, other than identifying these, and saying that he wants residents and the RCMP to know council fully supports crime reduction efforts, no ideas, plans or suggestions are made as to how to accomplish any reduction in crime.

In a written interview on Andrew Kooman’s blog, Mr. Trepanier admits that there are smarter and more knowledgeable people than him with regard to crime. In the same instance, he states that as mayor it would not be his job to come up with ideas of how to fix the city’s crime problems. Instead, his responsibility is to see that the city sets targets and measures for crime reduction. Establishing targets and measures will provide insight into the success of crime reduction in Red Deer, but how does one set these targets and measures without knowing which process will be used in the first place? What if the ideas put forth by other agencies who are not the Mayor and council don’t reflect the desire of how the city would approach crime reduction? Why isn’t it up to the mayor or council to put forth ideas on how to reduce crime in the city? Wouldn’t full cooperation with the RCMP involve discussions about what types of crime are more prevalent, what kind of support the city would offer to support policing, and discuss what methods the city would like to see used? At no point in Mr. Trepanier’s platform is there any mention of addressing social causes of crime.

Is the city not responsible for social programs aimed at curbing crime in youth or riskier areas? Is the approach Mr. Trepanier would like to see simply let the RCMP sort it out and reap the rewards for their efforts? Why would ideas or solutions to target social causes of crime not be considered a major task or focus for the mayor and council? Are the targets and measures Mr. Trepanier suggests as simple as setting the number of arrests and convictions in a given year the baseline against which subsequent years are compared? Would this mean that, if the RCMP arrests 100 more people next year than this year that crime reduction methods are working? Wouldn’t 100 more arrests mean 100 more crimes? It’s fine to promise crime reduction as a priority, but to pass off the how of it to another agency isn’t demonstrating true leadership on the issue.  He states that he will see Red Deer become a safer community through whatever means necessary, yet offers no ideas about how to accomplish that other than let someone else develop solutions.

A question residents need to consider is would they like to have a mayor who, in a September 25 Red Deer Advocate article, blames management (of who, he doesn’t say. The city? The RCMP?) for crime rates in Red Deer. Management lacking proper direction and attainable goals is a major reason for high crime rates in the city, not finite policing resources, poverty, drug related causes, etc. Never mind that, overall, crime rates in Red Deer fell 10.5% over 2012, management is still at fault. However, at the Red Deer Public Library debate, he states that an overloaded RCMP means organized crime believes Red Deer is good for business, with no mention of management problems. Are large demands placed on the local RCMP the fault of management? Is the city not at all responsible for helping to ease the burden on the RCMP by coming up with its own crime reduction strategies and policies?

On Fiscal Responsibility

I was going to examine these priorities separately, but realized that they’re so intertwined I’d might as well do them at the same time.

Mr. Trepanier makes it clear that he, as well as many residents, is concerned with city spending. He openly wonders why the city holds a debt of $240 million, and why so much was spent on the new City yards.

It’s easy to answer the debt question he has. Much of it accounts for new and upgraded water treatment services and systems, upgraded electrical infrastructure and upgrade road infrastructure. These are all projects that will help prepare Red Deer for future growth and ensure quality of the life in the city does not decrease. Debt spending has been identified in countless newspaper articles, blog posts and the city website. Better to ask, what debt beyond current necessary infrastructure needs is being used, what for and why?

For capital projects, Mr. Trepanier says that every single one needs to be scrutinized to “ensure it meets the short and long terms needs for the City of Red Deer”, and that the city must ask whether a project improves quality of life for residents. I would say that a water treatment system built to handle large increases in population would count as meeting short and long term needs for the city. The same could be said for useable roads and an electrical system that can handle increased demand from a growing population. He states, “We need to consider how much money the citizens of Red Deer have given us to execute the projects we NEED, not how much tax increase we can lay on the shoulders of the citizens to fund the projects that everyone WANTS.”Note the last two words. If everyone in the city wants a project completed, I’d say it was a need and a priority. Who will make that determination?

At the October 3 Red Deer Public Library debate, Mr. Trepanier derided the city for including and planning for intergenerational debt in its budgets.  He asks the audience if they’d pass on their personal debt to their children. Obviously, no one wants to do that, but there’s a difference between your personal debt and debt incurred by a city or government. Your personal debt is not applied to projects that benefit the rest of the population. Obviously, you can treat personal and government debt the same way; in both instances, less is better, none is preferable, and you’d like to pay off the debt you have now as fast as you can. However, in the case of city capital projects, why is it wrong to spread the tax burden for debt repayment over multiple tax generations? Would Mr. Trepanier rather see a single tax generation shoulder the financial responsibility for major projects? If Red Deer suddenly decided to do this, what do you think would happen to tax rates? Where does Mr. Trepanier suggest sourcing alternate funds for these major projects to avoid single generation tax increases?

On Quality Services

In terms of the city’s operational costs and service delivery quality, Mr. Trepanier is adamant that his goal will be to review every single service offered by the city to ensure it matches a level of expectation from residents. The first thing I’d note is; how does one determine that level of expectation? You have to set a benchmark to determine if a service is meeting it. Would council arbitrarily set these targets? Would they be solicited from residents? What happens if there’s disagreement on what the targets should be and how they should be developed?

The second issue is that Red Deer has a large number of departments and services. There are 24 main city departments, each with a number of sub-services. Let’s look at some of them:

Electric Light & Power is a main department.  Its services include building new service constructions and connections, meter installation, testing and maintenance, load settlement, electricity usage analysis, power quality monitoring, line locating, street and traffic light installation and maintenance, and trimming trees. That’s eight services in this department.

The Inspections & Licensing department issues safety code permits, inspects residential and non-residential buildings, provides occupancy permits, provides development permits, approves secondary suites, provides sign permits, provides special events permits, provides business licenses, issues home occupation licenses, issues taxi/limo license, administers dog licenses and acts with Animal Control, administers parking enforcement and enforces the land use and community standards bylaw. That’s 13 services from this department. We’re at 21 services in only two city branches.

As mayor, Mr. Trepanier will seek to review every service provided by these 24 main departments through an as yet unidentified plan and sustainable system that will, supposedly, have no impact on service delivery or money wasted during the review process and analysis. He reiterates full services reviews when he says, “an exhaustive analysis of EACH service and a FULL (not incremental) review of the budget required to support that service.” (emphasis mine) Exhaustive analysis of any service, including deliverables and all finances, is not a short process. It’s an intrusive and slow process. How does he propose to develop a sustainable plan to do this without impacting services or angering city employees and residents?

His resume lists that he worked as a consultant for the provincial government on three projects. That’s an outsider looking in, and analyzing the information he asks for specific to a given project. A full review of services from within government is not the same at all. The processes for review may be similar, but permissions, information gathering, planning, etc., are slower, harder to get and departments must be accountable to the public for any delays or stoppages in work or service delivery due to the review. He advocates that priority services receive the funding needed to meet demands. What happens to a department like City Archives if it’s deemed non-essential compared to others? Cemetery Services? Heritage? Will funds be shifted away from them to other departments? How large an impact on a service deemed non-essential is acceptable? He openly states that a review should ask if a service is needed anymore. What determines this? Does it mean no one at all uses it, or if the user base is below a certain threshold in a given time period, is it considered un-needed? What happens if, at the end of an exhaustive review of every city service, little changes? How will the time and money spent on the entire process be justified to taxpayers?

He also notes that he’s working towards completing his Project Management Professional designation. I’m halfway to completing that as well, so I’m sure Mr. Trepanier can easily explain to city staff and residents the steps necessary for all of these reviews. Things like:

–          Developing proper project teams and charters for every service examined

–          Determining all deliverables from the review

–          Determining review staff, time needed for reviews, who they report to

–          Identifying customers/clients

–          Identifying every need (physical, non-physical, financial) for every customer/client

–          Identifying all expectations for every need and customer/client

–          Determining the cost of rework for any project, service or work method used by every service in the city

–          Setting up and analyzing NGT groups and results for every service in the city

–          Flowcharting existing processes to determine points of inefficiency

–          Collecting data and information on methods, resources, finances, etc. for every service in the city

–          Develop Critical Path Networks to determine the time needed to review every city service

–          Develop Gantt charts for review staff to determine timelines

These are just some of the steps necessary to start a review project. After these have been completed, data still needs to be analyzed, inefficiencies identified, solutions discussed and developed, changes implemented, effects monitored and benchmarks set. All of these steps take time and money. An exhaustive review of an entire city department and all of its services cannot be done in a short amount of time. Even if we assumed it took three months to complete a full review of a single department, it would take six years to review every department. That’s staff, resources and budget money tied up for 1.5 mayoral terms.

On Taxation

Mr. Trepanier envisions what he calls a ‘4 is Zero’ approach; in four years, the city will be trending towards a zero tax increase. He wonders why the city has to increase taxes at all, and should only live within its means. I agree, the city should live within its means, but there are reasons for tax increases. Increased growth means more demand for city services. Loss of government grant money or funding. Changes to the Education Property Tax. Short term debt reduction plans. Utility rates change. Planned use of city revenue over use of debt for capital projects. Recovery from natural  disasters. If every one of these could be properly planned and accounted for, then yes, you’d eventually be able to cease tax increases. The problem is, obviously, they aren’t. If a zero tax increase is eventually achieved, how do you ensure a sustainable revenue base for the city if other sources of funds are removed?

I also think the wording of his plan is problematic. ‘4 is Zero’ comes across as zero tax in four years. This isn’t the case at all. He’s explained this plan as trending towards zero increase in four years as opposed to zero increase in the fourth year. The wording of tax related proposals is important. The majority of people will see ‘is’ in his plan meaning zero increase attained in four years.

On Quality of Life

As mentioned above, Mr. Trepanier would like to see the city scrutinize all projects in order to determine how they will improve quality of life in the city. This statement is interesting, especially in light of his stance on the bike lane and Ross Street Patio projects.

Mr. Trepanier has said that the city has no responsibility to encourage people to ride bikes to combat obesity. Instead, he stated that the bike lanes were a failed attempt at social engineering. The negative connotation associated with social engineering is out of place here. Virtually any decision made by a government that requires citizens to do something different is social engineering. I’d say that the bike lanes were a failed attempt at transportation and public health initiatives, not social engineering. Encouraging people to ride bikes for their health is a quality of life issue that any level of government should promote, and any level of government could plan capital projects to achieve this.

The Ross Street Patio is another project initiated by the city to improve quality of life that Mr. Trepanier is not in favour of. On his Twitter account, he states that a minority of people felt it was worth the money spent on it. However, 82.1% of residents surveyed were very satisfied with it. You have to wonder how Mr. Trepanier is determining what actually qualifies as a project that improves quality of life that’s acceptable.

He points out that the bike lanes represent an $850,000 waste of taxpayer money, and no cost-benefit analysis was done for them. On the other hand, he apparently has no issue spending what will likely amount several hundred thousands of dollars to complete exhaustive reviews of every single city service using an unknown plan and benchmarks.

On Previous Experience

Mr. Trepanier served on Blackfalds town council from 1992 to 1995. In his responses to Andrew Kooman, he says “I have experience on council so it’s not like I’m new to the job.” If you were new to Red Deer and read this, you’d assume he was speaking about experience on Red Deer’s council. Obviously, that’s not the case. While he does have three years of experience, it was in a town with a 1995 population of just over 1,700 people. I’m fairly certain governance practices have changed, and the position of Mayor, representing nearly 100,000 people, is not the same as a council member answering to a population numbering less than 2,000 twenty years ago. Curiously, even though Mr. Trepanier highlights his time on Blackfalds council as relevant experience, he hasn’t listed it or any associated skills on his LinkedIn profile.

On Four Focuses out of Three

Mr. Trepanier offers a summary of his goals for a four year terms as mayor which includes:

  1. Real progress towards tackling the crime and security problem in Red Deer.
  2. 4 is Zero; a commitment to trend tax increase towards the ultimate goal of Zero tax increase.
  3. A plan to reduce the debt with measurable targets and reasonable goals in light of current and future infrastructure requirements.
  4. A plan and sustainable system in place to review every operational service to ensure that they align with the needs and expectations of the citizens of Red Deer and future growth expectations (service level required, quality of service expectations, metrics to track and control progress, communication strategies, etc.).
  5. A strategy to keep Red Deer clean and green and to deal with light, noise, and ground pollution.
  6. And on a personal basis, it is my goal to meet each and every employee of the City of Red Deer by the end of my 4 year term.

The first four points deal with his three main campaign priorities, and he provides insight into them throughout his platform. Point 5 seems like it was thrown in at the last second. Nowhere in his platform, Facebook or twitter pages is there any mention of light, noise and ground pollution. Are these issues somehow attached to his goals of quality service delivery? What problems with light, noise and ground pollution has he identified that require new strategies to deal with them? Does he have plans to approach them otherwise, or are there other experts on the subject who will be responsible for coming up with those plans?

I’m also curious as to whether point 6 would include any staff laid off from his exhaustive service reviews that might determine some staff isn’t needed. I’m sure they’d enjoy a handshake from the mayor before he tells them they aren’t needed anymore.

On Beige

On his Twitter account, Mr. Trepanier disagrees with Paul Harris that Red Deer shouldn’t be beige. Obviously, we’re not talking colour here. In colloquial terms, beige represents dullness or neutrality. Search for beige in the repository of all things slang, and you get “normal to the point of being bland”, “a county, suburb, neighbourhood that has no personality”, “dull, boring and irritatingly tedious.” I’m sure that’s just what Red Deer residents want; a city built on tedium and dullness because to attempt otherwise would have no obvious benefit on quality of life.

On Social Media Comments

Mr. Trepanier doesn’t have a large social media presence. At present, he has a total of 48 tweets, and only follows four accounts, none of which are actually people. His candidacy Facebook page has been open for less than 10 days, and doesn’t expand on anything other than what’s already in his platform. There’s no evidence that any development of social media communication or use has been planned for. Several people I’ve spoken with have noted that they look for a lot of information about prospective candidates online, with heavy examination of messages and information posted through social media.

Some of his tweets include:

“Does it bother anyone that we spent $750,000 to paint a non functioning water tower in Mountview?”  Non-functioning as Mr. Trepanier states would mean incapable of being used at all. This isn’t true. The water tower is functionally capable of storing a half million gallons of water.  The costs involved were also explained during the project. Repairs costs were assessed, repairs were sourced to a company from Ontario, and a new polymer-based paint used that will seal the tower for another 50 years.

“Does it bother anyone that the City used tax payer dollars to build a patio on ROSS that blocks traffic and takes up parking space?” No comments responding to this tweet agreed with it, prompting Mr. Trepanier to say that the people in favour of it are in the minority. In response to this, an image of the survey mentioned above where 82.1% of respondents were very satisfied with the patio was posted. No further follow up from Mr. Trepanier is made.

“C. Jeffries defended her motive for bike lanes as: way to get obese people loose weight to not be burden on health care system – intrusive!” As discussed above, why is a project that would actually improve quality of life for Red Deer deemed intrusive? Expensive and poorly implemented, yes, but intrusive?

“Not cuts, prioritization and focus on essentials: infrastructure and maintenance are essential services, might even grow.”  This is stated in response to a tweet asking which services would be cut due to the 4 is Zero plan. His platform indicates that funds should go to essential services over those deemed non-essential. He also notes that reviews will be done to determine if a service is needed. In the case of funds going to essentially services, more funds to those means the money has to come from somewhere else. All indications from Mr. Trepanier’s platform read that this money would come from less essential services; read: cut from other service budgets. Further, if the determination is made to remove a service entirely, is that not cutting it? The city has a finite amount of money to use, so any changes in finances to one area will have an impact on another. Whether you call this a cut or not, you must still remove funds from one area before moving it to another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *