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EDITORIAL: Council's selection of new CAO will be telling

'The hiring of a new CAO allows council to hit the reset button, if it so wishes.'
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Kevin Scoble, St. Albert's current city administrative officer, resigned late last week, opting to leave for a CAO role with the Town of Strathmore.

A timeline has not yet been released for when Scoble's duties with the city will cease, but Strathmore has already publicly welcomed him, so the assumption is he will likely make haste with his exit.

His departure raises many important questions, about where the city has gone under his administrative guidance, and whether the city's direction will shift in the absence of his steadfast support for such projects as the Badger Lands solar farm and the proposed Municipal Energy Corporation.

Will these projects fizzle without Scoble in his current role and with a new council at the helm?

The city’s own organization chart places the citizens of St. Albert at the top. Next is city council, then the office of the CAO and the various city departments. Some members of the public contend the inverse has been the case — with the citizens sitting on the bottom rung, awaiting the dictums from the city manager and council.

First was the city’s quest for additional revenue streams via the Municipal Utility Corporation, which met considerable public pushback. Questions were asked, but answers were vague. The public was told certain information could not be released because it would compromise the city’s competitive advantage in the marketplace. In essence, the public was told to trust without being privy to all the information.

More recently, we’ve seen the solar-farm proposal and a pitch for a Municipal Energy Corporation to provide the city with additional revenue streams. Members of the public again questioned the business plan and the numbers.

The hiring of a new CAO allows council to hit the reset button, if it so wishes. Transparency was a cornerstone of the last election. Most elected officials made it a campaign plank. If the city wants the public to be onside with an energy corporation, solar farm, or a city venture involving electric vehicle charging stations, it must prove out the business case and have such projects stand on their merits and withstand public scrutiny. Taxpayers have a right to question and get credible answers. They are, after all, expected to be the shareholders of such ventures, and would bear the burden of nearly $30 million in debt if the proposed solar farm goes ahead.

This all comes down to defining the role of the municipality. Is it the traditional model of development, taxation, and providing public services? Or should it involve getting into business and competing with the private sector in an effort (as city officials have claimed) to keep tax increases to a minimum?

Who council selects as the city’s next CAO will be telling in this regard.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.