Six Questions for Brenda Slomka

Brenda Slomka, 2014 municipal election, mayor, Kingston, OntarioI love this country, our city, the outdoors, my bike, good literature, idea generation and strategic plans.  As a Student Affairs professional and engaged citizen I have budgeted, built teams and bolstered quality of life for many years. I have served on numerous committees (Building and Properties, Town and Gown, Municipal Accessibility Committee, to name three). I am a Kingston Youth Shelter Director and a Co-Chair of an arm of the United Way/City’s Poverty Reduction Initiative. I manage Residence Life at St. Lawrence College. I am completing my second Master’s degree. I want to use my leadership and community experiences to inspire Kingston to move from being a good city to being a great city. To build a more cooperative, creative and compassionate city, together, known for its innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

1. Why do you think you are the best candidate to become Kingston’s next mayor? What unique skills, experience and insight sets you apart from other candidates and makes you the most logical choice for voters in the upcoming municipal election?

I am a practitioner of developing community. I bring together people and ideas to generate purposeful change. I am a strategist at heart. I possess excellent consultation and facilitation abilities, project management capability and strong written and verbal communication skills.

It’s the meshing of my significant governance and leadership experience – working to build teams and develop structures – along with significant City contribution that gives me the knowledge of institutions equal to, in fact even exceeding, a term on Council. It is also the deep seeded understanding (developed in part through my Master’s in Business and Leadership, and the second Master’s I am completing in Public Administration) that policy links the ability to create and dream up possible opportunities, with the foresight to move us, together, to achieve the goals we craft as a Council and as a community.

My passion for building a community in which compassion, understanding, service and participation are the norm, is one of the reasons I am running for Mayor.

What sets me apart is that I don’t have the baggage of the sometimes divisive and dramatic happenings around the Horseshoe. This will allow me to build consensus using my significant experience on Board of Governors, University Senate, co-chairing the Poverty Reduction Initiative and my years of professional work as a Student Affairs professional, budgeting, building teams and bolstering quality of life.

I am ready to hit the ground running.

2. When Kingstonians vote on October 27th, they will be asked if they are in favour of a casino being located in the City of Kingston? What is your position regarding this transformative ballot question?

I am voting no. I am 100% against a Casino. The negative impact clearly outweighs any possible benefit. More specifically, I believe human costs outweigh any financial enticement, and this is supported by countless experts, reports, and personal testimonies. I am not supportive of finding revenue streams at the cost of the most vulnerable in our society.

It is disappointing to me that the provincial government would suggest this tactic: it is more concerning to me that organizations and key leaders in our city would feel the same way. Casinos are not sound means to generate revenue as they drain local small business and increase the need for social supports. We can do better and work harder to find alternative revenue streams that bring vitality to our City.

3. According to a report by the Community Foundation for Kingston & Area (CFKA), many Kingstonians feel that “local government programs and services have not made a difference”. As mayor, how would you work to address this sentiment and otherwise ensure that members of the community see the value provided by municipal programs.

Governing and leading others takes work and a willingness to find the best solution. I think Council can do better on this front. “Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them,” according to Paul Hawken, and I agree.

Here are three practical ways I would work to increase residents’ engagement and education on municipal issues and impact:

First, as I Mayor, I would commit to the role as a full time job – not just to the mandatory requirements but also leading and initiating opportunities in new ways and in new venues. (Recall, the Mayor is tasked with overseeing a $320M corporation, is technically a member of ALL City Council Committees, and is the Head of a 12 person decision making body.)

Second, as Mayor, I would champion the beautification and accessibility of public service announcements and Council records. Simply, we need to consider how we as the City share information about opportunity for participation as well as around decisions that have been made more creatively, from infographics to online portals and artistic public display boards, for example.

Third, the Mayor and Councillors should be more transparent, sharing more relevant information like expenditures, for instance.

Transparency in this context also means availability: as Mayor, I would work with my Council colleagues to have them commit to hosting in-person town hall meetings at least once every two months.

4. Do you consider KEDCO’s mandate sufficient with respect to the attraction and development of local area businesses? What changes, if any, would like to see made at KEDCO as well as within city policies and strategies to help stimulate new and exciting economic development?

I want us to consider using the Canadian Index of Well Being to measure our productivity and not just the GDP.

And I want to help build a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability (where we live to change our means, not just live within them – for social, cultural, economic and environmental vitality) to see KEDCO’s traditional roles of attracting new business, growing and retaining of current business and tourism flourish. I would also add an agricultural mandate to KEDCO, as farmers are indeed entrepreneurs and local food business is an industry that needs support for deepened success.

5. Kingston tends to struggle with respect to striking the right balance of transportation options and infrastructure. Many residents argue that a third crossing is long overdue, while others see this project as being financially irresponsible. Are you in favour of investing in the development of a third crossing, or do you feel that city funds would be better spent in other areas of improving our transit system?

I would support the proposed “Third Crossing” Bridge over the Cataraqui River on the condition that the incorporation of long-term sustainable transportation objectives is required in the structural design of the bridge (i.e. potential for dedicated public transit under – or on – the roadway surface).

This planning foresight will benefit us economically and environmentally in the future as the mobility needs and transportation mix of the City evolves. I would also make my support conditional on Kingston receiving matching funds from the Federal and Provincial government. And rather than taxpayers footing the entire bill for the municipal share of the bridge, I propose that a significant portion of the expense be recouped over time by a special charge for development that increases low-density sprawl, particularly along the urban fringe.

6. If you are elected Kingston’s next mayor, what immediate challenges will you focus your (and council’s) attention on? Further, what do you assess as being your top local priority, and how you propose to ensure it is successfully realized/managed during your first term as mayor?

Team building is a top priority: helping create a culture of consensus (not that we always agree, but that we move towards unity on key issues) that provides context for healthy decision making that can move us forward.

For this reason, I would lead an initiative to develop a Council Charter to define values that we would govern by. I would converse directly with each Councillor to understand their priorities/shared priorities for all districts of the city.

In my campaign I have described my priority to help advance a more cooperative, creative and compassionate city marked by innovation, entrepreneurship and robust sustainability. In terms of practical initiatives, the following are some priorities for early in my term as Mayor if elected:

  1. Establish a Loyal Venture Capital Development working group – reaching out especially to Queen’s School of Business – to develop a strategy designed to build up a significant pool of venture capital available in Kingston that will support local entrepreneurs and the innovations that will help create jobs and greater future prosperity.
  2. Begin a robust community engagement process to develop immediate and practical marketing and commercial strategies to progressively increase revenues spent on Arts and Culture in Kingston in order to better economically support Kingston’s artists.
  3. Chair a Kingston Waterfront Innovation District steering group to develop and educate on the “value proposition” for investors, innovative businesses and social enterprises who wish to establish themselves in a dynamic, mixed residential, clean tech, high quality-of-life district along the bank of the Great Cataraqui River.
  4. Organize an annual Mayor’s State of Poverty Dinner fund-raiser and use funds raised to hire a specialized Anti-Poverty Social Worker that reports directly to the Mayor’s office on the state of homelessness and on the effectiveness of community anti-poverty and end-to-homelessness strategies.
  5. Advance environmental and fiscal sustainability by incentivizing “Smart Growth” development that discourages low-density urban sprawl-type development on the urban fringe. The avoided future infrastructure building costs and extra municipal servicing fees from this initiative will significantly pay back – on the capital budget bottom line – the municipal portion cost of the Third Crossing over a number of decades. This development “incentivizing” could take the form of deferred development charges for two years to help builders with their cash flow.
  6. Ensure Kingston is on track to achieve its greenhouse gas emissions targets by expanding active transportation opportunities, enhancing renewable energy and energy conservation initiatives, smart land use development, expanded tree planting and other measures.
  7. Support Kingston’s agricultural community and local foods movement by supporting the establishment of a “local food hub” which would function as a storage and distribution centre to assist local region farms in the marketing, logistics and transportation of locally produced food to better supply Kingston buyers.
  8. Meet and dialogue with the leaders of each post-secondary institution, and with local federal and provincial government representatives, to explore areas of municipal/post-secondary co-operation and excellence. For example, partnering to establish an International Centre of Excellence in Municipal Climate Change Adaptation Technology and Practices.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

2 thoughts on “Six Questions for Brenda Slomka

  • I was planning to vote for Brenda up until election day. However, she did not respond to my questions I emailed her, while Rick Downes did, and so I voted for him instead.

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