Todd Dennis first came to city council in 2010, and he's hoping that the people in Ward 6 liked what he did so much over the last four years that they give him their vote again. A graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland with a Bachelor of Science degree, Dennis has made a 25 year career in the transportation industry. When not working, Dennis is actively involved in several community, professional and volunteer organizations, or spending time with his wife of 11 years Lynda and his two step-children. He loves to travel and is an avid runner of the exercise variety, and he's hoping that he finishes this political in either first or second place.
1) Why did you decide to run for city council?
Four years ago, it was because I knew that my voice would be important in representing Ward 6 and the residents of the south end. I believed that stronger leadership was required.
After 4 years on Council, and a great deal of learning and work behind the scenes, I believe that Council and the City recognize the needs and requirements of the south end. We’ve seen impressive commercial and residential growth. Wise planning has led to this steady growth. A commercial node was previously designated and is developing very nicely at Clair and Gordon.
Gordon was designated as an intensification corridor. Unfortunately, Guelph does not have a series of major roads accessing the city. However, by designating Gordon, it allows steady growth in residential and commercial development, allows services to keep pace, and provides effective utilization of police, fire and transit services.
For the 2014 to 2018 term, I want to continue the work that I’ve been passionate about. The South End Community Centre has now been approved by Council, is shovel ready and has been referred to the 2015 Capital budget. We are also working with partners to develop and support the concept. I want to make sure that a project that is so important to Ward 6 and the City of Guelph as a whole is not scuttled.
As Chair of the Community and Social Services Committee for the past three years, I have been privileged to meet many residents, hear their stories and listen to what they are offering in the building of this city. The CSS department has a dedicated, hard-working group of staff that aids, supports and guides residents in many areas.
I am excited to be able to continue working in that area.
There are also many other projects that I wish to continue working on that will be extremely important to the growth and development of this City. Some examples are the continued growth and development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park, the development of the reformatory lands, the development of Baker St, the Community Energy Initiative, and others.
2) What makes your ward unique to Guelph?
Ward 6 is still a “new” area of Guelph, although some areas are well over 50 years old. There are a lot of young, active families, many who moved to Guelph because they loved the City. We bring a different perspective to what makes a good City because we’ve seen positives from other municipalities.
It has been described as highly educated and slightly more affluent than the overall Guelph average.
It is an area that is still developing. We’ve seen a lot of growth and more is expected. We were slow on getting services, but the business community has seen the residential growth and taken the next steps to provide services.
The City has been a bit slower, but we do have a fire/EMS/collision centre that was absolutely required. Next step is the recreational services which are sorely lacking south of College.
3) Using a letter grade, how would you rank the performance of the current city council? Explain.
B – I come from a private business environment. I’m used to customer service, budgeting, preventative maintenance and doing more for less and moving at a faster pace to meet customer needs. My biggest challenge was the pace of change at City Hall. I’ll be frank, some areas were stuck in the 1970’s and 80’s. There was still a mentality of “we’ve always done it that way” for a portion of the Corporation.
There was, and is, some silo mentality.
However, with the hiring of our CAO, and much Council input, we set a new direction at City Hall. Change does not come easy. Having said that, City Hall has seen dramatic change in the past four years. A few examples:
Integrated Operational Review – to combat the so called Guelph Factor. Are we there yet? Nope. Are we getting there? Yes. The creation of the Enterprise team has led to better relations between business and City Hall. The Business Retention & Expansion (BRE) program has been created to address local business needs. Having business champions will also aid in the process.
We’ve actively worked with the business community and the Chamber of Commerce to make the process better.
Open Government – this speaks for itself. The community will be able to access and advise on many topics and on what affects or interests them.
Well-Being Initiative – Guelph residents were contacted in many ways (public forums, on line, telephone, in person) to find out what is important to them. The City was a facilitator in involving everyone from local entrepreneurs, the Chamber of Commerce, service groups, public health, and so on, in order to provide service better. After two years, the community has started several initiatives designed to help people’s well-being, whether it be physical or mental health, housing, or connectivity. By being proactive now, the City and residents will reap the rewards in the future.
Well-being at City Hall is being imbedded in how we think about some projects.
For example, the community grant program is now looked at through the well-being lens. Another example is project prioritization. We can use our well-being framework to identify and prioritize what’s important to the residents of Guelph.
There are many other examples of change at City Hall. There are many examples of doing business differently. There are many examples of thinking differently.
To get back to my original concept about pace, we have not been fast enough in my estimation. The Community Centre took repeated motions of Council to get the report completed and to get it put on the 10-year capital budget. We have not been fast enough eradicating the silo mentality.
4) Some people say that Guelph is over-taxed, others believe that our taxes are inline with a community our size; where do you stand on taxation in Guelph?
On an applicable municipal comparison basis only, we are not overtaxed. Never forget that Guelph is a single tier municipality and we are growing. I’ve been asked many times regarding Kitchener and Cambridge tax increases being less than Guelph’s. Unfortunately, those numbers do not include the upper tier, county, portion of the tax bill, which is often reported much later than the municipal levy.
Citizens demand services be maintained and expanded. We are presented every year a municipal comparator list and we are around the average for a city our size.
Can we do better? Yes. Every day we look at how to do the same, or more, with the same resources. Have we identified all those service areas that this City should no longer be involved? Not yet, but that is partially a Council decision, and we have not gone down that path, yet.
5) Do you believe that Guelph has a spending problem? If yes, then please cite specific examples of areas and/or programs that you would cut to save money?
No, I do not think we have a spending problem. Can we be more efficient? Absolutely. The Internal Auditor function has already identified some areas for improvement. The overtime audit is just one example of identifying that we have an issue. Instead of hiding from that problem, we put a plan in place to address it and resolve it. There are other areas that will be audited and we can address those going forward as well.
6) What’s the biggest priority for Guelph in terms of services needed? This could be something that’s provided by the government, ie: a library or rec centre, or it could be a commercial need, ie: a new grocery store in the east end.
My main priorities for the next term:
- South End Community Centre
- Continued development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park
- The development of Baker St that best meets the needs of the City of Guelph.
Note – Council cannot ever force a business to move to a particular area. All it can do is insure that land has been properly zoned to accommodate a variety of businesses. I get asked all the time about a gas station in the south end. We have properly zoned lands, we have talked to gas station owners, but, as yet, we have not had anyone see the commercial viability of building the gas station.
7) How would you propose to mend relations between the city and transit workers, and to improve the services of Guelph Transit?
This boils down to better communication. Management needs to have a better understanding of Transit workers concerns. Transit workers need to understand the budgetary constraints that we work with.
If this latest labour problem brought anything forward, it is a commitment from both sides to meet more often to create a better work environment for all.
We do have a new manager at Guelph Transit. We are committed to providing better service. We are soliciting input from riders, workers and residents. As we grow, more buses at peak hours along the busiest corridors may be required. All staff needs to be engaged. Customer service has to be the top priority.
8) What will you do to insure the best possible communication between yourself and your constituents if you’re elected to council?
I promised in 2010 that I would respond to all questions or comments from residents. I have responded to every one of those contacts within a maximum of a few hours. Any query I couldn’t answered was directed to an appropriate staff person. I remain committed to providing that level. Email and phone are my best options. I am a novice at Twitter and I don’t think it allows an in depth response. I have not created a website, but it may be something I investigate if the residents of Ward 6 see fit to re-elect me.
I have been, and will continue to be, strongly committed to serving Ward 6 with the honesty and integrity that I live by in my business and private life.
9) Guelph is implementing online voting for the first time with this election, are you in favour of this development or against it? Explain.
In favour. It is the next logical step in our technological society. As long as there are safeguards in place, it offers an accessible, easy way for people to be able to vote.
10) What issue, aside from any previously mentioned in this questionnaire, do you think should be a priority and why?
Community Energy Initiative – we’ve started on district energy and this will be huge going forward.
11) How can local government be a force for good in the lives of the people of Guelph?
I’ve touched on this earlier. Having a business friendly City Hall is imperative. Utilizing a Guelph defined framework for project prioritization must be used City wide. Business cases and prioritization must be first and foremost on capital projects. Open, transparent government, good leadership, open communication must be a part of the culture. Resident feedback and input is part of our culture and must continue to be strong. Doing things differently will improve Guelphites lives.
12) Where can voters get more information about you and your campaign?