Candidate for Ward 9
As a current resident and someone who was born and raised in Ward 9, Naomi Withers has a unique perspective in understanding the needs of the community.
Naomi’s slogan is Business Smart | Community Heart because she has the professional experience combined with a lifelong dedication as a community advocate and volunteer, which was sparked by her family receiving a hand up through Habitat for Humanity when she was four years old.
Naomi holds a Bachelor of Commerce in International Business with two professional designations in supply chain management. She has held a successful career in the energy industry for the past twelve years. Her volunteerism includes Board positions with community associations, Chair of the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (a subcommittee of City Council to help inform policy), co-founder of #SaveYYCPools, executive committees for The United Way and Aboriginal Employee Network, and as a volunteer diversity recruiter for the Calgary Police Service, among many other organizations and committees.
Naomi’s professional and volunteer experience gives her valuable hands-on experience in governance, policy, strategy, contract negotiations, project management and community engagement. With her background in supply chain management, Naomi believes that the City should find better ways of spending taxpayer dollars by introducing economies of scale, better bid processes and contract negotiations. She believes that the City can still deliver the services that Calgarians want and need without unnecessary tax increases, by identifying redundancies and breaking down inter-departmental siloes to increase collaboration and resource + knowledge sharing.
Her campaign priorities are to create thriving neighbourhoods through 1) community safety 2) community engagement 3) economic security:
She advocates fully funding the 12 CSI safety initiatives and see if it can be expanded to the other main streets in Ward 9. A more visible police service will also help in crime prevention. This means ensuring that all districts have the appropriate number of officers and the right tools available to them.
A community engagement process that is more than a simple check the box exercise is required. We must build decision-making criteria for city councillors and add transparency to our decisions. I have already started engaging and building relationships with the local community associations and with other stakeholder groups to identify key priorities for the next four years, driven by residents.
- Calgary must focus on job creation, affordable housing, and rising property taxes. I will use my skills in supply chain to ensure we are getting the most for our tax dollars.
Naomi listens. She cares. And she has real solutions for positive change in Ward 9. She has knocked on over 15,000 doors, participated in all of the Ward 9 debates and forums, answered countless surveys and even has published her phone number online to speak directly to residents of Ward 9. Her conversations at the door have validated that East Calgary residents feel ignored and that their voices don’t matter. And she intends to change that.
Question 1: What work experience do you have that’s relevant to the role of a Councillor and how do you feel the skills and perspective you have gained will help you in your role as a Councillor?
I have a degree in International Business with 2 designations in supply chain management. This gives me knowledge and training in areas like policy, strategy, stakeholder relations, risk management, and governance. A component of my second designation focused specifically on procurement for a city or large municipality, so this gives me a deep understanding how to navigate, enhance and negotiate improved processes to provide better value for tax payers I have 12 years' experience in international supply chain management and procurement, which gives me hands-on experience with governance and regulatory oversight. My job entails negotiating, stakeholder engagement and finding common ground, so relationship-building based on a position of mutual respect is something that I excel in, and something I'd like to see more of at City Hall. My work experience involves project management and quite simply, finishing on time and on budget. It's not necessarily about cutting costs or programs, it's about streamlining processes and realizing economies of scale. I am very familiar with the processes at City Hall through my various volunteer and Board roles: I was Chair of the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) - a subcommittee of City Council - where I provided critical input to help inform policy decisions. I was able to regularly engage with members of the City Administration within a positive environment of dialogue and respect. For the last five years I've been a Board Member of the Inglewood Community Association. I've worked on many different platforms and committees from planning to heritage to membership and communications. Many times, this involved developing or giving presentations at City Hall. Working with the Calgary Police Service as a volunteer recruiter for the Indigenous community. I believe in fostering positive relationships and bringing forward solutions through communication, education, and understanding.
Question 2: What do you think are the biggest issues affecting your ward are, and how would you approach being their local representative?
Ward 9 is a large, diverse Ward comprised of various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. My priority is to "Elevate Ward 9" so residents and businesses are proud to be from East Calgary. We must collaborate, and communicate to solve issues and bring about positive change in our neighbourhoods. The top issues we've heard at the door are: safety, engagement and resiliency. SAFETY: I'll foster a better relationship with the Calgary Police Service and ensure they have the right tools and training to address the different types of concerns, such as mental health and addictions. I would also like to address the shortage of officers in East Calgary, increase the number of community liaison officers and focus on more diversity training and recruitment to better reflect the communities they serve. Work more closely with community associations and organizations like 12 CSI to share knowledge and resources. We are also looking at technology solutions to use aggregate data to more accurately determine needs assessments by geolocation Assess and address the clustering and over-concentrated poverty and social services while ensuring accessibility to these important programs Work with municipal planning and traffic departments to enhance safety through improved lighting, traffic calming and activated public spaces ENGAGEMENT: Much of Ward 9, especially East of Deerfoot, feels left out of the engagement process on important issues like development, transit, social programs. I propose a Coalition of Community Associations whereby we have regular meetings with community association and BRZ/BIA representatives to keep a pulse check on the community needs. I will commit to attending community association meetings as well. Ensuring the residents and businesses are actual stakeholders in important policy and planning decisions and that their engagement feedback becomes a mandatory component of any approval process Improving awareness of the engagement process through education and increased communication so residents and businesses know what to expect and predictability in the next steps in the process, or why we arrived at a certain decision Make it easier for residents and businesses to provide their feedback: Reduce jargon, increase accessibility through multi-language and disability access to information, easier online tools and changing the public hearing process so more people can attend in-Council hearings either in person or online. RESILIENCY Ensuring all residents have safe, accessible and affordable housing, multi-modal transportation, and recreation are priorities Support for small business to help ensure they not only survive but thrive and provide meaningful employment opportunities. Diversifying our economy by focussing on technology and arts and culture. Development of mixed-use property with smart density that is respectful of each community: residential, commercial and industrial. Ward 9 has a large industrial area that is underutilized and can be leveraged as Calgary expands its innovation hub to diversify its economy. Work with community organizations like The Alex to improve food stability through urban farming and food redistribution programs Work with community organizations that focus on services youth, new Canadians and BIPOC to strengthen their involvement in the community and offer assistance to access programs for job skills, recreation, volunteerism, mentoring, etc./p>
Question 3: What do you think is the role of a municipal government? Do you think the City does too many things, not enough, or just the right amount?
A municipal government is elected to make decisions on behalf of the community by providing services, facilities and passing bylaws and budgets to develop and maintain safe and viable communities. I believe there are too many arbitrary decisions made by Council without adequate consideration of input from community stakeholders or recommendations from Administration and/or other experts. We cannot govern by committee, but I think there needs to be a decision-making matrix or checklist where we weight the social and economic impact of decisions. When I evaluate a contract in my work, I have to know the criteria I am looking at to decide whether or not to award.
Question 4: Do you think property taxes are too high, too low, or just about right?
What I've heard when door knocking is that people expect to pay taxes - they just want more value or return on their investment. They want to know basic services are maintained like snow removal and roadway maintenance. I am concerned about citizens being asked to absorb higher residential tax rates to offset the decreased downtown tax base. Given the economic strain we've seen over the last few years, I do not wish to see tax increases. My background in supply chain and procurement can help find smarter ways of spending through economies of scale, better contract negotiations with suppliers and project management. I know Calgarians recognize that it is costly to run a city, but I think they're simply asking to look at spending money effectively - fit for purpose for what people want and need right now.
Question 5: Over the next four years, should the City spend less in absolute terms, increase spending but by less than the rate of inflation and population growth, increase by the rate of inflation and population growth, or increase faster than the rate of inflation and population growth?
Again, my expertise in supply chain affords me the ability to look at spending in a different way. I firmly believe we can streamline spending, so budgets do not need to be cut to the level of austerity measures, and maintain a reasonable level of spending that suits the rate of inflation and population growth.
Question 6: During the introduction of City Charters a few years ago there was a lot of debate about new taxation powers for the big cities. Would you support the City being given any additional taxation powers by the Province? If so, what taxation powers should the City have?
Bill 7 provided more flexibility pertaining to property taxes through exemptions, reductions and deferrals. I will explore how this could be used to shift some tax burden from seniors and small businesses.
Question 7: The City often claims that they’ve found savings in various budgets, but instead of actually cutting spending, they just put the savings into a reserve account and then spend that money on other things. If there’s money left over at the end of a financial year, do you think that money should be saved up by the City to spend in future years? Or should it be returned automatically to taxpayers the following year through some kind of rebate?
The City has both capital and operating expenses. Ensuring we have a reserve account for those capital expenses is appropriate but must be done with transparency on what the money is earmarked for. We must ensure that any reserve funds are tracked and are earning a fair interest rate.
Question 8: Everyone says they support affordable housing, but what does that term mean for you? Do you think the City should be subsidizing housing for lower-income residents? Or focused on keeping the cost of all housing from getting out of control? Or perhaps some combination of the two? If so, how?
I think one of the keys of building thriving neighbourhoods is providing access to affordable, accessible housing. My family was a recipient of a Habitat for Humanity home when I was four years old and it was this hand up that empowered me pursue secondary education and build a successful career in the energy industry. It is one of the reasons why I have spent a lifetime giving back by serving my community through volunteerism. I don't think people want a hand out, they want a hand up and by doing so, it gives them equitable opportunities to build a better life for their families. Affordable child care and recreation are also key components. I also believe that we need to build housing that purchasers want. That may mean smart, respectful mixed use density. Affordable housing in every neighbourhood will help support the retention and attraction of talent to Calgary.
Question 9: The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board is currently debating their Growth Plan for the Calgary region. What do you think about the plan? Do you think we should be limiting development in certain parts of the region? If so, are you worried about how that will affect housing affordability?
Slowing the sprawl is critical. We need to promote building within our current footprint and adding mixed use housing types. The more we expand the larger the network of City Services required to sustain that growth. The conversation of how we develop needs to be done with our growth targets in mind.
Question 10: There’s been a lot of debate about the City’s new “Guidebook for Great Communities”. What do you think about the Guidebook? What do you think should be the split between greenfield and established community growth for new housing? Should the City have a specific target? Should this be determined by market demand?
The Guide was created to plan out the next two generations of growth. While I believe this document is necessary it must be brought back for public consultation and engagement, with a framework on what the density targets are for Calgary and how we plan on attracting and retaining our talent.
Question 11: When the City voted to approve four projects - the Event Centre, the BMO Centre expansion, the Arts Commons transformation, and the Foothills Fieldhouse - they did so against the advice of the City’s own CFO, who said the City could only afford one of them. Do you think that was the right move? Why? If, as the City continues through the process with each of these projects, it becomes obvious that the City’s CFO was correct, and Calgarians can only afford one of these projects, which would you choose?
I think the City should not have approved all four projects at once. My choice would have been the Arts Commons transformation. I believe that one of the ways we can propel Calgary forward is investing in arts and culture. Our city has so many talented, creative people who deserve stable income and a living wage - not just an occasional "gig". They contribute to the vibrancy of our city and contribute to our economy and tax base. Overall, creative industries employ around 24,000 people in Calgary and directly contributed over $2.1 billion in local GDP. I believe this investment will put Calgary on the map as an arts and culture hub, which will continue to attract tourism and attract and retain talent from other industries.
Question 12: Do you support the construction of the Green Line LRT as currently envisioned by the City, would you prefer changes be made to the plan (and if so, what changes), or would you prefer to cancel the project entirely? If, as a Councillor, you find out that - despite all the previous assurances - there has in fact been another cost overrun on the Green Line, what would you do?
I support the Green Line LRT as I believe that safe, affordable accessible transportation is required so residents can be connected to work, family and friends and recreation and an expanded transit network supports climate action. However, I believe we must plan our transit network with a 50-year outlook and consider a transfer station and model downtown. I believe that disconnecting the line in our downtown core needs to be evaluated for its ability to divert funds to construction of a longer initial phase of the project, and will explore this in the early days in my role as Councillor if elected.
Question 13: What do you think is the best approach to attract businesses to Calgary? Direct incentives to specific businesses, paid for by slightly higher taxes, or lower tax rates for all businesses?
We need a long term plan for lower taxes for all businesses.
Question 14: Should the City be in the business of operating golf courses, or should they privatize or sell them off? How about garbage collection or other services?
The privatization of City Services should not be the first lever we pull to lower costs. We must focus on where we have the expertise and skills and determine if we are best suited to provide services in house.
Question 15: Should we defund the police? If yes, what exactly does defunding the police mean to you? If not, what should the City do to address both historical and ongoing injustices?
I think policing is evolving as we, in society, have a better understanding of the complex issues that lead to crime. Our police officers take on so much and we need to look at policing in a different way - as not everything is a crime. We need to: Ensure our Calgary Police Service has the right in-house tools and training to address the different types of concerns, such as mental health and addictions. I would also like to address the shortage of officers in East Calgary, increase the number of community liaison officers and focus on more diversity training and recruitment to better reflect the communities they serve. Work more closely with community associations and organizations like 12 CSI to share knowledge and resources. We are also looking at technology solutions to use aggregate data to more accurately determine needs assessments by geolocation
Question 16: Do you support the City’s mandatory vaccination policy for City employees?
My family and I have chosen to be vaccinated. I wish mandatory vaccinations were not necessary as I believe in choice, but in order to alleviate the pressures on the ICU, the City will need to implement theses types of measures - like many other top corporations and businesses in Calgary. I believe that City Council should lead by example and ensure all members are vaccinated.
Question 17: Council recently dropped residential speed limits to 40km/h, do you agree with that decision, and what do you think about the proposal by some to go further and drop it to 30km/h in the future?
I would say no to 30. I agree with a common 40km/hr speed limit and that we must understand the unique needs in the community for traffic calming and safety measures like speed bumps, traffic circles, curb extensions, marked pedestrian crosswalks, better signage, lighting etc. We must ensure requests from communities to improve safety initiatives like this are evaluated and processed faster. It should not take 8 years to have a road evaluated for a traffic circle and speed humps as it did in my neighbourhood on a very busy and unsafe road.
Question 18: For years there has been an ongoing debate about the City’s public art spending. Some say that the problem is the selection process for what art is commissioned, while others are opposed to any use of public funds for art. What do you think?
We want beautiful neighbourhoods and streetscapes. I believe in setting a new criteria including supporting local artists and spending limits on art. The Beltline Urban Murals Project (BUMP) is an example of a viable community driven partnership with private enterprise to expand programs without impacting taxes.
Question 19: Serving as a Councillor you are responsible to both your local constituents and every Calgarian. How would you deal with a situation where you feel that the best interests of your local constituents in your ward conflict with what you feel is the best interests of the City as a whole?
I will champion for the needs of Ward 9 but also understand that decisions must be made in the best interest of Calgary. I will be transparent with my decision making and share the criteria on which they were made. With open communication I hope to earn the trust and respect of the residents.
Question 20: While the concept of a secret ballot is essential, many of our supporters have told us that they’d like to know the political alignment of their candidates. So, if - and only if - you feel comfortable saying so, who are you voting for for Mayor and why, and if you are affiliated with any provincial or federal political parties, which ones and why?
I am socially progressive while still being fiscally accountable. I've voted across the political spectrum as I feel that I vote based on policy and person rather than political party. Municipal politics represents everyone and I believe it's important not to be divisive and instead work with and REPRESENT voters of all political affiliations. I will vote for the person that I feel serves Ward 9 and Calgary the best.