Riding off into the political sunset

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    Chestermere’s Mayor Patricia Matthews in her office in December 2016. File Photo by Jeremy Broadfield

    Looking back on her career as Mayor of the city, Patricia Matthews said that the one experience that always stands out is the Olympic relay in 2010.
    “It was beautiful,” said Matthews.
    “It was such a positive, excited feeling of community spirit.
    “And it didn’t matter whether you were three or 30 or 85,” she said.
    Her career in Chestermere municipal politics started in 2004 when she ran for council.
    “I…came in fifth out of six members of council,” she said.
    Matthews was influenced by several factors to run for council, the biggest one being her involvement with a group opposing the AES power plant in Rocky View County.
    Through that group she had meetings with the council of the day and felt that they weren’t as educated on that issue as she thought they should be.
    She decided that if she wanted to see changes she needed to run for council to make them happen.
    “My mom always says you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution,” said Matthews.
    With the decision to run made, Matthews started doing her homework on what a councilor’s job entails.
    As part of her preparations Matthews spoke with a sitting member of council to learn about the work load and how it would impact her family.
    “When I look back now, she smiled like a Cheshire cat and she said oh it’s not bad at all,” laughed Matthews.
    As the results came in on election night, Matthews thought she knew what she was in for. She was wrong.
    “It was startling,” said Matthews, “I thought I had a pretty good handle of how things were being run.”
    “I got on council and realized just how vast the information was that needed to be compiled and sifted through and decided on,” she said.
    Despite the shock of how much more work the job was, Matthews enjoyed her time on council.
    “Municipal politics is the truest form of politics because you actually get to see things done and know you affected that change,” she said.
    An example of this was the creation of the Chestermere Public Library which will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year.
    “I sat on the board of volunteers that helped to make that happen, and I sat there as a Councillor,” she said.
    As her term on council came to an end, Matthews decided to take a run at the Mayor’s chair since then Mayor Dave Mikklesen was retiring from Chestermere politics.
    After a conversation with Mikklesen about what needed to be done in Chestermere, Matthews decided she was the right person to move that agenda forward.
    Matthews ran against another member of council on a platform to be the city’s first full time Mayor.
    She won the 2007 election becoming Mayor and was acclaimed in the next two elections in 2010 and 2013.
    Just like the job of city councilor turned out to be a lot bigger than she had expected when looking in as an outsider, so to was the position of Mayor.
    “What being on council did is allow me to figure out all the acronyms,” she laughed.
    As she settled into the role of a full time Mayor, Matthews said there was a lot of trial and error to figure out the job.
    “Thankfully some very wise and patient members of council…helped steer me in the right direction,” she said.
    The support and mentorship she found both on council and the region combined with her enthusiasm for the job helped her get up to speed in her new role.
    “I think what made me enjoy the job the most, and what made me successful…was that passion and drive to make a difference in the community,” she said.
    In the next two elections, Matthews said she was disappointed that no one ran against her.
    “I had signs out for both, I was ready to go,” she said.
    “I really enjoy the campaign,” said Matthews.
    In the 2013 election, Matthews decided to go door knocking despite not having any competition for the job.
    “I wanted to hear what people had to say,” said Matthews, “I’ve always wanted to hear what people had to say.”
    Over her four terms, Matthews is proud of what has been accomplished in Chestermere.
    Each council she has been on has affected major change in the city.
    “We’ve moved so many things forward,” said Matthews, “we’ve become a city.”
    She said that the changes she has been a part of over the last 13 years have been necessary as the community grew and changed to accommodate that growth.
    “We’ve done everything from settling a 35-year land deal to re-branding…who Chestermere was.
    “We have moved forward with an annexation in the time that I’ve been here, we have attempted another one and withdrawn it,” she said.
    The different councils that Matthews has served with have all faced a variety of challenges and successes.
    One of the biggest challenges came during Matthews first term as Mayor when the city’s director of planning was killed in and car crash.
    “It was a massive blow to our organization,” she said.
    “And it taught me really quickly how the staff here pull together and how professional they are,” said Matthews.
    The most controversial decision that was made during Matthews time on council was the creation of Chestermere Utilities Inc. (CUI).
    CUI came about as council looked at ways to best protect Chestermere and its future growth.
    In working to ensure there was room within the city’s debt limit to pay for both current and future amenities the decision was made to pursue the creation of CUI.
    While CUI has led to some of the most difficult times for Matthews and city council, including the petition for a provincial investigation into the management of the city, Matthews is proud of the way council has led the city.
    “The resiliency of the council that I’ve worked with to continue making the tough but right decisions regardless of whether they were popular or not,” said Matthews.
    Coming into this final term, Matthews said she knew it was going to be her last term on council.
    With that in mind she has worked to leave both the office of Mayor and the city in the best place possible for the new Mayor, Marshall Chalmers, to continue moving Chestermere forwards.
    “My biggest compelling focus over the last four years was to be able to leave this office in the best possible position it was in knowing there was going to be somebody new sitting in my chair,” said Matthews.
    Being Mayor is more than just policy and governance and as she relinquishes the office, Matthews said that the one of a kind experiences she has had in the community and with city staff made the job worthwhile.
    Now that she will no longer be a public servant, Mayor Matthews said she will be taking some time for herself to spend with her family.
    While she will no longer be the face of the organization Matthews plans to continue to be involved in and living in the community going forward.
    “I’ll continue to support this community quietly, in the background,” she said.
    While she plans to focus more on her family, Matthews isn’t going on any extended vacations now that she is no longer Mayor.
    She will be keeping busy as an academic director with the Haskayne School of Business, consulting and volunteering on various boards.
    “This place has kept me hopping for a decade, I don’t know how to slow down anymore,” she said.