There will be a new face representing the West Hill on City Council in the near future.
Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski announced on Tuesday that he will be resigning his seat as of the beginning of next month to take a new opportunity with the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation (STF).
Zurakowski has served as President of the Prince Albert Area Teacher’s Association for the past four years.
“I have enjoyed serving the people of West Hill and the City of Prince Albert,” Zurakowski said. “It is a big part of my life for a long time and it has been enjoyable and I thank them for that.”
Zurakowski rarely had opposition during his 18 years on council. He said that showed the people in West Hill had confidence in him, and he was grateful for that trust.
“It is three elections I was acclaimed, although there were always rumblings out there,” he said. “To me that is a big show of confidence that people have in me and that’s something that I want to make sure I thank them for.”
Zurakowski has represented Ward 8 since being elected in October 2006. He said the role has become a part of who he is.
He said he has always been active in the education and city council sectors of society, but had to choose between one of the other when a chance to work with the STF came up. While sad to leave his role on council, he was eager to begin a new role with the STF.
“It is serving people again, right,” he explained. “It is something that I enjoy and have always done and it’s an opportunity to do that on a provincial scale.
“I showed some interest in it and it is always ‘next time’ on most things, right,” he added. “Then they kept calling me back (and) they kept calling me back and I would have conversations. Suddenly, when you get an offer, you have to do some hard thinking and make a decision.”
Although he’s taking on a new role, Zurakowski said he will not relocate to be closer to the head office in Saskatoon for now.
“My wife and I talked about it and people drive all of the time,” he said.
“We are not going to rush any decisions. We have relatives there if we need to crash for a couple of days so we will make it work.”
Zurakowski starts in his new role on Feb. 1, which coincides with the end of the school semester.
“The STF wanted me there as soon as possible and I asked for the month of January,” he said. “It makes sense with the high school being at the end of the semester. It’s a nice turnaround day so it’s a date that fit for everybody.”
Zurakowski will serves as Senior Administration Staff with the STF. His portfolio will include members services, members support, professional development, and labour relations at the provincial level. The STF has 11 Senior Administration Staff services across the province.
He will be assigned two specific school divisions for members support, but won’t learn which divisions those are until he starts his new role.
“(It’s) right after I find out if I parked in anybody’s parking spot,” he said. “They haven’t told me that yet. It will be a new adventure walking through new doors and providing the service to people and in this case, it is teachers.”
In addition to his role on City Council, Zurakowski served four years with the PAATA. He said it felt much longer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but still found the work satisfying.
“I have found out that I enjoy that part,” he said. “It’s a chance to improve the lives of others and help folks out when they need some advice and help and so I enjoy that.”
Despite many large projects and accomplishments while on council, Zurakowski said his favourite accomplishments are related to the smaller aspects of the life of a municipal politician.
“I am very proud of those opportunities that came along to help the elderly lady who is in a wheelchair who gets picked up by the handicapped bus and there is a ridge of snow in front of her house,” he explained. “They are little things, but they are big things and those little things along with those big things to improve the lives of people in our neighbourhood and in our city, … that stuff matters. We can’t forget about every decision we make, every policy we create, how does it affect and how does it improve he lives of our residents because if it doesn’t, why are we doing it?”
Zurakowski’s 18 years of experience are just short of Don Cody’s three years on council. Zurakowski said the days are long, but the years go by fast.
“It has been a pleasure to serve the people and I have enjoyed it,” he said. “I learned in a hurry that you can’t go to Safeway to buy a loaf of bread in 10 minutes because it is going to be 20 because everybody wants to chat. But that is part of the job.”
The decision to resign from council did not come without a lot of contemplation.
“It was a tough decision for sure,” he said. “A lot was accomplished. A lot was done. We still have some challenges but we have good people in administration, (and) good people in the room who will deal with those issues.”
He said that the people of West Hill developed a trust with him over the years, and a lot of that came from just being accessible.
“It is being out there with the people, walking your dog and taking those Sunday drives that take four hours to check the back alleys and sidewalks and what needs work,” he explained.
He said another important aspect is always being able to pick up the phone and speak to and for constituents.
“It is making those connections, those significant connections in the community so that if you need to know anything, if you have any questions, you know who to talk to,” he said.
When looking back at his time on council, Zurakowski said they partnerships they developed with community organizations and people, like Malcolm Jenkins, were critical to completing new projects.
He cited the Rotary Trail as one of the best examples.
“When we started talking about the Rotary Trail, the Rotary Club was interested. (It took) well over a decade to finish it. It took a Herculean effort, and again, it’s the same conversation every year: are we going to have money in the budget? To me, I have learned that access to healthcare and recreation for families are the two things that bring people to cities, and our commitment over the years for splash parks and improving the parks and Rotary Trail.”
Malcolm Jenkins and the City have been partnering on splash parks since starting in 2009 with new ones added over time.
“Those things are important,” Zurakowski said. “That’s one of the keys for a healthy community: recreation, access to healthcare. Civic government can only do so much and that’s why those partnerships are important.”
Zurakowski said he learned a lot during his 18 years on council, especially by knocking on doors and speaking with his constituents.
“The biggest piece that I have learned—I got some advice early—was ‘where do you access or who do you access at City Hall to get things done’. The biggest job of a City Councillor, I think, is knowing who to talk to, knowing what office to bang on to get things done, to solve issues because it is not always the same office,” he said.
“By and large most people want to do the right thing. You just have to give them the opportunity to do it. Help me understand why this isn’t done yet, why are we leaving snow ridges in school zones?”
He explained that one of the first commitments he made when he was elected was to make sure that there were no more snow ridges in school zones.
“There used to be snow ridges on the street and kids were climbing them and slipping underneath buses and there were stories,” Zurakowski remembered. “Now there are no snow ridges and if there are, there shouldn’t be and that’s in policy. It took a couple of years to get that into practice and into policy, and again, it’s another sign of a healthy community.
“Saskatoon and Regina they look at us and say, ‘how do you clean your streets like that with the little bit of budget that you have?’”
Zurakowski acknowledges that there is always people with negative attitudes towards the city, but more can be done if you stay above the fray.
“There are always going to be naysayers and there are always going to be people that want to take stones and throw them rather than build communities. It is (about) staying above that and keeping the big picture in mind. (It’s) small steps forward and moving in the right direction, broadening the tax base so that we can provide services that people ask for and demand.”
Prince Albert has a reputation for an adversarial city council. Zurakowski said there have always been heated debates, but he’s always been glad for the chance to hear another perspective.
Despite the adversarial nature, Zurakowski said council has been able to find compromise.
“You need the art of compromise to get things done,” he said. “You need to work together. If you are not willing to work together with people it is going to be very difficult to get things done.”
An election to fill the vacant Ward 8 council seat has to be held in six months. A by-election may be held no later than Aug. 1, according to the office of the City Clerk. The process will begin at the Feb. 13 City Council meeting.