By Stephen Vance, Editor
On Monday December 6th at 5 pm at Meaford Hall, Meaford residents will be able to witness the inauguration of their new council.
The seven member council elected by Meaford residents on October 25th features a healthy cross-section of the Meaford demographic with councillors as young as 30 and others in their retirement years. The new council also includes three women, two rural representatives, and a broad spectrum of work experience.
When the new council holds their first actual meeting on December 13th, they will begin a term that will no doubt provide challenges.
With the debate over wind farms heating up, concern about preservation of historic downtown buildings, and the ever present issue of lawsuits involving the municipality, there will be no shortage of contentious issues for this new council to deal with.
The key for success for the next term may very well hinge on how the initial meetings are handled.
If our new council can establish an atmosphere early on of openness and transparency, and in addition demonstrate a willingness for all members of council to work together while accepting that they might often have substantially different opinions on issues, they will have gone a long way toward gaining the trust and support of the electorate.
At the same time it will be important for at least some members of council to pick up the baton being passed by Councillors Shortt and McPherson by continuing to dig and ask the hard questions. This isn’t as easy as one might think as taking on that type of role can result in a council member alienating their fellow councillors as well as members of the public.
Who might we see step up and fill the role of muckraking rabblerouser? Who will be the calming voices of reason? Who will display the ability to walk the fine line between dissenting opinions?
The recent election campaign provided a glimpse or two of how our new councillors might conduct themselves around the council table. In the spirit of a fresh start for this new council I’d like to take a look at what each member of our new council might do well in the coming term.
We already know what to expect from Mayor Francis Richardson. Like him or not, agree with his politics or not, what Richardson has exhibited during his term as appointed Mayor, is the ability to bring a calm sense of decorum to council meetings. On the surface at least, Richardson shows no outward signs of carrying a grudge, and he usually allows all members of council to have their say.
Where Richardson does run into some trouble is when faced with controversy. Whether it be an irritated or even unruly member of council or the public, Richardson can be thrown off kilter and become flustered. Richardson could miss having Councillor Cynthia Lemon at the table as she often was able to take hold of the reins, and diffuse a heated discussion either by insisting a recess be called, or by bringing council back to basics by following established rules of order.
That backup might be found in first time councillor Barb Clumpus. Clumpus has a wealth of experience in conducting meetings, and has herself had to endure public dissatisfaction in her role as chair of the Meaford Hall and Culture Foundation. Clumpus expressed a vision for Meaford throughout her campaign that aligned well with Richardson’s platform and supported staying the course and seeing the initiatives put in place by the current council to fruition.
The calming voice of reason on this new council could likely come from another newcomer, Michael Poetker.
Throughout the campaign Poetker showed an ability to deal with the issue at hand and to not get sidetracked by petty arguments and semantics. Look for Poetker to be a bridge between dissenting opinions at the council table and to facilitate compromise when the opportunity presents itself.
Councillor Lynda Stephens enters her second term on council having built a reputation for being Meaford’s environmental watchdog. Her passion for seeing Meaford inch its way toward becoming a ‘green community’ is clear, though she has not always been able to convince her fellow council members of the importance of environmentally responsible initiatives.
Stephens should find some help in the area of environmental stewardship and sustainable municipal policy-making in Councillor James McIntosh.
McIntosh has a background in economic development, but he also seems to be conscious of the need to ensure that growth in the municipality doesn’t come at the expense of charting a sustainable future. Given both his relative youth at age 30, and his desire to see Meaford prosper going forward, McIntosh might find himself being the swing vote on a variety of issues, but if he hones his political skills quickly, he could also be a councillor with the ability to sway other members of council by presenting thoughtful and logical arguments in support of responsible growth.
Our new Deputy Mayor is Harley Greenfield, a role in which he has served previously. Though some suggest that Greenfield is prone to flip-flopping, especially on high profile issues, I would suggest that what Greenfield actually brings to the table is the ability to listen to arguments, and admit when his initial position on an issue was possibly not the correct position.
Greenfield in his new role as Deputy Mayor has an excellent opportunity to give residents the confidence of knowing that their views will be listened to and considered.
Former Reeve of Sydenham, and first time Meaford Councillor, Deborah Young is a potential wild card in a variety of ways. During the campaign Young who lives in Bognor, made it clear that she wanted to be a voice for rural Meaford, and as such expect many of her opinions and votes to support that primary objective.
Young appears to give thoughtful consideration to questions put to her, and I suspect that she will surprise everyone from time to time with her positions on issues. She also doesn’t seem to have any fear of being a lone voice, so Young could very well be the member of council that picks up the baton that is being passed by Shortt and McPherson.
The Meaford Independent wishes the best of luck to our new council. There is no doubt that we will not always agree, but that is what democracy is all about.
The only request I have is that no matter who agrees or disagrees with your philosophy, or positions, stick to your guns and don’t get bullied into supporting policy that you don’t truly believe in. At the same time, always listen to the voice of reason. There is no shame in reversing your stance if you do so after carefully considering respectful arguments.
As someone once said, if you’re thinking what I am thinking, then only one of us is thinking.