Thursday, June 13, 2024

Let’s Have a Leash-less Council

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Welcome to the Monday morning after the deadline for candidates to file their nomination forms to run in the upcoming municipal election.


For a while it looked as though Meaford was heading toward an acclimation festival come October 25, but in the final few days before the deadline a flurry of activity took place at the municipal office, and in the end we have two candidates for Mayor, two for Deputy Mayor, and 13 candidates for the five council seats.


On the Friday deadline day our municipal Clerk and Deputy Clerk were kept busy receiving nomination forms for six new candidates making for an exciting finish to the nomination period.


I spent a good part of Friday at the municipal office checking for new candidates, waiting for candidates to arrive to file their nomination papers, and in between I would rush back to the office to write updates for publication.


I must give huge credit to the municipal staff. Friday was a busy day in that office, and in between new candidates arriving, the office saw residents come in to ensure that they were on the voters list, and to find out how to arrange absentee ballots. Others walked through the entrance of the municipal office looking for information about property boundaries, or to pay water bills, and a host of other issues.

It can be easy to forget just how large of a scope of activity is serviced by our municipal staff, but when you spend the better part of a day there you quickly realize just how much those staffers have to do to keep the wheels turning in this municipality.


So now we have candidates. We have a lot of candidates. So what’s next?


Obviously it is very early in the game, but it is already clear that there will be some different tactics taken amongst the candidates. The younger candidates for example have been quick to utilize the internet and social media as part of their campaign strategy. James McIntosh, Jason Whaley and Mayoral candidate Jim McPherson have already set up Facebook pages for their campaigns.


Other candidates are taking more traditional steps in their campaigns. A few election signs have begun dotting front lawns, and public events such as the Meaford Farmers’ Market are becoming places for candidates to show their faces, and shake some hands, but let’s get down to the issues.


So far The Meaford Independent has received platform and basic issue information from four of the 13 council candidates, and from one each of Mayoral and Deputy Mayor candidates.


Council candidate Barb Clumpus told The Independent after she filed her nomination papers on Friday that she would be issuing a media release on Monday, and Mayor Francis Richardson assured me that he would be soon issuing information to the media in support of his bid to be elected to the position of Mayor. Wesley Cann, another council candidate also said that he would have a platform ready for Monday.


So with any luck by the end of Monday we will have platform information for half of our council candidates. What has crossed my desk so far though, has certainly made for interesting reading.


The laundry list of issues raised by these candidates is quite varied and can be best summed up in the statement “We have a lot of work to do in Meaford”.


Of the candidate information received so far, one thing is clear- none of the candidates have any grandiose ideas to lower taxes and pave the streets with gold.


Common themes among the views of these candidates are few, but there are some to be found. I sense a cautious optimism amongst the candidates, and it is also clear that at this point the candidates are being very polite when it comes to some of the larger issues. A refreshing start.


Candidate Mike Poetker has released limited information so far, but in what he has released he touches on something critical- openness.


Poetker says “More openness will ease the minds of taxpayers and allow us to understand the complexities of Municipal governing.  I would like to see more openness,” which is a polite way of suggesting that council hasn’t been as open as many residents would have liked. Poetker is correct, though I am not convinced that council has been intentionally ‘closed’. I think that previous councils have not had the tools, or at least known how to use the tools to effectively communicate with the residents at large.


A frequent complaint about our current council has been the seemingly large number of “in camera” closed sessions, and there have been calls for more openness over the last couple of years.


But I suspect- and hope- that Poetker is not simply referring to closed council sessions, since no matter how frustrating it can be to know that our members of council are meeting, but we the people cannot be part of those meetings, the fact is that closed sessions are required under certain circumstances, and unfortunately Meaford has had more than it’s share of those ‘certain circumstances’ in recent years.


The type of openness that I hope that Poetker is referring is a more general type of openness that would see council support engaging the public in a more open style. Sharing more of the process involved in decision making, and including the public in that process whether it be through advisory committees, or workshops, or even something as simple as keeping the public current with website updates or ‘tweets’.


We have seen steps in that direction since the hiring of CAO Frank Miele who has organized several community task forces including MEDS, the Operational Review, and the recent citizen’s task force for community and cultural services. Not everyone has been happy with the end results, but when is everyone ever happy? At least the doors have been opened.


Councillor Lynda Stephens who has found herself along with her fellow councillors receiving the brunt of the criticisms for a perceived lack of openness, mentions in her platform – which was released over the weekend – that improved communications and trust are a top priority for her. Stephens is well aware that the relationship between voters and councillors has been bruised over the last few years, and she is wise to suggest that fixing that problem should be a top priority.


Another hot button topic in this election campaign will be economic development. Last year Meaford went through an outstanding public task force exercise called MEDS (Meaford Economic Development Strategy). The project was spearheaded by CAO Frank Miele, and was largely executed by resident Michael Anderson who brought years of experience into project managing the endeavour which involved more than 25 volunteers.


When looking through what the current candidates are saying, it is clear that there is a desire to accelerate the implementation of some of the recommendations that resulted from that project.


Council Candidate James McIntosh who was one of the volunteers on the MEDS task force made the following statement:


“Indeed economic development is crucial to the ability of Meaford to control future tax rates, and to maintain the Municipality as an affordable and attractive place to live, work, and play. Beyond any doubt we need to diversify our current tax base, and increase the proportion of taxes generated through new businesses… We need to be business friendly and support new business growth.”


McIntosh, who is the youngest candidate in the race for council also puts forward an interesting idea as it relates to municipal staff. McIntosh suggests that it is time for council to stop micro-managing staff, and says that he would put forward recommendations for targets and incentive plans that would reward staff for their hard work.


Pretty progressive stuff.


Serious issues like economic development, openness and trust aside, when sifting through the information being released by the candidates there are some fun though not less important ideas being tossed around.


Leash-less dog parks have been mentioned by a couple of candidates. Not something that I would have ever thought about given that I do not have a canine in my life. And though it might seem like a strange little item to include in a candidate’s platform, there is something larger there to be explored. It is an issue of community and accommodation.


We simply can’t keep doing what we have always done simply because it is what we have always done.


When it comes to leashes though, I do have a request.


Let’s unleash our members of council. Let’s encourage those that we elect to the next council to break with tradition and do something new, something unique, something progressive.


How exciting it would be to see Meaford move forward in ways that other rural communities haven’t yet thought to.


My vote will go to those candidates that hold the most promise for running without a leash.


Be the 1st to vote.

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