Comments on Monday’s Deputy Mayor presentations

Presentations by Deputy Mayor candidates, March 25, 2019: An informal summary

by Theresa Peluso

A crowded hall, filled with residents, including me, watched closely as six candidates vied to be the next Deputy Mayor of Mississippi Mills by using their 15 minutes of speaking time to present their qualifications to the six Council members in attendance.  The order of speaking was chosen at random, and Jane Torrance’s name was selected first.

In my opinion, Torrance’s presentation was of high calibre, and she answered every single question clearly and completely within the allotted time.  She pointed out the fact that she ranked a close second in last fall’s municipal elections for Deputy Mayor.  Torrance also pointed out the reality, that divisions that exist in our community, and that  trust will be rebuilt by selecting her.  Since Torrance would be a spokesperson for residents with alternate points of view, she would, in this way, help Council to reach out across these divisions and move forward.  This quote of hers summed it up:

“I have a vision for Mississippi Mills that is probably very similar to your own:  a welcoming, respectful, forward-thinking, innovative, and balanced community that honours the past and plans for the future.  We are a mix of rural and urban, working and retired, old timers and new timers, and we all agree that we love this place.  There is room for us all.”

Having explained her vision, Torrance went on to elaborate her short-term and long-term goals, which demonstrated her thorough understanding of municipal government:  managed growth, honest decision-making, and good communication and governance. Torrance also pointed out the need to hire qualified senior staff and ensure excellent workplace conditions, as well as informed, inclusive discussion and decision-making with respect to the Community Official Plan.  Torrance also demonstrated an excellent understanding of financial integrity and County-related issues, showing that her 11 years of experience on municipal council, 4 years on Lanark County Council, and numerous years spent on key organizations like the MVCA and the Valley Heartland Corporation would be put to good use if she were chosen.  She didn’t neglect to mention her experience as a highly involved volunteer at countless festivals, charities, and fundraisers.

In conclusion, Torrance pointed out her extensive experience, honesty, intelligence, interpersonal skills, openness to new ideas, and publicly recognized reputation for dedication and hard work

Rickey Minnille was the next to present, and was one of two candidates who neglected to include a personal statement when submitting his candidacy.  His presentation at this meeting was rather short on detail.  Minnille focused on the need to have the public’s confidence and the need to protect Almonte’s heritage.  He wanted to put the Community Official Plan back on the table, deal with the backlog of information, vote on and pass contentious issues, and strategically hire people to fill executive appointments. He referenced the fact that he was self-employed, with his income being dependent on good organization, as proof of his ability to ensure financial integrity. To demonstrate his ability to promote cohesiveness, Minnille referred to his experience working with people in all kinds of situations, and pointed out that as a blue-collar worker, he would keep things simple and get things done. Minnille, when asked how he’d deal with a dissatisfied resident, explained that he’d listen, explain the situation, invite them to provide new information, and explain the procedures.  He disliked using social media, preferring face-to-face meetings, phone calls, letters or email.  It’s not clear what was implied by Minnille’s statements that he would “vote on and pass contentious issues” and “strategically hire people for executive positions”.

Paul Watters was the third candidate to speak. In his presentation, Watters stressed his reputation for working hard, and always getting involved in community projects.  He advocated for improving communication between Council and the public, growing and strengthening the community, and was proud of his work during his previous terms on Council in advocating for increasing walking trails, rural broadband Internet, and the business park in Almonte.

As immediate challenges, Watters was concerned about the cutbacks related to the municipality’s finances, and the need for better communication about how and why the municipality is spending money.  He explained that, in dealing with disgruntled residents, he would always respond, tell them the truth, do his homework on the contentious issue, and then decide on a way forward.  He explained that his work with Bell Canada and owning his own business has developed his consensus-building and listening and leadership skills.

Steve Maynard, the fourth to speak, was the other candidate who neglected to include a personal statement when submitting his candidacy. Several of Maynard’s statements during his presentation seemed to be at variance with his conduct during this event and in connection with other situations.  He was at pains to state that he wanted to repair the divide in the community, and yet, in reply to a comment I made in the Millstone as recently as February 4 of this year about needing to respect differences of opinion, Maynard wrote that “Maybe we just don’t like people trying to change a community that worked well without you liberals and will still work well when you leave… You are in the minority and just can’t accept that you are the ones causing the friction in our community with the garbage you post…”

During his presentation, Maynard stressed the need for a compassionate Mississippi Mills, and yet he spent a significant chunk of his allotted time criticizing the budget-related decisions made by the previous Council, notwithstanding the fact that our municipality was recently commended for having a very effective asset management plan.  It was also curious that last year Maynard strongly opposed the previous Council’s efforts to include a Natural Heritage System (mandated by the province) in the Community Official Plan, and yet, during this presentation, he championed the need for Mississippi Mills to keep its small-town charm, promote reasonable protection of the environment, and avoid succumbing to urban sprawl.

Phil Woods’s name was selected next. Because Woods was out of the country, he appointed Ken Kicksee to speak in his place by reading from the notes that Woods had prepared.  Based on these notes, I learned that Woods was a member of Mississippi Mills Council for one term, and was quite involved in promoting the local business community and tourism, as well as helping with various community volunteer positions.  Woods also values our community’s dynamic retail sector, and wants to build on that, as well as to manage growth as the population of our municipality increases.  As main issues, Woods identified Almonte’s ageing infrastructure, the high percentage of seniors in our municipality’s population, the need for affordable housing, and the concern about possible provincial downloading of services and the concomitant expenses.  Woods pointed out that his prior career with the RCMP had instilled in him the need for working as a team, listening to others, sticking to the rules, seeking input before making decisions, and keeping all stakeholders involved.

David Hinks was the last candidate to speak, and the only candidate without actual experience in the capacity of municipal councillor.  Hinks’s vision for Mississippi Mills was for our municipality to offer excellence in delivery, efficiently and dependably, with a motivated workforce.  Hinks also wants to preserve the unique nature of our towns and hamlets, and continue to offer a great mix of rural and urban living without sacrificing our municipality’s history.  As challenges, Hinks identified the need for senior staff that would act as a good management team, the need to deal with the huge responsibilities imposed by the province, the need to increase economic prosperity and ensure a healthy balance of businesses that would include arts and culture, the need to help disadvantaged people, and the high need for broadband connectivity in rural areas.  When asked about how he would ensure financial integrity at Council, Hinks pointed out his qualifications in Economics, his work experience in commercializing the St. Lawrence Seaway, which involved a $30 million budget, and his extensive community work, which has entailed applying for and receiving many provincial and municipal grants.  Hinks ended his presentation by stressing the need for consensus-building and leadership, shared camaraderie, and respect for the wisdom of elder politicians and community members.

All in all, this evening was an informative experience.  In my mind, it’s quite clear which of these candidates should be chosen.  We will all find out the answer to this big question in a couple of days, March 28 at 6 p.m. at the Almonte Old Town Hall.  Stay tuned!