Since not all residents could make it out to the Almonte Old Town Hall to listen in on the interviews of the candidates for Deputy Mayor of Mississippi Mills last night, I thought I might provide my answers for those who care to read them. The selection of Deputy Mayor will take place on Thursday, March 28 during a special Council meeting to be held at 6:00 at the Almonte Old Town Hall.
Question #1: Please address why you would like to be a Member of Council and elaborate on your long and short term visions for the Municipality of Mississippi Mills?
First let me start by saying how sorry I am that John Levi passed away. He was a genuine community builder, and gave so much to this town over so many years. John and I served on Council together from 2006-2010, and we had an excellent working relationship.
Mayor, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to be the Deputy Mayor of Mississippi Mills. I chose this position and ran for it in election just a few months ago. I had the support of 2228 voters, a very close runner-up to John Levi.
I want to be the Deputy Mayor because I see it as the best position on Council! I love the dual-aspect of the role:
- I would be a Councillor-at-large, so still involved, interested, and available to residents across all three wards, but also part of the leadership team.
- I would be a Mississippi Mills Councillor, but also be a County Councillor, with responsibility and accountability at both tiers
I want to be a member of this particular Council. The community was divided almost equally before the election, and it is still equally divided. Mississippi Mills needs some help if we want to mend this rift, rebuild the community trust, and move forward. We can hit the reset button with this appointment.
I believe that if you choose me you will be reaching out your hand to that “other side,” which you know I represent, to say “come on, let’s do this together.”
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.
SHORT TERM goals that support this vision include:
- Honest Decision Making that is:
- informed, reasoned, timely and accountable to ALL residents,
- Managed growth that is responsible
- Excellent Communication that is consistent
- Excellent Governance that serves all residents and:
- adheres to Code of Conduct
- encourages Councillor education and training
- guides Council in all decisions
LONG TERM goals that support this vision include:
- Proactive Policy Planning
- Planning for families that is deliberate and intentional for long term sustainability:
- Community Engagement that promotes public participation
Question #2: What do you see as the immediate challenges facing the Municipality and Lanark County and what are your suggestions as to how to address them?
I see 4 immediate Challenges in MISSISSIPPI MILLS
- Divide in the Community
- we can’t create havoc and then call it peace
- we must recognize that we are still a divided community
- the election, this appointment process, the divisive issues that have been prioritized by Council – these all widen the divide
- we need to actively, consciously, and deliberately reach out to mend hurts, bridge divides, and reconcile differences
- we need to represent ALL residents,
- I know I can act as a peacemaker in this regard
- Loss of Senior Staff
- our Human resources need to be put in order, and we need to have excellent, qualified, and professional staff in place
- we need to get back to being an employer of choice with an excellent workplace reputation
- we need to also be mindful of succession planning with the huge generational shift predicted in next 5 years
- Community Official Plan discussions
- we must make decisions and respond to the County queries on the current amendments to our COP
- we need to prioritize discussion about growth and settlement areas for future amendments
- we must involve the public in our decision making
- There is simply a LOT of work to do! We can’t overlook or forget:
- Completion of Service delivery review – we now have some money to modernize our service delivery, so let’s get it right
- Business Park expansion
- Asset management plan – we need to comply with Provincial legislation
- Regional Government Review
- This new review, initiated by the province, is currently looking at 82 municipalities, trying to determine if an upper and lower tier system of municipal government works efficiently
- amalgamations are probable for Ontario municipalities
- here, the creation of a single tier Lanark County regional government, with no lower-tier municipalities, is possible
- we need to be prepared, and act in best interest for Mississippi Mills
LANARK COUNTY is a little more straightforward, and I would highlight 4 challenges
- Lanark Lodge, the County Old Age Home, will require redevelopment by 2025. We need to make sure Mississippi Mills interests are represented here
- Transformation of Ontario Works (welfare) has begun as directed by Province, with implications for our most financially vulnerable
- The Lanark County Sustainable Community Official Plan update is scheduled in the next 2 years.
- The plans from previous Council have created a huge work load, including implementation of:
- vegetation management plan
- social housing renewal strategy – affordable housing
- County-wide Economic Development strategy
- Business, Retention and Expansion project
- And the Fibre to the Home project
Along with some major new projects, including
- arterial road expansion in Perth and Carleton Place
- trails, and development of the ring route around Lanark County
- the anticipated fall-out from the regional government review
It’s just going to be busy, folks
Question #3: One of the roles of Council is to maintain the financial integrity of the Municipality. How does your experience lend itself to fulfilling this responsibility?
I have a lot of experience in municipal AND community councils, boards and committees, including:
- 11 years (3 terms) on Mississippi Mills council,
- 4 years (1 term) on Lanark County Council
- 7 years on the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority where I also chaired the finance committee
- 4 years on Valley Heartland Community Futures Development Corporation
and in “public, or community” finance:
- Chair of the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre (4 years)
- President of The Hub (4 years)
and as an active board member managing budgets, large and small, at many festivals, events, community organizations, parent councils, sports- teams, charities and fundraisers: AND, I own and manage my own small business.
I understand the complexity of a municipal system that includes transparent process as well as excellent guiding documents that uphold the financial integrity, sustainability, and equity within the system, including:
- an Asset Management Plan that shows us the present state
- a Long Term Financial Plan that forecasts future needs
- a Development Charges study that attributes cost proportionally to growth, so existing ratepayers don’t carry the burden of new development AND
- an annual budget process that is open to public comment
As members of Council we are, primarily, the stewards of the public funds.
To help maintain the integrity, I think we could adopt a 4 -year capital budget process that keeps the focus on the needs, as identified in the Long Term Financial Plan.
This would allow departments to
- plan workflow
- be flexible,
- prepare for grants, and
- avoid disruption from politically-driven agendas
The annual budget would then focus on the operational side, with a more focused service examination, and consideration of the “wants” of the community.
Question #4: Council may make decisions that not all members of the public agree with. Outline how you would address an unhappy citizen and explain how your experiences have equipped you to deal with these types of situations. Please include your thoughts on social media.
It is our job as Council members to make decisions. The truth is that:
- we will not always agree with each other
- the public will not always agree with us
We still need to make the decisions, even if they are hard, and we need to have the fortitude and the courage to stand up for those decisions, especially when we were not in agreement with the majority vote.
The job of any Council member is to carry the Council decision, as stated in the Oath of Office taken at inauguration.
Sometimes we have unhappy citizens because of our own decisions and actions, or because of the decisions and actions of our Council. Regardless of cause, the citizen is still unhappy, and I had a lot of experience with that in the last term.
It’s not always possible, and we all make mistakes, but here’s how I TRY to address an unhappy citizen:
- Communicate – whether you personally agree or not with citizen, or with decision. Don’t fan the flames of discontent
- Be respectful, in thought and in action – respectful of your Council, of your staff, of the public, and of your community
- Encourage real dialogue, and try to move your discussion from on-line to off-line, in-person whenever possible
- Try to stay positive
- Most important of all – Practice empathy
I am equipped to deal with these situations because I am the mother of 4 children.
Also because of my 11 years of experience on Council, because I am a restorative justice facilitator, because I am a professional facilitator and practitioner of change management, because I am trained in conflict management, and because I have a Certificate in Social Media from Algonquin College.
My thoughts on social media include:
- The municipality needs to have a clear social media policy for all members of staff, Council and public members of committees
- Practice THINK – is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind? As a member of council, I believe this is our role on social media, and we should be modelling good behaviour
- Understand that most people, who are legitimately upset by a decision of council, deserve a full discussion with their Council members, and this is best done as human beings, off-line
- Also understand that there are, in the small minority, on-line trolls, or people whose sole interest is to stir discontent. You will never bring these people on board. Provide correct information, be reasonable, but don’t spend all your resources here. Other readers recognize them for what they are. Do not devolve to their level
- Remember, for every issue there is an official spokesperson. Repost the official message, and any back-up documents, as often as possible
Social media is here to stay, regardless of our personal opinions. Done well, it is a great channel of communication.
Question #5: The position of Deputy Mayor acts as the Mayor in her absence. Can you highlight what qualities, attributes and experience you have that demonstrate consensus building and leadership?
This is the position that I held just 4 months ago, and I have 4 years of experience acting as the Deputy Mayor
I am a critical thinker and creative problem-solver. I have the emotional intelligence to read people and situations, and the cognitive intelligence to hold my ground in respectful debate. I also have an open mind.
I have the experience and skills to appear as a delegate before Provincial Ministers and lobby on behalf of Mississippi Mills or Lanark County. I have made successful presentations on many things over my terms on Council, from funding for our waste water treatment plant, to gas distribution in rural areas, to the value of keeping community schools open.
I am a hard worker. The Warden of Lanark County recognized me as the hardest-working member of County Council. With a reduced size of Council in Mississippi Mills, I could help carry the load which I am sure is crushing right now, on top of the learning curve. I am willing to help.
I am a responsive, inclusive and empathetic public servant – not an obedient servant who responds to a single view, but one able to put issues into the perspective of the municipality and consider the bigger picture to make good decisions.
I believe that differences of opinion are healthy, and lead to great decisions that are inclusive and trustworthy.
I am a community builder, a good neighbour, a champion of Mississippi Mills, and I am respectful and welcoming to diverse people, personalities, opinions and views.
My colleagues would tell you that I am loyal, honest, and gracious, both in victory and defeat. My friends would tell you that I am courageous, generous, and kind.
I am a peacemaker. I work to understand the conflict and reconcile the differences. In appointing me to the position, and to the leadership team, you would be peace building, be respectful of voters, and begin to function as a balanced Council.
By asking this particular question, I can see that this Council holds leadership and consensus building in high regard.
You could take the leadership entrusted to you through election, and select me for this position, as is the will of 2228 voters.
You can demonstrate consensus building by choosing someone who is not from your “side” and help rebuild the trust of the community.
I want to be Deputy Mayor. I want to practice the motto of Mississippi Mills, “Let us go forward, together. “I think I am the best candidate as well as the public choice for this position.
Thank you, Madame Mayor and Councillors, for your time this evening.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, for your participation as witnesses in this process.