NG Times: Is there anything specific you want to achieve as a Councillor, based on your experience in both community, with the Oxford Mills Community Association and the Kemptville Youth Centre, and business (the Kemptville BIA, and Farmers Market)?
John: I campaigned on helping to create local employment and to diversify the local economy, and so these are certainly two things I’d like to make progress on during my term. The third plank of my platform was to improve the collaboration and cooperation between citizens, community organizations and the Municipality. All three were certainly informed by my experience working with the OMCA, KYC, KFM, BIA, the North Grenville Business Builders and, most recently, the Kemptville District Community Association (KDCA).
NG Times: Mayor Nancy Peckford’s speech at the swearing-in ceremony outlined major changes to the way Council works, and you were involved in developing those new approaches. What are they designed to achieve that is different from past Council policies and procedures?
John: Improved access to Council and more transparency in our decision making are two things that will lead to greater accountability to, and engagement with, residents. Reorganizing Council Chambers visually places Council in the centre of things, facing both staff and the public. More than just symbolic, I believe, environment dictates behaviour and that, over time, people will expect this Council to be knowledgeable about the issues, and more responsible for the decisions they make. Instituting monthly town hall meetings was Jim McManaman’s suggestion, one that we all embraced. It will provide an opportunity for residents to set the agenda and to discuss issues with their Council in a more informal setting.
Another suggestion that we’ve all enthusiastically agreed to is developing a Council Work-plan during the first quarter of 2019 that will be made public, and to which we will be accountable.
We also plan to re-energize and rely on Committees to do some of the heavy lifting in addressing the challenges facing North Grenville. There is incredible social capital out there – residents have the necessary talent and experience we need to address the challenges. You’ll see a focus on civic engagement in most of the actions of this Council.
These are just a few new things that will distinguish us from past Councils. I think, even at this early stage, people can see a different tone, style and approach to this Council.
NG Times: There are serious issues facing the new Council: cannabis sales, Kemptville’s water supply, upset with the Planning Department and procedures, the Economic Development Committee role in NG, etc. Do you have priorities?
John: For me, there are two things that are priorities. The first, as I mentioned, is local job creation. I will tend to see most issues through the lens of economic development and smart growth. The second priority is my appointment as Council liaison to the Public Works Department. Mayor Peckford asked me to be the point man on Council for improving pedestrian safety and mobility, a task I take very seriously. I’ll also be focussing on the cost-effective management of core services and infrastructure, waste management, and drainage issues.
NG Times: Finally, how do you propose escaping the lure of the Bubble, and the dominance of municipal staff over municipal Council?
John: I’m sure the North Grenville Times will be a great help in Council being able to resist the lure of the Bubble. LOL. Seriously, it’s important that staff and Council work as a team, and it’s only natural, as we drill down into the detail of certain issues, that, how shall I say, a certain amount of bonding will occur. This is not necessarily bad. Establishing good working relationships with staff is absolutely necessary to effectively get our important work done. However, it’s important to remember that we have very different roles to play, and those roles will often pitch us into conflict. It’s not to be avoided, it’s natural if each party is clear on what their job is.
I was elected as a representative of the community. I’m not a professional public servant and only very recently a politician; therefore it’s perfectly valid for me to pose the logical questions, why and why not, to the experts. Over time, working closely with staff, we’ll understand more and more the how part, but if we are vigilant in remembering we are there to represent the community who don’t know (and perhaps don’t care) about the how, then we’ll resist crossing the line and entering the Bubble, IMHO.
I will also be continuing my Talk to Me Tuesdays at local coffee houses; when residents can drop in and talk to me about their concerns or ideas. This will help to keep me in touch with the real issues and daily life of the people of North Grenville.
Finally, we’re also in a position of power as elected officials; there to provide direction and leadership. With my Council colleagues, we decide what to do and staff determines how to do it. They have professional standards to adhere to, while we’re only accountable to the electorate for our decisions. As long as we remember this chain of command, we’ll be OK.