Councillor candidates try to differentiate themselves at “Meet the Candidates” night

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The first of two “Meet the Candidates” nights was last Wednesday evening at Western Secondary School with all 14 councillor candidates trying to separate themselves from the pack.

Each candidate was given a chance to make opening and closing statements with questions posed at random in between. The evening was moderated by Teresinha Medeiros from AM800. The event was hosted by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC).

Frank Cleminson noted he has been an Amherstburg resident since 1997 and “I’ve been very involved with a lot of activities in town” during that time. Cleminson has coached minor sports and served on the Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB).

“I really enjoy giving back to the community in different ways,” said Cleminson.

Asked about his vision for the Duffy’s site, Cleminson said the town needs a transient marina, parking and a ramp for boaters. However, he said he was not willing to put the town in debt to achieve it.

“I’m listening to the people,” he said. “It’s not just me.”

Cleminson added there is a need for grant funding as well to develop the site, but it is important to have access to the water.

Relating to the sign bylaw, Cleminson believes “a total review” was needed and that the needs of the business community have to be met as well. He suggested possibly streamlining the process but reiterated the bylaw should be reviewed.

The town has upwards of 287 km of roads, he added, and that liabilities must be addressed.

Cleminson said he will address every issue with the same passion that he approached the policing issue with, and that he wants to get things accomplished for the town.

Peter Courtney described himself as “hometown proud” and that he has spent his entire life in Amherstburg. Courtney said he has coached minor sports in the community and wants to take giving back “to the next level.”

Questioned about the policing decision, Courtney said the Joint Police Advisory Committee (JPAC) did its job and took it to the people. He noted that many at the public meetings said there was “too much grey area” in the Windsor police proposal. If it becomes reality Jan. 1, “we need to be on board” but believed the issue has divided the town.

Regarding Belle Vue, Courtney said Amherstburg may have “missed the boat” because the home is “so far gone.” He supported not having tax dollars go towards the building and while it could make for a wedding or conference venue, he questioned how many millions would have to go into the building before that vision is realized.

Courtney said projects have to be done right the first time and that “it’s all about budgeting” and ensuring needs are taken care of before wants.

Courtney added that he wants residents to be kept informed and that “your gains are my gains.” He said he will answer every call and e-mail, if elected.

Pauline Gemmell believes she has skills that are useful to the town, noting the town is a large corporation. Gemmell is the executive director of the Essex County Nurse Practitioner-led Clinic and that efforts are being made to expand it to Amherstburg. She added she submits financial statements to her board of directors and the auditing of her statements show them to be correct. She said she has a collaborative leadership style and tries to gather input from others before a decision is made.

The public needs people who know how to work with large budgets, she added.

On the issue of Centennial Park and its remaining 12 acres, Gemmell believed it should remain recreational and used to benefit children in the community. She didn’t like the idea of relocating a pool at the Libro Centre.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t think we could take services away from children,” said Gemmell.

Marijuana will come to Amherstburg “no matter what” and she is in favour of establishing legal retail outlets.

“It’s going to be here anyway,” said Gemmell.

More mid-range housing is needed in Amherstburg, she added.

Libby Keenan said she has served on numerous boards of directors in addition to her teaching riding and dressage for 35 years.

“I believe I can help the town with a lot of new ideas,” she said.

There are many different communities within Amherstburg and Keenan added she wants everyone to feel a part of Amherstburg.

Keenan said it is fine to have healthy debates and arguments on issues, but there has to be a willingness to compromise. People are entitled to their views but the will of the majority has to be respected.

Keenan was supportive of street closures for downtown festivals, saying vendors could be brought in and sidewalk sales could be had.

“The biggest question is if people come in, where are you going to put them?” she asked, suggesting a shuttle service from other points in the municipality.

Keenan also promoted an economic development officer and that someone is needed to go on the road and “sell” the municipality.

Emphasizing she has a lot of new ideas, Keenan added she will give “150 per cent” to the job.

Jason Lavigne, the only incumbent running for re-election as a councillor, said the last four years have been “quite a ride.”

“I can honestly say we did our best,” said Lavigne, of the current council.

Lavigne said he has “changed dramatically” since his first election – the 2018 race actually being his third election – and that being a councillor has shown him “there’s more to this than meets the eye.”

The legalization of marijuana and the location of retail outlets in Amherstburg was something that can’t be ignored, Lavigne stated.

“It’s coming whether we like it or not,” he said. “It’s here and we have to deal with it.”

Council can’t be left in the dark on the issue and people don’t have to like it or don’t like it.

Lavigne said transparency and accountability have improved over the last four years, where people can now be recognized from the gallery instead of always having to go through a process to get on the agenda. He added council was “closed for a long time.”

In order to get involved in politics, people have to be ready to be open and transparent, he added.

Council is already trying to promote economic development, he said, and that the General Chemical lands have been with a licensed broker for many years.

Lena Lazanja noted she has lived in Amherstburg for 12 years and that she has worked as general manager of the ACOC, worked at Amherstburg Community Services, is a current employee at Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 and is a former Rotary Club of Amherstburg president.

Lazanja said she outlined her experiences to let the public know “I’ve had my toe in every pool in Amherstburg” and that she has dealt with people at various levels in the community.

Lazanja believed a pool could be of use at the Libro Centre to draw more people there. She said Rotary looked at the issue but “the cost was insurmountable for our club.”

Property taxes have risen $1,200 over six years in her neighbourhood alone and that needs must be looked after before wants.

“I don’t think there’s a simple answer to fixing our property tax rate,” she said.

Lazanja also promoted a strong downtown core, stating those businesses are helping to sustain the town with new businesses also welcome. She added she is a single mother who is no stranger to scrubbing toilets so she knows how to work and wants to be a voice for the taxpayers.

Donald McArthur said he wants “to be a voice for all of Amherstburg” and that while campaigning has been gruelling, he also said it has been rewarding.

“We have so much momentum,” he said.

McArthur said he is a “fresh voice” and the former journalist said he will “do things differently” by being as open as possible. He also wants to engage youth and have a seniors’ advisory committee.

McArthur was asked about high water and sewer rates and he offered that expanding the tax base could be a solution. He believed an economic development officer was necessary and believed the current council “inherited a grim situation” but they “turned things around.” He said he wants to make smart decisions with money.

As for his vision for General Amherst High School after it moves to a new building, McArthur said there is a need for affordable housing, to improve residential density not to mention a hotel.

McArthur said he will speak out for constituents and that he will never disparage the town, adding he wants to be positive.

“It’s OK to have disagreements,” he said. “It’s not always pretty.”

McArthur added he wants to be “honest, open and transparent” and that Amherstburg is “a beautiful town with an amazing story to tell.”

John Menna believed tax dollars need to be managed better and that the current council spends like a big city. Roads are terrible, Menna added, and that Concession 2 North needs more than patchwork and that Angstrom Cr. “looks like it belongs in Afghanistan.”

Menna said the downtown core is beautiful and that water and hydro rates need to come down. He said economic development is a tough issue, noting that the former General Chemical site has been vacant for about two decades.

“It’s going to be a tough go,” he said.

Too much money was spent on rebranding and “I don’t think that was the way to go.” He proposed a “think tank” on the matter.

Menna also said there are other issues to fix, including lighting on Front Road North and a light at Alma St. and Howard Ave. He was also supportive of Centennial Park staying as parkland, but thought the new public high school should be on the north side of the park. He also voiced concerns with “red flags” that related to the Belle Vue property.

The town can’t say no to projects like Wendy’s, Menna added, and that “for the future of Amherstburg it means better choices. It means being open for business.”

Gregory Moore said he has a “common sense” approach that he feels people can relate to, including not purchasing things that aren’t needed.

“You don’t spend money you don’t have,” said Moore, noting he comes from a background where he didn’t have a lot of fancy things.

Moore noted he is a volunteer at his church as well as a musician.

Moore said many of the roads “look like Detroit” and that the town has to stop spending money on its wants and focus more on its needs. He believed businesses owners need to come together and gather ideas and advise council.

Moore also disagreed with spending $75,000 on rebranding, suggesting high school students could have been utilized.

“We could have saved ourselves a bunch of money,” said Moore.

Moore believed that more attention also has to be made to the former Anderdon and Malden townships. He added that he wants Amherstburg to be the best and “I’m a winner because I choose to win. Amherstburg can choose to win too.”

All 14 councillor candidates were on stage last Wednesday night at Western Secondary School. It was the first of two “Meet the Candidates” nights that were presented by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Prue said he has a lot of experience in politics in the Toronto area but noted he is a “transplant” to Amherstburg.

“If anyone knows about politics in Ontario, it’s me,” said Prue.

Prue said he knows how to fix roads, deal with upper levels of government and work with council members and staff. He believes economic development is the key to this election.

Prue said meetings should not always be held at town hall, as there are many who don’t live in the downtown core. Decisions should be made with everyone taken into account and that people have to be shown their tax dollars are being used fairly.

There is “absolutely no question” the town needs a new pool, as children should have the opportunity to learn to swim in a safe environment. He suggested getting service clubs involved with such a project.

Asked about Belle Vue, Prue noted he is treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy and voiced his belief that it could be used as a conference centre with the ability to draw people to town, which in turn would help with a hotel.

Prue said as mayor of East York, he removed a lot of red tape and that led to industrial growth. They also got fibre internet and grew the municipality without growing taxes and believed that can be done in Amherstburg.

Marc Renaud said he has served extensively in the community and through his union, Unifor Local 200. The minor hockey president said he believes council could be more accountable and responsible to residents. If the “math doesn’t add up” or if a project doesn’t benefit all residents, he said he would say no to such things.

“I believe council can serve the people better,” said Renaud.

Renaud said he believes in tourism and supports a strong downtown core. A strong downtown helps provide jobs and aids economic development.

There is still a need for levies, Renaud added, as they focus money on where it needs to go such as road projects.

Renaud was one of the candidates who spoke in favour of live streaming council meetings. He said he attends most meetings and it is different to watch a meeting in person and see reactions and discussions among council members.

Working with recreational stakeholders is also key, he said, and that they can work together to benefit themselves and to keep costs down.

Patricia Simone said she is prepared to make a positive impact on the community and believes she has the experience to do the job well.

“I want to help make a difference in my community,” she said. “I am a problem solver and hard worker. I will fight hard for the residents of Amherstburg.”

Fixing roads and growing the local economy are two items on her list of priorities. She added that the town gave away its police force and “this is a big loss for our town.”

Simone said a further review of whether boats and trailers should be allowed long-term on residential properties and while she said it is fine to enjoy recreational activities, “if it’s impacting your neighbours, it does need to be looked at.”

The town has to be promoted as a place to live, work and play and she added the “future is bright for Amherstburg” and that she has ideas that will “put us on the right track.”

As for her vision for Duffy’s, she said the taxpayers are the ones that need to make a decision.

Ron Sutherland said his platform is about “common sense, not endless politics” and “that is what Ron Sutherland stands for.”

Sutherland touted his background, which includes chairing the Amherstburg drainage board and being one of the town’s two representatives on the Essex Region Conservation Authority’s board of directors. He was also deputy mayor from 2010-14.

Sutherland said “taxes are a necessary evil” but collaboration has to be held and the new council has to take a strong look on how tax dollars are spent. Sutherland said he is open to suggestions from residents on what they want.

Sutherland said “we don’t know what the final costs are going to be” with regards to policing and that people were allowed to choose the car designs, but not who is actually going to deliver the service. He said he heard few that were in favour of switching to Windsor.

As for a ward system, he said he has never lived in a municipality with a ward system and wondered if it would be useful everywhere. He also wanted a more humane program for the treatment of animals and supported getting rid of a $180 portable sign tax.

Lori Wightman said her job at the Essex County Library is where she learned that listening is a strong tool. Wightman, who has served as unit chair for CUPE Local 2974.0, said that role has taught her how to compromise, negotiate and move forward.

“If we can find common ground, we can move forward. If we move forward, we can find success,” she said.

Wightman spoke against a ward system as council members should be considering the needs of all residents. She said she is “leery” about a ward system and that believes it could divide the community.

Regarding the sign bylaw, there needs to be fewer “barriers” for businesses and that she also recognizes the need to have an aesthetically pleasing community.

The town needs to attract business and industry to town and that they need to work with developers. Infrastructure needs to be taken care of and the town must be accountable and transparent in the process, added Wightman.

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In the original version of the story, we inadvertently said Peter Courtney stated that the town should put wants before needs. We have corrected the online version to reflect that he said that needs should be placed before wants. The RTT apologizes for this error.)

 

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