Mayor Wayne Hurst announces he will not seek re-election

Mayor Wayne Hurst delivers his "State of the Town" address July 9. He announced at the end of his speech he will not seek another term as mayor.

Mayor Wayne Hurst delivers his “State of the Town” address July 9. He announced at the end of his speech he will not seek another term as mayor.

By Ron Giofu

Amherstburg will have a new mayor later this year as Wayne Hurst announced at last Wednesday night’s “State of the Town” address that he will not seek a fifth term.

Hurst, who will turn 72 in August, announced his intent not to seek re-election as mayor in the Oct. 27 municipal election near the end of his speech. He said the town’s current financial situation had no bearing on his decision, stating he had promised family around the last election this would be his final term. He said he plans on enjoying his free time after leaving office, adding he has no plans to attend council meetings in the new term.

“I’m one of those people who tried to leave Amherstburg as a better community than when I found it,” said Hurst. “All I wanted was to do is enhance the quality of life in the community.”

Hurst did make reference to the town’s financial situation, stating it was just over $40 million in January and will be $47.3 million by the end of the year.

“This is an affordable debt,” he said. “This didn’t happen by accident.”

Hurst said the town has $403 million in assets and told the crowd at the Verdi Club the town has undertaken projects to ensure there is safe drinking water, good roads and bridges and a high quality of life.

“We have undertaken the largest infrastructure project in the history of Amherstburg,” the mayor boasted.

Such investments, he continued, are helping to enhance the tax base and create revenue streams as it makes developers want to come to town.

“If we want businesses to come here, it is important for us to compete for them,” he said.

Topics at conferences held by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) include the need to replace “ancient infrastructure” and Hurst claimed the town has done that.

“We have taken initiatives in Amherstburg and we have addressed the problem,” he said.

Hurst said the town received $88 million in grant funding in previous years with $46 million having to be picked up by local taxpayers. He pointed out such projects as the newly expanded wastewater treatment plant, sewer projects and the urban renewal projects, believing that many of these projects would have cost taxpayers more down the road if it hadn’t been done.

The urban renewal project brought the reconstruction of Laird Ave., 400 street lights, pathways, sidewalks, and the crosswalk in front of General Amherst High School, the latter being an item Hurst took particular pride in.

“It made significant improvement throughout the community,” he said of the project as a whole.

Hurst praised CAO Mike Phipps, saying that Phipps has “done an outstanding job putting in an administration that will serve the town for many years to come.” He told the crowd during his address that administration has taken steps to correct the “unorthodox practices” that had been occurring regarding the town’s finances, adding that while members of the community asked for an audit, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing offered to do a financial practices review.

“We eagerly await the recommendations and conclusions,” he said of the report, currently being worked on by Deloitte.

The Libro Centre was another subject Hurst spoke on, believing it has been a worthwhile asset for the town.

“Here is a complex that sets Amherstburg apart from many municipalities with all the amenities it holds,” he said. “It has something for every member of the family. It will be something the residents of Amherstburg will benefit from for many years to come.”

Hurst also said he is proud of the events Amherstburg holds, stating that manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota “has proven to be a benefit to this community.” He also highlighted Amherstburg being named “Safest Community in Canada” for three straight years, and praised the Amherstburg Police Service led by Chief Tim Berthiaume and Deputy Chief Pat Palumbo.

The mayor outlined the importance of working together and claimed a small number of people are “misguided” and have their own agendas. He also stated that “some believe in the politics of division” who want to make it seem like there is corruption in Amherstburg.

“They are trying as best they can to tarnish my legacy but I appreciate that with leadership comes a heavy burden and you must be able to carry the load,” he said.

Hurst urged the business community to speak up.

“We can no longer sit by and allow people to assault Amherstburg with inaccurate articles in the paper,” said Hurst. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. It is time to step up and time to speak out.”

Comparing his role as mayor to that of an orchestra conductor, he said sometimes “it’s up to the individual to turn his back and make decisions in the best interest of the community.”

The mayor believed there are big things to come in town, stating there is interest in the Amherstburg Land Holdings property and applications for condominiums for the downtown core. He also hopes there is a buyer found for Duffy’s Tavern, believing that a transient marina and hotel would be a great fit there.

“If that happens, that in my estimation, is the key for the downtown area,” said Hurst.

Hurst said his biggest regret is not completing Texas Road and pledged to try and secure funding for that project before he leaves office.

Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland, who at this point is the only candidate running to replace Hurst as mayor, said he made his intentions known in January there is a need for new leadership. Sutherland said he was caught off guard by some of Hurst’s remarks adding that he also wonders about the financial figures quoted by Hurst.

“I’m not so sure the figures the mayor quoted tonight are accurate,” said Sutherland.

The deputy mayor added he has had difficulty securing definite numbers due to changes in the town’s financial department.

Sutherland admitted he was “a little taken aback” with accusations Hurst made near the beginning of the “State of the Town” address, specifically statements where Sutherland stated Hurst said some on council want it to appear deceit and deception has taken place.

“I have no idea where that came from,” said Sutherland.

The deputy mayor and mayoral candidate also questioned why a financial review is being done instead of an audit, saying he was under the impression until just recently that an audit was being done.

Using the reserve funds for Ranta Park as an example, Sutherland noted that money was willed to the town and it has to be known where that as well as other monies are.

As for Hurst’s decision, Sutherland offered little response.

“It’s his decision,” the deputy mayor said. “I have nothing to say either way.”

Sutherland said he will offer a platform “in due course” and wasn’t sure how not having an incumbent in the mayor’s race this year will play out.

“We’ll have to see what happens and go from there,” said Sutherland, adding he is appreciative of the support he has been receiving thus far.

CAO Mike Phipps said there were two occasions where ministry staff asked council if they were fine with the offer of a review and both times that was approved.

Phipps noted they have to replace director of finance Michelle Doupnik, who is no longer employed by the town, as well as director of recreation and culture Dean Collver, the latter who is leaving to take a job elsewhere.

As for Hurst, Phipps said “without a doubt, he’s the best mayor I’ve ever worked with. When he says ‘I love this town,’ he really does.”

Phipps said his consulting firm paid for Wednesday night’s event. He compared it to a donation his firm made towards a town Christmas function.

“I’ve been paid good money here and it’s a form of giving back,” said Phipps.

All of town council with the exception of Councillor Bart DiPasquale were at last Wednesday night’s “State of the Town” address. DiPasquale’s absence was announced as him being out of the country.

Hurst was first elected mayor in 1997, lost in his re-election bid in 2000 to Tony DiBartolomeo before regaining the seat in 2003. He was re-elected in 2006 and 2010.

(Updated July 10, 10:50 a.m.)

Comments are closed.