Lori Wightman

CANDIDATE Q&A – Lori Wightman

The town is going through a re-branding process. How would you define what Amherstburg is and how it should be promoted?

Amherstburg has a lot going for it – history, festivals, museums, shops, restaurants, local breweries, vineyards close by, cafes, beautiful parks, trails and riverfront. For too long we have portrayed ourselves as only historic and our town is so much more than that. We are fun, natural, historical, artsy, scenic and more. We should promote the town as the place with a little bit of everything for everyone; the place you’ll plan to visit but decide to stay.

 

Taxes and spending will always be election issues. What is the best way to spend money on roads and infrastructure while, at the same time, keeping taxes at a reasonable level?

We have to be prudent with our spending but we need to remember that doing so to the detriment of services that residents need and enjoy does not get us any further ahead. If our residents need to go elsewhere for services, then they may choose to leave altogether. The way to keep services and regulate spending is to plan our infrastructure spending, take advantage of any outside funding and use the pay as you go model whenever possible. We should be adding to our reserves regularly when possible to give us the funds to draw from when a capital improvement comes up. Additionally, we must maintain our infrastructure going forward so as to avoid future surprises that result in larger than anticipated expenditures. And we should always work at increasing our tax base as the more that pay into our taxes the less the burden is to each of us.

Lori Wightman is running for the
position of councillor in the Oct. 22 municipal election.

Transparency” and “accountability” are words often heard during election campaigns. What specific measures would you undertake to ensure town council lives up to those words?

I would like to see more accessibility for residents to get information. I’d like to see our council meetings streamed or recorded so that residents could watch at their convenience. I’d like to see our town website be more easily searchable so that residents can find up-to-date documents, reports etc. with minimal effort. I’d like to see agendas, minutes, notices for public consultation be made available at multiple municipal buildings like the Libro Centre, the library etc.

As for myself, I want to be completely accessible and approachable to residents in whatever medium they prefer. I will be prompt in returning phone calls, emails, messages and in setting up personal meetings. My promise is to put myself where you need me to be to serve your needs and to answer to you for each decision I make.

 

How would you encourage economic development for the Town of Amherstburg over the next four years (and beyond)?

I think we need to have a dedicated economic development team, whether that be a committee or an economic development officer who can plan for both short term and long term projects and plans. We need to take advantage of all the tools available to us – our own Chamber of Commerce, WEEDC (Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation and TWEPI (Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island) to investigate all options, all ideas and network to not only build our tourism but also our small business and our industry base. We need to add to our historic reputation, make us more than a summer festival town so we need to work on new, interesting ways to bring people and businesses to our town – something like Explore the Shore but geared toward the unique attributes of Amherstburg. We need to look at other similar successful municipalities in Ontario to see what they did and how they did it and figure out a plan that suits us.

 

The policing issue is still top-of-mind for some of the electorate. Is providing services on a regional level a good way to save money, a detriment to the town and its identity or would you view it on a case-by-case basis?

I think there can be no doubt that regional policing saves municipalities money and with municipalities across Ontario facing rising policing costs it give a more sustainable way to deliver protective services.

Amherstburg’s policing plan with Windsor is more like regional policing layered on top of community policing in that we have and will keep our local officers (if they choose) and our servicing levels and we have the availability of all the specialized services and training from the Windsor force. In our case I think it is an improvement but I understand that other municipalities in Ontario have structured their regional policing differently with different policing partners and may not be the same as ours or as beneficial.

Wightman believes her experience will benefit council

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Lori Wightman believes she is at a good time in her life to try and obtain a position as a town councillor and hopes voters feel the same way.

Wightman was the first candidate to file her nomination papers and seek a position as a councillor. She said she has been thinking about running for council for the last few years and the Oct. 22 municipal election is the right time to do it.

“I’ve always been interested in local politics and I believe I can be good for the town,” said Wightman. “I have a lot of experience working with a variety of opinions and a variety of visions. I know the value of compromise and negotiation.”

Believing there is a lot of promise for Amherstburg, Wightman said she is hoping to help the municipality realize that promise.

“I love this town,” she said. “I think there is so much potential here.”

Wightman believes that Amherstburg “is on the right track” and believes it is important to not only plan for the four-year council term ahead, but for the next number of years as well. She cited the parks master plan process as one of the ways that the town is planning ahead.

“It’s important not only to look at what you are doing right now, but to look ahead five, ten and 15 years,” said Wightman. “Everything is not in a capsule. You have to have that forward vision.”

Wightman works for the Essex County Library system and represented workers during the 230-day strike in 2016-17 as unit chair of CUPE 2974.0. She believes that may help her during the election campaign, noting that “name recognition is always a good thing.”

“I like to think I put forth a good image during the strike,” she said.

Lori Wightman is running for the
position of councillor in the Oct. 22 municipal election.

Wightman said she wants to see people come to Amherstburg and “stay for a while” and that she knows there is talk of bringing a hotel to Amherstburg.

“I hope that happens,” she said.

Building the commercial and industrial base are other goals Wightman would like to see accomplished.

“I’d like to put Amherstburg on the map and get industries to come here,” she said. “I’d like to grow what is here for the people that are here.”

Noting the town’s finances and debt were the big issue in the 2014 campaign, she believes that four years later, things have improved. She added her belief that things will be even better four years from now.

The big issue of the current term has been the matter of policing and Wightman believes there is a lot of “misinformation” that is being discussed by residents.

“Social media is a great tool but it also has a flipside,” said Wightman. “If you read the reports, council was tasked with saving money and delivering the same service. I understand people are leery but I think (switching to the Windsor Police Service) saves a lot of money and that’s what people want. I think you are going to have to see proof in the pudding for some people.”

Wightman added that she is confident she can do a good job if elected as a councillor.

“I honestly believe I can do a good job for the town,” she said.

Councillors have to be informed, read their documents and look into the issues.

“You need people who will do the work,” she said. “You need to know what you are talking about. You need to know the details and make an informed decision.”

Library workers rally to support daughter of union leader who has lymphoma

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Members of CUPE 2974.0 – otherwise known as the “library warriors” – rallied behind Lori Wightman during the eight-month strike.

Now, they are rallying behind her daughter.

Wightman, who works at the Amherstburg library branch and is the unit chair for CUPE 2974.0, along with her family are supporting her daughter Kati as Kati battles Hodgkins Lymphoma. Lori’s co-workers attended three blood drives in Windsor last week in support of Kati, with Lori stating the union also plans on sponsoring similar drives in Amherstburg later this year.

“She was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma March 9,” said Lori. “It has a good cure rate. It’s about 80 per cent, which is good unless it’s your kid.”

Kati’s first round of chemotherapy resulted in an infection and a hospital stay, but she is now on her fourth round of chemotherapy and things are improving.

Library workers have been rallying to support Lori WIghtman's daughter Kati, who has hodkin's lymphoma. Wightman is unit chair of CUPE 2974 and works at the Amherstburg library.

Library workers have been rallying to support Lori WIghtman’s daughter Kati, who has hodkin’s lymphoma. Wightman is unit chair of CUPE 2974 and works at the Amherstburg library.

“She’s tolerating it better,” said Lori. “We’re pretty optimistic.”

Kati undergoes chemotherapy for one week per month with weekly blood tests also required. If need be, she also has to have blood transfusions. Thus far, she has had ten transfusions.

“My CUPE co-workers have put together blood drives in Kati’s name for the last two weeks,” Lori said.

Lori said 60 per cent of Canadians are eligible to give blood but only four per cent do. She said it is something you don’t think about until it is necessary but added it is important that blood is ready for when it is needed.

“It sounds cliché, but it’s life saving,” said Wightman.

Kati, 21, works at the Amherstburg Walmart but Lori said she has been off on medical leave due to her illness.

“She is looking forward to going back,” she said.

The family is dealing with the illness well, Lori said, using a sense of humour to try and get through the difficult period.

“We just prop each other up when someone needs it,” she said.

Blood donor clinics are planned for July 8 from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., Aug. 16 from 2-7 p.m. and Sept. 9 from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Libro Centre. Lori points out it takes less than an hour most times to donate blood.

“Where else can you save a life and have cookies?” she quipped.

Essex County libraries re-open Feb. 16 after strike finally ends

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

After a 230-day strike, the Essex County libraries are getting ready to re-open.

The 14 branches across the system, including the Amherstburg library, will be open to the public this Thursday after the nearly eight-month strike concluded late last week. Workers actually went back to their jobs Tuesday with workers spending two days clearing up logistical matters and other issues that may have arose during the strike.

A new four-year contract was struck around 2 a.m. Thursday morning and ratified by CUPE 2974.0, the union representing the 58 library workers, later that day at the CUPE regional office in Windsor. Lori Wightman, unit chair for CUPE 2974.0, said after Thursday’s vote that 70 per cent of the workers in attendance ratified the contract.

CUPE 2974.0 unit chair Lori Wightman addresses the media following the union’s ratification vote last Thursday afternoon.

CUPE 2974.0 unit chair Lori Wightman addresses the media following the union’s ratification vote last Thursday afternoon.

With 55 unionized employees at the meeting, it meant 39 people voted yes and 19 people voted no.

“I’m relieved and a little bit sad,” said Wightman.

Wightman called it sad because neither side got everything they wanted.

“It’s the best deal we could get,” she said. “There was never going to be a big win here.”

Wightman added that “no one is going to be popping champagne corks.”

The strike was difficult and took its toll on the workers, she added.

“This was a long time. It was a very hard ordeal on all of our members,” said Wightman.

Wightman didn’t question why 30 per cent voted to reject the deal and said the union was transparent with members the whole time.

“Every member gets to vote how they want to vote,” said Wightman. “I do what my members say. I don’t hold either vote against anybody.”

The main sticking point in the strike was sick time and the county’s desire to have a third-party insurer for short-term disability (STD). Wightman said “in a perfect work, (the) short-term disability (issue) would have went away but it’s not a perfect world so we had to deal with it.

“We got a little of what we wanted and they got a little of what they wanted.”

She emphasized that the union did as good of a job as they could do in negotiations.

“We got the best deal we could,” she reiterated. “This bargaining team did everything we could do to bring this to a resolution. There’s nothing I regret.”

As for whether there needs to be any fence-mending with management, Wightman said they would move forward professionally. She also didn’t anticipate any sort of backlash from patrons, believing they would come back.

“People love their libraries,” said Wightman. “I guarantee you everyone will be back within a month.”

The library workers are anxious to get back to their jobs, she added, and said it will be “lovely” to see their patrons again.

“The public will not see any difference,” she said.

Wightman added that the union received a lot of support while on the picket lines. Many people dropped by with food and beverages while other unions also showed support for the library workers.

“The support has been humbling,” she said.

The Essex County Library Board unanimously approved the new deal at a meeting late Friday afternoon at the Essex Civic Centre.

“We ratified with a third-party insurer and a new STD plan that covers employees so that they can be taken care of very well in times of illness,” said board chair Richard Meloche.

The Essex County Library Board gets ready to discuss the contract prior to their in-camera ratification vote last Friday afternoon.

The Essex County Library Board gets ready to discuss the contract prior to their in-camera ratification vote last Friday afternoon. Clockwise from left: chief librarian/library CEO Robin Greenall, library board chair and Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche, Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos, Lakeshore representative Steve Nepszy, Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale, LaSalle representative Bill Varga. Tecumseh councillor Andrew Dowie joined the meeting after the photo was taken while LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya participated in the meeting over the phone.

In addition to the short-term disability plan, Meloche said the new plan also features a two-per cent per year wage increase for the employees and a $3,000 signing bonus for workers.

“We feel it that it worked out pretty good for everybody,” he said.

The sick-time plan will “definitely benefit the librarians,” Meloche believed, noting there are 60 hours of sick time per year for full-time employees with that being prorated for part-time staff.

“In a lot of industries, part-time people don’t have any benefits. In this contract, we do have benefits for our part-time people. That includes people who work under 15 hours per week,” said Meloche.

All employees have life insurance and short-term disability coverage, though those under 15 hours per week would be self-funded by the county. Those between 70-80 years of age working for the library will also be covered by the plan, he added.

Current employees can use their banked sick time to “top up” their pay on top of the 75 per cent the employees would receive if they are off on short-term disability. New employees will not be able to “top up” their salaries if off on STD.

“Previously we were self-funded,” said Meloche. “(The new plan) adds stability to your budget. Right now, we don’t have a reserve if somebody goes off sick. We have to absorb that somewhere in our budget. Right now, we have an unfunded liability of $1.1 million. What we wanted to do is get rid of that $1.1 million unfunded liability.”

Meloche said by putting a cap on banked sick time at 520 hours, it limits the ability of the unfunded liability to grow.

The library board is “very happy” to have finally reached a settlement, Meloche added.

“CUPE pointed out very well that our patrons wanted their libraries back. We knew that. We were hearing that from people as well but it takes two sides to want to come to an agreement on a contract. We finally got that,” said Meloche. “I’m happy as a representative of the library system that we finally have our libraries back for our patrons. I can guarantee you I’ve had several letters, I’m going to say dozens since Thursday, that say ‘thank you very much for bringing our services back’ and we hadn’t even ratified yet. They were counting on us ratifying for sure.”

Meloche added the board is bringing in people to help relieve any problems that might arise when workers re-enter the workplace.

“When we do come back, we’re going to have some professionals come in to try and work through any problems we have,” said Meloche, “and try to ease employees back into the job. If anyone is having any issues trying to get comfortable with their jobs, we have someone that help them ease them back in.”

Essex County libraries have been closed since June 25, 2016. The new contract expires in March 2020.

No new talks planned in eight-month-old library strike

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A group of striking library workers returned to the council chambers at Essex County Council last Wednesday but they are no closer to a deal.

Members and supporters of CUPE 2974, which represents the striking Essex County library workers, attended the meeting and after it concluded, the unit chair said there hasn’t been much in terms of movement to end the impasse. A supervised vote was held Dec. 13 in Essex with union members overwhelmingly rejecting what the Essex County Library Board termed its “final offer.”

“As always, we are willing to go back to the table at any time,” said Lori Wightman. “We’re waiting for them to call us back.”

Wightman said the union believes there is no interest on behalf of management to resolve the issue, which saw workers hit the picket lines June 25. She said they are “always brainstorming different ideas” and didn’t rule out possibly sending a counteroffer to the board.

“If we can come up with an offer, I’m sure it’s something we’ll do,” said Wightman.

The Amherstburg library along with the other 13 Essex County Library branches remain closed as the eight-month-old library strike continues.

The Amherstburg library along with the other 13 Essex County Library branches remain closed as the eight-month-old library strike continues.

Public support has been unwavering, she added, as picketers are still given coffee, donuts and best wishes as they picket. Picketing has been devoted mainly to the Essex Civic Centre but they anticipate returning to individual branches as the weather improves.

“We’re a strong bunch of people, always positive, always laughing even though we’re not in the best situation,” she said.

In a press release sent Monday night, the union also stated the library board has now cut off benefits’ coverage for the striking library workers.

“This is a mean-spirited move by the board as the cost of premiums during the strike have been covered by our union. This does not even cost the county a single dime,” concluded Wightman. “This board is continuing their divisive tactics instead of focusing on ending this strike. The only way to end this strike is to have both parties return to the bargaining table and negotiate freely to end this strike. We want to go back to serving our community. Will council do the same?”

After the supervised vote, the Essex County Library Board said no new talks were planned. That appears to still be the case as board chair Richard Meloche also said there have been no new developments.

“The board has yet to make a decision on how we want to bring back limited service to patrons while the librarians are striking. No final decisions have been made, but a number of various methods will be discussed in the near future based on information brought back from our administration team,” he said.

No new negotiation talks have been scheduled with Meloche noting the board’s negotiating team presented a final offer “and that’s what a final offer is – final!”

Meloche said the board will not be coming with a new offer.

“We made a final offer, and a very generous offer, better than what 95 per cent of employers are offering in the region,” said Meloche. “Coverage for part-time like they wanted which is really unheard of anywhere else. The third party insurer/adjudicator is a must for us. Our funder, the County of Essex requested this of us, and the board agreed.”

Meloche stated CUPE is not accepting of this currently but “must do their homework on it as I see a lot of wives’ tales and incorrect information about STD (short-term disability) coverage on social media.” Most employers use a third party insurer for STD, he said.

“Even the library workers have third party insurer for life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment and long-term disability (LTD),” he added.. “This is just an extension of their third party insurance to cover STD.”