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Newcomers seemed poised to take seat at the table

Karen Meissner, Public School Board Trustee
Two Woolwich residents are hoping to become election officials when voters go to the polls in October. Karen Meissner (top) is running to join the Waterloo public school board as the trustee for the Woolwich and Wellesley townships. Eric Schmidt (left) is seeking to become the Ward 2 councillor for Woolwich. [Faisal Ali / The Observer

Though a race on paper, it appears there’ll again be just one candidate running in Woolwich’s Ward 2 as the nomination winds down this week.

Eric Schwindt, who lives in Ward 2 just north of Elmira, put in his papers Monday. Elmira resident Kevin Betts, who had filed earlier in the nomination period, said this week he intends to withdraw his name. The seat will be vacant at the end of the current council term, as longtime incumbent Mark Bauman plans to retire.

While there is still one more day for township residents to submit their applications to run for office, at press time it appears the seat will be uncontested when Woolwich residents go to the polls October 22.

As a longtime Woolwich resident and small business owner, Schwindt notes that council decisions affect people like him in a very direct way. He says that he wants to approach municipal politics with an eye to supporting other local ventures.

“I like to ask the question: ‘how can we make life easier for business in Woolwich?’ To attract business, to make them want to grow, to make life easier, more competitive?” he said.

Schwindt is the second newcomer to enter the race for Woolwich council, and is running for the single seat that represents the northern half of the township, including Floradale, Heidelberg and St. Jacobs, but excluding the populous town of Elmira.

He joins fellow newcomer Scott McMillan, who is running for the Elmira ward. However, unlike McMillan, who was elected in 2014 as the Woolwich and Wellesley township’s representative on the Waterloo public school board, Schwindt does not have any experience in elected office.

Instead, Schwindt hopes to make use of the business acumen he’s gleaned as the owner of Genex Ontario, which sells swine breeding stock to farmers across Ontario. He also  points to his lifelong roots in the township.

“In the past I’ve seen a few instances where I think that maybe we haven’t opened our arms as well as we could have. And in today’s economy, my belief is that funding from the province and the feds is going to decrease over time, and maybe quickly. So as a township we’ve got to be creative and open our arms a little bit to business.”

Schwindt points to the experience of Earlidale Meats in Floradale, which faced some red tape from the township a few months prior when it tried to expand its business. Eventually, the restrictions were overturned by Woolwich council in January, but Schwindt questioned the process.

“They got push back from staff on the size of the building. And I look at it as, if we want businesses to grow and prosper, we don’t want to tie their hands behind their back. We want to give them the tools to succeed,” he said.

Schwindt also points to the challenges his daughter faced trying to obtaining a license to run her chip wagon, the Loose Caboose in Elmira.

“I think the premise in the back of my mind always has to be, if we’re thinking about a regulation or a change, think to yourselves why do we need it? What’s the benefit? Is it necessary?”

Just as Schwindt is currently running unopposed for the council seat, aspiring first-time trustee Karen Meissner is likewise going unchallenged in the race for a spot on the Waterloo Region District School Board.

Meissner may be new to the politics, but she has more than a little experience when it comes to promoting and supporting the education of children in the township. An Elmira resident of 11 years, Meissner has been actively involved at Riverside Public School on the volunteer parent council.

“I just feel like, for me, I can do something. You know what I mean? I feel like I have the energy and the enthusiasm and the passion and all of that to want to just help, whatever that means,” said Meissner.

When Riverside PS moved to its new location in Elmira two years ago, Meissner was surprised to learn that the school board did not provide funding for the inclusion of a park and playground at the facility. But being a big proponent of for getting children outdoors and active, she organized with the other parents and played a key role in raising the funds to get a playground.

Meissner has also volunteered with Kate’s Kause, the organization behind Elmira landmarks like the accessible playground in Gibson Park. Her niece, in fact, is the eponymous Kate who inspired the projects.

Meissner is now looking to apply her experience and her abilities across the region as the townships of Woolwich and Wellesley’s trustee on the school board.

Both Schwindt and Meissner will appear on the ballots in the upcoming municipal election on October 22.

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