Set out the garbage at night and it’s gone in the morning. Take a walk down the roads and trailways of the countryside, and they’re clean and safe and easy to navigate. If a local politician is doing his or her job right, constituents might hardly even realize they were there to begin with, except to enjoy the benefits of good governance.
Keeping a hand on the township’s rudder to ensure such things got done has been Mark Bauman’s job as a Woolwich councillor for the past 18 years. Having retired earlier this year from Menno S. Martin Contractor Ltd., where he spent more than four decades, Bauman won’t be running in next month’s election.
It was time to move on.
“I enjoyed it,” said the Ward 2 councillor, who recently returned from summer vacation that included a cruise to Alaska, as well as some camping and cottage time.
After serving five terms as a councillor, Bauman will be retiring from the position by year’s end.
“My work as a contractor in the renovation business, we consider ourselves problem solvers. By nature I’m a problem solver – if there’s something to be fixed, whether it’s with a hammer or however, I like fixing things,” he said.
“So as a councillor, that became extension of what I enjoy doing. Fixing things, but in a little bit different way than with a hammer and nail.”
A St. Jacobs native born and raised, Bauman initially joined the political fray in Woolwich almost two decades ago, he says, out of concern of the rapid growth of the cities of Waterloo Region into the farmlands of the township.
“I was always concerned that, living in St. Jacobs, I’m looking at Waterloo, and the lights are getting closer and closer and closer. So this was maybe one way I could stop the encroachment of the city crossing into Woolwich Township,” he explained.
Already an active volunteer in the community, including the St. Jacobs fire department, Bauman decided to take the next step. Like many politicians, he credits his better half with giving him the idea to run for office. After five terms serving in office, however, Bauman announced earlier this year that he would not be seeking his sixth.
“I guess with anything, burnout becomes an issue. I felt that my heart wasn’t in it anymore,” he said. “This last term has been a little more stressful. Not that stress isn’t part of the job, but it just … I always said I’ll keep doing it as long as I enjoy it more than I dislike it.”
For Bauman, the turning point was a legal challenge brought against him in 2015 over a failure to follow new provisions of the province’s Municipal Act. The councillor was tied up in legal wranglings for failing to file an election expense report, which was required even though he was unopposed and acclaimed to the post, in a case that was heard at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
“I think one of the sort of sour notes was the first year of this past term, when I ended up having to go to court on a very frivolous matter. Someone who disliked me found a loophole in the Municipal Elections Act, and was able to take me to court and cause a lot of grief,” he said.
Ultimately, after briefly forfeiting his seat at the council table, Bauman was reinstated to his position, though not without some acrimony.
“It was a huge expense for the taxpayer, it was a large expense for myself. But it just was a huge waste of time and effort – court time. The judge was, I would say, disgusted that this case even came to court just by his reactions,” said Bauman.
“And it was basically for not putting an ‘X’ on box when I handed in my expense report.”
Despite the lows, there were the highs as well, with Bauman considering the building of many of the local recreation centres in the township during his tenure as highlights. He also notes his keen support on fiscal planning, with the creation of the township’s infrastructure reserve fund – a pot of money accumulated to tackle aging infrastructure in the township.
Longtime fellow Woolwich councillor Murray Martin notes that Bauman could always be counted on for a voice of reason in any debate. Having served on council for many years alongside Bauman, Martin commends his colleague for his contributions.
“One of his constituents probably about eight years ago put it this way. He said, ‘For most of the time you find Mark on the right side of things.’ He thinks things through well when he makes his decision,” said Martin.
“He served the community well, and he did not give up on issues that he believed in. In fact at times he was almost stubborn,” added Martin with a laugh.
On the challenges facing future councils, infrastructure will be a concern, notes Bauman, along with the protracted cleanup of the contaminated aquifers in Elmira, and the rising liability costs of legal challenges – an issue for many municipalities, he says.
Departing after 18 years, Bauman is looking forward to some more travel and time at the cottage in the upcoming months and years.
“It’s been a pleasure serving,” said Bauman. “I always think it’s better to leave when people want you to stay, rather than stay another four years and go, ‘Why didn’t he leave four years ago?’ So I’m trying to leave at that point in my career when I’m still wanted rather than disliked.”
Vying for his Ward 2 seat, which represents residents living in the northern half of Woolwich, excluding Elmira, are candidates Fred Redekop and Eric Schwindt, both of whom are seeking their first term in office.