This week’s municipal elections ensured the majority of councillors in the townships will be new faces when the next terms begin.
In Woolwich, only Mayor Sandy Shantz will return from the current incarnation of council. Ward 1’s Patrick Merlihan ran for mayor, falling short, while Scott McMillan opted not to run again. Instead, Elmira will be represented by newcomers Evan Burgess and Nathan Cadeau.
In Ward 2, Eric Schwindt beat out incumbent Fred Redekop for the seat at the table. Ward 3 will be represented by a former councillor, Bonnie Bryant, and first-timer Kayla Grant. They’ll replace Murray Martin, who stood for re-election, and Larry Shantz, who opted not to run this time.
In Wellesley, two of five members are returning to council: Mayor Joe Nowak and Ward 1 Coun. Shelley Wagner, both of whom were acclaimed. Newcomer Lori Sebben was acclaimed in Ward 2, replacing long-time representative Herb Neher, who opted against running again.
- Advertisement -
With both Ward 3’s Peter van der Maas and Ward 4’s Carl Smit also stepping down after this term, there were votes cast to replace them, with Derek Brick and Claude Hergott emerging victorious in the respective wards.
While the election was something of a marathon for those involved in races, the real work begins when their term begins next month.
Even the returning council members would be well served to use the start of a new term to take stock of what their roles mean. As with elected officials at any level, they’ll need to be cognizant of the fact they represent those who voted for them, those who didn’t, those who neglected to vote at all and the interests of the township as a whole. Often, the needs, wants and priorities of those various groups will be in direct opposition to each other.
Yes, the hard part is yet to come.
Councillors are, of course, aware of some of the most pressing issues already on the table, including the infrastructure deficit, rising operational expenses and levels of taxation outstripping inflation, itself a problem that calls for public-sector austerity. Each of those will require council to take in a range of information and a variety of viewpoints. Decisions will not be easy.
The same is true of a host of other issues that are sure to arise over the next four years.
Ideally, citizens will see a more active body, working for the interests of the public rather than simply passive administrators, more often dealing with staff reports than setting a policy agenda,
That would be a positive development, particularly in Woolwich, where there’s been a drift away from council’s representative function. In Woolwich, there are expenditures – some of them substantial – that provide few if any direct benefits to the public, but for the most part cuts would mean some service reductions to some residents. Leaders determined to set priorities would need to balance expectations with reasonable levels of taxation, essentially selling the merits of more prudent spending. That’s more work, however, than taking the easy road: spending more, and taxing everyone as a matter of course.
This is not a cue, however, for micromanagement. Staff will continue to operate the “business” portion of the township. What should be different is the environment in which they’ll operate, one established by those elected to represent the will of the electorate, those who pay the bills and for whose benefit the entire structure exists.
In short order, the budget process will get underway, and that will be the most pressing issue after the holidays. The approach councillors take to prioritizing expenses should help set the tone for their term, letting township residents know just how serious they are about doing the job correctly.