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Oct. 19, 2018 | Friday
Local News
NOTL council: Who's in, who's out so far?
Jim Collard is one of four Niagara-on-the-Lake town councillors who will not be running again in the municipal election. (File photo)

Terry Flynn has never made a secret of wanting to one day be called Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

After 35 years working for the Niagara Region's EMS, he plans to retire as superintendent of operations four years from now, and hopes to earn that title in the 2022 municipal election. He will also be retired from his 35-year volunteer position with the NOTL Fire Department, and will finally have the time to take on the full-time job.

But first, after spending more than 20 years as a town councillor, he has a decision to make about the next term - is he in or out?

"I'm 85 to 90 per cent sure I'm going to run again," he said. 

"I really want to. Every election I have to sit down and ask myself: Am I still interested? Do I have something left to give? And what is my special project?"

Although there are issues every councillor faces, he likes to have one particular goal to work toward. In the past it's been the new library and then the community centre, and this term, he's focused on the Niagara District Airport as chairman of the airport commission.

For the next four years, it could be the future of Parliament Oak School - although it's now in private hands, it could still be used for something that would benefit the community. 

He's also concerned about the Niagara Historical Museum - without more money for operations and renovations, its future is uncertain, Flynn said.

But first, he has to make the decision to run.

He has some doubts about whether he wants to face the coming election campaign, which he expects to be unlike any since he ran the first time in 1997 and earned the role as deputy lord mayor and the youngest on council.

"I think there's going to be a lot of negativity around development. There have been nasty remarks and nasty innuendoes, and I don't have a nasty bone in my body. I can't go after other councillors or the lord mayor - that's not in me."

There are a lot of retired newcomers who have a lot to contribute to the town, he said, and who have high expectations about council.

"They are demanding about their expectations, but I can't commit to being a full-time councillor. That makes it challenging. I feel like I'm letting them down."

As a fifth generation NOTL resident, Flynn said he'd like to sit down with some of them and talk about the history of the town, including its growth. '"We have to understand there will be development, and we have to have sensible development, sensible growth." But that takes time, which he finds it hard to find in addition to his job and council demands.

He is also struggling with the responsibility of being the most senior member of council after Coun. Jim Collard, who has already announced his retirement.

While it's important to have new blood on council, it's important to have some veteran members bringing experience and continuity to the table - and he fits that bill.

"I still have a lot to give. I'm vulnerable to those who want change, but I'm good with that. I just don't have it in me to fight. I'm not accustomed to that kind of election."

Flynn said he's used to a bit of name-calling and heckling, but not the kind of booing and hissing councillors have been receiving recently.

He would like to be able to continue campaigning as he has in the past, without a large team behind him, just going door-to-door to talk to people, putting up a few signs, going to all-candidates meetings and not having to spend a lot of cash, but that might not be enough this time round.

He's also considering his health - at 54, he's dealing with high blood pressure and diabetes, and trying to balance a high-stress job with family and politics.

"Being honest with myself, I know my heart and soul is with NOTL, but I want to make sure I can give 100 per cent. Am I in the right frame of mind to go into an election that will be a lot different from others, just giving what I can to a low-key campaign?"

With a goal of running for mayor four years from now, he said it might be good to take some time off from politics to get re-energized - or it might make more sense to continue as councillor, helping to shape the future of the town. That's another deciding factor.

Either way, it will be a very different council after the Oct. 22 election, with at least four new faces at the table next term.

But what it will mean for council and residents moving forward is difficult to predict.

Typically, NOTL's municipal elections in recent decades have had one empty seat, and as many as 16 candidates vying to fill it.

But Jim Collard, with more than 30 years on council, can recall two elections in a row in the 80s — he won his first seat in 1985 — when there were four vacant seats, so it's nothing new, he said, although that hasn't been the case in recent years. 

"I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing ... it's just different."

Council changes over time, he said, sometimes with a larger turnover, and all new councillors have a learning curve.

"But we have a great staff. They all really care about what they do."

Town staff will be on top of issues and ready to work with a new council, with policy in place — mostly provincial policy — that backs them up and guides decision-making, said Collard.

His seat is one of the four expected to be vacant.

After two terms of serving the residents of NOTL, Jamie King, another of the councillors who has confirmed he will not be returning, is referring to this as a "watershed election."

He sees that as the positive result of the democratic process at work.

"The conflict we're seeing in town is evident that people want to see change. The community is committed to seeking what they need."

Betty Disero, with just one term behind her, has already announced she's running for mayor.

John Wiens, Paolo Miele, Maria Bau-Coote and Martin Mazza said have yet to decide.

King's decision is related to the time pressures of work — he no longer feels he has the time the job of councillor requires to do it responsibly, and he's been "consistent" on that for the last year. 

His job as general manager of the Sheridan Student Union, providing ancillary services to 25,000 students and chairing the student board, takes him out of town every day, which has made it challenging to keep up with council work — especially daytime obligations — he said.

"Stepping aside is the responsible thing to do."

Between family and school obligations, there hasn't been much time left for council-related work.

"It's the biggest part-time job I know," said King.

"Being trusted by residents has been an honour, and something I didn't take lightly. It's been a privilege to have had the opportunity to do that for the citizens of NOTL."

After more than a decade of being involved in one way or another in the community, he said he plans to remain active, and he's not necessarily stepping away permanently — he is interested in school board issues, and might take a run at that in the future, he said.

"I've started to develop a broad perspective on education. And once you've been bitten by the bug, you want to make a difference."

King is pursuing a master's degree in eduction.

King said he thinks it was important to be clear about his decision not to run early in the nomination process, so others who are considering throwing their hats in the ring will know who they're up against.

"This is a good opportunity for some folks who have their been active in different forums to get involved. It's a good opportunity for change." 

Miele was on Facebook recently asking people if he should run again.

"I'm not there yet," he said of his consideration whether to tackle another term.

He has growing children, a father with serious health problems, several businesses to run — and most of all, a wife who has to be supportive of his decision.

"I still have a passion for this town and the job, and I want to see things get done."

Completing a tree bylaw and working to preserve heritage are both issues that are important to him, despite some of the criticism from residents directed at him and others over the development of the Randwood Estate, the subject of a development proposal for a six-storey hotel.

"All of council supports heritage, and all of council has the same concerns," he said.

Those are issues he'd like to stick around for to see resolved, as is the final approval of a new official plan. 

"But family has to be the priority."

The decision is one that's on his mind constantly, he said, and he's "pretty confident" he wants to seek another term

"My heart is telling me to run again, but there are a few more conversations I have to have. It's a joint decision."

Mazza is still "100 per cent" undecided, and says it will likely be July before he announces his plans.

His decision will be made partly on who else is running, he said, noting he hopes he can see a council that will move forward "in a positive manner."

He also said he needs to be sure he's prepared for the four-year commitment.

"I'm not ready for that yet. I need a little more time."

John Wiens is another councillor who has not made a decision, citing the busy Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, of which he is an owner and operator, as the main factor.

He's enjoyed his time on council, and is accustomed to being involved in the public sector, but when he takes on a job, he likes to be sure he can give it the attention it deserves. He's concerned work may not allow that.

He said the best part of being on council has been helping to move the town forward in a positive direction, and to make decisions that are best for the community. 

"The quality of life we have here in NOTL is very, very good."

He hopes it stays that way, and part of that is managing budgets efficiently and keeping tax increases to the cost of living.

He'd also like to stick around to see the revised official plan nailed down, hopefully in the next term of council.

"I feel I haven't finished my job, and it's important to me. There are a lot of unhappy people in town, and a lot of different issues."

But as general manager of the golf club, he's struggling with the time commitment as the club gets busier and increases its membership, which is now at almost 600, he said.

He has support from his family, but he wants a better handle on how much time he can devote to council.

As for rumours that he might run for mayor, that isn't going to happen, he said.

"That would be more than a full-time job. That wouldn't be in the cards at this time."

Betty Disero, who hopes to lead a council with some newcomers, said she thinks it will be good to have new, fresh ideas on council, but that she also hopes some of the current councillors will put their names in to run to provide some continuity. 

She said although some comments on social media sites speak of a slate of councillors, and appear to support Disero for mayor, she's not part of those groups.

"I've been accused of doing that but I'm not putting a slate together," she said, although there are a couple of people she said she thinks would be a great addition to council, and she's encouraging them "because I think they're fabulous and because of the experience they would bring to council."

Lord Mayor Pat Darte says he's "pretty sure" he knows what he's going to do, but he's not ready to make it public yet - he's saying it will take a couple of weeks.

"I want to get a couple of ducks in a row first."

He admits he wants to know who else is running, and said he'll be sorry if he doesn't run, but he also has other businesses that have to be a consideration, and four grandchildren with whom he loves spending time.

"I've been thinking about this decision for three and a half years, but there are still a few elements to consider."

He has loved his job as lord mayor, he said, helping people and organizations "do a better job of what they do," proudly pointing to a surplus of more than $800,000 in last year's budget.

And with six months still to go in the term, "there's more to do."

My focus going forward will be to get some of this stuff done," he said, pointing to health care, education and economic development.

As for a large turnover on council, he said he doesn't see it being a problem "as long as everybody runs for the good of the town and not for their own agenda, not for one or two main issues — as long as they're making the best decision for everyone."

He said although he would hate to lose the continuity returning councillors can bring to the table, "there is nothing we can do about that. We'll just have to work with what we've got."

 

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