Before the tough work of the last council meeting of this term began Monday, councillors took some time to celebrate their four years working together and to recognize those who have decided to hang up their political hats – at least temporarily.
Lord Mayor Pat Darte began the feel-good pats on the back by thanking Coun. Maria Bau-Coote for her “hard work and dedication over the last eight years. Your perspective through the health care lens has been a great asset to our community. You've got such a good background in it, you've brought a lot to the table and to our residents,” he said, wishing her the best in her work at the Good Shepherd Centre in Hamilton, which provides help to the homeless and vulnerable in society, a job she has come to love.
To Coun. Jamie King, Darte said, “Your experience in the education sector has provided a unique and welcome voice to this table. Your dedication to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro board has been commendable and I know you were very passionate about it. We wish you all the best as you continue your work at Sheridan College and as you pursue your Master's of Education.”
Darte said he has known Coun. Jim Collard since they were boys, although Collard is a little older and hung around with Darte's older siblings when they lived down the road and swam in the lake together.
“We don't have enough time to begin listing all your accolades that span over 30 years as a council member. Your service to the town and residents is greatly appreciated.”
Darte spoke of just a few of Collard's accomplishments, including working on Town committees and council, the Community Alliance of Schools, and as a board member of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
“We wish you all the best as you cruise around the world with your wife Patty,” said Darte.
After gifts were presented to the three councillors – sweaters with the town logo – he said the Town would also be planting a tree in their honour.
Coun. Terry Flynn was the first of councillors hoping to sit at the table next term to offer congratulations to each of the departing members of council. He said it will be “weird” to be the senior member on council, and mentioned that he used to be the bus monitor on the school bus that Bau-Coote took to school. He knew King from his early days as well when he was hired by King's mother to work as house manager at the Shaw Festival, and then worked with King when he was hired as an usher. “I used to be his boss,” he said.
He spoke of the days when Collard attended Cub meetings at Flynn's house – his parents were pack leaders – and then later, in Flynn's early years on council, when Collard was his mentor in dealing with contentious issues. “I've looked up to Jim for many, many years,” Flynn said.
He spoke of councillors working together, not always agreeing but always wanting the best for the town. “We're going to be losing some great leadership around this table.
Coun. Paolo Miele said it has been a pleasure and an honour to work with each councillor around the table, and he'd learned a lot from them in the last four years. “We will miss you.”
While she coulcn't share childhood memories with them, over the last four years Coun. Betty Disero said she has come to learn that although they all come from different neighbourhoods, different backgrounds and different lifestyles, “we all bring something to the table, and when we take the time to have a good solid debate on issues we collectively can find what's in the best interest of this town, and I've enjoyed doing that. It's been an interesting and good four years for me on council. I've learned a lot from you.”
She also thanked the staff for their hard work, and the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake for allowing her to be part of this term of council.
Coun. Martin Mazza said it's been a pleasure for him to be at the council table with the others and to work with them, and he's come to consider them all friends. “We all grew as a council,” he said, and although there were fights, bickering and arguments, “there were results too.”
He congratulated Collard on his retirement, thanked Darte for his leadership, clerk Peter Todd for his innovations and CAO Holly Down for taking the job “and for helping us get through some rough times, for saving us some headaches and for always having our backs.”
“Going down memory lane,” Bau-Coote said, she remembers Flynn being her bus monitor, 25 cent chips at the Virgil Variety Store, and having printed paper agendas when she first joined council. “Now we have come along way to iPads and Livestream,” she said.
Never in her wildest dreams growing up had she ever expected to be sitting at the council table, she said, “and I never would have been here if it wasn't for the faith of the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
It was a 'humbling experience” being the first female deputy lord mayor, she said, and then to be elected to a second term.
She thanked staff, Darte for his leadership and for rallying council together after a tough start to the term, and added a plea to the next term of councillors. After watching the dedication of the Town's volunteer firefighters, and seeing a 10 per cent increase in fires, she asked the incoming council to look after the fire department and the needs of the volunteer firefighters.
She also thanked Gerry Benito of Chautauqua for encouraging her to run for council, telling her she only needed to make decisions that would enable her to be able to look herself in the mirror. She said she's glad she listened to him. “This experience has taught me so, so much,” ashe said, dding politics might not be completely out of her blood.
King thanked Darte, staff and Dowd “for helping me out when I was going to look like a donkey – you pulled me back from the brink.”
He also thanked the residents. “I've never felt such a trust and privilege representing the people of Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
His time working with the hydro board “was fantastic,” he said, and thanked councillors, “each and every one of you,” for being an an inspiring group of people. He also thanked friends who helped him out with advice, and his wife, who would watch council meetings and let him know when she didn't agree with him.
King, who has taken an out-of-town job that takes a lot of his time and makes it difficult to give his all to council, also said he might be back in politics some time in the future.
Collard thanked Darte for his “excellent” leadership, and described council as a team that didn't always have to agree, but had to learn to move forward.
“We didn't mess it up – we got it right most of the time,” he said.
“We worked hard to make NOTL the kind of town people want to live in.”
He said he's looking forward to a holiday with his wife, and not having to rush home for council.
“I hope we're leaving the town in a better place than we found it,” he said.
“I'm so proud to be able to be part of it. Thank you all.”
Darte acknowledged the help he's received from council the last four years. and thanked them for being patient with him.
He said he ran for lord mayor because he wanted to make some changes in town, and he wanted to show his kids that it's possible to make a difference. What he and councillors have gone through have made them stronger, he said, and added to residents, “thank you very much for allowing me the past four years.”