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Friday, April 19, 2024
Cameron gearing up for council

Clare Cameron might be the only person in town surprised she earned the title of deputy lord mayor in her first run at council.

On election day, she and her husband stayed home, listened and watched results coming in, before deciding to head to the community centre to join the crowd of people gathered to hear the news.

“I felt a big wash of relief, excitement and elation,” she said about hearing the final numbers. “It was a very, very happy moment, along with a few tears. It was overwhelming, not just to see the results, but to be surrounded by people hugging, shaking hands, congratulating me — it was a very special moment.”

Since then, in true Cameron fashion, she has been going over all the notes she has taken on many issues going back to 2014. She is preparing for the job ahead of her by reading up on the issues she expects will come up early in the term.

On Nov. 15, she delivered a baby girl, and even the arrival of her second child has not stopped her from getting ready for what’s ahead at the council table.

There have been two orientation sessions organized by the Town, including one on how to handle conflicts of interest, which was a topic that came up during the election campaign. There will also be a workshop on the budget Dec. 5 at 9:30 a.m., open to the public.

Councillors were also given an opportunity to meet one-on-one with the directors of each department, to learn about their challenges, said Cameron, what’s going “really well, and what the process looks like from the inside. We’ve heard a lot about residents’ experience with the Town. This was an opportunity to look at it from the other side.”

In addition to serving on several municipal advisory committees over the last decade, Cameron is a program manager for business intelligence with the City of Burlington. Her job is to improve access to data and analytics for effective decision-making, and as such, she is well-versed in data collection.

She ran for a council seat because, she said, she is ready to be a decision-maker.

She is determined to be an effective councillor, supportive of staff, and wants to be sure if there is a “great idea” from a staff member she can bring it forward from the inside.

She also wants to keep her finger on the pulse of what residents want, and will keep up to date on what people are saying through social media and the local news. “It’s important to feel in contact and to be connected with people,” she said.

Cameron feels she has a good sense of the issues that will come up early in the term. “It’s my nature to collect notes, read a lot, write a lot and try to find patterns in things. I don’t just want to learn about the current year, but how it fits in to recent years and into the future.”

She has been studying infrastructure issues such as roads, which make up some of the biggest expenditures, to prepare for the budget discussions. “They are often taken for granted, but are critical for getting people in and out of NOTL.”

Cameron’s approach to the budget will be to “start with what we have, and be fiscally responsible.”

There is good data available, she said, and she has been seeking out any added information she can find. She is hoping for as much public input as possible throughout the process.

Customer service will be a priority, said Cameron. It was obvious from what candidates heard while knocking on doors that residents are not satisfied with the response they receive when contacting town hall. She plans to change that.

Staff should be given clear expectations and standards, she said, and the the public also needs a clear understanding of what to expect from those providing the service.

Her rule of thumb for staff is “the second you feel like you’ve done enough, it’s time to do more.”

She wants to focus on the experience of customers being served, and looking at staff being “a little more empathetic.”

Communication on both sides is essential, she said, with a variety of channels to share information.

“Our population has grown, and expectations are high. We have a very engaged population. Town staff however has not grown, and there are high demands placed on them. Customer service and public engagement are top priorities.”

There has already been some good work done in that direction, she said, such as the Talent Bank and Join the Conversation on the Town’s website, but there are ways to make the website “more intuitive and searchable. This is a beautiful historic town, but the website doesn’t need to be quite so historic.”

At the first committee meeting in December, Cameron expects one of the discussions to be about a tree bylaw. If it’s not on the agenda, someone will likely raise the issue under new business, she said.

“Councillors seem interested in showing some movement on a tree bylaw, or some form of private tree management. Expectations are high. This will be the first opportunity to show some action, some momentum, and to get some traction on one of the issues in town.”

What has played out in recent weeks with no controls in place, said Cameron, referring to the destruction of trees on John and Charlotte Street properties, “is the culmination of what was hundreds of people’s worst fears,” with clear-cutting on a large property slated for development before an application to build was submitted to the planning department.

“The Town will find a way to respond to that situation. From the bigger-picture perspective, I want to avoid a situation where residents’ worst dreams have come true, when they have voiced their concerns and tried to remedy them through the democratic process.”

If a tree bylaw is approved and proven to be too restrictive, if it negatively impacts residents, said Cameron, “we need to be aware of that. It should be dynamic, not just passed and put away on the shelf. It’s not written in stone.”

She sees similar frustration from residents with the much-discussed and long-awaited revised Official Plan. There has been a lot of agonizing to get it right, she said, but the greater risk has been the delay that was created by the wish to make it perfect, with developers able to take advantage of the Town not having an updated OP.

A draft plan is expected to come to council early in 2019 with some significant changes, including policies that address the cultural landscape, preserving agricultural lands, controlling cannabis production, and a discussion about the community planning permit system.

After a period of consultation with the public, Cameron said, she expects council will be determined to see work on the updated OP completed so it can be sent to the Region and Province for approval.

“It will be far from instant, but I will do everything I can to push it forward.”

She intends to request that every council agenda include an update on the work of the Official Plan, to make sure the public knows progress is being made. “There should always be something to share,” she said. “If there isn’t, that’s a concern.”

The noise bylaw, short-term rentals, traffic and transportation, economic development and recreational facilities are also “hot buttons” that will likely come up early in the term, said Cameron, and the number of issues points to the importance of a strategic plan, outlining priorities for both councillors and staff.

“We’ve heard so much frustration on so many topics, it’s important to set priorities, arrive at a consensus and stick to it. No one can do everything all at once. If priorities are changing on a daily basis, that’s not a productive environment.”

And while there is some concern about a shortage of staff to handle a heavy work load, “no matter how many Town staff there are, they can be aligned to the strategic plan, and anything not on the strategic plan falls to a lower priority.”

Cameron says she’s feeling optimistic, privileged and honoured to be part of this council. “I want to show we can do a good job. But that doesn’t mean getting out a wrecking ball. I believe in incremental change, building a positive relationship with staff, and improving service to the public. That takes empathy on both sides. I don’t expect everybody will agree on everything, but I hope that if people don’t agree, they will come forward, not just on social media but through official channels. There are opportunities to have their voices heard. I want to have every voice represented.”

The inaugural meeting of council takes place Dec. 3 at the Shaw Festival Theatre. Doors open at 6:30, with the official swearing-in ceremony beginning at 7 p.m.

Council work begins at the first committee of the whole meeting Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall council chamber, followed by a council meeting Dec. 17, same time and place.

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