Incoming Pelham councillors-elect on their campaigns, and what happens next
BY JENNIFER CHORNLEY
With a “need for change” the dominating factor this election, the Pelham electorate did just that by electing an entirely new council and mayor.
The mayoral race saw a landslide victory for former Councillor Marvin Junkin, who prevailed over retired federal worker Carla Baxter and Town Councillor Gary Accursi.
In Ward 1, Mike Ciolfi and Marianne Stewart swept away Councillors James Lane and Richard Rybiak.
Ward 2 brought in Ron Kore and John Wink, replacing Councillors Gary Accrusi and Catherine King. These seats were guaranteed available as Accursi vied for the mayor’s chair and King did not seek re-election.
Lisa Haun and Bob Hildebrant were victorious in Ward 3, replacing longtime incumbents Peter Papp and John Durley.
In Ward 1, Mike Ciolfi says his top priorities are to get a clear picture of the Town’s financial situation, an expenditures review, address concerns related to cannabis operations and short-term rentals.
“We also need to gain the trust of the residents to move forward in a positive way by being open and transparent,” he said.
In the early stages of the new council, challenges Ciolfi cited include quickly and efficiently learning municipal policy and procedures, and ensuring that Town services, programs, and facilities continue to meet the needs of the residents without a “burden” to them.
He would also like to see a complete review of all Town expenditures to ensure council spends responsibly, and focus on long-term priorities to keep municipal taxes affordable.
Ciolfi credits running a clean positive campaign, the willingness to move forward and to listen to the concerns of the residents as keys to his success.
“The residents of Pelham clearly sent out a message that they signified their desire for wanting change, given the total sweep of all incumbents from office,” he said. “We need to work diligently to overcome the challenges ahead. Reduce the debt and build the reserves. Be honest, true and fair with the constituents.”
For Marianne Stewart, having a completely new council offers a fresh perspective on issues. “Sometimes over time we tend to follow the same path, but with a new council we will be having to consciously choose the paths we will take, making sure we are keeping the best interests of the town as the focus.”
She said it’s a “huge change” to have a whole new council.
“Now that it’s what the electorate wanted, it’s up to us to work together, plan together to implement the work that needs to be done and work as a cohesive group to help guide our town into a positive future.”
Stewart said not only do financial matters need to be clarified, but infrastructure issues need to be addressed, citing Poth Street as an example. She would also like to see a heritage committee restored.
The election pretty much went the way she “expected” and she is “very satisfied” with the result.
“The election four years ago is the one that surprised me. There had seemed to be such discontent in the Town but it wasn’t reflected in the polls,” Stewart said.
“[This time] the electorate has chosen to turf the old and bring in the new.”
Stewart is “hopeful” residents will be patient with the new council at the beginning, as it will face a learning curve.
“We all have different backgrounds and strengths, and as a group drawing on that we should be an effective council.”
Stewart says her campaign was successful due to the outpouring of community campaign supporters, especially since they knew she had been concerned with Town issues for a long time.
In Ward 2, the issues John Wink would like to address within the first few months include removing the chicane on Haist Street, amending the current bylaw so that future buildings cannot exceed five storeys, and resolving the short-term rental issues.
One of the biggest issues Wink is concerned with is the “perceived lack of openness” between residents and Town council and staff.
“I would like to see regular Town Hall sessions where council can update residents as to what is happening in Town as well as listen to comments and concerns of our residents.”
Wink also says that the new council will face a steep learning curve over its first year, especially since it takes a year, he says, to be familiarized with local government policies and procedures, and availability of mentors is “limited.”
“For the most part, the councillors are new to each other and we will have to learn how to work with each other for the betterment of Pelham.”
Wink says the upheaval was “not surprising. When I went to the doors, people were saying that they wanted a fresh council and the results beared that out.”
Wink says he is concerned with the upcoming council’s inexperience and the “huge expectation that is bestowed upon us.”
“There are numerous issues to be dealt with going forward and they all cannot be resolved immediately. Council has to ensure that we are well informed on each decision that we make.”
Another issue Wink says must be addressed is the cannabis industry, especially since the provincial and federal governments downloaded responsibility to the local governments, including policing.
“The operations are currently allowed in agricultural areas, but these operations are becoming commercial ventures, not agricultural operations,” Wink says. “We need to work with other municipalities to solve some of the issues and lobby support from the provincial government.”
With his upcoming retirement, Wink says this will give him the time needed to be dedicated to his new position. He also says that his strong business background working in the financial services industry was one of the key factors to a successful campaign.
Ron Kore says that the new council will have more of a “business approach” related to growth and development.
“With this new council, we need to determine the level of growth and how aggressive we want to develop our community,” he says.
“If we can’t afford it, then we won’t do it. We only have one chance of doing this right and we cannot afford to let the developers dictate to us what their visions are.”
Kore says that council is going to need a timeout to understand what effect and impact existing growth and development has on the community, especially with traffic flow and building heights.
Regarding Towns financials, Kore says the council is going to be challenged by the current debt load.
He would like to see a “line-by-line deep dive” into each department’s expenditures to see what can be eliminated, wage and hiring freezes, and explore government grant availability for projects to reduce the financial impact on Town operations and incurring any more debt.
“We definitely do not want to carry this debt for a long period. Especially if there is a recession, we are going to be in a deeper hole. There will be hard decisions to make moving forward.”
During the campaign, Kore connected with the community by knocking on doors and providing truthful answers, he says, to questions. He maintained his strong platform and “did not change [it] because I thought it would get more votes.”
Kore says that the election’s total sweep proves why democracy is “so great.”
“When politicians stop listening to the citizens and also pushing ahead with their own personal agendas, that’s when we need a change,” he says. “Every four years we can change the people that govern us if we don’t like the direction they are taking us.”
In Ward 3, Lisa Haun says learning from the past will allow the new council to bring fresh ideas to the table and inject positive energy into the Town overall, especially with the “evident” air of mistrust and questionable accountability with the current council.
“This will require critical thinking, accountability and strong leadership to prioritize goals,” she says. “Voters have chosen a strong council that will work hard to represent them over the next four years.”
Before addressing major issues, Haun says she would like to have an independent audit done to see where the Town is financially.
“The Town of Pelham desperately needs an effective plan to ensure two-way communication with residents,” she says.
Haun says she is supportive of preserving the Haist Street arena property, and engaging stakeholders regarding short-term rentals and the creation of bylaws.
Haun says she highlighted strengths and priorities including financial accountability, strong leadership and collaborative decision-making, which “resonated” with many residents throughout her campaign.
Bob Hildebrandt says that with the new councillors listening to residents’ issues, it has given them a fresh perspective on how to move forward with the Town’s future growth, development and sustainability.
“The new council has the responsibility to fulfill the change role,” Hildebrandt says. “Changes that need to be made must be done efficiently, sustainably and meet residents’ expectations.”
As with his fellow councillors-elect, he said within the first year the Town’s finances will be a challenge, along with taxes and successful operation of the community centre.
Hildebrandt says that once the new council evaluates the Town’s financial position on all accounts, establishing a realistic short and long-term plan will be essential.
He says he also wants to see improved communications and there should not be a “communications strategy.”
“If anyone asks for information at the Town or of their councillor it should not have to be routed around and possibly end up [requiring] a Freedom of Information request at the Clerk’s office,” he says.
Because Hildebrandt has called Pelham home for 44 years, his built his campaign foundation on wanting to see his grandkids grow up, be successful and establish roots in the community.
He wanted people to know he cared and did so by canvassing Ward 3 at least twice. The canvassing gave Hildebrandt the opportunity to listen and talk about resident concerns, with an obviously positive result on Election Day.