From business to bureaucracy
When businessman Alec van Zuiden decided to try out municipal politics, he jumped in feet first, running for the position of mayor of the village of Ayer’s Cliff in the 2009 elections. “Some people were asking me to think about running.
I finally said yes so they would stop bothering me!” joked Mr. van Zuiden who admitted that he was a little surprised when he won.
“I’m not a politician,” said the mayor who was a director of the Ayer’s Cliff company Wulftec International for several years and is now the president and CEO of Mesotec Sherbrooke Inc., an original equipment manufacturer for the aerospace industry. “Now I’m caught up in this concept of democracy. I can have vision and I can lead the team, but I can’t make decisions alone; it’s a forced marriage. But we’ve all learnt to get along and the first year has been good.”
The van Zuidens moved to Ayer’s Cliff from Stanstead about seven years ago, while Mr. van Zuiden was still involved with Wulftec International. Besides being particularly fond of the village of Ayer’s Cliff, with six children at home, the van Zuidens wanted to reduce commuting time.
Asked to describe his first year in office, the mayor answered: “Exhilarating! There have been all kinds of things to learn. It’s also been surprising. When I go into a board meeting I have an agenda; a town council meeting is a little different. But we’ve determined a protocol. Now the ques- tions come up before the meeting and we don’t mind if citizens interject during the meeting, as long as they don’t try to railroad the discussion. It’s a question of respecting the citizens and the citizens respecting us.”
The potable water file, which had been going on for about nine years, was resolved in 2010. “Bringing the water project to a conclusion was a little ‘rock ‘n roll’. I had to use my emergency powers to finalize the project. There were last minute challenges,” said Mr. van Zuiden. “The budget was an interesting exercise the first year. This year we have a minor decrease in taxes and we’re still getting things done,” he added.
The mayor also spoke about the new project to build condominiums: “What I appreciated was the exercise. Council approved a plan, the plan was then challenged by some citi- zens, it went to a referendum and was approved. And we were able to add new environmental conditions that the developer agreed to.” The project has gone from one of twenty individual residences to roughly the same number of condominiums, a change that is expected to lessen the environmental impact of the development.
During the last year, the Ayer’s Cliff Fire Department has also taken on a new role, becoming associated with the village of Hatley. “Councillors André Martel and Pat Proulx took care of that file. It will be a good thing for 2011,” said the mayor.
Also coming up in 2011 are the changes to Tyler Park which the mayor spoke about enthusiastically: “There will be all kinds of new things at the park: a new skating rink; a water park; a basketball court; and a new building.”
Ayer’s Cliff’s businessoriented mayor has “no regrets” about jumping into municipal politics and was appreciative of the other members of the council. “They put a lot of effort and work into their dossiers and it can be hard to find the time. These are practically volunteer positions. Hats off to the other councillors – c’est pas évident!”
The mayor concluded the interview with this message: “The success of our community is predicated upon community involvement. It’s directly proportional to the involvement of citizens in projects and events like the annual Armistice Day service. Now we close the streets down for that and more people take part. Most events rely on the involvement of volunteers who can make or break a community. Become involved!”
Businessman Alec van Zuiden, mayor of the village of Ayer’s Cliff, brings his results-oriented approach to public office.