From busi­ness to bu­reau­cracy

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Ayer’s Cliff

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!”

photo cour­tesy

Busi­ness­man Alec van Zuiden, mayor of the vil­lage of Ayer’s Cliff, brings his re­sults-ori­ented ap­proach to pub­lic of­fice.

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