Gananoque town council meets in new chamber for last time
The last meeting of the outgoing town council also marked a first.
The current council members – none of whom will be returning after their term ends this week – met for the first time in the new council chambers that are part of the $3-million addition to the historic town hall.
Council rushed its contractor to get the chambers ready and delayed its meeting for a week so that the council could hold its final meeting in the new, window-lined chambers on the second floor of the addition.
Council’s desire to meet in the new chambers on Tuesday (Nov. 27) was symbolic. The addition stands as one of the signature accomplishments of the current councillors, most of whom were elected for the first time in 2010.
It also became a political flashpoint in the Oct. 22 election campaign as many disgruntled voters claimed the town couldn’t afford it or argued that other municipal properties could have been used instead to preserve the heritage town hall.
The three incumbent council members who ran in the last election were defeated, including Coun. Brian Brooks, who was the chief council cheerleader for the new addition. Brooks ran fourth in his bid to become mayor.
Longtime councillor Anne Warren was unsuccessful in her reelection bid, as was Joe Jansen, a member of the Class of 2010. Mayor Erika Demchuk and councillors Jan Hayes, Jeff Girling and Dwayne Fletcher chose not to run again. (Fletcher was booted off council a month ago after he stopped showing up for meetings.)
On Tuesday, Warren, who served 15 years on council, received a standing ovation from the audience as she said her goodbyes.
Warren said it has been a privilege and an honour to serve the residents of Gananoque.
Warren has served on every committee of council, including three times on the police board, and she has sat as Gananoque’s representative on the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit for 15 years, including the last four as chairwoman.
Like all the other departing council members, Warren had high praise for the town’s staff. She noted that she was on the selection committees for all of the current senior managers.
Demchuk, who served eight years, thanked each councillor and staff member in turn, and spoke of the honour of being mayor.
She said her council always based its decisions on the greater good of Gananoque, and they were not always the easiest or most popular choices.
Demchuk urged the next council to keep its eye on the greater good, and to resist the temptation to pander to the views of critics on social media.
“You can’t always base decisions on what you might see on social media from a handful of people,” she said.
Hayes said “it has been the honour of my life” to serve for the last eight years.
While the work at council meetings is important, Hayes said much of the real work of council and staff is done out of the public eye. She cited the town’s fight, alongwith the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, to retain the casino against the very real possibility that it would move to Kingston.
As well, the work to improve hydro service to the town was another unsung accomplishment, she said.
Jansen related some advice that he had received from a former mayor after his election eight years ago. Every $ 65,000 that council spends represents a one-per-cent hike in taxes, he said. An expenditure of $3,000 is equal to one homeowner’s property taxes.
“I’ve taken that to heart over the last eight years,” he said. “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, sometimes you just have to save money.”
He wished the new council members good luck and urged them to remember that lesson when spending money.
Brooks said he was honoured to serve on council for the past four years and he cited the town hall addition as one of the many accomplishments of which he is most proud.
The addition will be around to serve the people of Gananoque long after the current council members are gone, he said, noting that the existing building has stood for more than 180 years.
Brooks said the current council has had a lot of trials and tribulations and “interesting comments from people who hide behind keyboards.”
He urged the new council to recognize the dedication and value of the town’s staff.
Council Jeff Girling was absent for the final meeting.
The new council will be sworn in Tuesday in the council chambers in the Emergency Services Building, not the new chambers in the addition, which is still being finished.
For the first time in decades, all of the council are men. Mayor Ted Lojko will lead a council of Matt Harper, David Osmond, Dave Anderson, Dennis O’Connor, Mike Kench and Adrian Haird.
Gananoque town council meets for the last time in the new council chamber. WAYNE LOWRIE/ POSTMEDIA NETWORK