John McCharles isn’t done with Petro­lia

The Observer (Sarnia) - - NEWS - LOUIS PIN [email protected]­ OBSERVER

Nearly 40 years af­ter he was first elected coun­cil­lor in Petro­lia, now­former mayor John McCharles — who also served with the school board and for­mer Petro­lia Util­ity Com­mis­sion — is on the out­side of town coun­cil look­ing in. Re­flect­ing on his 12 years as mayor, a scan­dal the en­veloped the town, and his plans post-coun­cil.

The fol­low­ing is lightly edited for read­abil­ity.

Observer: You were first voted mayor of Petro­lia in 2006. What did you want to change? John McCharles:

The town had a num­ber of is­sues. One was fi­nan­cial; an­other was our staff didn’t seem to be in har­mony with coun­cil. There wasn’t team­work on coun­cil, and there wasn’t team­work in the staff. My opin­ion is coun­cil and staff have to work to­gether.

Q: So that was a pri­or­ity?


We at­tempted to build a team within coun­cil, which we did. And we started work­ing to­gether very well. It was more like an ac­ci­dent … when I be­came mayor, I’d never been a leader of any­thing be­fore. Sure, I had my own busi­ness. But this was big. So I had to take in­ven­tory, and that’s what I did.

In fact since 2008, 2010, we’ve grown the town by 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. That’s not to my credit; that’s team­work. We put a lot of ef­fort into sav­ing the hos­pi­tal. The hos­pi­tal is the heart of our town. If we didn’t have a hos­pi­tal, I’m sure peo­ple would be mov­ing here as much.

Q: I get the sense with coun­cil, it’s not only about hav­ing the same viewpoint.


It’s ab­so­lutely not. You want peo­ple to bring in their own ideas or you’re not go­ing to go any­where … when I ran for coun­cil the first time (in 1982), my goal was to get the spirit back to Petro­lia … to bring back the spirit, to im­prove the spirit of the town.

I had a friend on coun­cil. He con­vinced me (to run). I was al­ready in­ter­ested in the town and in pol­i­tics. We talk about it. And I thought hey, maybe I can bring some­thing to the ta­ble. I was work­ing at a busi­ness. I owned Petro­lia Dis­trict Am­bu­lance Ser­vice. Also I was in­volved in real es­tate, a cou­ple of ser­vice clubs. … I was a busy guy at the time. But that was all part and par­cel. And I was just mar­ried, too.

Q: Why re­tire now?


I was los­ing the edge. You know how you … there’s a good time to quit and a bad time to quit. And this was a good time to quit.

Q: The last year hasn’t been easy (af­ter for­mer CAO Eman­ual Baron, 43, was charged in late 2017 for leas­ing two build­ings to the town), but that’s not why you re­tired?


That wore on me, be­cause it seemed like it was never-end­ing. And I thought ‘wow, is that go­ing to carry on?’ But no, (it wasn’t why I re­tired).

It doesn’t mat­ter what mu­nic­i­pal­ity you’re in, there’s al­ways pot­holes. A guy made a mis­take in our staff and they ba­si­cally boiled coun­cil. … It wasn’t coun­cil’s fault; it wasn’t the other staff mem­ber’s fault. Peo­ple make mis­takes. We wore the colours for that.

Q: Do you think it was han­dled cor­rectly?


Not ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per, it wasn’t. But ac­cord­ing to the in­tegrity com­mis­sioner, ac­cord­ing to the om­buds­man, ac­cord­ing to the le­gal peo­ple that we went to right away, it was all han­dled prop­erly.

Q: Any re­grets? Any wor­ries about giv­ing the con­trols to some­one else?


There is a bit of un­easi­ness, and the ques­tion of “will the next group drop the ball?” We’ve been go­ing up­wards for years. I’d say we’ve been go­ing up­wards for at least 10 years. … Hope­fully with the peo­ple com­ing in and the peo­ple on staff, they can work to­gether to keep it up.

Q: And it’s not like it’s a whole new coun­cil.


Right. There are three (coun­cil­lors) re­turn­ing, and there are four new ones. And those peo­ple also have a pas­sion for the town. I sup­port them 100 per cent.

Q: What now? You’re not re­tir­ing from ev­ery­thing, right?


I’m still in real es­tate. I’ve still got a cou­ple irons in the fire, which I can’t re­veal too much, but hope­fully I’ll stay in­volved. I have no plans about re­tir­ing. I just can’t find my­self sit­ting at home and do­ing noth­ing. … My coun­cil days are over, but hope­fully I can get in­volved (in other ways). And I plan to vol­un­teer. I’ve got a great pas­sion for the town of Petro­lia. I love this town.


For­mer Petro­lia Mayor John McCharles.

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