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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Candidates share platforms/opinions at public event in Harrow

by EFP Staff

On Thursday, October 4, the Harrow & Colchester South Chamber of Commerce hosted a meet the candidates style event at the Harrow Agricultural Fair Building. Candidates running for various positions at Essex’s decision-making table, and those running for a Schoolboard Trustee position, were invited to attend.

  Candidates were given the opportunity to briefly introduce themselves as well as answer a number of prepared questions, which members of the Chamber prepared. A few written questions, submitted by those in attendance, were also asked. 

  Event Moderator, Bill Baker, a past Councillor for the Town Essex, stated that the event was being presented in an informational format, rather than a debate format. To ensure fairness, the candidates’ names were drawn to determine the order in which each would speak and answer questions.  

Schoolboard trustees participate in

Meet the Candidates’ event 

Schoolboard Trustee candidates were up first. Incumbent Julia Burgess and Sheri Dzudovich were present, seeking the Trustee position for the Greater Essex County District School Board (English Public). Derek Thachuk and Mary DiMenna, running for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (English Separate), were also present. 

  The closure of Harrow High School is still fresh in the minds of many Harrow and Colchester South residents. The Greater Essex County District School Board made the vote to close the school in October 2015. It was a tight vote, with the final decision running 5-4 in favour of closing the school.

  The threat for the closure had been looming over the community for two decades, but action and solutions had always kept its doors open. At the time of the closure, around 250 students attended the high school. 

  As a result of that decision, high school-aged students in Harrow and Colchester South, who are part of the Greater Essex County District School Board, are now bused primarily to Kingsville. 

  Both Burgess, who was a Trustee at the time of the vote, and Dzudovich, who served on the Program and Accommodation Review Committee, were against the closure of the high school. 

  When asked what they have done and will do to ensure schools stay open in small communities in the future, Burgess said, “I’ve done everything to convince others about why we live in our small communities.” She said it was important to find [political] allies who understand the importance of schools in small communities going forward and was selected to advocate on behalf of five school boards (with schools in smaller communities) at the provincial level. 

  As part of the committee that was fighting to save Harrow High School, Dzudovich said she fought hard and even went to Queen’s Park to advocate on behalf of rural and small schools. When the closure went through, she was part of the transition committee to ensure a smooth shift for the students moving on to Kingsville District High School. 

  Derek Thachuk, running for the Trustee position for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (English Separate), has Chaired for the school councils of Holy Name in Essex and Cardinal Carter in Leamington. He said he has focussed on retention and retaining students. One of the problems schools face in the Catholic school board is empty seats. His said his wife grew up in Harrow and the closure of the high school “broke her heart.”

  Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board incumbent Mary DiMenna said she has over 49 years of effective involvement with the board. One of the mandates of the board, she stressed, “is we will never, ever abandon one of our schools.”

Ward 3/4 candidates share views at Harrow Meet the Candidate’s event

Ward 3 candidates Steve Bjorkman, Rodney Hammond, and Chris Vander Doelen, joined Harrow candidate Sherry Bondy to participate in the question period. Harrow candidate Paul Innes sent his regrets as he unable to attend as he had elective surgery. 

Bjorkman currently sits on Council, as one of two Councillors from Ward 1. He and his wife recently moved to Ward 3 and he opted to run for one of the two seats there. For the future vision of the community moving forward, he would like the Town to use the Harrow Street Plan as a guide to find the priorities and focus on them. 

  As a current member of Council, he stressed how important it was that its members “get along.” 

  “That is going to help everybody,” moving forward, he said. “In-fighting,” he added, “has overshadowed the success of the current Council.”

  He called the vacant Harrow High School property, “the biggest issue in the Town today…and the most difficult.

  “We need to preserve that area for the [Harrow] Fair.”

  Hammond described himself as a lifelong resident. He believes, “big box stores destroyed our town” and the “closure of the school was a nail in the coffin.” When answering the questions posed to the candidates, Hammond said it was important for the Town to reinvent itself, to focus on the wine industry, and to attract tourism-type businesses.

  He also said the growing senior population was an opportunity. “People who are moving here are finding our style of living very nice.”

  With respect to the Harrow High School property, Hammond said the Town should pressure the School Board to surrender it. That pressure, he added, should come from the residents as well as administration and Council.      

  Vander Doelen, a Ward 3 resident, wrote for the Windsor Star for over 30 years. As a reporter and columnist, he made a career out of covering politics, and thinks that would help in serving on Council.

  He said one thing area residents need is better access to broadband internet, which is something other candidates agreed upon. Referring to the SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) plan, the mandate of which is to bring a high-speed, fibre optic broadband network to southwestern Ontario, he also said the implementation process is slow as the project currently has a targeted completion date of 2023.

   Getting reliable, high-speed internet into the area would help attract residents, Vander Doelen said. 

  In terms of overall development (residential, commercial, and industrial), he said, “It is all around us and we are getting none of it.” 

  “We are doing something wrong,” he added, “and we need to address that.”

  One under-serviced area of development that offers an opportunity, he said, was small apartments and affordable housing. 

  Looking at Harrow High School, he said, “I think it should be sold.” He doesn’t think the Town should purchase it, as it wouldn’t be fair to the taxpayers. He would like to see the property developed for housing, while ensuring its development does not impact on the Harrow Fair. 

  Ward 4 incumbent Bondy has been on Essex Council for eight years. “I might be little, but I have a big voice,” she said. “And my strength is you,” she added, referring to the public and the voters. She said she works tirelessly to serve residents.

  Bondy said the Town has been working to develop Harrow and Colchester South, citing many projects, and added the Town can continue to help in future development. 

  Talking about the future of the Harrow High School property, she cited what has occurred with the abandoned Junior School. Currently, it sits, dejected. 

  Bondy said it was a bad decision for the Town not to purchase it. “If we had bought the Junior School, it would have been developed already,” she said.

She doesn’t want the same mistake to be made with the high school. “It’s imperative to protect it as a recreational resource,” she said, citing its close proximity to many of Harrow’s current recreational facilities and the fair grounds. “It’s a major issue.”

Mayor/Deputy Mayor hopefuls participate

in Meet the Candidate’s event

Incumbent Richard Meloche and Phil Pocock are seeking the Deputy Mayor’s seat. Candidates Katie McGuire Blais, Ron Rogers, Rob Shepley, and Larry Snivel, are vying for the Mayor’s position. They all had an opportunity to speak.

  Mayoral candidate, Blais is a newcomer to politics and has lived in Essex for the past six years. She has a degree in Business and Administration from the University of Windsor and is the Administrative Assistant and Marketing Coordinator for a printing business. 

  She entered the race, “because I am trying to make a change. That’s the reason I went for the top spot.”

  When answering the question that was put to all Deputy Mayoral and Mayoral candidates regarding a vision to ensure the vitality of the municipality, she said it was important to continue to stay behind our current success, such as Explore the Shore. She would like to see the continued development of the Colchester South area as a tourist corridor, running along County Road 50, and new neighbourhoods developed in Harrow Centre.

  “It’s hard [for us] to change, but in order for us to continue to be a Town, we need to grow our community,” she said.

  With respect to Ward 1, she stressed jobs and employment opportunities are important. 

  Talking about the Town’s administration and transparency, she said councillors must be willing to ask questions. And to get answers. She would also like to see council meetings rotate through the various wards, rather than always being held in Ward 1. 

  With respect to Harrow High School, she thinks the Town should purchase it. “We don’t need it to become another derelict building,” she said, referencing the closed junior school.

  Rogers currently sits on Essex council as a Ward 3 Councillor. This is his twelfth year as a representative. He held a council position in Colchester South prior to amalgamation. He sits on various boards and has been on committees of council. Now, he is seeking to be Mayor. 

  Speaking about the vitality of the town and its future, he said, “We have a wonderful town, a vibrant municipality.

  “We need to encourage developers. I’d like to see entrance-level homes being built for young families.” He also stressed the importance of tourism, but said farmers must be protected. 

  “We need to be one town,” he said, “and grow that idea and feeling.”

  Talking about administration, he said, “Council is the Board of Directors. We need to set the right pace and move our town forward.”

  He said that as a Board of Directors, Council should tap into administration and get their recommendations in a “public friendly matter.” 

  On Harrow High School, he said, “A high school should be a high school.” He would like to lobby the provincial government to get it reopened as a regional high school for agriculture sciences.  

   Mayoral candidate Shepley was born and raised in Essex and has lived in all four wards in the municipality. He runs two businesses in the town and has sat on the board for the Essex Centre BIA.  

  With respect to the continued vitality of the town, he said it was important to “do everything we can to encourage development.” 

  He would like the Town to take a proactive approach to infrastructure developments and improvements, rather than a reactive one. 

  He also said efforts have to continue to promote tourism. 

  He thinks that administration does well, but he would like to see a streamlining of the process. Like McGuire-Blais, he would like to see council meetings rotate through the town.  

  Talking about Harrow High School, he said, “I am not a proponent of spending taxpayers’ dollars to acquire the property.” He said the Town needs to get private developers involved, citing the former Holy Name School in Ward 1 as an example of what could become of a vacated property. 

  Snively is a lifetime resident and has served on Council (representing Ward 3) for seven years. Snively was the amalgamated Town’s second mayor, serving from 2001-2002. It is a position he hopes to hold again. 

  Speaking about the continued vitality of Essex, he said, “I like the approach of the small-town, four unique communities within a community.” 

  Continued development is the main thing he would like to see. He said it is important to invest in the Colchester area and continue to promote it for tourism. Ward 1, he said, is well positioned in the centre of the county as an industrial area. Increased industry would mean more money for infrastructure and other community projects, he said.  

   Talking about administration, Snively said, “I think we have a very good administrative staff. You can get answers quickly.”

  He too would like Council meetings to be rotated throughout the municipality. 

  He didn’t want to make any specific comments about the Harrow High School property, other than to say that whatever happens to the land should support the Harrow Fair Board. Talking about the Junior School, he said, “The problem is, they let it sit. 

“I’ve had [the Junior School] sold a couple of times,” he continued. “As a Council, we should be looking at these buildings.”

  This is the first time that the Deputy Mayor’s position has been put to public vote.

Meloche has been elected by his peers for the past three terms. Prior to the that, he served for one term as Councillor, representing Ward 2.

  Speaking on the continued vitality of the community, Meloche said, “We need to tie into our vibrant wine industry and expand on it.” He would also like to expand on the CIP program. 

  He said the Town should also continue to develop its bicycling lanes. “Cycling tourism is big business,” he said, and he thinks that Essex can tap into that.

  With respect to administration, he said, “We have a very strong, positive administration. Most of the time, they are correct in what they are recommending.”

  Like others, he would like to see rotating Council meetings. 

  Talking about Harrow High School, he said, “It is disheartening to see schools that were so vibrant taken out of circulation.” The Junior School, he said, has become an eyesore. 

  Regarding the future of the Harrow High School property, Meloche said there were options that had to be carefully looked at. “It’s a slow process. It’s a valuable piece of property.”

  Meloche is being challenged for the Deputy Mayor position by Ward 1 resident, Pocock, who currently sits on the Essex Community Services Board, the E.L.K. Energy Board, and the Essex Heritage Committee.

  Looking at the continued vitality of the municipality, Pocock said, “We need to improve on the tourism that has already started.”

  He would like to look to successful neighbouring municipalities and bring them in to assist in developing ideas for Essex. He said tourism efforts should be focused in the southern half of the municipality, while the northern half of the town should capitalize on its location, in the centre of the county, to attract new residents. 

  With respect to administration, he said special public meetings should be held to address ongoing and important issues. Updates should also be given to the taxpayers to keep them informed. 

  Talking about Harrow High School and the sad state of the Junior School property, he said that by-laws need to be put in place that have teeth to ensure the properties are maintained. He talked about the possibility of the Harrow High School being developed as a senior centre, similar to what was done in Ward 1 at the J.A. Dowswell property. 

 Ward 1/2 candidates speak about representing the whole municipality

With the little time remaining, the Wards 1 and 2 candidates were given some time to introduce themselves. Ward 1 candidates Joe Garon, Tom Holland, and Randy Voakes were present, with Morley Bowman, and Fred Groves sending their regrets. Kim Verbeek was there, representing ward 2, with other candidates Mark Williams, and Terry Brockman, sending regrets. 

  Garon, a lifelong resident of Ward 1 has been the Chairperson of the Essex Fun Fest Committee for the past four years and an executive with the Essex 73’s for the past nine. He stated that, if elected, he would strive to be a representative for all the residents in the municipality, not just those in his ward. He also plans to visit the various wards. 

  Retired business owner, Holland, said he was prompted to run because he believes Council is not hearing or addressing the concerns of the constituents. He said that it is time they do so. 

  Voakes is a long-standing member of Essex Council, who is seeking re-election. He said that while he works for the Town as a whole, he knows the importance of maintaining the culture of the individual areas in the municipality. The old towns of Essex and Harrow need to maintain their individual identities. He said he would like to see the old towns maintain their names while having the municipality as a whole renamed. He suggested Heritage Park. 

  Ward 2 resident and candidate, Verbeek, currently serves as Vice Chairperson of the Essex Police Services Board, Chairperson of the local Landfill Liaison Committee, and is Vice-C1hairperson of the Essex Fun Fest Committee. She said that, if elected, she wants to engage the entire municipality. She said she would be a new voice and has the passion and energy for building a strong community. She stressed that more community input would be a must, moving forward.   

The Essex Centre BIA is hosting a second meet-the-candidates event on Thursday, October 11 at the Essex Centre Sports Complex (Shaheen Community Room), starting at 6 p.m.

  The election will be held on October 22.

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