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  • ESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Council reflects on highlights, challenges, and accomplishments during 2018-2022 term


by Sylene Argent

Being a member of Council requires a lot of commitment and dedication, and the role is not always an easy one to fulfil. It is about community service, as a group of individuals – each with varying opinions and backgrounds – pull together to investigate issues, represent their constituents’ needs, and determine the best way to collect and allocate taxpayer dollars.

Members of the 2018-2022 Term of Council met for the final time on Monday and took an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced and achievements made over the past four-years.

On behalf of Town of Essex residents and staff members, CAO Doug Sweet thanked the eight members of Essex Council for their service and dedication over the past four-years.

“Most people do not realize the amount of time and dedication it takes to be a municipal councillor, especially in today’s world, but staff and your families do,” Sweet said. “We thank you for your civic duty.”

There have been challenges over the past four-years, Sweet said, and that includes operating over a pandemic. In that time, there have been disagreements and debates. “At the end of the day, each and every one of you made decisions, which you thought were in the best interest of the Town of Essex.”

This Council, Sweet continued, has accomplished many things. He highlighted a long-list of key achievements this Term of Council made over the past four-years, which included the construction of Fire Station 2, major improvements at the Colchester Park and Harbour, the beginning of the development of the Essex Sports Field, completion of the Harrow Streetscape, 88 percent achieved objectives in the 2019-2022 Corporate Strategic Plan, implementing several policies, completing roadwork, maintaining tax increases at or below inflation rates, welcoming several new businesses and approving housing developments, adding tennis courts to Essex Centre, and making improvements to playgrounds and parks.

“This Council should be proud of what it accomplished over the past four-years,” Sweet said, noting he was proud to work with each member.

Each member had a chance to share their thoughts on the past Term of Council.

Councillor Jason Matyi is returning. He was appointed to Council earlier this year, when space was made after former Mayor Larry Snively resigned. He thanked members of Council for accepting him, and answering questions he had.

“This was a team, and it brought me up to speed,” he said.

Councillor Kim Verbeek was acclaimed this election. She said Council members worked hard and worked well together. She hopes to be able to help new Councillors in the next term as she was helped when she was new to the role.

“We did have some dust-ups, but we brushed ourselves off,” she said. “Even though we did not see eye-to-eye all the time, we sure came together for the wellbeing of this municipality and were respectful, most of the time.”

Councillor Joe Garon is returning. He thanked members of Administration for their help. He is looking forward to working with them this next term. He said he has friends for life of those he sat on Council with. He wished the best to the new Councillor members to come.

Councillor Sherry Bondy will return as Mayor. She joined the meeting via Zoom, as she had COVID. She said Council had an ambitious Strategic Plan that all of Council and Administration worked hard on.

“Despite some of the hiccups we had along the way, we did accomplish a lot,” she said, adding she looks forward to the new Term of Council, and will have an open-door policy to be a leader if anybody needs anything.

She thanked Mayor Richard Meloche for everything he has done in a leadership capacity. “You have always been a role model to me.”

Outgoing Councillor Chris Vander Doelen was glad to see the list of achievements. He said a lot was accomplished. He thanked Administration, who were all unfailingly polite and helpful. He thanked his friends on Council, particularly Councillor Morley Bowman, whom he said is very knowledgeable.

Outgoing Councillor Bowman reflected on a career that began in the late 1980s. He came on Council when he was appointed to fill a vacancy when Wayne Miller left Council to become CAO. He was acclaimed the following two elections, he then served as a Deputy Reeve on County Council, then served again as a Councillor and as Deputy Mayor on Essex Council. He lost the 2014 election, but was re-elected in 2018.

One of the first major issues that came before him as a Councillor was whether to retain the historic railway station or not. The decision was made to keep it and it has been an integral part of history, he said.

One of the great moves was entering a joint-venture at the high school, with the Town’s Recreation and Aquatics Centre, which has assured the secondary school has stayed in Essex.

A real source of pride is watching the Town grow, and expansion has been phenomenal the past few-years, Bowman said. He is also proud of the Fun Fest. When it was implemented, he had no experience with that type of thing, but chaired the committee for many years. He has enjoyed watching it grow and gave a nod to Garon for taking it to the next-level.

“Things never stay the same. You have to keep developing new ideas, new things, and keep moving forward. Those are the types of things that have impressed me, that we have had the people that were willing to take those steps and move forward,” Bowman said.

All the achievements over the years could not have been accomplished without the guidance of Administration.

“It has been fantastic to be a part of that,” he said of the list of achievements Sweet presented. “I have no regrets moving forward. My time has come and gone. It has been a journey that I certainly appreciated, I enjoyed every bit of it, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Bowman said.

He thanked his family, who have supported him over the years, unfailingly, and appreciated the support.

Deputy Mayor Steve Bjorkman did not run in the last election. He thanked the voters who have supported him over the past eight-years. He enjoyed his time on Council, and thanked his family for their support, including wife, Mary-Anne, for being his best supporter and critic, as someone who challenged his point of view.

“That forced me to have a good argument and have a good defence. You need to have that when you are sitting at this table. You have to believe in what side of the line you are on and have a way to defend it. If you can’t do that, then you need to continue to look into it until you can,” Bjorkman said.

What makes good decisions, he added, is having a group of people with a passion around the table debating policy. The residents win because different points of view are explored and common ground is found.

He said Meloche has been a mentor to him, and he appreciated his guidance over the years.

Outgoing Mayor Meloche said it has been a pleasure to serve as a Councillor and Deputy Mayor for the past 16-years and as Mayor the past ten-months.

He sought to get on Council in 2003 to get the issue of a new arena taken seriously. The first issue that arose included whether or not to purchase the former Holy Name school. The purchase provided the Town the ability to provide a library on one floor, and a huge building for less than what it would have cost to build a new library. It also gave the Town enough property to house a double rink in the parking lot to accommodate the additional parking.

He also spoke about the sewage plant in Essex Centre that was approved in his first term, which was a controversial topic at that time. The 2006-2010 brought on many controversial issues, including changing from Essex Police to OPP, approving the Harrow Wind Project, and purchasing the old Colchester Schoolhouse.

At that time, the new McGregor Community Centre was built, and that was one of his proudest involvements on Council.

He was a Councillor who fought to have gravel roads covered with tar and chip.

“I don’t think residents realize how much time Council members spend involved in Council matters and working with Administration. Quite often, we are spending more time with Town staff than members of our own family, particularly when you serve as Mayor or Deputy Mayor. With that said, I have no regrets of the past 19-years,” he said.

Emotionally, Meloche thanked his family. They bounced around and rescheduled birthday parties, vacations, outings, and projects in order for him to do the job he loved so much. He especially thanked his wife, Cathy, for being patient and being his sounding board.

“My success was your success as well,” he said.

Each member was presented with a special gift, a beautiful, personalized wood fixture emblazoned with the Essex logo.