Trust, accountability and growth early focus of new-look Amherstburg council
Monday marked the first regular business meeting for a new-look Amherstburg Town council.
Five of seven members around the table are newly elected, including Patricia Simone, Don McArthur, Marc Renaud, Peter Courtney and Michael Prue. Only Mayor Aldo DiCarlo – who wasn’t at the meeting – and deputy mayor Leo Meloche return from the previous term.
"It's a great team to bounce ideas off of so I just hope that that continues and we grow and move the town forward," said Patricia Simone. “It was great to see how everyone would work around the table and with administration.”
Council dealt with some outstanding issues ranging from a leaky roof at town hall -- to board appointments. Notably, DiCarlo and Meloche will sit on the soon-to-be defunct Amherstburg Police Services Board – along with layperson Bob Rozankovic. The board will dissolve on Dec. 31 at 11:59 p.m. when Windsor takes over policing in town.
Michael Prue, who is no stranger to politics, was very vocal during his first meeting in Amherstburg. The former councillor, mayor and New Democrat MPP in the East York area of Toronto pushed town staff for the addition of an economic development committee.
“I was disappointed when it was cut out after an initial start because there are people in this town who can help get businesses rolling and give advice on how to attract new businesses or keep old ones,” Prue said after the meeting, noting it’s part of the reason he reentered politics.
“I did come (to Amherstburg) to retire, not to do this,” Prue admitted. “But I saw a need for Amherstburg to get new businesses and such a committee will only help.”
Other councilors were looking to start this term off with a theme of accountability.
"I like looking around the table. It's fun, nervous, sweaty hands all night, but we got through it and it's for the betterment of our town," said Peter Courtney. The new councillor asked administration to report back on some outstanding debts from services rendered by the Amherstburg Police Services board during a recent festival.
“There were a couple of question marks left on the table, the last couple of meetings that I attended that needs to be addressed,” he said. “It needs to be concluded; good, bad or sideways, and I want to make sure it comes to its completion and we know, moving forward, that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.”
Accountability and trust were a central focus of a recent study undertaken by University of Windsor sociology professor. Suzanne McMurphy attended every meeting of council over the past four years as part of a study she’s in the process of authoring on how the recent council re-established trust after the financial crisis in town in 2014. She reported some initial findings to the new council Monday night.
“Public trust was at its lowest ebb and a new group of people were coming in,” McMurphy said of the councilors elected in 2014. “Watching how that group would then re-establish public trust was an opportunity to watch it in real time… It’s a living Petri dish.”
McMurphy, a sociology professor, focused on what they did correctly to re-establish trust by studying social and traditional media in the public domain to gauge public opinion.
She said aside from the finance issues, council faced some other tricky files like the policing decision.
“I think as they moved along, they were definitely moving into the B range,” she said of the previous council. “I think they’re sitting right around a B+ or so, only because I’m a hard grader.”
Professor McMurphy plans to spend the next year documenting her studies, either as a monograph, a scholarly article or even possibly a book.