Innisfil council “fragmented”, mayoral candidates agree
By Bruce Hain – Simcoe.com – August 18 2010 INNISFIL – A two-hour long debate between Gord Wauchope and Barb Baguley, both running for Mayor in the Oct. 25 election, ended a bit awkwardly when both concurred Innisfil council has been split into factions.
When asked if the quality of leadership of the municipality had been an issue in the last four-year term of office, Deputy Mayor Wauchope replied, “I would say the first couple of years were very outstanding and the last two years very frustrating.”
“I would say council has been fragmented,” Baguley said. “They had different agendas and there was a lack of focus.”
Wauchope, now serving as Deputy Mayor agreed.
“Yes, it was fragmented the last couple of years. As Mayor, you can’t try to run the town as one person. There has to be teamwork. A lot of council members were told to shut up.”
The pair echoed what several people in attendance at Ron and Marj Mossman’s Lakelands Avenue home had stated previously during the informal all-candidates session.
Baguley and Wauchope are the only candidates for mayor so far. The final day to register to run in the municipal election is Sept. 10. Mayor Brian Jackson has yet to announce his intentions.
Moderated by David Steele, approximately 50 people sat on lawn chairs while Baguley and Wauchope were asked to give their positions on a variety of local issues such as development and construction, culture, heritage and tourism, municipal relations, the distribution of town services, water and sewer, transparency and municipal projects.
Resident Al Gilchrist asked, “It seems to us that this council doesn’t seem to work well together. There are some people who don’t talk to each other. If you inherit the problem, what will you do?”
“There are no members of council who don’t like each other,” Wauchope replied. “I think some councillors were frustrated when they were taken off of committees they sat on. I know I don’t have any enemies on council.”
Baguley said, “I think it’s a leadership issue, and style. I think it’s an attitude that has to be about respect with the public you’re serving. It must be cultivated and nurtured.”
A former councillor and Deputy Mayor, Baguley said, “I believe council can do more. The number one priority seems to be better communications between the Town and residents. If elected, I will introduce a ‘Speak to the Mayor’ meeting before council meetings in an informal setting. We have to give our residents opportunities to be heard. As Mayor, public input will be an important part of the decision making process.”
Wauchope, a retired police officer, said, “The Mayor’s job will be full-time. I’m not paid by the hour. I have listened to the concerns and hopes of residents for many years and have tried to help. We must get the Hwy. 400 lands developed and we have to find a way to do it ourselves. We need to mend fences with Barrie and get involved with a transit system.”
Regarding development issues, Baguley said, “There is an adversarial relationship between residents and developers. We need to have minimum standards and safeguards in Innisfil based more on understanding rather than negotiating.”
“Development must be controlled,” Wauchope said. “Our council that is there now is controlling development and we have highly educated senior staff in place.”
Preserving the town’s heritage was first and foremost on many people’s minds.
“The Town of Innisfil’s record of heritage preservation is abysmal,” charged David Chambers of Bond Head. Chambers has appeared before council several times as a heritage expert on behalf of residents who were outraged when two century homes in Alcona were demolished to make way for commercial developments.
“Culture and heritage were barely on the radar screen during the last council,” Chambers alleged. “Council allowed two of the most important heritage buildings (Ness-Adair home and the McConkey house) in Simcoe County to be destroyed.”
“Council was very upset with the demolition of the McConkey house,” Wauchope countered. “Developers have no right to knock down heritage homes.”
Baguley said she would do everything in her power to preserve heritage properties and sites throughout Innisfil if elected.
The recent loss of land to Barrie in a provincially mandated annexation was discussed as well.
“(Barrie MPP) Aileen Carroll was a big proponent of Barrie taking over Innisfil,” Wauchope said. “They wanted down to the 6th Line. The province agreed with Alan Wells’ original suggestions to only go down to Lockhart Road.”
“I think one of the things that went wrong was both sides were too aggressive and were thinking, ‘I’m going to win.’” Baguley said. “We have to talk about our common goals. Start small and work towards the big stuff in a conciliatory way. Not just mayor meeting mayor, but councillors meeting councillors.”
Chambers added, “I’ve been to a few council meetings and I don’t find it a very pleasant place to be. When I go to Innisfil, or Bradford West Gwillimbury, I get the feeling the Mayor(s) want to get out of there by 9 p.m.”
Wauchope said the workings of municipal councils extend far past the public sessions most nights. It’s not uncommon for councillors to be meeting until 11 p.m., or beyond.
“We do need to open our arms as a council,” Baguley replied. “When the public wants to be heard in an orderly fashion – it should.”
“I’m very open with what I do and council should be willing to answer any question put to them in the open,” Wauchope said.
Both candidates also agreed they would examine the policy that gives municipal staff and council members a 40 per cent discount on YMCA fees – if the matter is brought to them after the election.