Questions answered: Oro Medonte’s mayor and deputy mayor candidates
From left, Scott Jermey, Ralph Hough, John Crawford, Harry Hughes, Sandy Agnew, Peter Beacock and Kelly Kramer. -AWARE Simcoe photo
CORRECTION: Harry Hughes advises that he was misquoted. This report has been changed accordingly. AWARE Simcoe regrets the error.
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
The Oro Medonte race for mayor pits Sandy Agnew, representing a new vision for the township, against incumbent Harry Hughes, who stands on his record, and John Crawford, seeking promotion from his council seat.
Divisions have been clearly articulated on a website – referred to approvingly by Hughes on Twitter – that divides the field into favoured and non-favoured candidates.
Agnew is not favoured, mainly it would appear for his credentials as an environmentalist. In the deputy mayoral race, Jermey gets the nod while Hough is dismissed as low-profile, which may be wishful thinking if his performance at a recent all-candidates meeting is anything to go by.
The five candidates fielded a succession of questions September 20 during a fast-paced meeting, efficiently moderated by Louise Jackson, marketing manager at Hardwood Ski and Bike, in front of a capacity crowd at Guthrie Public School.
Among the questions:
Reason for running?
-Sandy Agnew recalled growing up in Vaughan, a rural community that has been overtaken by sprawl in less than 50 years. “I am passionate about protecting Oro Medonte from the same fate,” he said. He was Ward 3 councillor from 2006-10 and has since worked hard for open and transparent government and protection of water, farmland and natural heritage with AWARE Simcoe and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
-Harry Hughes, who has served three terms as mayor, cited the appreciation he has received from “so many positive people throughout the township who recognize the improvements as inspirational. I have had the same keenness, the energy and enthusiasm to continue serving as when I was first elected.” He cited paving roads and saving the African Methodist Episcopal Church to illustrate a “proven record of getting things done,” as well as economic benefits and unspecified environmental improvements to air, water and ecosystems.
-John Crawford, incumbent Ward 4 councillor said he will work for economic growth that is also balanced and sustainable. As a fifth-generation township resident, “I understand the dynamics of this changing and growing community,” he said.
-Ralph Hough, Ward 1 councillor from 1997 to 2006 and deputy mayor since then, cited his experience at both council and county level and listed paving roads, upgrading parks and arenas, renovations to the African church. “If re-elected I will continue to oppose budget increases at both the council and county level that are not in line with the annual consumer price index while at the same time providing a high level of service.”
-Scott Jermey, incumbent Ward 5 councillor, said there’s a need for infrastructure improvement – the quality of the road network, high-speed internet service and natural gas availability. “Recreation is one of the strengths of Oro Medonte,” he said. “We need to build on that strength.” He favours more development of neighbourhood parks, more sports fields and better support for community halls.
Costs of suing a resident?
There were some hard-hitting questions for both sides among those submitted in writing by residents, grouped into topics from which a sample was selected, and posed without naming the questioner by the moderator. For instance, this one for the mayoral candidates: “If as a member of Council you sued a resident, would you expect your legal fees to be paid by the township?” The subtext here is a libel suit Hughes launched, and subsequently withdrew, against township resident Ann Truyens, for an anonymous comment posted on the now defunct Packet and Times. (Truyens is a member of the AWARE Simcoe board, which had no knowledge of her private posting).
-Hughes replied that he would never expect the residents of Oro Medonte “to defend Harry Hughes’ name, he does it for himself by his actions and by his deeds.”
-Agnew: “It will be a frosty day in hell when I start suing people for calling me names.”
-Crawford: I don’t think I’d ever sue a resident, no matter what they said about me.”
The worst decision of council this term?
-Crawford: “Personally, I’d like to think that every decision has been a good decision.” –
-Hughes: “I can think of some where we’ve just gone ahead and done things without consulting…. for example, the method of voting that we’re having, when we really didn’t consult, when people came in and spoke in a certain way council ended up making a different decision rather than listening to the constituents.” Similarly, the introduction of live-streaming of council meetings has “stifled debate,” he said.
-Agnew: “The worst decision in my opinion is the Burl’s Creek decision, that whole process has been botched from the beginning and the second worst decision recently is allowing ATVs on the road.”
Remedy for excessive noise from Burl’s Creek?
-Agnew: “I plan to do whatever the mayor can do to enforce the noise bylaw, for starters… You have the right to enjoy the peace and quiet of your own property.”
-Crawford said the township negotiated a closing to 1 am back from 2 am and has lower decibel levels that any other municipality that allows concerts. “These concerts happen once a year,” he noted.
-Hughes pointed to disagreement over the noise issue – with some “complaining that they want it turned up so they can hear it better. We have an MOU that has a balance between the competing interests.”
Addressing lack of commercial and industrial land?
-Jermey: Put a sunset clause on those properties currently zoned for such uses but not being developed “the owners are just sitting on that land and waiting.” The province won’t allow more land to be rezoned until existing land is used, he said.
-Hough: Agrees with Jermey, noting however that there is serious interest in industrial land across from the municipal airport, with the closing of Buttonville.
-Hughes: Places the blame on the province’s Places to Grow legislation which caps on the number of jobs the municipality can create. “Fortunately we have an MPP who agrees that needs to be changed.” Another issue is that all industrial land has to be fully serviced when that’s not always needed.
-Agnew: Agrees that a sunset clause is a good idea and added that he wouldn’t want to see more land zoned industrial if it’s taken from agriculture.
-Crawford: Would like to work with the province to open more land around the overpasses.
Received financial assistance for campaign from a special interest group?
The question cited only three groups – the West Oro Ratepayers’ Association, Save Oro and AWARE – as if ratepayers and environmentalists are the only special interests at play in the election.
-Agnew: “I have received financial assistance from individual, not from those groups. “ He added, to laughter from the audience, “I did get an endorsement though, I think that’s pretty good.”
-Hughes: Believes candidates should be able to run without taking donations, or “there’s a string attached… Having support from special interest groups certainly would not be on my agenda.”
-Crawford: “I would never accept a donation from a special interest group.”
Many other questions of interest were addressed – including home-based businesses, boosting tourism, getting high-speed internet. While the format of the meeting was an improvement over those the Oro Medonte chamber of commerce ran in 2014, it still fell short of ideal, which would have had the questions being posed by the people who wanted the answers.
It is regrettable that there is no media coverage of school board matters, nor any “special interest group” like AWARE Simcoe to keep the public interested in and aware of how the education tax dollar is spent. Incumbent Peter Beacock is being challenged by Kelly Kramer for the position of Oro Medonte and Springwater trustee on the public school board. Both were present and fielded several questions.
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