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Joe Meloche Ford and Free The Children team up to take down hunger

StJoes cans

 

Special to the RTT

Joe Meloche Ford is proud to partner with Free The Children and St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School for the We Scare Hunger campaign – a national program that is teaming up participating Ford dealerships with schools and community groups to collect non-perishables for local food banks.

Joe Meloche Ford encourages residents of Amherstburg and the surrounding regions to drop off donations to the dealership at 55 Sandwich St. N. throughout the month of October.

“Hunger is an issue that affects people from all walks of life so the services that food banks provide can make a huge difference for a family going through a difficult time,” said Joe Meloche, dealer principal at Joe Meloche Ford. “In a tight-knit community like Amherstburg, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help one another, which is why Joe Meloche Ford is proud to support this worthy cause.”

Each year, millions of Canadians use food banks, and last year, one in 12 people in need of help were turned away because of lack of food. Ford Motor Company of Canada, Ltd. is a Co-Title Sponsor of this year’s We Scare Hunger campaign in Canada, a Free The Children initiative dedicated to collecting non-perishable food items to support local food banks, and raising awareness about local hunger.

We Scare Hunger is a global initiative kick-started by Free The Children to encourage students and local community groups to contribute to the collective goal of raising one million pounds of non-perishables for local food banks.

“We challenged our dealer community to Go Further and rally in support of this important initiative by becoming community donation centres this October,” said Sarah Rae, partnership and events manager for Ford of Canada. “With nearly 200 dealerships participating nationally, the response has been tremendous. We are very are proud of the support we’ve seen from our dealers across the country.”

Supporting local charities and community groups has been a priority. Throughout the dealership’s history in Amherstburg, Joe Meloche Ford has supported local parishes, minor hockey associations, hospitals, school fundraisers and food banks.

Mayoral debate sees four candidates appeal to voters

 

 

Aldo DiCarlo (second from left) speaks during last Thursday night’s mayoral debate at the Verdi Club as Marty Adler (far left), Ron Sutherland (second from right) and John Sutton (far right) listen in.

Aldo DiCarlo (second from left) speaks during last Thursday night’s mayoral debate at the Verdi Club as Marty Adler (far left), Ron Sutherland (second from right) and John Sutton (far right) listen in.

By Ron Giofu

 

In a mayoral debate that was sometimes colourful, the four seeking Amherstburg’s top political job appealed to the the public for their votes.

Over 500 people were estimated to have attended the debate last Thursday night, an evening which saw the deputy mayor candidates lead off for roughly 90 minutes with the mayoral candidates following for a similar period of time. Mayoral candidates John Sutton, Ron Sutherland, Aldo DiCarlo and Marty Adler took turns outlining their positions and, at some points for some of them, taking jabs at others at the table and some on the current council.

Adler pointed out he comes “from the world of business, marketing and media,” noting his background including hosting the Windsor version of “Reach for the Top” while Alex Trebek hosted the Toronto version at the time. Adler got a laugh from the crowd when he remarked “Alex is in Toronto on ‘Jeopardy,’ tonight I’m in Amherstburg in jeopardy.”

Adler told the crowd he wanted to make Amherstburg a retirement community and wanted to “green” the community so that retirees come to town. He believed that could happen if taxes come down, stating his have gone up 40 per cent since moving to Amherstburg in 2006.

“I know what you want in Amherstburg,” he said. “I’m going to be able to deliver what you want. I don’t stand back and let things happen.”

DiCarlo outlined his background, which includes being a physics lab co-ordinator at the University of Windsor. He has also headed up the union at the university and has sat on the board of governors where they dealt with budgets that exceeded $200 million.

“I assure you the budget exceeds anything I’ve seen coming before town council,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo stated he has a 100-day plan, in which he will meeting individually with council members and administration with plans to also hold three town hall meetings throughout the community.

Addressing the Deloitte recommendations will be important as will implementing the proper policies and procedures contained within, adding that town council members will have “unfettered access” to town information.

DiCarlo added the “flooding is not an option” in Amherstburg.

“Decisions will not be made in the mayor’s office without council,” he vowed.

Sutherland recalled his entry into municipal politics in 2010. As the president of the Ranta Marina Boaters Association, he led a group that opposed the eventual sale of the marina. Stating some wanted him to run for mayor at that point, he opted to seek the deputy mayor’s chair and learn before going for mayor.

“I am a results-oriented executive,” said Sutherland, noting he is the former general sales manager at CBC Windsor. He said he dealt with “millions of dollars” of media contracts across North American and has been described as “a good man, a team player, disciplined and balanced.”

Sutherland pledged to be a “full-time mayor” and that in his first four years on council, he has voted in favour of keeping the Essex Power shares and for an audit of the town’s finances. He also noted his prior experience on the Amherstburg Police Services Board including being a former chair.

Sutherland added he has gained “invaluable experience” as a member of Essex County council as well.

“Together, we can make the future better than the past,” said Sutherland.

Sutton said the town needs a leader with vision and experience, stating his career as an executive director has seen him work with boards of directors to balance books and reduce debt. Sutton is currently executive director at both Big Brothers Big Sisters Windsor-Essex and the House of Shalom Youth Centre.

It is “no time for leadership based on misinformation,” said Sutton, stating there are “false allegations” of malfeasance, missing money, reckless spending and inflated debt figures.

“We are not Detroit,” said Sutton. “We are not going bankrupt.”

The 41 recommendations from Deloitte must be implemented, he added.

“By implementing the recommendations, we will be able to meet our challenges and move forward,” said Sutton.

Sutton said that four years ago, he predicted a debt of $49 million for this time period and it is now $46 million, a figure “well within” the town’s debt limit. He said 61 per cent of that debt is for the Libro Centre and wastewater treatment plant.

Sutton added he has a five-point plan to govern the town and said he will work with local business leaders to stimulate growth.

Adler went back as far as Project HMS Detroit to show how the town had lost money, they spent $710,000 on that project. He added the council of the day dredged Ranta Marina only to see it sold a few years later and also ripped on the town for spending money on the “Viewpoints with Terry Bradshaw” video. Money spent on those projects, Adler concluded, could have been in reserves.

“I’m pointing out specific things to you,” he told the crowd, “not just talking rhetoric.”

DiCarlo said the “scary” part of the town’s financial situation is the reserves being spent without council’s knowledge. Policies and procedures have to be in place to prevent such things from happening and that the town has to follow what the Municipal Act says.

Sutherland stated reserves were used to help cover unfunded liabilities but noted the debt was something the current council inherited. The debt will go down $1.3 million in 2014 and is projected to be reduced by another $3 million in 2015.

“This council has done proactive things to make this happen,” said Sutherland.

On the subject of trust, Sutherland said he is honest and straightforward and stated the town’s finances are “getting better.

“I know we have been to hell and we are on the way back,” he added, saying there has been “a lack of leadership” but vowed that the town will not be in the same position again.

Sutton told the large crowd that he has followed through with all projects he has advocated for. He also has worked extensively with youth during his career.

Whenever mistakes are made, people should own up to them and make the necessary changes, Sutton continued, and that sort of accountability and transparency are traits he has “demonstrated throughout my entire adult life.”

Adler said he would “tell you like it is and hold back on nothing,” that he has made money in business and would do so for the town. He added he has “no skeletons” in the closet.

Adding cameras to the town council chambers is a project Adler would like to see done, stating more residents would be able to see the meetings in progress and the body language council members exhibit during meetings.

“You will be the elephant in the room and that’s what I plan to do,” Adler told the crowd.
The mayor’s position should be one to help improve prosperity in the town, DiCarlo stated, and that he truly understands what transparency and accountability mean.

“I will show you what they are supposed to look like,” said DiCarlo.

All four candidates agreed Texas Road was the most necessary road project, with DiCarlo stating people he spoke to were “baffled” that Sandwich St. was being done ahead of Texas Road.

“All the residents I spoke with said there was nothing wrong with (Sandwich) St.,” said DiCarlo.

Sutherland said he was told in 2013 the town had the money to proceed only to find out they actually didn’t and said government grants are still being pursued for it. Sutton said Texas Road soon may fall below minimum standards and one solution for funding could be borrowing against the gas tax for three years.

“The residents have waited long enough,” he said.

Adler said he would have Texas Road fixed within two years of becoming mayor, adding that a repaired road would further open development in the southern portions of Kingsbridge.

As for how to attract development, DiCarlo said the town has to have a plan on what it wants to be and then once that it decided, to find private partners and others to invest. Sutherland said the town tends to “wait for good things to happen” and wanted to work closer with the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation to “accelerate Amherstburg.”

Sutton said the town has to reach out to the business community to retain business and to attract new jobs and to work more closely with the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce.

Adler said the town has to “spend money to make money” and said paying to install a new forcemain in the north end of town and have it hook into the new wastewater treatment plant would connect 800 lots. That would increase revenue by $5,000 per lot, something Adler calculated as $40 million. Sutton called him out on his math, stating it was actually $4 million, adding that Adler had the town “$36 million in the hole.”

“Over ten years, it’s $40 million,” Adler retorted.

Asked whether there is still a need for an audit, Adler said it was a case of “good people doing bad things” and that he would have preferred to hire a private investigator to see what was going on at town hall.

“There’s got to be some way to learn from our mistakes,” added DiCarlo. DiCarlo further stated they should not micromanage but let the people employed in the finance department do their jobs.

Sutherland said it was a unanimous vote for an audit and it got changed into a review. He believed the 41 recommendations are “super” but it was not an audit. Sutton added that agencies such as the OPP, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Deloitte did not uncover any fraud or criminal activity.

In his closing comments, Sutton said there has been a lot of laying of blame and finger pointing but said he is the candidate to lead all of Amherstburg and not just special interest groups. Sutherland read from a campaign press release where he touted his plan to move the town forward and “accelerate” the town while DiCarlo went back to the issue of experience.

“With all of the experience we have on council, none of that seems to translate into a positive experience for the community,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said his experience in his career is transferable and that he would lead everyone as a team.

“Trust is not just a word to me,” he said.

Adler went on the offensive during his closing remarks, calling Sutton a “Mayor Hurst clone” and predicting he would have issues overcoming that. Adler called Sutherland “a solid citizen” but didn’t believe he would lead Amherstburg out of the bad publicity it has been receiving.

“With all of your credentials, you have been unable to move the town forward,” Adler told Sutherland.

As for DiCarlo, Adler said there wasn’t much to his answers during the debate.

“There’s no substance to your answers,” Adler said to him.

Deputy mayor candidates square off at all-candidates night

 

Deputy mayor candidates Carolyn Davies, Bart DiPasquale and John Menna await the start of last Thursday night’s debate as Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce interim president Chris Gibb addresses the audience.

Deputy mayor candidates Carolyn Davies, Bart DiPasquale and John Menna await the start of last Thursday night’s debate as Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce interim president Chris Gibb addresses the audience.

By Ron Giofu

 

The three candidates seeking the deputy mayor’s job led off the second night of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s all-candidates nights last week and covered a variety of topics.

Carolyn Davies, Bart DiPasquale and John Menna outlined their platforms and tried to highlight why voters should consider them to be the best choice in next Monday’s election.

“I believe in our future and the power of teamwork,” said Davies. “I understand commitment, leadership, teamwork and overcoming a challenge.”

Davies stated, “it is time for us to come together” and believed the town could get out of its current financial situation with careful thought and planning. She said the town needs to hold the line on new spending not budgeted and that she has worked to bring investment to town, including affordable housing.

“Are the town’s finances a crisis or a disaster? I don’t think so,” said Davies. “Are they a challenge? You bet’cha.”

The Amherstburg Family Health Team was a project she said she was behind in its infancy, and that she helped get it accomplished.

“I am a dreamer,” said Davies. “Dreams become plans and plans become reality.”

Davies said she votes based on listening to all sides of an issue.

“I have never voted as a member of a block. I have never been pressured,” she said.

DiPasquale told the crowd he has a long history of community involvement and has both voted and made motions as a councillor on behalf of the residents.

“When I’m talking to you, I am talking to my friends and I’m talking to my neighbours,” said DiPasquale. “I believe I can do the job as deputy mayor better than any other candidate. I am rational, informed, trustworthy and committed.”

The town must change and evolve, he said, but those changes must maintain the identity and integrity of the community. DiPasquale added that decisions made now will impact people’s children and grandchildren.

It is no secret the debt has to be reduced, he continued, but infrastructure needs to be prioritized and opportunities for development must be looked into.

Menna stated he not only has been on council in the past, but also the Amherstburg public utilities commission, the Verdi Club board of directors and other boards. He said constituents are like shareholders and town council is the board of directors.

According to Menna, the debt is $61 million and said DiPasquale and Davies were part of a council that spent $100,000 for a review to help tell them that.

“Do you really want more of that for the next four years?” he asked. “There is an alternative – John Menna.”

Menna proposed a 5-10 per cent reduction in departments without cutting services, no tax increase for one year, eliminating a pension plan for town council members, no new major expenditures unless it is an emergency such as flooding, re-opening the yard waste depot on Saturdays, working closer with the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation and looking into a ward system.

Menna said the town seems to opt for “Cadillacs” when spending and wondered if the town needed as many flower planters as it has. He also believed such expenditures as turning off lights at the tennis courts could be realized.

“We just don’t seem to have a handle on spending money,” said Menna. “Let’s start working on the small stuff we can do.”

Debt is something “every municipality experiences,” Davies said, and she said the figure is $46 million with other liabilities bringing it up to $61 million with the liabilities spread out over a period of time. She said the town has $485 million in assets and would support selling lands and preparing brownfield lands for development. She added there have been “tremendous efficiencies” found at the Libro Centre as well.

“The town was in debt when we started our term,” said DiPasquale.

DiPasquale said it was around 2004 when it started “to go haywire” and said he was in favour of an audit but the town got a financial review instead. He said such projects as the wastewater treatment plant had to be done.

“We can’t jeopardize the residents’ health and safety. We had to do that,” he said.

DiPasquale acknowledged the Deloitte report gave the town “good information” and that a lot of work has been done to implement the recommendations since the town received the report.

As for roadway projects, Menna said that even a 16-year-old student can recognize Sandwich St. shouldn’t be done before Texas Road. He believed Texas Road has to be the priority with the other candidates also identifying that road as the top roadway issue. Davies said that project was the “trigger” for finding out the state of the finances but said Anderdon Township should have repaired that road before amalgamation.

Davies added that Sandwich St. was due to be fixed, as roadways can’t be allowed to deteriorate for too long as additional work and expense would then be required to fix them.

DiPasquale said he voted against repaving Sandwich St., saying he was one of the council members who believed it didn’t need to be done.

“We felt that road was still in good shape. It could have waited, in my view,” said DiPasquale. “But again, 4-3 (vote).”

DiPasquale said the basement flooding issue is being worked on as the town is expecting a major engineering report to come on the issue. He said that many he has spoken with risk having their home insurance cancelled because of repeated flooding.

“I feel sorry for the people that were flooded,” he said.

Menna said flooding was a top priority for him and that “we should be working on it now” instead of waiting for a report to come back after people have been flooded two or three times. Davies recalled putting forth a motion for administration to take a look at extreme weather events but having it shot down, including an opposing vote from DiPasquale. DiPasquale responded by saying there were a number of serious issues that night and believed it would have put a strain on town staff to adopt that motion.

“We only have so many people at town hall.”

As for the 4-3 split many see in town, Davies contended she votes her conscience and with her constituents.

“I do believe there are people who vote in a block,” she said. “They look at each other and cast their vote. I don’t do that. I vote my conscience.”

Davies said there were 150 votes that were unanimous and roughly 80 more where she voted with different people.

“There’s people who always vote with one another. That needs to change,” she said.

DiPasquale also stated he votes with his conscience and believes many others do too. He wondered if some people may have ulterior motives when the vote, but added he could not prove anything. Menna added there is animosity on the current council. He added that votes should be done in the best interests of the community.

On the subject of municipal policing, Menna was in strong support of eliminating the buyout clause for local officers and switching to OPP. He noted LaSalle and Amherstburg were the only two municipal forces in Essex County.

“If we can save $1 million by going to OPP, we have to do it,” said Menna. “Everything is going to stay the same but we will save money.”

Davies said the OPP model “sounds pretty good” but said council has to have firm numbers in which to deal with. She said the OPP could “low ball” Amherstburg in the beginning and believed other municipalities that have switched have experienced issues.

“It sounds really good in the beginning but there are problems we haven’t been able to realize,” she said.

DiPasquale, a retired Amherstburg police officer, said he has seen many costings by the OPP and referred to them as “a great police force.” However, he said sometimes costs are given and then, after entering into an agreement, a municipality may experience unforeseen costs. DiPasquale claimed Essex is “regretting” switching to the OPP but said he would look at the issue if it came before Amherstburg council.

The idea of switching services would also have to go through the Amherstburg Police Services Board, DiPasquale added.

Councillor candidates make their pitches to the public

 

Councillor candidates prepare for the Oct. 15 all-candidates night at the Verdi Club. The event was hosted by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce.

Councillor candidates prepare for the Oct. 15 all-candidates night at the Verdi Club. The event was hosted by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce.

By Ron Giofu

 

Approximately 400 people attended the Verdi Club last Wednesday night to hear what the councillor candidates had to offer.

Michelle Maluske of CTV News Windsor served as moderator for the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce-sponsored evening. The event saw 21 of the 22 councillor candidates attend, lay out their platforms and answer questions that had been submitted by the public or written by a Chamber of Commerce member.

Larry Amlin pointed out his background in Essex-Windsor EMS, from which he retired as a district chief, as well as being a founding member of the House of Shalom Youth Centre. He stated he has made tough decisions in managerial roles and in roles that are in direct contact to people that were being served.

“My roots are in Amherstburg,” said Amlin.

The town’s flooding problems need solving, he stated, and suggested the town look to other municipalities to try and find solutions. He added there is a need to attract new businesses to town as well as retirees to live here. Clarification on what the debt is should also be a priority, Amlin added.

“I insist on a common sense approach,” said Amlin, adding that while he will devote a lot of attention to the town’s financial situation, he won’t dwell on it at the expense of other matters. He believed the current council bears some of the responsibility for the current financial state of affairs.

“Something that glaring, I don’t know how it got by,” he said.

Amlin added: “I assure you I will ask tough questions, I will find answers and give Amherstburg my full attention.”

Amlin believed the hiring of a new CAO should have been deferred to the new council and that more should be known about how the contract of current CAO Mike Phipps was negotiated.

When making decisions, he added, council members should “leave their egos at the door” and once a vote is taken, it’s done.

“There’s too many personality conflicts,” he said, in response to a question.

Chad Barrette noted he has been on the Amherstburg heritage committee for six years and pointed out he is a vice principal at Catholic Central High School.

“I have the skillset to help turn Amherstburg around,” said Barrette.

Attracting business and residential development is key, he added, and added the town should be working closer with the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation.

All departments in Amherstburg should be looked at in order to turn the town around, he added.

“To right the ship, there should be no sacred cows. Everything should be examined,” said Barrette.

Barrette wants to see the recommendations from the Deloitte report implemented, reports on the town’s finances come to council every two months and the establishment of a finance committee.  He also wanted to see the town investigate switching police services from a municipal force to the OPP, stating that Tecumseh is saving $2 million this year.

Publishing the town’s goals – goals established with the help of the residents and administration – should also be done, said Barrette, as well publishing “our victories.” He defined accountability as “doing what you say you are going to do” and that includes the publishing of the town’s goals for all to see.

Barrette was asked whether he was willing to spend an additional $100,000-$200,000 for a full audit or whether the town should just move forward with the Deloitte recommendations.

“I think we should just move ahead,” said Barrette. “We are far behind as it is.”

Barrette said there has to be confidence instilled in the town and that council should just implement with the 41 recommendations.  He also believed town staff should be surveyed and working groups established to tackle some of the issues, including that of staff departures, noting that was done with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. He believed that could allow the town to find ways to retain staff.

“It costs us a lot of money to replace all these people,” he said.

Frank Cleminson said he wants to continue giving back to the community and that is the main reason he is running for council. Cleminson pointed out he spent six years as a provincial appointment to the Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB) and another four years as a town appointment to the APSB.

“We are one of the most cost-effective police services,” he said.

Cleminson said he wants to use the skills he has learned on the APSB, including budgeting, at the next level and vowed to be well prepared for meetings. If elected, Cleminson said he plans to contribute in his first meeting.

Getting finances in order is important as well as prioritizing levels of service. He would be open to “thinking outside the box” for ways to reduce the debt and would want to sit down with administration to find ways to do that.

Cleminson, who described himself as “a very hands-on person,” stated he wants to have regular town hall meetings so there is a “direct line of communication” with citizens.

Asked whether the town should purchase the Duffy’s property to expand Navy Yard Park or build a marina, Cleminson said the only way that could be done is with a private partner. He said the town could not afford the cost and that kind of money should not be spent at least until the “books are in order.”

Cleminson said he was not opposed to assistance for homeowners whose basements flood in heavy rains but wanted to see the report on the matter first.

Joan Courtney said she has won seven elections as a Catholic school board trustee since 1991, and believes many of the issues facing the town are similar to those she faced as a trustee.

“I firmly believe my expertise on the board will be invaluable if I’m elected as a councillor,” said Courtney. “I feel confident I can work with council to set the finances on a straight course.”

Courtney also wants to keep a close eye on infrastructure projects and would like to see any changes in work orders brought back to council for approval. Courtney said more answers are needed on the town’s finances and that while the Deloitte report has good answers in it, there are more questions to be asked on how the town’s debt got to where it is.

“I believe in letting things go eventually but in this case, this is more than a sleeping dog,” she said.

Courtney also vowed to keep a closer eye on in-camera sessions, stating those meetings are only for legal, personnel and property issues.

“There should be no subjects kept behind closed doors,” she said. “Our taxpayers deserve to know the truth.”

In reference to a question about cutting the debt, Courtney said she would like to have a committee created of council members and community members – including students – to sit down, go over the Deloitte report and discuss the matter. She also believed a hotel was necessary as people might come to Amherstburg “and make a weekend out of it” but she added the town should not put any money towards it.

John Dupont pointed out he has 35 years of financial experience, 13 of which came as an auditor for Caesars Windsor. He believed staffing levels are a major issue for the town, believing there are too many directors, managers and secretaries working for them.

“There’s too many people working for the town,” said Dupont. “It’s top heavy with too many people.”

Dupont said there used to be reviews of the budget and believed that should be brought back.

“I don’t recall any reviews of the budget now,” he said. “That, to me, is a must.”

Getting the right information on a topic before he addresses it is something Dupont also pledged.

“I’m a facts person,” said Dupont. “I’ll seek out the facts before I speak.”

Dupont was questioned over what experience he had to oversee the budget and he emphasized his 35 years of financial experience, adding he has a good idea of what can be done with the money the town has. He believed there are enough personnel on staff that can find out that same information an audit would uncover “or elect me and I will.”

Dupont believed an independent search for the new CAO was a good idea but that council had the final say was a better idea.

Rick Fryer said he has been hearing a lot about good roads, sewers, flooding, good sidewalks and bike paths while out campaigning. Fryer told the crowd there has been a tax increase every year since 2011 and noted the “poison pill” clause is still in the police contract.

“Amherstburg is at a crossroads,” said Fryer, who was on council from 2006-10.

Fryer added he will keep residents’ interests in mind first and will give citizens “black and white” answers to their questions. Fryer said he wants to give residents a chance to address council via an “open mic” session that would last one hour and occur right before regular council meetings.

Other than his prior council experience, he said he has organized a bicycle race in town and has worked with the United Way.

Calling the former General Chemical lands “a hidden gem,” Fryer said he would like to see more commercial and industrial growth in Amherstburg.

“Amherstburg was once a place where you could find a job,” he said.

Fryer said when he was first on council, a consultant guaranteed $300,000 in revenue if they were to run the Libro Centre, but that was turned down. He said municipalities don’t make money on arenas but the town should look for further efficiencies on running the facility.

“They are a necessary evil although they never make money for a municipality,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of Canada Post eliminating door-to-door delivery, Fryer said he was “totally against” the large multiple-person mailboxes and said “Canada Post makes money.”

Pauline Gemmell pointed out she is the executive director of the Essex County nurse practitioner-led clinic, a clinic that has grown to over 2,000 patients in four years with locations in Essex and Windsor. Gemmell said she prepares monthly financial statements for the board of directors and quarterly reports for the Ministry of Long Term Care.

“I speak to the communities we serve,” said Gemmell. “I make it my business to find out what the community thinks of the clinic.”

Gemmell, who stated she has 30 years of management experience, said she has always been willing to get feedback from people such as patients at the clinic. She added she is a former business owner who chose to live in Amherstburg, a decision she has never regretted.

“Amherstburg residents want answers to the state of the finances,” said Gemmell. “We need real solutions to the challenges facing Amherstburg.”

Gemmell said there have to be “checks and balances” and the town has to take “a structured approach” to dealing with it. She said she doesn’t know the debt because there have been so many different figures floating around the community.

Regarding a question on regional transit, Gemmell said it is “an important service to pursue” but there is always the question of affordability. A long-term financial plan would be needed should the town choose to pursue that issue.

Gemmell also opposes high-rise development on the west side of Dalhousie St., saying that the waterfront lands should be protected for this and future generations.

Ken Grant pointed out his community involvement, including playing a “significant role” in the building of the Libro Centre. Grant said the town’s money needs to be managed better and that reserves need to be repaid and debt needs to come down.

The town’s financial plan must include zero-based budgeting, he added.

“We can’t have a budget based on last year’s spending,” said Grant.

Grant added he would work for fewer in-camera meetings if he were elected. He also believed it is time to create a bold, new vision and build on the strengths the town has.

The town needs a hotel, Grant said in response to a question, but “I don’t think the town should put money towards a hotel.” Rather, the town should try and entice a hotel to come to town through other means.

Grant was asked about Texas Road and he believed it needed to be repaired but the town also has to consider the current state of finances. He disagreed with the repaving of Sandwich St. and that a mid-range $6 million option was preferable for the road.

“The residents know it is a pothole heaven,” said Grant.

The sharing of services should be looked into, he said, with Grant stating he is open to looking at the sharing of services with other municipalities to reduce costs.

Scott Kendell stated he wants to be part of a team that brings “positive change,” first class municipal services and new industrial and commercial development to Amherstburg.

Kendell said the town needs a long-term financial plan and “cuts across the board.”  He said the current council is largely to blame for the town’s financial situation and emphasized that all costs need to be looked at in order to find a solution to the problem. He believed the town needs to focus on infrastructure maintenance and improvements. The town should also focus on attracting baby boomers to live in Amherstburg in addition to attracting commercial and industrial development. He added the town needs to get the word out they are the best in the region.

“It’s time for change,” continued Kendell. “My business and infrastructure experience will prove valuable for the challenges ahead.”

Kendell said tourism is “very important to Amherstburg” and believes attracting tourists should still be pursued.

“We’ve got a good thing going in Amherstburg,” said Kendell. “Let’s keep going with it.”

Regarding policing, Kendell said officers he speaks to would welcome a switch to the OPP and senior management is trying to “protect themselves.”

Jason Lavigne said he is “very passionate” about issues and that he always tries to keep the best interests of the community and his family first. He told the crowd he is glad his parents chose to live in Amherstburg and that the town “has molded me into the person I am.”

Lavigne, who has taken the town to the Ombudsman over in-camera meetings and appealed Mayor Wayne Hurst’s campaign finances from the last election, said he checks into what he is doing before he does it.

“I’ve always researched what I’ve done,” said Lavigne.

Flooding to homes in Amherstburg is “unacceptable” and is one of the issues that Lavigne believes has gone on for too long. Another issue that the town has had “long enough to deal with” is the mosquito problem in Fraserville. He noted his children go to Stella Maris School and sometimes have to stay inside at recess because of mosquitoes.

Having voters know the issues and educating themselves on them is also important, Lavigne added.

Questioned as to whether rural residents don’t get the same level of service that residents in the core area of town do, Lavigne said he has heard from residents who do feel that way. He said Sandwich St. should not have been done and that money should have been devoted towards Texas Road instead. Projects should be decided on the basis of what is needed the most and not in what part of town it is in.

A hotel is needed to bolster tourism, he added, but noted the Duffy’s land is expensive for the town to acquire. He said he opposed hard cash being used to acquire the land but would be open to discussing a private partnership.

Lavigne said the new council has to take a close look at Libro Centre operations and that answers are needed as to the impact of moving three town departments there.

Darryl McLean pointed out his 17 years with Unifor Local 2027, the last 13 of which being financial secretary.

“I believe Amherstburg needs to have a CAO and director of finance long term,” said McLean.

McLean believed the turnover at town hall has been a hindrance in having financial documents prepared in a timely fashion and that timely documents assist the municipality in getting government funds.

The town needs a “pay as you go” strategy for infrastructure projects, he added, and while the town can’t dwell on the past, they need to find savings in the future. He said there must be a plan in order that money is spent wisely and that a consensus on council must be obtained before money is spent.

“Our town is a gem and we need to promote it as such,” continued McLean.

McLean said a ward system is something that should be looked at as well. As for the sale of the Essex Power shares that was shot down, he said he believed the sale could have just “masked problems” the town had but if the $12 million were to have been earmarked for paying down debt, he may have been for it.

Leo Meloche said his background is in accounting and finance. Debt management and economic development are keys to his campaign, he noted, and said a 10-year debt reduction plan is required.

“Our debt, although elevated, is manageable,” said Meloche.

A first step is reducing expenditures, he continued, including cutting expenses that have no value to the town. If need be, he said he would consider staff cuts.

Meloche stated his economic development plan is “ambitious” and will need federal and provincial assistance but addressing the “catastrophic” loss of employment the town has suffered over the last number of years is key. He noted that a lot of young people have to leave the area to find work and that has negatively impacted local growth.

“There has been no real growth in Amherstburg for some time,” said Meloche.

While setting up his economic development plan would require funding, there are housing development projects that are in the works as soon as a forcemain is installed to the wastewater treatment plant.

Meloche was asked about the selling of assets, with the Essex Power shares being mentioned specifically. He said it was wise to hold onto the shares and the town “controls its destiny” in relation to the shares.

Steve Mickle said he is meeting too many people who can’t make ends meet and believed the town needs a clean slate of council members.

“I’m committed to doing things differently,” said Mickle. “I’m determined to get results, not in four years, but now.”

Mickle said he wants to give “equal opportunity” to everyone in the community, as “everyone needs proper representation.” He said he believes in bringing a ward system to Amherstburg.

Mickle added that reductions should occur across departments. Many of the Deloitte recommendations are the law, he added, and “why we weren’t following the law is beyond me.”

The public has a right to see what is being spent, Mickle added, stating “our public deserves to know that.” Town council should see monthly reports on the finances, he further stated, and that “we need to lower our spending.”

On the subject of tourism, he said “tourism is fine but we have to get our house in order. Amherstburg has always been a destination and it always will be.”

Lora Petro noted her past work with the AAM Volunteer Ambulance Service and her current work as a nurse practitioner in Leamington and in working with high school students.

“I have always been a problem solver,” said Petro, adding she is willing to collaborate on issues but not capitulate.

Petro said firm plans are needed to ensure the debt is repaid and reserves replenished and that the town should increase transparency and accountability by having no in-camera meetings unless they are absolutely necessary. Noting she was one of the many flooding victims in town, she stated finding the root cause of the flooding is required as well. She was asked about flooding during the question and answer period, and added that the “town needs to step up with a detailed plan” so that homeowners don’t lose the value of their homes due to flooding.

Petro added she wants to be the “voice of hope” and has a vision for the future. She also doesn’t believe the former Anderdon and Malden townships get the same levels of service the core does and would like to see that taken care of.

Asked about the difference between a review and an audit, she said she is reviewed in her job all the time but an audit goes deeper. An audit of the town’s books finds out who spent what and who signed what cheque.

Bob Pillon, one of the two incumbents seeking re-election, told the audience that the town is positioning itself to attract new industry and development. The wastewater treatment plant will give the town more capacity in order to grow and touted the water tower and Libro Centre as other positive developments.

“Yes, we have a debt,” said Pillon, stating it was $46 million. The debt, he added, includes $13.5 million on taxes and the remainder in water and wastewater rates.

Pillon pointed out he is the chair of the traffic committee, a board member on the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and said he prides himself on helping residents in town and farmers in the rural areas.

“The town is moving ahead,” he said, using the Families First Funeral Home construction and redevelopment plans for the Echo building as examples. “This will add to our tax base and create new jobs.”

When a vote is taken, council members need to “move on” and said he votes his conscience and what he thinks is best.

“I will not be influenced by personal agenda groups,” said Pillon.

Pillon faced a question over policing and whether he would investigate switching to the OPP. Pillon said he would be open to looking at OPP policing but believed if there was a change, a regional venture with LaSalle would be preferable.

“I think we need to expand our police service,” said Pillon. “I’m always willing to look at cost savings no matter what. I’m serious about going up the shore. I believe that is our avenue.”

Pillon added that while he morally supports the town being a heritage community, he said the town can’t force people to put money into their heritage properties and that the owner of a building has a right to do what they want with it. He noted he didn’t see the historic value in keeping the St. Joseph Church rectory and doesn’t believe in forcing people or groups to keep buildings that aren’t suited for them.

Diane Pouget, the second of the two incumbents seeking re-election as a councillor, said she “was your voice” and constantly asked the tough questions. When she couldn’t get answers, Pouget said she contacted the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. She said she participated in the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation over closed meetings.

“We have so much to offer but we also have a significant problem called the debt,” she said, stating it is $46 million with $14 million in unfunded liabilities.

Pouget said some on council and in administration believe the debt is not that bad but “I believe differently.” She said some on council and administration will try to sell voters “a bill of goods” and say that assets outweigh debt, but she said assets include the south gateway flooding in heavy rain and a “crumbling” town hall.

“We all know assets don’t pay the bills,” she said. “The more assets you have, the more money it takes to maintain them.”

Pouget said the town has no reserves and lack the industrial base other towns have, so comparisons are not valid. She added residents pay “backdoor taxes” in sewer and water rates.

“Yet, some of us just don’t get it,” said Pouget.

Regarding how to attract new business and industry, Pouget noted the town has an economic development officer and that it is “absolutely essential” that investors be sought out to invest in the town. She said it has to be advertised that the town is open for business.

Facing the question of senior staff turnover, Pouget told the crowd she believes some CAO’s left town due to “mayoral interference” and that administration was “caught in the middle” when council members tried to get answers to some questions.

“We had some excellent CAO’s leave and I can’t blame them for leaving,” she said.

Pouget added that council runs the town and not the CAO.

Regarding the Sandwich St. realignment, she stated she opposed it and that it hurts businesses as business owners “begged us not to take parking away.” She believed the liability factor was “minimal.”

Roxanne Qussem said she chose to move to Amherstburg because it is a safe community. Noting she works preparing audits for the purposes of free trade, she decided to offer her expertise as a councillor candidate.

“I felt it was my duty to offer my services,” she said.

Qussem said she “could no longer watch the disconnect between council and the residents” and decided to run.

“Amherstburg very much needs a cohesive and professional team,” said Qussem.

Not only must debt be paid down, she added, but also revenue must increase and not on the backs of the taxpayers. She noted the increase in development charges and she added that non-essential assets should be sold as well. The taxpayers should see value for their money, she said.

Questioned on the subject of regional transit, Qussem called it “a wonderful service” but noted the size of Amherstburg. She said the town couldn’t provide it themselves but would have to look at partnering with other municipalities.

Qussem believes in the sharing of services with other communities is something worth investigating and that other municipalities should be contacted about doing that.

“Everyone wins when we work together,” she said.

Infrastructure like Texas Road needs to “be taken care of,” she added, with Qussem stating the town has to find money in the budget to do it.

“I believe it can be done,” said Qussem. “If there is a will, there is a way.”

Marc Renaud stated his involvement as vice president of Unifor Local 200, which represents 4,800 active workers and retirees, and the fact he has been involved in four separate contract negotiations. He also stated his involvement with the Amherstburg Minor Hockey Association, including the last six years as president.

The Deloitte recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible, said Renaud, and town council should receive quarterly financial updates. More answers are needed with regards to the town’s finances, Renaud believes, and that he would like an investigation done on the “actual amount of debt” the town has.

Showcasing the town’s parks should be done, he added, and the town also has to focus on creating more jobs.

“I have the knowledge to ask the tough questions and I will get the answers,” stated Renaud.

The hiring of new CAO John Miceli was a good one and was happy to see politics taken out of the selection process through the use of a selection committee.

Joshua Rene also noted the importance of job creation, pointing out “ a lot of residents have to commute out of Amherstburg.” He said he can’t bear to see his children grow up and have to leave Amherstburg because there is no work for them. In his opinion, he said youth “is our forgotten generation.”

Rene said residents know who made the financial mistakes and doesn’t want to run a campaign where he lays blame.

“It goes without saying Amherstburg is in tough shape with an undetermined debt load and empty reserve accounts,” said Rene.

Under the Q&A portion of the evening, he defined a budget as “a pre-planned outline on how the town’s money is going to be spent for the year.”

Rene added he aims to be part of the team that leads to Amherstburg’s resurgence.

“Amherstburg won’t be known as the town that went broke but the town that reshaped itself in the foothold of history,” he said.

Regarding his experience for the position, Rene said he is 24-years-old and the youngest candidate running.

“I do have life experience,” he said, stating he works two jobs and has a wife and two children. He is also involved with the national organization called “Threads of Life,” an agency that aids families who have loved ones killed or injured on the job.

Rene also responded to a question about the hiring of the new CAO by stating he believed it should have been referred to the new council.

Bob Rozankovic said once he started attending council meetings, he learned how dysfunctional they had become. He said some on the current council have disrespect for the will of the people. Rozankovic called the 4-3 split on council “real” and that Mayor Wayne Hurst ruled “with an iron fist and made sure decisions went the way he wanted them.”

“Amherstburg is at a crossroads,” said Rozankovic, believing his work experience could prove to be handy to the community.

Rozankovic said he has 30 years of experience in management, budgeting and sales and has gone on several international trade missions with the provincial government.

“It all comes down to people and finding common ground so we all can move forward,” he said.

Rozankovic added he wants to limit in-camera sessions the town has.

Asked about the number of employees the town has lost, he said top talent leave for a number of reasons but there is an issue if they are leaving because they are not comfortable here. He said senior staff have to get through to employees and find out what their comfort level is but “some people you get through to and some you don’t.”

Rozankovic was also asked about enforcing a heritage bylaw if the town wasn’t contributing to help the owner keep up their property.

“If you are not willing to contribute, you should not enforce it,” he said.

Scott Shuttleworth believed better communication is necessary in town. He pointed out his business and community involvement and said he has an accounting degree as well. Shuttleworth stated he has won a pair of Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce awards for community involvement.

“I want to contribute back to the community again,” said Shuttleworth.

Shuttleworth cautioned the debt won’t be a “quick fix” and that more answers are needed on what the number is. He added there is a need to bring more jobs and businesses back to town. Spending on necessary projects should be done but the town can’t overspend, he added.

Asked about the relining of Sandwich St. to three lanes, Shuttleworth said he was against it because businesses in the downtown core need parking.

“Parking is a big issue right now,” he said.

On the question of whether he would support high-rise development on the west side of Dalhousie St., Shuttleworth added he would likely oppose it though it would depend on what exactly was proposed.

Qussem believes in “participatory democracy” as part of municipal government

 

Roxanne Qussem is seeking a councillor’s job in the Oct. 27 municipal election.

Roxanne Qussem is seeking a councillor’s job in the Oct. 27 municipal election.

By Ron Giofu

 

Roxanne Qussem waited until the final day to throw her hat in the ring and seek a councillor’s position but it was something she felt she had to do.
Qussem said she believes there is a “disconnect” between the current council and the will of the people so she thought long and hard about running and decided to run.

“I believe in a participatory democracy where the voices of the people are heard,” she said.

Working as a federal employee, Qussem said she conducts post-release audits of foreign companies sending items into Canada and ensures they qualify under various free trade agreements.

“It does require accounting skills. It does require one to be versed in various forms of legislation,” she said.

Being a public servant, Qussem added she is used to having to deal with budget cuts and expectations of delivering a high level of service.

A former business owner and bookkeeper, Qussem added she does not believe the town should spend another $100,000 to $200,000 on a forensic audit as the town have employees on staff that can do such work. She believed policies and procedures need to be implemented and followed and that council has to work together with new CAO John Miceli to ensure “all checks and balances are in place.”

Experience dealing with finances is also a must, she believed.

“We need to go in there knowing what we are doing,” said Qussem. “Learning on the job is too late. We need to know what to do from the get-go.”

Stating she would like to see the town grow, she said she would prefer light industrial over heavy industrial including “green” industry. Tourism is fine, she added, but she believes it only creates low paying jobs. She said they need to further their work with the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation as well as team with the University of Windsor and St. Clair College.

Healthy debate is welcome, Qussem added, noting “I’ve never had a problem getting along with my colleagues.” She added that “you need to listen to your fellow council members. You need to make decisions based on facts and not ego.”

Qussem said there is a need to cut town operations and every department needs to be examined. The sale of non-core assets should be explored, she added, although she supported keeping the Essex Power shares. Sharing of services is another idea she would support as that would spread costs across other municipalities as well.

The town should further lobby the provincial and federal governments for support as municipalities have had a lot of services downloaded onto them in the last 20 years.

While she supports retirees coming to live in Amherstburg, Qussem said families need to be attracted as well.

“We need to keep growing and provide opportunities for work and recreation,” she said.

Qussem would like to see the town establish finance and human resource committees committees, adding that there are a lot of professionals whose expertise the town could tap into.