Ladies and gentlemen, residents of Fort Erie, management staff of the Town of Fort Erie and members of the press and media; thank you for coming and thank you for eight years of support for me as Mayor of Fort Erie.
One cannot help but be very proud of our town through good times and bad, through the easy times and the hard times, because for me we live in the best part of Ontario and in the best part of Niagara. We have a great friendship with our neighbours in Niagara and a fabulous relationship with Buffalo, and Erie and Niagara counties. Our trade, commerce, our manufacturing, tourism and proximity to big-league sports just across the border, all make Fort Erie unique in the most bi-national community in Canada.
My first political post was on Council in 1982 when I was a young business owner. I can say that through thick and thin, I have enjoyed every day since then in the service of my community. I value the support of my friends and neighbors, new and old, the families of Fort Erie, and all of the great staff that I have worked with over the years, especially over the last eight years as Mayor.
I will now get to the point and announce today that after heartfelt discussions and guidance from my wife Donna, my friends and family, my trusted advisors, I have decided that I will not seek re-election for a third term.
I do this for two principal reasons:
Firstly, that after having given up, I would guess about 2000, Monday nights at the Town and Thursday nights at the Region, as well as the countless weekends serving in my various capacities for the past 30 years, it is really time for me to focus on my family, who have all been very tolerant of the very hectic schedule I have kept, especially as Mayor, and our friends who have been right there for me, with their time and support during countless elections.
Secondly, when I took the helm as Mayor, almost 8 years ago I did so knowing that there was a need for some substantial changes in our Town’s finances. We were too reliant on the slot revenues, which at its peak was close to $6 million for a number of years prior. While there were many advances in infrastructure in this town during that period, there was also great reliance on offsetting the necessary tax increases with no consideration for those funds declining or coming to an abrupt end. During my first term as Mayor we were able to totally remove the reliance on slot revenues to offset tax spending, even though it resulted in a significant tax increase for the first few years. We also removed all gaming revenues that funded the EDTC, also a very significant decision for the future of Fort Erie.
In that first term, at least for the first few years, Council respected each other’s differences of opinion and I believe tried honestly to understand opposing views and to tried to do what was best for the Town. We developed corporate strategic planning, we had investors being attracted by the Economic Development and Tourism Corporation, plants like DMI and Pharmetics. We had an excellent professional Staff who, with limited bench strength, worked tirelessly for the Town of Fort Erie.
We certainly got a lot accomplished and we certainly were the town on the upswing. I looked at this term as being somewhat of a short-term pain for long-term gain approach, assuring financial services were balanced against capital expenditures and qualified staff were in place, and we had good assessment and development happening.
Somewhere in the latter part of the first term, opinions started getting polarized, and became more difficult to reach consensus on many matters. This was certainly exacerbated in the election of 2010 and I sincerely believe that the extraordinary and exponential rise in the use of social media was no coincidence.
Good governance is based on serious and honest effort to do your very best to manage and administer the responsibilities that the electorate has entrusted you to do. Politics might be a game of competition to get the most for your constituency but if there is no integrity, if things are not open and transparent, and if people aren’t accountable directly to the electorate that is just not good government.
I can tell you I am very proud of the efforts of our staff and management team at Town hall, through some very unsettling times. I am also proud of the Town’s extended staff such as the Community Gaming Corporation, the Library Board, our Economic Development and Tourism Corporation, and all of our volunteer Boards and Committees whose volunteers work so hard for our Town with little fanfare or recognition, and to our very skilled and professional members of our Fire Department. The individuals in these agencies work every day on behalf of the ratepayers of Ontario and their families, unfailingly, and in many cases without due regard for their own safety or putting themselves in harm’s way as political targets.
It is easy for people on the social media networks, who it seems are always afraid to identify themselves and hide behind pseudonyms, to provide misinformation, gossip and lies that they would never consider doing face to face.
Governance is people working with people for the common good of the Town. I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the staff at Town hall and the agencies that serve ys.I am always filled with pride watching them succeed. We can just look at our past CAO, Treasurer, Director of Public Works, Director of Planning now filling similar roles at the Region.
We still have a good team, a developing team, that is committed to our Town and I am excited to watch them grow into a terrific senior management group.
I believe that my experience of almost 30 years of public service tells me that it is time for new blood, time for new thinking, time for younger people to take up the responsibility of managing this community for their future and for the future of those of us who have had our turn.
Many times in politics it has always been the older, the mature, the professionals and I think I can say that one of our most important common missions was to bridge the void that is the disinterest, or perhaps just understanding of the need for youth to be more represented and involved in civic governance. We are after all, making decisions that will affect you far greater and for a much longer period than we who are in our 50’s, 60,s and beyond.
Good governance will always be good governance. But today’s politics is changing moving towards the more technical savvy and youthful and hopefully equally dedicated community-minded individuals who will rise and serve.
And while it is hard work and a lot of effort to do it right, civic governance is very fulfilling, interesting and rewarding.
Not a day goes by that I am not in direct contact with our General Manager of Economic Development and Tourism Corporation and I know it was the same for my predecessor . We get to meet with new business prospects and encourage them to invest in Fort Erie, to create jobs and become part of our community. We have had some losses as well, Pharmetics, DMI, and Vertis but we work as a team to create new opportunities such as Cannacure, Ferguson Neudorf, and others in the works. We were devastated by the loss of our Slots, and the income we enjoyed, but we still have the Fort Erie Race Track and with persistence we will for many years to come.
Our dedicated Town staff have also been working closely with the Canadian Motor Speedway and the Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, in fact we have an open house tomorrow night by the MTO to show the upgrades just down the road at Bowen and the QEW to make sure this important economic driver for, not only Fort Erie but Niagara and the Province, becomes a reality. We also working with the Province to bring a new state-of-the-art hospital to service Fort Erie (South Niagara).
Most people only know of what happens at the Town from what they read in newspapers or read on the blogs but as a Mayor, as a Councillor, you are critically briefed and play a real factor in determining the outcome.
While it is true that you must listen to the people, you also have the obligation to be a leader to the same people and make decisions on what is best for the entire community, not just a select few.
I must again say that I will truly miss all of the great friends that I have made here at the Town. It has been more like a family than anything.
I will continue to serve my term as best I can, but I felt that it is time to make way for a new generation of leaders, who need time to muster their campaigns and support teams. I deeply and respectfully encourage our youth, especially those in business, to consider public office and to take up the challenges that will be facing Fort Erie in the future.
I am appending a bit of a political biography to this statement. It is what I would pick as my highlight reel but more significantly, to reinforce the diversity of experiences and responsibilities I have been a part of. It has truly been an honour to serve each and every one of you.
Thank you for your support, your patience, your understanding and of course, those all important votes.
God bless you all and God bless Fort Erie