“The board needs to start giving direction to staff. Take the reins and give the direction,” says outgoing mayor and county councilor Alar Soever
Depending on the decision of voters in local elections, Gray County Council could see a major upheaval after all votes are counted on October 24.
As many as 15 of the county council’s 18 members could be new faces after the October 24 municipal elections. The county council is made up of the mayors and deputy mayors of its nine member municipalities (also known as the “lower tier”) – Chatsworth Georgian Bluffs, Gray Highlands, Hanover, Meaford, Owen Sound, Southgate, The Blue Mountains and West Grey.
Three members of the new departmental council who will be sworn in this fall have been elected by acclamation. Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon and Meaford Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney are the incumbents who will return to the new council. Georgian Bluffs will have a new deputy mayor with Grant Pringle facing no election for the position.
In 2022, Gray County had a total operating and capital budget of $186.6 million. The county’s total property tax was $65.4 million. The county is responsible for services such as roads, social services planning (Ontario Works and child care), affordable housing, long-term care, paramedical services and economic development, tourism and culture .
Gray County owns and operates the Gray Roots Museum and Archives, three long-term care homes in Owen Sound, Markdale and Durham, and maintains 997 affordable housing units and supports the operation of over 500 additional non-profit housing units.
Two outgoing members of the current county council spoke with CollingwoodToday of their experiences over the past four years as a senior board member.
Blue Mountains Mayor Alar Soever expressed frustration about his experience as a county council member.
“I am disappointed with the lack of leadership this council has shown at the county level and the lack of diligence it has shown on a number of issues. A lot of things just go through the consent agenda,” he said, noting that in the Blue Mountains the council spends four days on budget deliberations. In Gray County, the budget meeting lasted four hours.
Soever pointed to the dual role county councilors play as mayors and deputy mayors as a potential cause of the problems he observed at the county level and said, for him, he often felt that county matters played “second fiddle” to local affairs.
“There needs to be oversight and direction provided to staff, and the board seemed reluctant to do that and I think that’s due to the dual role. That’s why I was a bit frustrated,” he said. “I hope new people see it as a full-time job.”
When asked what advice he would give new county councilors, Soever didn’t hesitate.
“The board needs to start giving direction to staff. Take the reins and set the direction,” he said.
Outgoing Deputy Mayor of Gray Highlands Aakash Desai has enjoyed his time on County Council, although he noted the ride has not always been smooth over the past four years.
“It was an honor to be able to sit on the municipal council. I really enjoyed the debate at this level and had the opportunity to form close friendships and benefited from great mentors,” he said. “We had to make tough decisions in the county on a few key issues. Unfortunately, these decisions served to cause a rift in the council and the rift was quite visible throughout the tenure.
Desai wished the next council success and urged new members elected this fall to do their best to stay united.
“My hope, for the next council, is that they are able to rise above these individual issues and I wish them all the success they seek,” he said. “Ultimately, their success will be the success of Gray County and its lower levels.”
The composition of the new county council will be decided in local election races for mayor and deputy mayor.
In Chatsworth, incumbent Mayor Scott Mackey faces a challenge from Kent Nuhn. Outgoing deputy mayor Brian Gamble is not running for election. Current Councilwoman Diana Rae and former Deputy Mayor Terry McKay are running for Deputy Mayor.
In Georgian Bluffs, outgoing mayor and longtime county councilor Dwight Burley faces a challenge for outgoing deputy mayor Sue Carleton’s job. Whoever emerges victorious in this race could potentially join Bordignon and Keaveney as the only outgoing county councilors to return.
In Gray Highlands, incumbent Mayor Paul McQueen is challenged by councilor and former Green Party provincial candidate Danielle Valiquette and newcomer Don Alp. In the race for deputy mayor, Coun. Dane Nielsen is challenged by Stephen Patrick Maloney and Melanie Seeley.
In Hanover, outgoing mayor Sue Paterson is challenged by Rob McKean and outgoing deputy mayor and current Gray County executive Selwyn Hicks faces a challenge from Coun. Warren Dickert.
In Meaford, outgoing mayor Barb Clumpus is not running for re-election. Two council members Ross Kentner and Paul Vickers are in the running for the mayor’s chair, with the winner joining Keaveney on the county council.
In Owen Sound, incumbent Mayor Ian Boddy is challenged by the jerk. Richard Thomas and outgoing Deputy Mayor Brian O’Leary face a county challenge. Scott Greig.
In Southgate, the retirement of Mayor John Woodbury has resulted in a two-way race for mayor’s chair. Current deputy mayor and former mayor Brian Milne is running against the current con. Michael Sherson for the position. Current account Barbara Dobreen takes on newcomer Doug MacDonald in the race for deputy mayor.
In the Blue Mountains, the retirement of Mayor Alar Soever sparked a four-way race to join Bordignon at the county council table. Current councilor Andrea Matrosovs, former councilor Joe Halos and newcomers Tony Poole and Elizabeth Marshall are all seeking the mayor’s chair.
In West Grey, there’s a three-way race for mayor. Outgoing mayor Christine Robinson is challenged by the coun. Stephen Townsend and former County Mayor and Reeve Kevin Eccles. Outgoing Deputy Mayor Tom Hutchinson faces Butch Attersoll for the Deputy Mayor’s seat.