88 years of political experience...retiring

·5 min read

Nearly nine decades of political experience will disappear from Chatham-Kent council this fall as three veteran councillors are not seeking re-election.

Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman, North Kent Coun. Joe Faas and West Kent Coun. Mark Authier all decided to call it quits in order to focus their energies elsewhere.

Sulman and Faas have both served at the municipal level for 40 years apiece, while Authier is wrapping up back-to-back four-year terms serving Chatham-Kent.

Going forward, all three said they plan to continue to serve the community but in different ways.

Much has been witnessed by the trio, but the two elder statesmen had a bird’s-eye view of the birth of Chatham-Kent when Kent County amalgamated in 1998.

Sulman was a Chatham city alderman and Faas was Mayor of Dresden when amalgamation took place.

To this day, Sulman, a long-time Chatham lawyer, doesn't think the municipality has fully recovered from the Harris government's forced marriage.

"I had hoped we'd get to a point where everyone saw themselves as Chatham-Kent, but I don't think we're there yet.

"There's still a lot of parochial thinking," Sulman explained. "I think that's still the greatest challenge facing Chatham-Kent.

"We need to come together, market ourselves together, and have economic prosperity together."

Faas said amalgamation did indeed bring change to Chatham-Kent, landing a hefty punch on the project he's most proud of in his political career.

Bringing fresh water to Dresden through a new North Kent pipeline, rather than drawing from the Sydenham River, was an endeavour that took around 18 years. Faas said the Bob Rae NDP government had committed 100 per cent funding to the project, but when the Progressive Conservatives were elected, Faas said, officials had to "start from scratch.

"It was a long-drawn-out project," Faas said, adding the pipeline was finished just prior to amalgamation.

As for Sulman's greatest achievement, he said he can't single out any one thing.

"This is a great place to live and work and raise a family," he added. "And I think Chatham-Kent is going to be in good hands as there are some great people running for council."

All three politicians agree social media has negatively impacted the political experience.

Faas, chair of the Chatham-Kent Public Health Board, said the effects of COVID-19 and the negative social media that went along with it impacted his decision to leave politics.

"COVID-19 put a real strain on the whole system," he added. "There's a lot of negativity out there and you're a target. You get to a point where you are tired of fighting," Faas explained.

Sulman said social media is a political "nightmare.

"There's no control," he added. "Government is civic, but we hope that it is also civil.

"People say the basest things on social media," Sulman added. "You've got to develop some pretty thick skin."

Authier too found the negativity of social media to be troublesome.

"Most people do not educate themselves on subjects before they go on social media and start commenting," Authier said. "There are lots of keyboard warriors out there who like to say things that are not true. At some point, I believe there will be someone charged with slander, from their posts on social media."

But he added his health, family and business "need more of my attention," and will benefit by him leaving politics.

Sulman, who will continue to operate his law practice, said he went into politics because it was "drilled into my head as a youngster that you help others."

The Western University law school graduate, who paid for university by working in local factories including Navistar and Motor Wheel, was told by his father that he was to use his years of learning for more than just making money.

Sulman had great examples. His great grandfather was Mayor of Chatham and MPP; his grandfather was also mayor and his own father was the sheriff in charge of the local court system.

Faas also had politics in his family but took a different route. He was managing the bar at the Dresden Raceway. At the time Dresden was a "dry" town so a plebiscite had to be held in order to make the consumption of liquor legal.

"While working on that, I decided – why not run for council," Faas noted.

Like his father Casper, Faas became a councillor, then deputy reeve, then reeve and then mayor when Mayor Tony Stranak passed away while in office.

Faas believes Chatham-Kent's infrastructure needs are the greatest challenge facing the municipality.

"We're only funding at 50 per cent," he said. "It's either pay me now or pay me later."

Faas, who will continue to serve with the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority Foundation, said serving the people has been a great honour.

"I'm proud of all the communities and I am proud of Dresden and Mitchell's Bay.

"The people make it easy to represent them."

Like Sulman and Faas, Authier became a councillor to "better" his community, adding he believes he has helped in his own way.

As for the achievement he is most proud of, Authier said there is no one thing that stands out as he has worked on many projects and will continue to do so.

"I am proud of how I represented my area," he added. "I know not all residents in my area are fans but I have many residents who know the hours I have put in to make Chatham-Kent a better place to live.”

When it comes to Chatham-Kent's greatest challenge, Authier said the tax base is a problem as infrastructure is extremely costly and can't meet the demand because of low population density.

"CK will need more money from higher governments to maintain what we have."

Authier said Chatham-Kent has a lot going for it, including the waterways, fresh fruits and vegetables, but its greatest asset is its people.

"I believe the smaller cities and towns and villages all pull together to help people that are down and need help. That is why I am so proud to be from Chatham-Kent."

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice