It was a celebratory atmosphere at Town Hall on November 15 as Aurora’s newly-elected and re-elected Council members welcomed family and friends for their swearing-in ceremony.
Five out of six incumbent Councillors were re-elected on October 24, with Ward 1’s Ron Weese the lone new face among them.
But as much as it was a time for ceremony, it was also a time to lay the first foundation blocks of the term ahead – and Weese led the way.
Paying tribute to his family who encouraged him to run, as well as his forebears of his grandfather, father, and uncle, all of whom served as mayors of Dresden, ON., Weese said he looked forward to working with his new colleagues.
RON WEESE – WARD 1
Ward 1, said Councillor Weese, was “diverse in its geography, culture, heritage” with a mix of people who have lived in the community for decades, as well as newcomers.
“I saw vacant homes and met with permanent residents unable to vote but wanted to,” he said. “I heard about train horns, insufficient housing, neighbours, secondary dwellings, downtown revitalization, traffic, pot shops, infill construction, playground and trails, pools, intensification challenges, Town Square, Town Park… and of course parking. Oh, and taxes. I also heard of residents in need: older adults caring for seniors in their own homes, parents wanting to provide children with social, health and academic success.
“Everyone wants to preserve their way of life. It is why they came here and it is why they want to stay. I met residents who donate their time and expertise to volunteer organizations. This human capital is not trivial and it is part of our caring society in need of support. I agree how a society treats its most vulnerable is a measure of its humanity. I believe that diversity is strength. I look forward to working with our Council to achieve the best possible results for our respective wards and to build a quality community.”
RACHEL GILLILAND – WARD 2
In the first formal remarks of her second term in office, and the first as a representative of Ward 2, Councillor Gilliland said she was “humbled and excited to roll up” her sleeves and continue the work from the last term, representing Ward 2 and “all of Aurora.”
“Just hours in[to the new term] Aurora has already been faced with a controversial bill that could change the shape of our Town,” she said, referring to Bill 23, the Province’s plan to increase housing units. “While attainable housing is key, it also needs to be responsible in the way of land use, how it affects our long-term budget and the stabilization of our taxes.
“As promised, I intend on tabling the feasibility of tools that give us a proactive approach to property standards, and licensing of rental units. Small business recovery, arts and culture, active transportation, green development design standards, budget and various new master plans, are all key things I intend on focusing on and I’m eager to tackle. Today, let’s begin this next chapter to help protect what makes Aurora a great place to live together.”
WENDY GAERTNER – WARD 3
Councillor Gaertner last week not only turned the page to a new term of Council, she did so to begin her sixth term of Council and the start of her 20th year in municipal service. It wasn’t an easy task, she said, but she was grateful her work was “recognized by voters.”
“I see my job as helping residents and local businesses solve problems and to make Council decisions that are in their best interests,” she said, before thanking her family for their support along the way, and apologising to the few residents of Ward 3 she was unable to meet in the final heat of the election due to a broken ankle little more than two days before the final vote.
In her remarks, Councillor Gaertner set her priorities, including ensuring that the Town’s new Official Plan protects the Oak Ridges Moraine and other sensitive lands.
“What is in the best interests of the community, not developers, must guide Council decisions and we must ensure that these Official Plan policies are carried through to action in Town policies and bylaws,” she said. “What has been just words to date in our Official Plan about providing a wide range of housing types to suit various income needs must be realized. Our budget process is always difficult. The next few years will be very hard. Consultants have reported that being prepared for climate change can cost up to $7 million. This is expensive, but our communities’ future quality of life is at stake. Council’s challenge will be to do what is necessary, while respecting taxpayers.
“I’m pleased to be sitting at this Council table, entrusted by voters to work with my colleagues to meet the challenges ahead. Being elected is a great honour but it also brings great responsibility to take care of our community. I hope that this Council will ensure that our citizens are well informed, will welcome residents’ input, and govern with care and common sense.”
MICHAEL THOMPSON – WARD 4
Being re-elected to a fourth term, this time representing the citizens of Ward 4, is an “honour and a privilege” for Councillor Michael Thompson, and an experience that is just as “humbling” as ever before.
In the years ahead he said he would continue to use his “business expertise and experience” to provide “leadership, strong financial management of our tax dollars, and a practical and common-sense approach to the issues at hand.
“As we begin our new term of Council, I believe our residents have spoken very clearly about their expectations,” he said. “They want a Council that will work together to bring value for their hard-earned tax dollars, to manage growth in a sensible and sustainable manner and to continue to work together to get things done.
“There is much to be done this term…but in particular I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on completing the Official Plan, the Parks & Rec Master Plan, completing the gymnasium expansion with the SARC and furthering our efforts to revitalize the downtown core.”
JOHN GALLO – WARD 5
Councillor John Gallo began his first speech as a Ward 5 Councillor with a commitment to those who were less successful finding a place at the table: encouraging them to stay involved in the community. He said if they put themselves forward for municipal committees, they have his vote.
“We need you and you have my commitment to vote for you on the committees that you choose if you put your names forward,” he said, adding the Town appreciates the work the candidates put in on the campaign trail and the “Town of Aurora isn’t forgetting you.”
“I want to also thank the Town of Aurora staff. You have my commitment that I will work hard with you in unison to do what’s in the best interests of the Town of Aurora,” he continued. “I acknowledge at times I have been difficult to work with – and you won’t say it, but I will – sometimes I’ve been annoying, but I hope you understand that I am always doing it in the best interests of the Town of Aurora. We need you, I need you, I need you to let me make the best decisions I possibly can for the residents of this Town.
“To my Council colleagues, congratulations on a fantastic election and I have a public commitment to all of you to work with you in the best interests of the Town of Aurora. I don’t have anything specific I am going to work on because I tend to commit myself across everything that comes on the public agendas and perhaps this time around it’s a little bit different and I will focus a little more on Ward 5, the wonderful Ward 5 that has so much to offer the Town of Aurora.”
HAROLD KIM – WARD 6
In his opening remarks of his second term as Mayor, Tom Mrakas said “what’s past is prologue,” and these sentiments were echoed by Councillor Harold Kim who said it is time to move forward from some of the disagreements of past Councils and forge ahead for the common good.
“Over the past two terms I’ve had the privilege of debating motions that determine our collective quality of life in this Town, attending grand openings of exciting local businesses, brainstorming with fellow citizens on special committees and doing just about everything I never thought I would be doing when I moved to Aurora with my young family only 13 years ago,” he said. “It has been a whirlwind to say the least. I am circumspect [on this third term]. I ask myself how we can do better? How can I do better? With great optimism and enthusiasm, I present to you my hopes: first, I hope that our current and past Council members can be proud of the things that we have accomplished together in the past. Indeed, we have not always agreed, but let’s not forget that the greatest democracies thrive on debate. Because it is via debate and scrutiny [that] we can come to the best outcomes for the people we serve and for this we should be proud. Second, I hope that this next Council puts the past behind and looks soberly to the future. May we continue to examine objectively every issue to support good ideas and reject not so good ones, dispassionately and without bias.”
Citing statements made in local media that the results of the election have changed a “4-3 [voting pattern]”, Councillor Kim said there’s a perception of “some kind of power struggle between two competing sides” but he said as “unfortunate” as it is, “such a perception might be justified.
“There’s no secret to anyone who has lived in Aurora for any length of time that the history of this Town Council has been a divisive one – one of strife and acrimonious litigation,” he said. “As a result, people have taken sides and have sometimes put personal feelings ahead of the public good. I say this not to throw stones, but hopefully to bring light to underlying issues that may hinder this Council from looking to the future. I believe it is time to clear the slate and declare that tonight is a night to start anew.
“This leads to my third and final hope: that is, I hope that we as a Council will take the time and really connect with each other personally this term so we may work cohesively as a team for the betterment of this Town. Let’s leave the past behind us and once and for all look forward.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran