New council needs to build on past cooperation: councillor

On the first day out of the gate, Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton broached the idea a new town hall can be built and current scattered office buildings could be converted into housing.

Burton made the suggestion Nov. 15 during the inaugural meeting of the new town council.

He threw bouquets to his council colleagues for their electoral success and suggested they prepare as soon as possible to ink a corporate strategic plan toward the future.

“This will be a living document that will help us guide and provide further directions to the organization now and in the future,” he said.

He said decisions about the continuation of former community council committees be put on hold until such a strategic plan can be worked out.

“If we’re going to progress, we need to ensure that our plan of action and a corporate strategic plan will be our guidance,” Burton said.

The wheel of such a plan will include as spokes trail development to ensure tourism growth, ideas of ways to fill the township’s housing void, and a new municipal office that will meet the needs of staff and residents.

“That will meet today’s needs and put staff under one roof,” Burton said. “Multiple municipal buildings would then become vacant and ... be available to be converted into housing units.”

Councillor Ruth Strong, the third councillor to have won by acclamation and represents Ward 4, said she’ll be an ear for the concerns of the people who elevated her to the council table.

Cecil Ryall, who started his fourth term in the seat for Ward 3, was nominated to continue as deputy mayor on council.

“For a guy like me who normally has a lot to say, I am speechless,” said the newly minted deputy mayor and town council veteran.

Ryall was one of three councillors who were returned to council by acclamation when nominations closed in August.

“I don’t believe that being acclaimed is a free pass to council,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that. It means that you have been entrusted to deliver solid representation on council.”

Ryall said he will assist the new municipal government in every way he can as an experienced part of council.

“I am committed to doing my best to deliver on those expectations,” he said.

Success won’t be achieved if the new slate of councillors doesn’t build on the cooperation of the previous representatives through the last four years.

“I look forward to the four years coming as being equally if not more productive,” Ryall said. “I cannot possibly see this happening without the kind of staff that this municipality has.”

Coun. Cam McKenzie, who was acclaimed to a second term as Ward 1 representative, said it is an honour to continue to represent residents and property owners. He vowed to be not just a councillor for his ward, but to be a councillor for the whole of Highlands East.

The township has had a strategic plan for many years that establishes a collective vision of where the municipality should focus its energy to best plan for the future, he said.

“I feel it is time to take a hard look at our plan and update it as we feel is required,” McKenzie said.

The fire department has exceptional equipment and facilities, McKenzie said. But equipment and facilities don’t respond to emergencies.

“Well-trained people do,” he said, and suggested an effort to recruit new firefighters to replace personnel set to retire is crucial and should be undertaken during the 2022-2026 term.

A humbled Ward 2 Coun. Angela Lewis said she looks forward to continuing to collaborate with her council colleagues for the good of the township.

“I will work to meet yours and my own expectations,” she said.

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James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times