New mayors ready for start of their terms

Andrew Hallikas is still getting used to the thought of him being mayor.

Hallikas, who was elected as the mayor of Fort Frances last month, isn’t quite sure what to call himself yet even though the new term started on Tuesday as the new council won’t be inaugurated until Nov. 21.

“I guess I’m the mayor-elect. I’m just not sure of the legality since I haven’t been sworn in,” he said. “I run into a lot of well-wishers who voted for me and they congratulate you and they say “Congratulations, Mayor.” And I don’t really have my head around the whole mayor thing yet.”

“We had an excellent outgoing mayor and I still think of June [Caul] as the mayor”, he added with a laugh.

While council won’t meet until next Monday, Hallikas has already started one mayoral duty by meeting individually with each councillor to learn about their talents and background.

Hallikas said the week has been a little bittersweet because the previous council, which he was a part of, had its final meeting Monday and he had to say goodbye to some council members who are retiring.

“I will miss them very, very much,” he said. “But on the other hand, it’s exciting thinking about getting the new council together and being able to work to make Fort Frances a better place to live and work.”

“Everything starts for us next Monday. We get sworn in then,” he said adding it will be live-streamed. Committee assignments and three fairly intensive days of orientation will follow, he said.

Hallikas says the make up of the new council is a perfect mix.

“We have three really strong, experienced councillors returning, and then we have three brand new to council people, but people who are very active in the community,” he said.

Eealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year's record-breaking flood, took up a lot of time in the last term, Hallikas added.

“Just navigating those two rather impressive catastrophes, the previous council accomplished a lot and also initiated a lot of things, but didn’t have a chance to carry them to completion,” he said.

He said the new council is being brought up to speed on a number of issues and unfinished business, including attracting people to the community by finding ways of increasing housing stock, ensuring the proper development of the former mill properties, and completing renovation and expansion of the seniors centre, the sportsplex and arena, and a new spray park.

In Kenora, Mayor Andrew Poirier said it’s full steam ahead.

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing the last couple of days. You deal with the problems and the issues that come in as they come in,” Poirier said. “That’s kind of where my time’s been spent probably for the last week or so.”

Poirier said he had a fairly good idea about the demands of the position, saying it’s a full-time position.

Kenora city council was sworn in on Tuesday, but the new council was already making decisions with a special council meeting to figure out how to proceed with the damaged pedestrian bridge on Coney Island.

Poirier said the new council still has five more orientation meetings before their first meeting on Dec. 6.

Each meeting helps every council member get to know each other better, he added.

“We get to know what everybody’s about, how they think, it’s much different sitting at a council table than being out on the campaign trail. So you get to know how people operate.”

Poirier is enthusiastic about this council pointing out that in his inaugural speech he said, “Look out Kenora,” referring to the difference he thinks it will make.

“I think this is a group of people that have a lot of energy and vision. And I think they want to put that to use and do some very good things and solve some immediate problems for the city of Kenora,” he said. “I just see it getting better and better each time we sit down.”

Poirier said the priority council chooses to take on first will likely be to deal with some of social issues in downtown core, including the homeless problem. He said some tough questions will be asked, because what’s happening now is not working.

“It was made very clear in the campaign that people would like to see something happening [with the downtown community], which is going to make it look a little bit better, a little bit safer because many people are very nervous and very scared to even go downtown anymore.” He said. “And that’s not the community that I want to be in and that’s not the community I want to lead.”

For new Dryden Mayor Jack Harrison, a political rookie, this week reminded him of when he’s started a new job.

“There will be a steep learning curve as you learn all the ins and outs of how things work,” he said. “It feels really great to be working for the city and starting to look at the next four years and what we can accomplish together with the city and the council and the staff at city hall.”

Harrison said the swearing-in was quite simple, a move away from ceremonies in the past. He said council hasn’t had an orientation yet, but will soon have governance training sessions and will get a tour of all city facilities on Nov. 26.

He said the first council meeting will take place on Nov. 28, and that city administration will start drafting up the city budget for council to consider in the new year.

Until then, Harrison said he wants to get familiar with Dryden’s policies and bylaws.

“I’ve been given an iPad and a lot of reading materials, so I hope to go through those over the next couple of weeks and just get myself up to speed with some of the things I need to know about running the city. So there will be lots of reading,” he said.

“I really looking forward to working with council as a team,” he said. “I think there’s lots of opportunities to look to the future, see what opportunities we can bring to the city.”

Harrison said issues he thinks council will tackle include development including the waterfront, the shortage of long-term care homes, and working with partners like the Kenora District Services Board and a local operator to bring a crisis shelter to the city.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source