Renfrew – The newly-renovated town council chambers served as the perfect backdrop last Tuesday night as five new members were among the seven-person council sworn into office.
The meeting began with the town clerk, Victoria Charbonneau, inviting each member to the middle of chambers to officially take their Oath of Office. Beginning with Mayor-elect Tom Sidney and Reeve Peter Emon, who are the only two returning members of the previous council, the five new councillors -- Kyle Cybulski, Andrew Dick, Jason Legris, John McDonald and Clint McWhirter – then took their Oath of Office.
Last week’s ceremony was unique for a number of reasons. When all members took their Oath, they swore allegiance to King Charles III. It was the first time since February 1952 that an incoming council did not pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II who passed away earlier this year.
She reigned from 1952 to 2022, making her the longest reigning monarch in British and Commonwealth history. She was also the first monarch to be crowned Queen of Canada. When Renfrew council met in 1952, it was led by Mayor John T. Moran and it consisted of the mayor, a reeve, a deputy-reeve and five councillors.
Among the eight members of that 1952 council was Mrs. Katherine Millar, the town’s first elected female councillor. The 2022-2026 council has no female members, a fact that does not sit well with Mayor Sidney. On election night he said the situation was disappointing but stated that will likely change in the next election.
The formal ceremony of placing the Chains of Office over the incoming mayor’s shoulders is a very prestigious and colourful event in relation to municipal politics. Unlike the federal and provincial legislative bodies that are rich with tradition and ceremonial customs, politics at the local level has very few.
For that reason it was a special evening for Mayor Sidney as his wife, Shelly, who the mayor described as the foundation of any venture they undertake, had the honour of carrying out that tradition. Among those who applauded the ceremony was Audrey Green, Renfrew’s first female mayor.
Referred to as a trailblazer, Mrs. Green served as a councillor from 1972-74, as reeve from 1974-1978, mayor from 1978-1991 and again as reeve from 1997-2014. Mayor Sidney acknowledged the presence of Mrs. Green, now in her early 90s, who was sitting with outgoing mayor Don Eady and Sandi Heins, who served as mayor from 1998 to 2010.
“Having three former mayors present tonight represents a wealth of experience and knowledge available as a resource and is nothing short of amazing,” he said as he took a seat to deliver his inaugural speech to a packed council chamber.
As he began his formal address, he looked around the room and smiled as he said, “to be honest with you, this is kind of a surreal moment.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era for our town. It is a town based on a strong history but is now ready to move into the future and we are moving forward as a team for the residents of Renfrew,” he said. “When I say team, I am not just referring to the elected, but I mean a team that includes the staff and residents and we are moving forward. Yes, there will be changes.”
Throughout his campaign he stressed the need for transparency as some residents felt they were being denied information in a timely manner and, rightly or wrongly, some residents perceived that as town staff shielding themselves from inquiries.
“We are going to be more transparent than ever before,” he said. “Residents will be able to see how decisions are made as we will begin live streaming committee meetings along with our biweekly council meetings.”
He also campaigned on the issue of preparing the town for the growth that will come with the twinning of Highway 17 from Arnprior to Renfrew. Arnprior saw its population increase by 30 percent in less than five years when the highway was completed and it brought a host of new challenges.
“We know growth is coming, but the question is what are we going to do about it,” he asked. “Something I have consulted the clerk’s department and Reeve Emon about will end up being the Mayor’s Growth Readiness for Highway Expansion Task Force, and I will be bringing that forward next week at our first official council meeting.”
He said it will look at property issues and variables that will include residents and business leaders. He also announced the formation of an inclusive “age-friendly and barrier-free” working group to ensure that Renfrew is barrier free for all residents. The group will also examine any systemic issues that have contributed to excluding segments of the local population and the group is open to all ages.
This past year the town hosted two major festivals for the first time since 2019 and both were a resounding success. The Renfrew Bluegrass Festival and the Renfrew Craft Beer and Food Truck Festival bucked the provincial trend of poor attendance and financial losses for the majority of outdoor festivals by increasing the number of attendees, and neither event lost money.
“We are going to form a Signature Event Working Group that will be comprised of residents and staff so that we can take some of the pressure and responsibility off of staff and recruit more volunteers to be involved.
“It will be a very big learning curve for everybody…except for Reeve Emon, of course,” he said with a smile. “We are going to do great things and I am looking forward to it.”
Mayor Sidney officially adjourned his first council meeting at 7:22 p.m. and invited all the families, friends and other spectators in chambers to stay for light refreshments and meet council members.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader