Shelburne Town Council has held their final meeting for the year, and Mayor Wade Mills spoke with the Free Press, reflecting on the local council’s role through 2020.
“In a word the year has been challenging, it was very early March when [we] were confronted with the pandemic on a local level and almost overnight everything changed,” said Mills. “We’ve had to be pretty nimble and flexible since, when it comes to how we’ve proceeded, what that’s meant is a number of plans that we had in place for 2020 had to be set aside.”
Mills, alongside Shelburne Police Chief Kent Moore and former Fire Chief Brad Lemaich held a meeting back in March to discuss COVID-19 measures with the first confirmed case in the Dufferin-Caledon region by Public Health – the result was the closing of all municipal facilities and the start of Mills’ daily COVID-19 updates.
“One of the things that we decided as a group very early on, was that when it came to dissemination of information, we were going to err on the side of inclusion to try to get as much information out to our residents as possible and be as transparent about things as possible; whether it was good news or bad news,” said Mills.
Since the closing of Town Hall, Shelburne Council meetings have been held remotely via Zoom and streamed live.
“The whole Zoom structure for Council meetings had been an interesting challenge,” said Mills admitting it’s not his preferred method. “It’s been effective because it’s allowed us to continue on, to carry out the business of the municipality, in a democratic way – we’re still holding open, transparent C Council meetings, that the public still has an opportunity to see details of the decisions that we’re making.”
With the move to remote meetings, Council has had an average of 40 to 100 views, an increase from their in-person attendance.
Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mills notes a number of important projects seen from Town Council throughout 2020; including the development of an equity and inclusion lens, a decision to disband Shelburne Police Service (SPS) and providing new services to the community.
Following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May, and the Black Live Matter marches that took place globally, Shelburne developed the Anti-Black Racism, Anti-Racism and Discrimination Task Force to address equity and inclusion within the community.
In Oct. the task force presented a blueprint of recommendations to councillors to address equity and inclusion, which Mills said will begin to be implemented in January 2021.
“The taskforce presented Council with a fairly wholesome list of recommendations, which they saw as being the path that Council should pursue towards racial reconciliation. Council has reviewed those, and we’ve asked staff to come back with essentially a work plan and some cost estimates as to how those recommendations can be implemented.”
One of the biggest decisions made by the local Council during 2020, was the vote to disband the 141 year-old local police force.
“You’d be hard pressed to find any councillor who would say that that was an easy decision, there was a lot of history there,” said Mills. “It simply was a matter of financial sustainability over the long run. I pointed out the night of the vote, that if this Council didn’t have the courage to make the decision that was necessary, then all we were going to be doing was kicking the can down the road to another Council who would be forced to make that decision.”
The transition to OPP will happen in February 2021.
While 2020 has halted a number of projects that Council looked to bring in, a partnership with Grey County brought a transit system with two local stops to the community.
“It really came with a price tag that was more or less non-existent. The service is being delivered and Shelburne taxpayers are not really having to contribute to the cost of it, at least as a base service,” said Mills.
Looking towards 2021, Mills said Council will focus on projects that were put off in 2020 as well as initiatives in infrastructure development.
“We’ll see some significant movement on the commercial development on the east end of town, which has certainly been long awaited.”
Other infrastructure projects set for 2021 including Shelburne’s first ever tennis and pickleball court and the revitalization of Jack Downing Park, which Mills said he hopes will spark more redevelopment of the downtown core.
Paula Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shelburne Free Press