West Lincoln chief administrative officer reflects on trials and triumphs of past term

In the face of a pandemic, the past four years were never going to be smooth sailing in municipal politics.

However, West Lincoln's chief administrative officer Bev Hendry, is proud of the way staff reacted to the challenges and is confident that some of the adaptations made over the past term will prove beneficial into the future.

As the curtains close on the last council term, Niagara this Week sat down with Hendry to talk about the achievements of the past four years, and how the township will meet the challenges of the future.

First, then, to the past four years.

One of the things that Hendry was most proud of was the completion of the corporate strategic plan in 2019, which set out the priorities for the township. It considered safety, roads, infrastructure, growth, fiscal responsibility and preservation of heritage and rural identity.

“We made great strides in every one of the 25 initiatives that were laid out. And we even went beyond that,” said Hendry.

Of course, no one could have predicted that during the term of council, a global pandemic would rear its head and threaten to derail the work of the municipality, but Hendry is confident that not only did the township meet the challenges but created some positives from the situation.

“It created a lot of challenges, as everyone faced those challenges. But we see the term in that period as (having) a lot of trials, but because of all those trials we had a lot of triumphs,” she said.

Take the shift to remote and hybrid working, which had to be done in such a way as to maintain transparency in government whilst protecting public health.

When the province changed legislation to allow it, the township brought in livestreaming of council meetings, which Hendry labels as a big success which will serve as a model for the future.

“For me, being a very long-term government worker, (it) has been one of the biggest shifts. And I think it's going to help democracy in the long run because there's going to be more potential interest and participation,” she said.

Another success of the past term was the completion of the roads need study, which examined over 380 kilometres of roads across the municipality and provided an evidence-based system to help staff identify which roads required work.

This allows the township to invest in certain roads at the most appropriate times, providing the best bang for their buck.

The township also embarked on an asset management plan, cataloguing all of the municipality’s assets, helping to make better budgeting decisions when it comes to maintaining and replacing stock.

The website was modernized and the online portal MyWESTLINCOLN was introduced. Among other things, it means that fire permits can now be attained online rather than over the phone, said Hendry.

One of the biggest challenges facing the township is the growth targets handed down by higher levels of government which will see West Lincoln expand over the coming decades.

To accommodate this, the township created Official Plans 62 and 63 which set out how the urban boundaries would expand.

“We've gone through a really comprehensive process to do our urban expansion, yet protect rural lands at the same time,” said Hendry, who paid tribute to how staff collaborated with partners such as the region, developers, landowners and other groups to create the balance between urban and rural areas.

And, in terms of emergency services, the past term saw the groundbreaking for the new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital and Fire Station number 2, which is starting to take shape.

Finally, the township is also taking strides to tackle climate change, through a staff-led green team and the introduction of the Plan to Mitigate Environmental Impacts, a five-year plan to help the municipality to fight climate change.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News