Talk of the Town: Q&A with Niagara's Small Town Mayors

APRIL JEFFS: Mayor of Wainfleet
SANDRA EASTON: Mayor of Lincoln
FRANK CAMPION: Mayor of Welland
DAVE AUGUSTYN: Mayor of Pelham
JOHN MALONEY: Mayor of Port Colborne
We get up close and personal with these passionate small town mayors who continually show up for
their constituants in a big way.


What do you think are the biggest challenges facing your city? What can your constituents do to help ensure the future success of your town?

April Jeffs: I think the biggest challenge is continuing to be sustainable.  Our growth is limited and yet we face the same infrastructure challenges as many other municipalities.  Constituents in Wainfleet can continue to remain engaged in community initiatives such as the strategic plan exercise that we currently undergoing.
Sandra Easton: At a macro-level, the challenge for Lincoln, like many other municipalities in the golden horseshoe that have both rural and urban elements to them, revolves around striking the right balance between growth and our natural features and coupled with that efficiency and utilization of our agricultural lands and employment corridors. At a micro-level, we have discovered over the past few years that collectively we have a responsibility to educate, research and question products that place our natural water courses and water quality at risk, coupled with the particulates placed on agricultural land.
Access to big data in a way that makes public access streamlined and completely transparent is an important goal that is past its time.  This is an area that our citizens repeatedly identify as a priority for them and any system that is effective has very comprehensive cross-checking of key words or phrases.
Personally for me and my family who have been here in Lincoln for generations, I am thinking about the next generations that will come and what we can do collectively to enthusiastically investigate, educate and apply our work experience at a time when many retirees have the luxury of time to research and ponder important local issues.  You know, we have in Lincoln the legacy of the Research Station where many highly educated people worked. It was our brain trust. The men and women who worked there expected their children to also get a higher education and as a result farmers in Lincoln also represent the continuous development of that brain trust which continues today across the town at all levels.  As a community we must protect at all costs our right to ask deliberate questions.  I  believe in the strength and creativity of the citizens of Lincoln, its values as a collection of small villages, towns and hamlets and its potential for economic growth when working collectively and for the betterment of the community and broader region.
Frank Campion: Welland is transitioning from an industry based economy to a more diverse educational institution, smart technology/manufacturing intelligence based economy. The challenge is to match business and industry attraction with a conducive lifestyle for both residents and potential residents. A positive shift in the City brand reflecting this is required along with a focused, aggressive approach to business. Resident participation is required. There is a need for residents to embrace the concepts required for the on-going transition and to think positively and supportively. Another challenge is funding our infrastructure needs.
Dave Augustyn: Some of the biggest challenges facing Pelham involve maintaining our small-town feel as we grow. Since development lands were added to the Town in 2000, we’ve known that growth would be inevitable. We are working on integrating this inevitable growth with the existing community, while protecting sensitive environmental elements, benefitting existing residents (like by including public facilities and commercial amenities), and requiring attractive and pedestrian/cycle-friendly form.
John Maloney: City Council, residents and others must work together to encourage development, increase assessment, and maintain a positive cash flow. We all may have to sacrifice a little for long term gain.

What are some successes you’ve seen as mayor?

AJ: We put an end to a controversial sewer/water project and successfully completed a septic inspection program.  We have made substantial upgrades to our arena. We initiated an aggressive road resurfacing program. We completed a recreation master plan last term and have continued to enhance access to our beaches and also implemented bylaw enforcement and strategic parking to mitigate issues that neighbouring residents face who live adjacent to public accesses. We have had several low tax increases and last year managed to build an infrastructure levy into the 2016 budget.  We are currently engaging in the Township’s first strategic plan.
SE: As the executive body of the Town of Lincoln and in response to the citizens, Council has influenced an important cultural shift from business as usual to an innovative and energized 21st century workforce that is focused on all who would be considered customers. We can demonstrate many quick wins with special projects but the most lasting impact is in the ability to demonstrate the long term value of tax dollar investment in our infrastructure and in the cultural development of Lincoln.
FC: The City has and continues to work more closely with Niagara College…an institution that is viewed as a major asset as the City moves forward. Recently, construction on new POA Courts has begun in Welland which not only creates jobs but also makes our City significant to the Region. Construction has also begun on the new 450,000 sq. ft. General Electric plant in Welland which will create 220 jobs initially. We have greatly improved our status in the global economy as well as with provincial and federal ministries.
DA: During my decade of service as Mayor, we’ve accomplished many successes: revitalization of Downtown Fonthill and Downtown Fenwick; constructing two new Fire Stations (Fenwick & North Pelham); new skatepark; new dog park; renewed and new sports fields and parks; nine new, fully-accessible playgrounds; renewed heritage features (like Old Pelham Town Hall, WW1 Cenotaph & Mortar, Historic Flagpole); new Maple Acre Library; starting construction of a new Pelham Community Centre (double arena, double gymnasium, multi-purpose community space, indoor walking / jogging track); more than 15km of sidewalks, 9km of bike lanes, and 5km of trails; renewed major road infrastructure; all while keeping taxes under inflation and our water and waste water rates 20% lower than other Niagara municipalities.
JM: City Council and staff have provided positive leadership on a day-to-day basis while visioning for the future.

How would you characterize your brand of leadership?

AJ: Approachable. Open to all ideas and suggestions because I know I do not have all the answers. I respect other’s opinions even if we don’t agree and I know it’s okay if I change my mind.
SE: I can only report what others tell me. They appreciate that access to government is at a level that satisfies them.  The expanded wealth of a community begins with citizens who are highly connected to their local government.  The Mayor must be approachable and inclusive in her dealings with everyone. They say I have an authentic demeanour that is non partisan and that I am respectful and treat situations with dignity appropriate to the office of the Mayor.
FC: A collaborative team approach combines with transparency and accountability.
DA: I view my role as Pelham’s Mayor as one of servant to the community and working together with the community to solve challenges. I continually listen to people and discuss issues, write a weekly column in local news media, attend as many community functions as possible, and work to keep residents and business owners informed about and involved in things that matter in Pelham. I also lead Council and the community through common processes of clearly defining problems, solving them, and implementing the agreed-upon and new solutions. (Some recent examples of this include Pelham’s environmental protection bylaw, the development of the Thursday night parking plan and a Supper Market, and confirming the business case for a new Pelham Community Centre.)
JM: Consensus building instead of confrontation.

If you were giving people a tour of your town, what places would you be sure to stop at?

AJ: The Marshville Village, The Gord Harry Trail, Reebs Bay and the Quarry, some of our sprawling farmland areas, both Long Beach and Chippawa Creek Campgrounds.
SE: I would show them Charles Daley Park, Ball’s Falls, Jordan Historical Museum of the Twenty, The Lincoln Archives, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Along the way they would see our vineyards and wineries and at lunchtime they would draw a name and choose our destination for later in the day because there are so many wonderful choices for local food.
FC: Niagara College, Recreational Canal (WIFC, Merritt Island etc.), new GE construction site, Civic Square and Library, diverse neighbourhoods.
DA: There are so many great places in Pelham that showcase our community! Some of the top include: the Comfort Maple; Peace Park and the Bandshell; Old Pelham Town Hall and the newly restored WW1 Cenotaph & Mortar; the Lathrop Nature Reserve; Downtown Fonthill, Ridgeville, and Fenwick; the Niagara Central Airport; the view from Lookout Point Country Club; and Shorthill Provincial Park.
JM: The waterfront including Nickel Beach, Sugarloaf Marina; parks – including the Museum; and commercial areas, especially Main and West Streets.

What is your vision for your town over the short, medium and long term?

AJ: Short term – complete strategic plan and work on existing policies. Medium term – begin to implement recommendations from existing and new guiding documents with a focus on economic development and Long term – sustainability with a focus on agriculture, agri-tourism and passive recreation.
SE: In the short term we will develop an economic development plan that is agricultural based. Innovation and research will drive the education and skill development of our youth and the jobs to support the farms of the future  in food and plant science will create a growing environment for small manufacturing.
In the longer term Lincoln will grow the clusters in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors to ensure that we maintain a high production high value economy on the limited land that is available to us.  We will work with many partners in applied science to ensure our youth have the greatest opportunity to achieve their hopes and dreams.
FC: Rebrand the City, convert surplus land to tax paying properties through strategic sales, continued use of CIP’s and other incentives to attract more businesses and development, strategic development and use of Recreational Canal and Canal Lands. Improving and creating public spaces to improve lifestyle and satisfaction, stabilize tax rates and ensure sustainability of municipal facilities.
DA: My vision continues to include appropriate and affordable parks and recreational facilities, vibrant and livable downtowns, safe and walkable neighbourhoods, lively cultural and artistic activities, enhanced opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses to thrive, improvements to our quality of life, prosperous agricultural enterprises that complement our refreshingly natural and rural character, becoming a more environmentally friendly and sustainable community through Regional transit links and renewable energy options, and maintaining Pelham’s friendly, small-town feel as we continue to grow and prosper.
JM: Short term – address the day-to-day municipal problems and concerns to the satisfaction of our residents.
Medium term – build on the success of the community including the Vale Health & Wellness Centre, our trail system and commercial/residential development.
Long term – reduce the municipal debt load while maintaining/expanding the amenities of our community.

What are some of the benefits of being a small town?

AJ: Camaraderie and trust amongst residents and neighbours that you don’t really see in larger municipalities. Feeling safe.  Schools where the faculty know all the children and their families. Programs geared toward all residents because council and staff understand the dynamics within the Township.
SE: Lincoln is not a small town. Both geographically/physically, investment in business and from the perspective of economic potential we are serious contenders in the floriculture, horticulture, research, vineyard and wine production. We have valuable poultry and cash crop commodities and all of these add up to billions in our contribution to the national GDP. Our very special gift is that we are made up of small communities and towns; villages and hamlets and each contributes their special cultural identity to the broader Town of Lincoln and I would say to the entire Region of Niagara.
FC: Ability to be nimble and react to opportunity. Great lifestyle and unique neighbourhoods, strong “hometown” atmosphere.
DA: There are many benefits for living and working in a small town like Pelham: people greet you on the street and easily converse with you; you easily know your neighbours; dedicated volunteers organize all of the significant community events – like Fonthill Bandshell, Lions Carnival, Art Show, Homeshow, Summerfest – and help to beautify the Town and plan for our future; and our dedicated part-time, professional fire fighters keep us safe.
JM: The pace of life is slower and less stressful. People are generally warm and friendly.

What is the most useful piece of criticism you received as Mayor of Wainfleet and how has that changed you?

AJ: To stay focused on the core services a municipality provides. It has changed the way I look at service delivery in general and what lines of business we should be in both at the Township and the Region. >>
SE: I consider it a criticism that citizens are not saying much negative. We all rely heavily on the feedback of our neighbours to ensure we are on the right track and this is never more important than with local government.
DA: Early in my service as Mayor, I remember proposing a motion to Pelham Council on a matter that I had thought that I fully researched and thought-out. I thought it would be natural for Council to unanimously accept it – because it seemed to make so much sense to me at the time. Council didn’t see it that way, and instead threw out my proposed solution. That incident helped me learn that no one person has all the answers and that we must all work together to improve our community.
JM: Slow down and relax more. This approach continues to be a challenge.

At the end of this term, what mark would you hope to have made as Mayor?

AJ: I know not everyone agrees with decisions we’ve made as a council and we admittedly have made mistakes along the way, but I hope to be remembered when years from now people are reminiscing about the past as a mayor who really cared about the municipality and fought for what was best for constituents.
SE: That there has been progress made on each strategic priority as these were defined from public opinion. We have encouraged citizens to be watchful of the environment and this includes being watchful of bullying and harrassment wherever they find themselves including government, schools, and the protection of families and children in their homes. That there be an increased understanding of an appreciation of the real poverty in our community and that we have contributed what we can to make Lincoln a kinder gentler place to live.  Most important that all children have an increased appreciation for a good education. That there be a proportional correction amongst sport, recreation and culture priorities.
FC: Create optimism based on actions taken to turn the local economy in a positive, results based way. The optimism created with the community as well as amongst potential investors.
DA: By the end of this term, I hope people feel that Council and I have worked together with them to renew and revitalize our community. Specifically, we have completed the revitalization of Downtown Fenwick, are close to completing the renewal of the Maple Arce Library, and should be just opening the new Pelham Community Centre among new development in Fonthill.
JM: The community continues to move forward in a positive manner.

Why did you want to become a politician?

AJ: Because I like to help people and I felt like I could make a difference.
SE: I wanted to be the Mayor of Lincoln and a leader in my own town. Women in my family live to 100 and more years. With that kind of legacy I have a few examples already set that instruct me not to squander my  talents, education, skills all of which will add momentum to the true hope I have for Lincoln.
FC: Strong desire to help shape a positive future for Welland, the community I was born and raised in. I love this community, and proud of it and want to see it prosper.
DA: I am humbled to have been encouraged by many people to run for Mayor initially and to continue to serve. I was elected to work together with the community to improve Pelham and move the community forward.
JM: The desire to make things better. I didn’t come to be a politician by design.
What do you do to get out of “Mayor Mode” (sports, hobbies, etc.)?
AJ: Kayaking and Golf.
SE: Being Mayor is my mode. What could be more interesting and satisfying. I meet interesting people from Lincoln and all over Niagara and beyond. They are interested in what we are doing here in Lincoln. There is so much to learn. Lincoln is represented by a committed group of Councillors  and we have a responsive senior staff. I am very proud to serve the people in Lincoln and in Niagara.
FC: Enjoy my family.
DA: When not “being” the Mayor, I enjoy walking and cycling, unwinding at a cottage, and building projects at home (like the pergola I made last year).
JM: One never gets out of “Mayor Mode” but I enjoy sailing, the beach, grandchildren.

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

AJ: The Four Agreements
SE: I read fiction for relief from all other important periodicals and policy documents.
FC: The Flashman Papers by George MacDonald Fraser.
DA: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson.
JM: Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world: pick three cities that you have to visit.

AJ: Milos, Dubrovnik, and Venice.
SE: Rome, City of Lincoln, Strassburg
FC: Rome, Barcelona & Sydney.
DA: Paris, Sydney, Amsterdam.
JM: Moscow, Beijing, Reykjavik.

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie or Netflix obsession?

AJ: I have so many favourite movies and I don’t watch Netflix so I would have to say that I thoroughly enjoy watching reruns of Modern Family when I have time.
SE: My favourite movie is The Secret Garden. It is a story of adversity, behaviour modification, teamwork and collective success.
FC: Cat Ballou.
DA: Chariots of Fire is one of my favourite movies.
JM: I rarely watch TV but Murdoch Mysteries comes to mind.

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