By Chris Pickup
Inauguration of our new Haldimand council came and went last night, and if mayor Ken Hewitt’s vision prevails, with it went any hope for a new, more considered, direction.
Despite the election of three new councillors in wards one, two and three that indicated at least a slow down in the rate of ‘progress’ was warranted, Hewitt clearly stated he would continue what he began last term.
Leading the county comes with great responsibility, he said, citing his ‘greater humility’ since first being elected, continuing to be the ‘beacon’ for the county, and ‘leading from behind’.
A look backward at this point in time might be efficacious, especially in the wards where new councillors have been elected.
The rate of growth Hewitt spearheaded in the last four years resulted in chaos throughout the county, with staff having clearly lost control of contractors. The county failed to set reasonable priorities and tried to do too much at once, ignoring previous warnings from consultants contracted by the county itself.
No real reason has ever been given as to why the wild rush to do so much at once, except that Hewitt said he had been elected on a promise of moving the county forward.
Spiffy new downtown plans were implemented across the county and just as quickly fell apart as paving cracked, streetlights lost their banner poles, sidewalks heaved, or paving didn’t happen at all while contractors pursued other interests elsewhere. Clearly there was a major problem with the contracting process.
County roads grew potholes that quickly exploded into swathes of missing asphalt for much of last winter. Ward one was particularly badly hit with the amount of heavy truck traffic and oil tankers crisscrossing its roads.
Hewitt indicated it was taking time for the county to catch up with the backlog in repairs left by previous councils before the great man himself was elected … a reasonable assumption. However, unreasonably, gravel road conversion was accelerated further although the roads department obviously had too much on its plate already.
Caledonia residents were screaming for, and rationality indicated, a slow down in major housing development in the face of a downtown bridge that could barely handle its present traffic, speeding and bottlenecks forcing traffic onto roads leading through subdivisions crammed with children, or with no sidewalks, and schools that couldn’t handle the increase in population.
The county’s only answer so far? ‘Slow down’ signs, and they were provided at the insurance industry’s direction. Housing development continued full steam ahead.
Cayuga was horrified by the county’s plans for the courthouse grounds, log cabin and Haldimand county museum, as well as the library. Previous councillor Fred Morison, one of the architects of that disaster-in-the-making, paid for his bull-headedness with a heartfelt ouster from his constituents.
Yet Hewitt last night praised him as “a shining example of what everyone should aspire to”. No nod towards the reasons he was kicked out, the angst he caused in his community, nor any indication Hewitt himself might take a lesson from it.
Hewitt could have avoided much of the troubles of the last term by simply and honestly listening to residents of the county. Instead he chose to hold poorly advertised public meetings, ignored what residents had to say or was downright ignorant to them, and blithely went his own way, sure of his own righteousness.
It’s not easy for most to embrace change and progress has to be forced in order to move ahead, he likes to say. But progress is as progress does. Instead of listening to people’s concerns and actually working toward a solution, his habit is to treat people as though they were recalcitrant mules and beat them forward to his own drum.
People do want progress, and don’t mind change when it’s done right. They just don’t want it on any terms, and they would like to be consulted first.
Despite his own ego, Hewitt isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of municipal government. Financial expertise isn’t everything (and with financial staffer Karen General gone, we don’t know how long that will last anyway). People have to live here, and their concerns shouldn’t be ignored.
In addition, despite its vaunted expertise, the county lost control of several budgets. The Dunnville Farmers’ Market, the new Cayuga Library and the new administration building all came in millions over the original budgeted amounts because someone lost sight of the costs.
We now have three new councillors. Stew Patterson, John Metcalfe and Dan Lawrence all seem to be reasonable people in favour of progress, but at a measured cost. It’s time to put the reins on and allow things to balance out as we move forward.
And hold true consultation with the people who have put their faith in you. It’s no more than they deserve.