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Election could bring shake up to Grey County council

'Council has to start giving direction to staff. Take the reins and provide direction,' says outgoing mayor and county councillor Alar Soever
grey county chambers
There could be many new faces in the Grey County council chambers this fall.

Depending on the decision of voters in local elections, Grey County council may see a major shake-up after all the votes are counted on October 24.

As many as 15 of the 18 members of county council could be new faces after the municipal election on Oct. 24. County council is made up of the mayors and deputy mayors of its nine member municipalities (also called “lower tier”) – Chatsworth Georgian Bluffs, Grey Highlands, Hanover, Meaford, Owen Sound, Southgate, The Blue Mountains, and West Grey.

Three members of the new county council to be sworn in this fall have been acclaimed. The Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon and Meaford Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney are incumbents who will return to the new council. Georgian Bluffs will have a new Deputy Mayor with Grant Pringle facing no election for the position.

In 2022, Grey County had a total operating and capital budget of $186.6 million. The county’s total property tax levy was $65.4 million. The county is responsible for such services as roads, planning social services (Ontario Works and childcare), affordable housing, long-term care, paramedic services and economic development, tourism and culture.

Grey County owns and operates the Grey Roots Museum and archives, three long-term care homes in Owen Sound, Markdale and Durham, and maintains 997 units of affordable housing and supports the operation of an additional 500+ units of non-profit housing.

Two retiring members of the current county council spoke to CollingwoodToday about their experiences over the past four years serving as a member of the upper-tier council.

The Blue Mountains Mayor Alar Soever expressed frustrations about his experience serving as a member of county council.

“I’m disappointed in the lack of leadership this council showed at the county level and the lack of diligence shown on a number of issues. A lot of things just go through the consent agenda,” he said, noting that, in The Blue Mountains, council spends four days on budget deliberations. At Grey County, the budget meeting took four hours.

Soever pointed to the dual roles county councillors play as mayors and deputy mayors as a potential cause for the issues he observed at the county level and said, to him, it often felt like county matters were playing “second fiddle” to local matters.

“There needs to be oversight and direction provided to staff, and council seemed reluctant to do that and I think that’s due to the dual roles. That’s why I was a bit frustrated,” he said. “I hope that the new people do consider it a full-time job.”

When asked what advice he would give to incoming county councillors, Soever didn’t hesitate.

“Council has to start giving direction to staff. Take the reins and provide direction,” he said.

Outgoing Grey Highlands Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai enjoyed his time on county council, although he noted that it was not always a smooth ride during the past four years.

“It has been an honour to be able to serve on county council. I have thoroughly enjoyed the debate at that level and I have had the opportunity to form some close friendships and have had the benefit of some terrific mentors,” he said. “We have had to make some tough decisions at the county regarding a few key issues. Unfortunately, these decisions served to cause a rift in council and the rift was quite visible for the duration of the term.”

Desai wished the next council success and urged new members elected this fall to do their best to stay united.

“My hope, for the next council, is that they are able to rise above such individual issues and I wish them all the successes they strive for,” he said. “At the end of the day, their success will be the success of Grey County and its lower tiers.”

The makeup of the new county council will be decided in the local election races for the mayor and deputy mayor positions.

In Chatsworth, incumbent mayor Scott Mackey faces a challenge from Kent Nuhn. Incumbent deputy mayor Brian Gamble is not running for reelection. Current township councillor Diana Rae and former deputy mayor Terry McKay are running for the deputy mayor’s seat.

In Georgian Bluffs, incumbent mayor and long-time county councillor Dwight Burley faces a challenge for the job from incumbent deputy mayor Sue Carleton. Whoever emerges victorious in this race could potentially join Bordignon and Keaveney as the only incumbent county councillors returning.

In Grey Highlands, incumbent mayor Paul McQueen is being challenged by councillor and former provincial Green Party candidate Danielle Valiquette and newcomer Don Alp. In the race for deputy mayor, Coun. Dane Nielsen is being challenged by Stephen Patrick Maloney and Melanie Seeley.

In Hanover, incumbent Mayor Sue Paterson is being challenged by Rob McKean and incumbent deputy mayor and current Grey County Warden Selwyn Hicks faces a challenge from Coun. Warren Dickert.

In Meaford, incumbent mayor Barb Clumpus is not running for reelection. Two members of council Ross Kentner and Paul Vickers are seeking the mayor’s chair with the victor joining Keaveney at county council.

In Owen Sound, incumbent mayor Ian Boddy is being challenged by coun. Richard Thomas and incumbent deputy mayor Brian O’Leary faces a challenge from coun. Scott Greig.

In Southgate, the retirement of mayor John Woodbury has resulted in a two-person race for the mayor’s chair. Current deputy mayor and former mayor Brian Milne is running against current coun. Michael Sherson for the position. Current coun. Barbara Dobreen is facing newcomer Doug MacDonald in the race for deputy mayor.

In The Blue Mountains, the retirement of Mayor Alar Soever has sparked a four-way race to join Bordignon at the county council table. Current councillor, Andrea Matrosovs, former councillor Joe Halos and newcomers Tony Poole and Elizabeth Marshall are all seeking the mayor’s chair.

In West Grey, there is a three-way race for mayor. Incumbent mayor Christine Robinson is being challenged by Coun. Stephen Townsend and former mayor and county warden Kevin Eccles. Incumbent deputy mayor Tom Hutchinson faces Butch Attersoll for the deputy mayor’s chair.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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