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Orillia's 'new' city council ready to get to work

'We will work together to make life better for those who we serve,' vowed Mayor Steve Clarke at inauguration ceremony

Orillia’s new city council, featuring seven returnees from the previous term, was officially sworn in Monday night as part of an inauguration ceremony at the Orillia City Centre.

Steve Clarke began his second term as the city’s mayor when he was officially invested with the chain of office by Justice Stacey Nichols of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Clarke, like each of the eight ward councillors who were successful in the October election, read a statement of declaration vowing to be honest and diligent in fulfilling his duties over the next four years.

The mayor encouraged his elected colleagues to remember why they sought office and urged them to work together as a team – through thick and thin.

“Some of the decisions we will face will have fairly obvious directions that will appear before us,” Clarke said in his introductory address. “Some decisions and issues are much more comprehensive and complex. It is at these points that we need to remind ourselves why we sought this position in the first place.

“If we are motivated for the right reasons and if we maintain integrity and if we are willing to make decisions with long-term benefits in mind … we will be able to sleep well at night,” said Clarke, who also stressed the importance of other team members: the city’s senior management and its front-line staff.

The mayor noted “people on strong teams remain committed to that team even when and after we disagree.” He said “disagreement can be healthy as long as it is handled respectfully.”

Clarke said the successful re-election of himself and all six councillors who sought a second term will allow council to complete some major projects. He said he looks forward to the opening of the new recreation centre, wants to see the Orillia Power/Hydro One deal consummated so “hundreds of wonderful jobs” can be created, noted “some major road reconstruction projects” are planned and is optimistic about the planned waterfront redevelopment.

But there are challenges ahead, he noted.

“We will also have to turn our minds to some of the challenges in our community such as a lack of affordable housing, low attendance rates at post-secondary educational institutions, the need to increase average income for individuals and families … and deal with challenges dealt to us from climate change.”

He believes council is up to the task.

“We will work together to make life better for those who we serve,” he vowed. “We will work together to make sure our city progresses, but not for progress sake. We will make sure that progress fits with or enhances the character that is Orillia and makes us unique – progress that improves the quality of life for all and making Orillia one of the best places to live work and play in all of Canada.”

Each city councillor thanked friends and family for their support and provided brief remarks that ranged from heart-rending to humourous.

New Ward 3 councillor Jay Fallis said his first foray into elected office will be governed by what he termed the Mariposa Doctrine – an idea inspired by Conan O’Brien’s speech to Dartmouth College in which the comedian outlined his own doctrine for success.

“The first principle (of the Mariposa Doctrine) is I am going to vote not on what is easiest politically, but what is truly best for this city,” vowed Fallis. “Second, I will be honest and fair no matter the situation and above all, I will make every effort to work with my opponents rather than finding faults. These are the principles I am going to adamantly uphold.”

The only other newcomer to council, Ward 1 Coun. David Campbell, chose not to write a prepared speech.

Campbell, speaking from the heart, recalled how the morning after the election, he “woke up and … turned to (his) wife, Nancy, (and said) ‘See you in four years.’” He also joked that his father used to tune in to televised coverage of city council meetings and likened it to the Gong Show.

Then he turned serious. “I want to make a difference. I love this city, for sure,” he said in a voice thick with emotion. “I give you my word: I will do my very best, I’ll always listen, I’ll work very hard. I really feel we have a great group and I look forward to working together with everyone and making Orillia an even better place to live.”

Coun. Tim Lauer, elected to his sixth term, said he felt council was given a gift.

“It’s a true gift to have an eight-year term,” said the Ward 4 councillor, referencing the stability and continuity of having seven of nine returnees for this four-year term. “It’s not often you get the opportunity to get that much time to complete the projects you’re working on.”

He also lauded the mayor for his leadership and for his role in the success of council. Lauer said the mayor, four years ago, at the start of the previous term of council, "talked about consensus, about being inclusive ... and you’ve lived up to your word and put a very positive face on the City of Orillia." 

Re-elected Ward 2 councillor Rob Kloostra also vowed to work hard and summed up the sentiment of his colleagues: "Let the work begin," he said.

OPP chaplain Gerry McMillan called on the community to support its municipal government and assist in its success. He also recognized the difficulty of being an elected official in a small town.

“The late U.S. president Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying ‘When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself, it could be worse, I could be a mayor,’” said McMillan to laughs.

He acknowledged council would face difficult decisions and prayed for their success.

Rama First Nation chief Rodney Noganosh and Severn Township Mayor Mike Burkett also offered remarks Monday night as did Doug Lewis (on behalf of MP Bruce Stanton) and Shawn Scott (on behalf of MPP Jill Dunlop and Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes).

Jane Sinclair, general manager of health and community services for the County of Simcoe, and Rose DiMarco, deputy interim commissioner of the OPP, also brought greetings from their organizations.

Former Orillia mayors Angelo Orsi and Ron Stevens and long-time Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board trustee Francis Smith were also among the several dozen in attendance.