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SERIES: Fallis urges flexibility, hopes for 'meaningful change'

'This pandemic could very well be our opportunity as a society to start anew on the environmental front,' said first-term Ward 3 councillor
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City councilor Jay Fallis, left, chats with city staffer Ray Merkley during budget deliberations in 2019. Fallis is in his first term as a city councillor. Dave Dawson/OrilliaMatters File Photo

This is the sixth in a nine-part series in which OrilliaMatters asked city councillors to reflect on the first half of their mandate, look ahead to the second half and let citizens know if they intend to see re-election.

Today, we provide the answers from Ward 3 Councillor Jay Fallis.

Question 1. What are you most proud of, personally as a councillor, that you/council have been able to accomplish in the first half of your mandate?  

As an individual Councillor, I am very proud of some of my smallest accomplishments. These are issues that I was personally able to help a constituent with, and present their concern to the city staff. This includes everyday changes like ensuring: a pot-hole gets fixed, a dangerous tree branch is removed from a park walkway, and a sidewalk with holes gets patched. These small changes remind me that I am making a positive difference.

As a Council, our work on affordable housing has been promising. The finishing touches are still being completed on incentives to alleviate costs for non-profit affordable housing projects. This is complimented with an Affordable Housing Reserve already totalling $120,000.

Additionally, with projects such as Building Hope, the County’s ODCVI property, 64-74 Elgin and now potentially a small portion of the YMCA, our city has a real opportunity to create meaningful affordable housing for many Orillians

Question 2. What is your biggest disappointment as it relates to a council decision/direction or issue?

Permitting eight storeys at the waterfront. While we still have yet to make a decision on who is going to develop beside the Metro grocery store downtown and what it might look like, I was extremely disappointed that Council permitted up to eight storeys being built at the waterfront.

While I am open to height in certain places and supporting some reasonable downtown build-up, my opinion is that an eight-storey tower or towers at the waterfront would change the complexion of Orillia. This change would lead us to lose our small-town community feel and move us towards becoming a large city.

Question 3. Nobody saw the pandemic coming. Specifically, as a councillor, what is the biggest challenge the pandemic has created and how have you tried to tackle that challenge?

Personally, I have not been challenged to the same extent as those on the Emergency Management Team (made up of the Mayor, certain Senior City staff). As it pertains to the City’s COVID emergency response, they have been primarily the ones who have been working diligently, and deserve a lot of the credit for the city’s efforts.

As for me personally, I’ve had to make some changes in how I do things. Outreach and communication with my constituents and city staff is now done almost entirely on-line or by phone.

As a Councillor, we attend a lot of events and committee meetings, so moving to Zoom/GoToMeeting/Microsoft Teams Meeting/Webex/Facetime has become the norm. I’ve attended a lot of unique events recently from several virtual AGMs to even a local virtual beer tasting!

Question 4. As a result of the pandemic, many citizens are worried about the future and think council should have halted everything (ie. waterfront plan, Centennial Drive project etc.) to save money. What do you say to those people and what is your view of the future of the municipality amid the reality of a pandemic? 

There are certainly many possibilities that we have to keep ourselves open to in this very uncertain time as things change so rapidly. So far we have been fortunate, that the impacts of COVID on our municipality, while severe, have not been felt to the same extent that they have been felt elsewhere. Thus, drastic moves have not been pursued to the same degree that they could have been.

As we continue to get a full understanding of the second wave and how we handle it, it is important that the city looks to find ways to protect all citizens and support frontline workers in various and creative ways. It is also essential that citizens keep up the hard work of social distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home when they can. Even though it is tough to see sometimes, those actions pay off in a big way for everyone.

Question 5. The recent discussion about the waterfront plan spawned a lot of debate and, despite your efforts, many seem to think there wasn’t enough public input. Are you doing enough as a council to be transparent, to encourage public input and to listen? How so? How could that be improved during the second half of your mandate?

As hard as we try as Council to make ourselves available to public input there are always ways to improve. In the first half of my term, I was fortunate enough to participate in a Ward meeting for Ward 3, and a Georgian College Council meet and greet for students. I’ve also done my best to do some neighbourhood walks as well as phone calls (during COVID) to constituents.

Additionally, there are always opportunities for the public to have their say at Council Meetings, Committee meetings and in most master plans the city does.

Going forward I hope to continue to participate in ward meetings (maybe in a virtual format) and look for other creative opportunities to hear what people have to say.

For any of those wanting to contact me about any issue, feel free to reach out: jfallis@orillia.ca or 1-705-279-3249.

Question 6. What is the biggest challenge council faces in the second half of its mandate (ie. Staff retirements, promised tax freeze, capacity) and what are your top priorities?

The biggest challenge that we face going forward would of course be the COVID-19 response. All of this is unchartered territory, so budget considerations, restrictive measures, reopening strategies, all of it, means that we need to be flexible as a council. We need to use our best judgement while always keeping in mind the health and safety of our community.

As the end of the pandemic becomes clearer, I will be actively advocating for a rebuild of community and economy that takes into consideration our environment. This pandemic could very well be our opportunity as a society to start anew on the environmental front and work towards more meaningful change.

Question 7: Lastly, do you intend to seek re-election? Why or why not?

I’ve had a really wonderful experience so far. It’s not always been easy. There have been some tough days here and there. But overall the experience has been a positive one, I’ve learned a lot, and had the opportunity to give back to the community that I love.

As of right now, I am certainly planning on running again.