Armstrong council byelection candidates prepare for vote

Four candidates competing to replace the late Ron (Sully) O'Sullivan answered questions on numerous topics at a public forum Thursday

Armstrong council candidates Gary Froats (from left)

Armstrong council candidates Gary Froats (from left)

It was formed in the phrase of a question, but former Armstrong Mayor Jerry Oglow was also offering a little advice.

Oglow was one of about 70 people who attended an all-candidate’s forum Thursday at the Armstrong Bible Chapel and gave the candidates – Gary Froats, Helen Jackson, Adrien Lemaire and Gil Melin – some background on the man they’re hoping to replace, the late Ron (Sully) O’Sullivan.

“One of the things Sully was famous for was being prepared,” said Oglow, who served numerous terms with O’Sullivan. “What did you do specifically for this job that you’re applying for to prepare yourself for what’s on the horizon for you?”

After each of the candidates gave an answer that featured their background and desire to learn, Oglow asked again about what they did to prepare for being a councillor.

“I have attended most of the (council) meetings after the summer,” said Melin, a Shepherd’s Hardware employee. “I learned quite a bit at the meetings and learned quite a bit about what we’ve talking about tonight at those meetings.”

Said Lemaire, a retired a teacher: “I have attended the meetings and spent a lot of time reading through the city’s website, the bylaws, and the official community plan, trying to figure things out so I have a sense of what kind of things are discussed.”

Jackson, retired, is a former councillor in Marathon, Ont., who said she “learned to be well prepared for meetings, read all the stuff sent to me and if I didn’t understand, phone and have it explained to me.”

“I have read all the bylaws, anything online, and all of the (news) papers,” she said. “I’m not unprepared.”

Froats, a retired businessman and former firefighter, was at a meeting in October.

“I have read the website, all the bylaws and the financial statements,” said Froats. “I know the city is in very good financial shape. I have read the (council) minutes.”

Oglow wished them well and said they are applying for a complex job with complex issues, and that was highlighted by the questions from the floor.

Questions included topics such as legal items, school closures, financial planning, recycling, backyard fires, the hiring of an economic development officer and the vision for the city’s library.

Patti Ferguson, the city’s retired chief administrative officer asked the candidates if they’d thought about the expectations put on them after they become a councillor.

“When four people phone you at home and scream at you because they’re upset about something, and you go to a council meeting, will you represent the four people who screamed at you or will you be able to keep the global picture in mind and the reason why you wanted to be in office, which I heard from each of you, is you want to represent the community?” asked Ferguson.

Froats used his insurance business background for his answer, saying as the middle man, he had to work to bring the insurance companies and upset clients together.

“My job (as councillor) would be to listen to the people and bring it forward,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have to look at the bigger picture. You’re representing the whole city. You can’t be knuckling under for one or two outspoken people.”

Jackson said in public office, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you have to listen to them.

“All you can do is let them burn themselves out, sit, and listen until they run out of steam,” she said. ‘‘If you do have an explanation for what upsets them, by all means educate them. If you don’t agree with them, I still think you have to listen to their point of view.”

Lemaire said you have to keep in mind people will complain and that it’s part of the job, but you have to listen to them and educate them.

“If you have some info they haven’t thought about, maybe talk to them about that first,” he said. “When it comes to council, you’re working for the greater good. You have to keep in perspective there is a large community. You have to think and see the big picture.”

Melin said – tongue firmly in cheek – he would “truly hope that never really happens that somebody phones you up.”

“What I found when I was out knocking doors is that a lot of people do have opinions and they will tell you that,” he said. “I heard some good stuff, got some good ideas and was impressed that people are really interested in what is going on in their community and they had something to say. If they phone me up and they’re angry, I’ll listen and determine what’s made them angry and do the best I can to help them with their problem.”

The byelection is slated for Saturday, Nov. 19.