MORRISBURG – Standing a few feet from the wheels of municipal government, mayoral candidate Steven Byvelds says the municipality serves “an alternative to the current state of affairs.”
The 58-year-old farmer and former mayor held a news conference Monday afternoon outside the South Dundas Municipal Center to declare his run to head the municipal council. He read a five-minute prepared statement before taking questions from reporters for roughly half an hour.
Byvelds explained how the current council hasn’t moved South Dundas forward in a timely manner, and its indecisiveness “has cost this municipality money.” He also said openness and transparency has eroded over the last four years.
Byvelds says he keeps hearing the same refrain from voters – a lack of transparency and communication with the local government. “From what I’m hearing in the countryside, yes. It seems like things got done at times with too many meetings, sometimes no meetings. There was a claim during the election they were going to be more open, I don’t see that openness.”
“I’d be willing to go so far to figure out if we can webcam the council chambers and put them (the meetings) online. If people are interested, they’ll go for it and it does change the dynamics of council and that’s not a bad thing.”
He was asked by Brockville Newswatch about the apparent high turnover of senior staff. During this term of council, South Dundas parted ways with Fire Chief Chris McDonough, CAO Stephen McDonald and Public Works Director Chris Bazinet. Economic Development Officer (EDO) Nicole Sullivan resigned in April 2015 to take a job in Ottawa.
“With the turnover we’ve had in South Dundas, you could see one or two going…but there’s been a good handful of people and experienced people. I believe it’s probably been detrimental. The ones that are here have done a good job…but turnover like that causes upset within staff and within the community,” Byvelds told Brockville Newswatch.
With economic development, Byvelds said South Dundas has “progressed somewhat” and Rob Hunter was a “good catch” as EDO for South Dundas but with Hunter “he’s exclaimed some frustration on having to work with council that has no vision or wants to look at the big picture.”
Byvelds says any development takes time, such as the Dutch Meadows subdivision for Morrisburg, but there’s a “stalled” development in the Campbell Street business park and areas that have had little development like Williamsburg and Dunbar. He praised the work in Brinston and the Iroquois waterfront. Morrisburg waterfront “has some work to be done.”
While he agrees in principle with the agreement to take over Lakeshore Drive (formerly County Road 4) from the United Counties, he would have liked to have seen a better deal for ongoing maintenance and a better guarantee on any culvert failures. “It’s a nice road now just some of the long term challenges (that) may or may not happen. Overall, I think it was the right thing to do.”
While having no specific infrastructure priorities, Byvelds says there are issues, such as water and sewer in Iroquois and Morrisburg and landfills, that have been “pushed under the rug” by the current council.
As for what makes him mayor material in 2018 compared to his time in 2014, Byvelds says one of his previous faults was probably not taking time to listen enough to the people – something that came through to him during his quest for his 25 nomination endorsements.
“At that time, I wasn’t probably listening as well as I needed to. I focused too much on getting things done and without maybe doing some due respect on things that needed to be heard,” he said. Byvelds says some of the change has to come from him.
“I’m not going sit here and say I was perfect four years ago. Times have changed. I’ve mellowed out a bit. Things have changed in my life that makes things probably a little easier for me. As you get older you get a little more perspective on how things need to be done.”
He also sees himself tapped into rural South Dundas, being born and raised in Williamsburg. While living in rural Iroquois, he spends a majority of his time on the road between the two rural areas. “That drive alone at least gets me to see a lot of South Dundas. I’ve seen a lot of country. I think that gives you a different perspective of what going on out there.”
Speaking about his current challengers for mayor, Byvelds said incumbent Evonne Delegarde is “a very nice person, there’s no doubt about it. She works well.” But the governance issue “has been a challenge for her.” As for Coun. Marc St. Pierre, “he claims he has leadership skills” but questions why St. Pierre he couldn’t convince people to his side on an issue where he was standing firm.
Byvelds says he “would have considered deputy mayor position at one time” but decided for the top job as he saw a “potential person to do a good job in South Dundas in that position so I didn’t want to take that opportunity away. I know that sounds like an endorsement but it’s the honest truth. We need good people on council.”
“The people of South Dundas will have to really do a good job this fall on choosing a council that will do what we need to do in South Dundas in a timely and effective manner.”
Nominations are open until July 27 at 2 p.m. The municipal election is Oct. 22.