There was plenty of optimism and many beaming smiles in the opera house at Meaford Hall on Monday as the new council was formally sworn into office. Which is how it should be, but now the party is over, and the real work begins.
The inaugural meeting of council isn't your typical council meeting, of course, as no real work is done aside from the official installation of the new council, and the gallery full of people looking on were largely family, friends, and campaign helpers, a much friendlier audience than is sometimes found when a crowd turns out to a regular council meeting.
This first meeting of the newly elected council provided an opportunity to thank supporters and to offer a look toward the future, possibly through slightly rose-coloured glasses, but given the abuse this collection of seven individuals will endure over the next four years, I think they deserve to start things off on a positive note.
What is sometimes forgotten about elected officials is that prior to their first being elected they were everyday citizens like the rest of us. But somehow, once elected, some of us see them as something a little less than human – they're politicians after all, so they can be harshly criticized if not berated by the folks that foot the bills.
While there is no doubt that from time to time a council is more than deserving of criticism, our councillors aren't our enemies, they are our elected representatives, and they take that role seriously, even when they make what others consider poor decisions.
Our new council, elected by us, will work untold hours, and attend hundreds of meetings and events over the next four years, and in exchange we will pay them very little, and they will hear mostly complaints.
Speaking of what we pay our councillors, I saw a comment on social media this week asking how many of our councillors are on the 'Sunshine List', and I can assure you, none of them even come close to the $100,000 threshold to make the list. Regular councillors earn just a little more than $20,000 per year, and even the mayor earns less than $30,000 (though she does earn additional income for serving on county council). So no, none of our councillors are enriching themselves at our expense, and in fact with what little they are paid, it is perhaps surprising that so many candidates line up for an opportunity every four years. But they do, and for most of them, they do so because they love their community and they feel that they can contribute to it in a positive way by representing our interests at council.
The incumbents are already well aware of what they are in for, but there are two rookies on this new council, and they will quickly learn to treasure the big smiles and positivity they saw at the inaugural meeting, but like all those that came before them, they will develop a thick skin, and endure.
Not that there aren't rewards to be found as a member of council, there certainly are. Councils often do extremely positive things, but sadly, the general public tends to focus on the issues that are bothering them, not the issues they don't have because of decisions of council.
Growth appears to be knocking on the doorstep of this municipality. The past two years have been record years for building permits in Meaford, and many are forecasting significantly more growth, so in addition to further attempting to tackle the massive infrastructure funding deficit (the biggest challenge for virtually every municipality in the province), this new council will also have to ensure that they manage new growth responsibly. And there will no doubt be many challenges along the way, but the rest of us don't want to do it, so we have elected you, members of council, to represent us, to be our voice at council.
I have written many times that I don't envy councillors; they often find themselves in hopeless positions knowing full well that they can't possibly make everyone happy, so all they can do is what they think is best and then brace themselves for angry email messages and phone calls.
That said, they all volunteered, and they all seem to be intelligent, thoughtful people, so they do know full well what they are getting into.
We will no doubt hear a lot about roads and bridges in the years to come, and we will be hearing a lot about potential new developments – there will be many important decisions to be made by this council, and I truly wish this council the best in their endeavours as the responsibility is huge, and the accolades are few.