Woodstock’s new mayor ready for the challenge

Woodstock's newly elected mayor, Trina Milbury Jones, understands the challenges which await her, the town staff and its new council as they usher in a new era of municipal reform and an expanded Woodstock.

Jones believes they'll all be up to the task, but she wants council ready to hit the ground running when it officially takes office in January. She plans to "craft an onboarding plan" over the next two weeks to prepare council members for what awaits them.

Jones, after just under two years on council, opted to seek the mayor's chair in the Nov. 28 election, defeating long-serving incumbent Mayor Arthur Slipp 1,250 votes to 981.

In making her decision to run against the popular incumbent, Jones said she entered the race prepared for any result.

"Whichever way it went, I was okay with it," she said.

Jones said she chose to run on her vision, not against the former mayor.

"It was nothing against Arthur or his past performance. It is simply that I see some different ways of doing things, and I'll draw on my experience to see those things through and make them happen."

As mayor, Jones wants to see improved communication between staff and council and a better flow of information to give council members what they need to make better decisions.

To that end, she welcomed the recent hiring of Laura Gaddas as town clerk, filling a vacancy in the administration staff.

Jones said she is excited to work with CAO Andrew Garnett on these issues, noting Woodstock is fortunate to have a talented staff.

The new mayor believes staff need measurable objectives and a plan to reach them.

"Every department needs clear strategic goals," she said.

Jones also wants to revamp the town's committee systems, starting with the PAC, the planning advisory committee.

Jones cited the PAC as a priority, noting it needs "a clear process defined" on how it makes decisions surrounding town rezoning and planning.

"That is going to come up really quickly," she said, noting council is supposed to review PAC every January, but that has not taken place.

In addition to adding PAC members from the new areas of Woodstock, Jones plans to seek applications, including from existing committee members, from which council can make its PAC appointments.

Even with significant changes to the logistics, Woodstock's new council faces several unknowns as it takes office in January.

Jones said the division of powers with the regional service commission remains to be seen as they develop and shape the process.

Jones cited that the current and incoming council have yet to see the town's 2023 budget, created and approved by the province. She said CAO Garnett and Director of Finance Kristen Pelkey, who played a role in developing it, hope to see the final document this week.

While a small window of opportunity exists for some changes in January, it's unlikely considering the new council's unfamiliarity with municipal finances.

Jones said Woodstock council would use the 2023 budget as a learning experience as they prepare the 2024 budget for the expanded municipality.

"The first year is out of our control," Jones said.

She said even the revenue picture, including tax revenue and provincial transfers, must be clarified. The province provides financial support during the first year to help municipalities meet reform costs, but that number will decline in subsequent years.

Jones said the province still needs to finalize a new transfer formula and the division of tax revenue or services.

Despite the unknowns and known challenges awaiting the incoming council, Jones expressed confidence in those joining her around the council table.

Jones sat on council with three of the four members of Ward 4, representing the Woodstock town limits. Councillors Jeff Bradbury, now council's senior member, Mark Rogers and Norm Brown won re-election. Christa McCartney will join them.

Other council seats will include Mike Martin in Ward 1, Will Belyea in Ward 2, Julie Calhoun-Williams in Ward 3 and Lorne Leech in Ward 5.

While the eight-member council contains five rookies, Jones said she knows the newcomers and believes they will do an excellent job for the municipality. Still, she said, they need to expect a huge learning curve.

"They'll need a lot of coaching," Jones acknowledged.

Jones said council members would choose the deputy mayor, who will have big shoes to fill after current Deputy Mayor Amy Anderson decided not to reoffer.

The new mayor plans to make it clear the role of deputy mayor is more than just a title, noting it involves an extra workload and the ability to step in for the mayor at any time.

"I'm a huge proponent in succession planning," Jones said.

The town will hold a swearing-in ceremony for incoming councillors and a farewell for the outgoing mayor and council members sometime in December but has yet to clarify a final date.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun