Amaranth Dufferin News Municipal Politics

Township of Amaranth Council Vacancy Filled!

Vacancy filled: The Township of Amaranth Gets A New Councillor

“This council, to be put it mildly, has been a contentious council which is why we have an opening for councillor at this point in time. We have had some major challenges, such as budget, among other things. What would you bring to this council that would be a positive influence?”

This is the question directed to all of the candidates interested in filling the Township of Amaranth’s council vacancy.

On January 26th, 2021, the Township of Amaranth’s council held a special meeting to determine who they would appoint to fill the council vacancy. There were five applicants; Todd Whittington, Susan Graham, Percy Way, Cindy Baigent, and Steve Niedzwiecki. According to CAO Nicole Martin, all nominees signed in writing that they were legally qualified to hold office and consented to accept if appointed to the council vacancy.

Candidates had ten minutes to address council, with the order of speaking determined through a random draw. Each council member was permitted to make two inquiries of each contestant, with a response time of two minutes given to the candidates.

Contestants had the option to attend the meeting virtually or in-person. Four out of the five applicants were able to be on-site for the proceedings. For those at the township building, each candidate waited in their vehicles when not addressing council due to safety requirements related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This also reduced the ability for candidates to hear each other’s responses to the inquiries made by council. Nominees submitted a personal statement of qualification for consideration of council, which can be found here in the agenda for the council meeting.

Mayor Bob Currie recited the order of proceedings for the ranked ballot voting system used by council members to make the final decision. The higher a candidate is placed in the rankings, the more points they would get. Whichever contestant receives the most points would be appointed as councillor for the remainder of the term.

“Your first choice will receive four points. The second choice will receive three points. The third choice will receive two points, and the fourth choice will receive one point, and fifth choice will get no points.”

Todd Whittington was the first candidate to address council. Accepting the option to attend via Zoom, Whittington expressed difficulties hearing council, as the township’s microphone had issues adequately detecting the voices of all of those in the council chambers.

Todd Whittington’s Address to Council w/ Questions from Councillors

In Todd Whittington’s speech to council, he expressed his excitement for the role and a long desire to get into politics, particularly at the municipal level.

“Politics in your local community. Politics surrounding your neighbours. Politics surrounding the impacts of your children growing up. There is no better place to be.”

Councillor Heather Foster performed the first inquiry, which turned out to be the only one directed to this applicant. This would be a regular theme throughout the proceedings. The question asked was the one posed at the beginning of this article.

In his answer, Todd Whittington cited his career as a corporate leader, strategic financial management abilities, and experience “brokering decisions at a council-level where there are disparate views.”

The second applicant to speak to council was Percy Way, a life-long resident of the township. Way was previously a member of Amaranth’s council for twelve years. He currently runs a car dealership and recycling business, operating on his property for over forty years.

Percy Way’s Address to Council w/ Questions from Councillors

When asked the question that all of the contestants received, Way asserted that the existing issues on council wouldn’t be an issue. He reiterated his experience on council and boards and how he’s “always managed to negotiate” through it.

Cindy Baigent was the third candidate in the process. Baigent stated how she was an administrative group leader and cost lead for her department at Honda. She mentioned her involvement in the community and having lived in a rural environment all of her life. Moreover, Cindy Baigent said she had taken the initiative to get the AMO course in preparation for the position.

Cindy Baigent’s Address to Council w/ Questions from Councillors

When responding to Foster’s query, Cindy Baigent declared that her conflict training obtained through her employment, listening skills, and having an unbiased view would support her in the role of councillor.

Amaranth’s Deputy Chris Gerrits commended Baigent for taking the AMO course and requested clarification on whether there was a budget-component to her role at Honda. Baigent confirmed that, as cost lead, she is in charge of managing expenses for her department. Gerrits called for additional details on this matter before moving on.

Mayor Currie asked Cindy Baigent, given that council regularly held meetings during the day, if this would create issues with her employment. Baigent affirmed that her job allowed for a flexible work schedule.

Susan Graham, who ran for councillor in the last municipal election, was the fourth applicant to participate in the proceedings. In her speech, Graham mentioned her past career in the legal field, working with severances and other real estate matters, as well as her experience managing the finances of her husband’s business. She also referenced her activism and participation in the community.

Susan Graham’s Address to Council w/ Questions from Councillors

Susan Graham received the same inquiry as all of the other contestants. The following response was what was able to be discerned from the audio recording.

“I think I am a very easygoing person, I listen to everyone, what they have to say. I have gone over the budget a few times. I have a few issues of course, who wouldn’t. I think it’s a new year, a new start. I think we can all… (inaudible) get along. I really do. I believe that.”

The final candidate to go before council was Steve Niedzwiecki, who, in his words, kept it “short and sweet.” Literally. In and out the door in less than three minutes.

Steve Niedzwiecki’s Address to Council w/ Questions from Councillors

In his address to council, Niedzwiecki expressed a desire to help out. He said he has been a resident of Amaranth for most of his life, as have his parents and grandparents.

In his written Personal Statement of Qualification, Niedzwiecki alludes to his deep ties in the community and mentions how he completed the Ecosystem Management Technician Program at Sir Sandford Fleming College. Niedzwiecki has owned and operated two businesses throughout his life, one being in the tourism industry. Furthermore, Niedzwiecki co-hosted “The Fish’n Canada” Television Show for the 2019 season, which appears on Global National.

Steve Niedzwiecki provided the following response to Councillor Foster’s question of what he would bring to council.

“Some cohesion hopefully. I know, from doing my own due diligence, that there is a rift right through the middle and I hope to be able to bridge that gap and move through some of the issues.”

After Niedzwiecki finished, council then proceeded to rank the applicants, followed by the clerk tallying the votes. Amaranth’s CAO Nicole Martin announced who had the most points.

Steve Niedzwiecki was the clear winner of the ranked vote, established in the first round.

“That did work very, very well,” said Councillor Foster.

The Township of Amaranth and its council experienced a number of issues in 2020, ranging from accusations of bullying, producing a toxic work environment, and hate speech. Furthermore, there was an investigation performed by the Integrity Commissioner that found evidence supporting allegations that Mayor Bob Currie had cultivated a poisonous work environment dominated by fear and intimidation. The cost of the investigation, borne by the township, was over $28,000. Amaranth’s council even had trouble agreeing on how to proceed with filling the vacant seat.

The council vacancy occurred after Mark Tijssen announced his intention to resign during the September 2nd, 2020 meeting of council, which became effective on September 17th. Tijssen alleged that there was a ‘sustained campaign of harassment’ against Mayor Bob Currie from other council members. At that same meeting, during a closed session of council that was eventually made open, Currie claimed that he would resign too. Furthermore, he claimed that he would never return while calling fellow council members ‘scumbags’ and ‘trash’, in addition to shouting “SHUT UP!” before leaving. Currie did not follow through on his threat, although some residents did urge the mayor to do so.

The next regular meeting of the council for the Township of Amaranth is scheduled for February 3rd, 2021, where Steve Niedzwiecki will be sworn in as council member.

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