Stepping aside

Shawn Hayward
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Five local mayors won't run again. Who will take their place?

The mayors of Clarenville, Port Blandford, Trinity Bay North, Sunnyside and Arnold's Cove don't plan to run in the September 24 municipal elections.

Mayor Fred Best of Clarenville is one of five mayors stepping down this year, at a time when many communities are struggling to fill seats on council

Mayor Fred Best of Clarenville told The Packet his plan is to leave municipal politics after the September election. Best has been mayor of Clarenville for 32 years, and on council for 40.

"I guess there comes a time when you just step aside," he says.

Best says the highlight of his time as mayor was watching the town grow in population and become a service centre for the region.

"The rapid growth of Clarenville in the past 20 or 25 years has been just phenomenal, he says. "And it's been good growth too. The service sector aspect of Clarenville has really blossomed."

The biggest challenge Clarenville will face in the coming years will be aging infrastructure, according to Best. He says a lot of the roads in town are getting old and need replacing.

"A lot of it was created back in the 60s and 70s," he says. "Marine Drive was paved back in the 70s or 60s, and was resurfaced 25 years ago. It's in bad shape, as is a lot of our roads. And on top of that we still have a number of gravel roads in town. Infrastructure is going to be a concern for the next number of years."

Best says he's enjoyed his time on council and he's confident Clarenville has a bright future ahead.

"We have some needs, but Clarenville is a lucky town too, how we have a lot of things here," he says. "And people enjoy living here. It's a great town. It's got a lot to offer, recreation wise and socially and everything else. And the volunteer spirit here is quite strong."

When asked about the struggle getting new people to run for council, Best says Clarenville's never had that problem in the past, and he doesn't think there will be any trouble filling the seats of council chambers in September.

Reginald Penney, the mayor of Port Blandford, says he plans to step aside in September, but added he could change his mind if not enough people run. Penney has been mayor for 28 years and on council for 32.

"I might change my mind, but as of now I won't run," he says.

Like Best, Penney says the highlight of his time as mayor was seeing his town grow in the number of homes and businesses there. The Terra Nova Golf Course was built during Penny's tenure, and Port Blandford has become a place to go for outdoor recreation and resorts.

"After 32 years, and some family commitments, health decisions, I'm thinking maybe it's time to step aside," he says. "The time that I spent serving on town council I found rewarding and satisfying."

Penney also thinks replacing aging infrastructure is going to be the main challenge for future town councils in his community.

He's not as optimistic as Best about getting people to run for council in September. If not enough people come forward, Penney says he may run again, but he'd rather retire.

"The bottom line is, most councilors are retirement age or near retirement age," he says. "It seems difficult to get younger people involved."

"It's going to be challenging times for most small towns, but it's got to be done if these communities are going to survive."

The Packet tried to contact Trinity Bay North mayor Brendan Peters for an interview but couldn't reach him as of deadline. Earlier last week the 71-year-old mayor told CBC News his name wouldn't be on a ballot in September.

"I've got a lot of years on council, and I'm not young anymore ... I don't want to die on the job," he said.

The mayor of Sunnyside, Robert Snook, will be stepping down after four years as mayor, and 10 years on town council.

"I think I've given my part right now, and I did serve a term separately several years ago," he says. "I think I've got my decision made unless something unforeseen happens."

In Snook's time as mayor Sunnyside paid down its debt and promoted a new subdivision, got the whole town hooked up the municipal water supply, and saw an overpass built to better connect their town to the Trans-Canada Highway.

The big dilemma for the future council will be compensating for loss of revenue caused by Sunnyside's landfill closing its doors to industrial waste, an activity that has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the community. The waste site loses its permit to accept industrial waste at the end of June.

"We're going to have to do things," he says. "The fact we've had growth is going to help, with new housing and people moving into the community. But that's a big loss of revenue for us. That's why we fought so hard to keep it."

Snook says he's unsure if there will be enough people running for Sunnyside council in September.

"I really don't know what's going to happen," he says. "Someone's got to do it. You don't get a lot of thanks. I've had a good run, I must say. I haven't had any major problems since I've been mayor. Everybody doesn't always agree with what you're doing but overall we've gotten a tremendous amount of support."

Tom Osbourne will join the line of mayors exiting municipal politics in September. The mayor of Arnold's Cove will end a 32-year stretch.

"I want to go out on a high note," he told the Packet. "I'd rather do it now rather than run the gamut and have it turn into a chore."

Osbourne says he thinks there are some people in town who have expressed an interest in running.

"There are a number of councillors running again and we are hearing there will be some new faces coming forward," he says.

While Arnold's Cove has had an influx of people come to the community because of nearby projects such as Hebron and Long Harbour, many other towns are aging rapidly and that's reflected in the age of the town councils. A 2011 survey by Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador found 40 per cent of councillors and mayors are over 55, and this year 55 per cent said they aren't running for reelection in September.

If there are as many or fewer candidates than seats on council, the town doesn't hold an election. Only half the communities in the province held an election in 2009 when the last round of municipal elections took place.

Twitter: @Shawn_M_Hayward

Organizations: Terra Nova Golf Course, CBC News, Trans-Canada Highway Sunnyside council Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Clarenville, Port Blandford, Marine Drive Sunnyside Trinity Bay North Hebron Long Harbour

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