Conception Bay South voters sent a strong message last week when they replaced the mayor and several councillors.
Mayor Woodrow French was surprised that fellow councillor Ken McDonald soundly defeated him by a 2:1 margin of the vote. Deputy Mayor John Hicks was also defeated, along with longtime councillor Sandra Baggs.
The mayor’s defeat confirmed that the voters were looking for change and more attention to the town and basic needs, which McDonald focused on in his campaign.
After his defeat, French talked about the money that he brought into the town in recent years, claiming it was a record amount. He said he had many accomplishments such as a new stadium, fire hall and town hall.
These successes touted by the mayor likely contribute to the reason voters decided that a change was needed.
The money the mayor referred to — cost-shared funding from two levels of government — has been flowing into the town for many years, long before his eight-year tenure. The funding has gone towards water and sewer, sewer treatment, paving and other infrastructure needs.
French boasted that we have a new stadium under construction and a fire hall and town hall to follow. These are much needed buildings for our town and we have the entire council and staff to thank for getting us the funding for these projects, all of which were on council’s radar for many years and before French’s tenure.
The need for a new stadium was identified more than 20 years ago. We will soon have a new stadium, thanks largely to lobbying started several years ago by a group of users and interested residents.
A new town hall has been in council’s plans for about 15 years. The town outgrew that little hall in Manuels many years ago and a new building will eliminate the need for rental space for some of the town’s departments.
The T’Railway redevelopment into a walking and bicycling trail has been on council’s radar since the late 1990s — and not since 2008, as recently claimed by the mayor in a radio interview. The council that finally completes the trail will be able to take some of the credit for the long-awaited project.
Residents are also waiting for some news on whether we will see any retail development at the Gateway project on Legion Road. It has been five years since the town parted ways with a private developer and proceeded to use millions in infrastructure money to service the area. There is still only one tenant and no indication of a new tenant in the near future.
During the election campaign, French talked about his business plan to help get money for the town. The plan was never released to the public, an indicator of how French and his council did not communicate with voters.
The electorate also likely realized that French loved the spotlight and the media, and took every chance he could to get in the news even if it had nothing to do with the town. Unfortunately, most of his constituents will likely remember him for his crusade for air passengers instead of town concerns.
C.B.S and other municipalities in the region enjoyed unprecedented growth in recent years, French led the team during this growth period that ensured that we have some new buildings, water and sewer services, increased enforcement, curbside recycling and increased fire protection.
But residents now want more openness at the town hall, attention to roads, sidewalks, recreation facilities and walking trails. Voters have put their faith in a new mayor and some new councillors to tackle these basic and other needs in our town.
Joan Butler is a lifelong resident of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.