Council has a steep learning curve

Section: 
News

Among the nine members of Kincardine council, Mike Leggett might be the quietest, but that’s not because he has nothing to say.

“I only speak when there’s something that needs to be said,” said Leggett, sitting in the council office following a December meeting.

December marked the two-year anniversary of Kincardine’s current council. As the first group with a four-year term, council has reached the halfway point of its mandate. Leggett, a first time councillor, says the last 24 months have been a learning curve for everyone around the table.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he admits. “There was the idea that I can do a bunch of things to make the community better and help people out. The problem is, you’re only one person. You have to do your research and actually work behind the scenes to make things come to fruition. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s a lot of hard work.”

As a life-long resident of the community, Leggett says he became concerned with some of the stories he’d heard from people working with the municipality. Rather than complain from the outside-looking-in, Leggett threw his name in the hat and entered the election race.

Earning a seat around the table, he threw himself into committee meetings and the regular duties of being a councillor. As a small business owner and young father, he had the flexibility needed to make it to most of his meetings, but the time requirements of his new job have taken some getting used to.

“It’s not a surprise that a lot of retired people run for council,” Leggett said. “A lot of people don’t have flexibility and have to work eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.”

In addition to being a rookie, Leggett is also the junior member of council. He said many of the decisions being made today are geared towards the younger generation of residents. Understanding the time commitment, he said it’d be nice to see some younger faces enter the political fray.

“There’s nothing wrong with the people on council, but it’s the generation that is going to be here for the next 20 years (that should be represented), it’d be nice to have these people,” he said. “It’d be nice to see some young people, get some fresh ideas and opinions.”

The current council had a rough start to its mandate, and personal conflicts and rumours of hostility and in-fighting have followed the group through the months. Leggett said councillors are getting along, but with strong opinions from all sides, there are bound to be disagreements.

Adjusting to life as one voice of nine has been a transition for Leggett. Each councillor has opinions on where the municipality should go, and creating consensus has been difficult at times. Despite this, Leggett said council has had a number of successes.

“Slowly, we’re getting things accomplished. It’s a struggle,” he said. “Everyone wants to be right and everyone wants the right answer to be their idea. Al you can do is try and talk people into your opinion.”

Among the things he’s most proud of, Leggett mentions the progress made with the restoration of the medical clinic. As a volunteer firefighter, he says he’d like to see the municipality’s fire training centre completed.

Leggett also wants to focus his energy on Kincardine’s economic future. During the second half of his term, he wants to see the Highway 21 business park completed and hopes Kincardine can free up land for small industry and local commercial opportunities.

“The (right thing) is to do what the people want. You’re not here for your own (benefit),” he said.

Most municipal councillors are well-connected with the people they serve. Phone calls, inquiries and coffee shop discussions are a key part of representing the municipality. Leggett said most of his conversations involve informing the public about what’s really going on with a certain project or proposal.

“I’ve been getting mostly positive feedback from people. They just want to know what’s going on,” he said. “There can be so many rumours that go around that once it gets to a person, they might have no idea what’s really going on.”

Leggett has come to expect the bad comments with the good. He said it takes broad shoulders to operate in the public spotlight. Regardless of the decisions he makes, not everyone will be satisfied. Research, collecting information and listening to people is the best way to come up with a good decision, he said.

“You’re never going to make the right decision. I’m making the best decision I can with the material that’s given to me and the opinions I’ve collected,” he said. “You take a lot of flack, but you make decisions based on the people that show up at meetings, the squeaky wheel will get the grease.”

With the next election barely on the horizon, and plenty of issues to tackle in the meantime, Leggett said he hasn’t really considered his future. He said he’d run again, assuming his family is supportive, but won’t make a decision on that until a later date.

With two years left, Leggett said he’s looking forward to working with staff and council to try and make Kincardine better for the people he represents.

“It’s been a pretty good (experience),” he said. “You’re never accomplishing something by yourself, it’s always with another councillor or staff and that’s how you’re supposed to do things.”