One year later, speed of government biggest revelation for rookie Cornwall councillors

Coun. Carilyne Hebert, left, and Coun. Justin Towndale, right, during a Cornwall City Council meeting on Oct. 26, 2015. The two rookie councillors said the speed of municipal government has been one of the biggest surprises after spending one year in office. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Time flies but the wheels of government don’t turn nearly as fast for a couple rookie councillors finishing their first year of a four year mandate on Cornwall City Council.

Cornwall Newswatch spoke with Coun. Justin Towndale and Coun. Carilyne Hebert Monday night, on the eve of the one year anniversary of being elected to council.

“If I could use one word…quickly. It feels like yesterday that we were elected. You set out with certain things you want to accomplish and they take longer than it may seem,” Towndale said.

Towndale believes there’s a lot more work to do and there were a lot of unexpected surprises along the way which “threw us off balance,” such as the Vincent family ice rink and the Cadieux family worm debacle. Towndale said those situations were the biggest surprise during the last 12 months. “Those unforeseen events that crop up and then you see them have legs, those are surprises. I don’t think anybody expects those.”

“It’s been an interesting year, a trying year but, in some cases, a productive year as well.”

Towndale said he would have liked to accomplish more “but at the same time…it’s a four year term so that’s the way I look at it. What can we accomplish in a total of four years?”

The rookie councillor from Riverdale points to the soon-to-be released request for proposals (RFP) for an arts center, his dealings on the skateboard/BMX committee and the university project at the Nav Center as steps forward the city has made in the last 12 months. “I just shows you how long it takes to get going because some people who have been working on that (the university) are no longer around the (council) table.”

When asked is he’s a “crusader” parachuting into highly-visible, media intensive situations, Towndale accepts some of the criticism. “I think to a point, but the one thing is, as councillors we have to react to issues that come up in the community as well. These things crop up and we can’t ignore them. It can’t always be business as usual. It’s a situation, private or public, that will happen anywhere. Yes, it may have delayed some things or distracted from my attention but that’s just politics.”

Towndale doesn’t believe the saga around Brock Frost has derailed any work of the council. “One person around the table, there’s 11 people total who sit there. One person isn’t enough to derail the entire council,” Towndale said, mentioning meetings continued on a regular basis.

Learning curve for Hebert

Coun. Carilyne Hebert said the last year has been a big learning experience. “I feel, a year later, I’m just landing on my feet. I’m just figuring out my place within this municipality, within this governance model. You definitely need a good year under your belt before you know what you’re doing.”

Hebert admits, by the end of her term, she may not “know it all”.

She feels better prepared for year two. “I’m really excited for year two because I feel like I’m a hundred times better prepared to take on the challenges that will come our way.”

As a voice for the arts community, Hebert said it’s “incredible” a feasibility study will be ready by the new year. “Never did I imagine that just over a year after the beginning of my term that we’d have a model in place to start…our fund raising and grant writing…to the other levels of government.”

The new councillor is making a bold prediction. “I’m very confident by the end of my term we will have an arts center and to know that I’ve been part of that is incredible.”

Hebert also is on at least a half dozen city committees, including social housing and the environmental advisory committee.

Like Towndale, Hebert said she has learned the municipal process takes time. “Sometimes I feel thinks could be done a bit quicker but there is a process for a reason…there’s also a way to break process when you have to,” she said, suggesting the hiring of five firefighting positions was expedited.

“It can take six months to adopt something if we’re really looking for a lot of information when sometimes you think ‘Can’t we just vote on it today?’ but it doesn’t work that way.”

She feels the community may think there were a couple “PR disasters” but thinks the situations are amplified in a smaller city like Cornwall. “Things like this happen in other communities. It just goes unnoticed because they are much larger,” Hebert told Cornwall Newswatch.

“In the last few weeks I’m getting more and more excited about my position because I’m more comfortable and I know a little bit more what I’m doing. I’m not just learning now, I’m doing.”

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