Gananoque's new council learning on the job

John Beddows is learning on the job.

The 30-year military veteran who unseated Ted Lojko during October’s municipal election to become the new mayor of Gananoque is in the thick of budget deliberations, a little over two months after being voted in by the public, after riding the high of a campaign that took aim at the previous administration's handling of the town’s finances.

"You know what you know when you take on a position, but until you start reading the files and you get into the rhythm of it..." Beddows said, taking time in between meetings on Wednesday to talk to The Recorder and Times.

One of the biggest challenges in adapting to his new position as mayor is a consequence of the timing of the municipal election.

"We took our oaths on Nov. 15, and we went straight into budget," said Beddows.

The mayor and four other council members are all new to council chambers. Only councillors Matt Harper and Dave Osmond are left from the previous term.

"Would it make sense if municipal elections were held in June before school ended, then the new council or the new councillors, mayor, etc., would have six months in which to learn all the stuff we don’t already know so that we can make the best decisions?” Beddows asked.

“If I was going to do something about accountability and how to make the process better, the first conclusion I would have is that it'd be really great if the 2026 municipal election was in June, not (October), because it would deliver better services for the municipality.

"The idea that the election happened, and for new councillors, for many people, it’s the first introduction to the actual mechanism of the operation of municipal government - first introduction to procedural bylaws, to rules, responsibilities, authorities, limits, to how these things work, and you’re learning how to do the job at the same time you’re having to make decisions about the next year’s financial management.

"The timing of the election could be better.”

During his campaign, Beddows was critical of the previous administration's number of closed meetings, the town’s integrity commissioner also being the town’s lawyer, and, what he called a lack of transparency and accountability.

“We’re making steps to get there,” Beddows said about his push for more transparency and accountability.

“As an example, we are having in-camera meetings because there’s an advantage to the community to keep some things in-camera while negotiations are happening. But I have been in discussion with my fellow council members, of how when deals are completed, we can put the information that was in camera out into the public view so people can know how we arrived to the decisions.

"I’m here at the Town Hall every day for people to come and find me. I’m meeting a lot of people that walk into the door. That matters to me. Anything we can do to get more public participation in council meetings, anything we can do to get more participation in the room, we’re open to capacity now, and (participation) in Zoom."

Of the campaign promises made by Beddows, the one that has come to fruition so far is the reduction of Beddows’s annual base allowance by 15 per cent to $23,413.25, with no consumer price index increase, effective from Dec. 17, 2022 to Nov. 14, 2026.

Beddows said a notice of motion will soon be put forth regarding changing the integrity commissioner. Ultimately, it will be council’s decision. Currently, the integrity commissioner, Tony Fleming of the Kingston law firm Cunningham Swan, is also the town’s lawyer.

“To bring more transparency is to make sure the town doesn’t have the same person who is also the town’s lawyer and the integrity commissioner of the town,” said Beddows during his campaign run.

Currently, the town is without a deputy mayor, as the decision to amend the procedural bylaw to replace the definition of deputy mayor and to appoint the position for a four-year-term was postponed during council’s last meeting before Town Hall closed for the holidays.

A decision, Beddows said, will come Tuesday when council reconvenes for the first meeting of 2023.

“Regardless of the outcome, we will choose a deputy mayor on the 17th,” said Beddows.

At its Dec. 6 meeting, council received responses from the Boxing Club and the Gananoque Seniors Association Inc. in terms of their interest in sharing the Kinsmen Building. The third possible entity, MyFM, did not respond.

So, council announced it will continue to look at options for tenancy of the building and will seek approval from the granting agency to redirect $60,000 towards the Lou Jeffries Arena to support accessibility needs, with the intention to create a safe space for the social, recreation, cultural and educational programs that support the interests and well-being of older adults, seniors and people with disabilities.

“It’ still ticking along and there has not been a decision made on what our plan is for the building in the long term yet,” said Beddows.

(Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)