Lojko looks back on his term as mayor

Somewhat surprised.

That’s how Gananoque Mayor Ted Lojko described his reaction to last week’s municipal election, where he was unseated by soon-to-be new mayor John Beddows.

"I could feel it at the door (campaigning) that there was a lot of people that were not happy with certain things," Lojko said in an interview.

Beddows won the mayor’s race with 940 votes, beating out incumbent Lojko, who secured 721. Greg Truesdell, the third and final mayoral candidate, received 381 votes.

Lojko was a target for criticism by challengers Beddows and Truesdell throughout the campaign, on matters ranging from transparency to fiscal management.

A variety of issues were top-of-mind for voters and the three men running for the mayor’s seat, such as transportation, affordable housing, the town's financial footing, use of the town's waterfront, employment, infrastructure, the Kinsmen Building, services for youth and seniors, and short-term rentals.

The tone was congenial for the most part of the election campaign, however, Beddows, in particular, was consistently critical of Lojko and his administration.

In response, Lojko said he holds no hard feelings towards Beddows.

"It was fine," Lojko said. "John presented his issues, but you have to remember that as the mayor you're also defending what council has done over the last four years. So, whether I voted one way or another on any particular item, my role as mayor was to defend all decisions that we made. I may have not agreed on all, like when we'd have four-three split votes, but when a decision is made, it's up to the mayor as head of council to be able to justify why those decisions were made."

Looking back, Lojko said he's proud of his administration's handling of the last four years, which included a global pandemic.

"We were one of the first municipalities in the province that distributed masks door-to-door, gloves door-to-door, hand sanitizers to every business," said Lojko. "We donated significant amounts to St. Lawrence (Lodge). And that was a big thing – that we managed to react quite quickly to deal with the pandemic.

"We added almost $3-million worth of funds back into our reserves, we reduced our debt load, and we scrambled and chased after funding from the provincial government, the federal government, and it was about $6-and-a-half-million worth of grants that were secured for various projects in the town. There were a lot of things done –there were events throughout it all, and obviously we weren't able to celebrate and do things in a normal way, but Town council did Canada Day signs on people's lawns, we had porch concerts that we helped fund to help get people out of their homes, we also worked well with the Business Improvement Area. There's a lot of stuff that seems mundane but when you look at it from a more global perspective, we managed to get over the hump, we managed to come out of that whole four years doing extremely well, not laying off any staff."

Lojko said he has few regrets, but pointed to the challenges caused by the pandemic, like virtual meetings and the different forms of communication council had to use at times with the public.

"There's the whole virtual meetings versus in-person council meetings, and we're still being challenged by that," said Lojko. "People are still wearing masks and you have to respect that not everyone wants to be in public spaces without a mask. It's a difficult juggling act to be in front of the public when you're using virtual media.”

Lojko didn’t always anticipate running for another term.

"I was hoping one of the councillors who had experience would be running for mayor," he said.

But no one did. Only two councillors from the current administration put their name forward – David Osmond and Matt Harper – however, they did so for re-election as councillor, not attempting to earn the mayor’s seat.

"I figured that with a lot of issues not being dealt with, I figured I'd run," said Lojko.

Harper and Osmond ultimately did earn re-election as councillors.

"There's major issues that still need to be undertaken by the next council, like finalizing the public transit between Kingston and Gananoque, which is fairly advanced at this point and will hopefully come to fruition. There's other stuff, too, like this whole question of affordable housing, especially for seniors, which I plan on continuing on with, to get that done even though I’m not going to be part of council."

Asked what he plans on doing with his time once his term as mayor of the town comes to an end, Lojko said he isn't sure.

"At this point, I've spent the last week doing my gardening, which had gotten out of control the last few years," Lojko laughed. "There is a new council, a new mayor, and for me it's about stepping away and letting them do what they can do, not criticizing from the back seat. There's no such thing as a perfect council. Going forward, God bless to whatever decisions and direction they undertake.”

(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.)