Mayor Mike Bradley kicked off 2018 with a campaign-style speech, saying only the electorate can resolve the deep divisions at City Hall.
“The only solution is an election,” Bradley told about 60 Sarnia-Lambton Golden K members gathered for the club’s first meeting of the year.
Bradley won’t say if he’s running for a 10th time in October, but Sarnia’s longest-serving mayor spent much of his 40 minutes highlighting what he sees as poor decisions at City Hall and emphasizing he didn’t support them.
He also told reporters when he was away for four cancer operations over the past 17 months the “very businesslike” council meetings he chairs were replaced by meetings “that went on forever.”
The cancer treatments were successful, he added.
Bradley said he was elected in 2014 to reduce city staff through attrition, eliminate the debt and foster “an open and empathetic” City Hall.
“I would suggest to you that’s all been reversed,” he told the audience. “People are paying more taxes, we’re taking on debt for the first time in 14 years, and we have a number of buildings that are being closed that shouldn’t be … like the Kinsmen Centre, like Jackson Pool.”
Bradley was asked about the “toxicity” at City Hall. This past term the mayor was reprimanded for bullying and harassing city staff, had his salary suspended twice, and had other sanctions imposed by council, including the physical separation of the mayor’s office from staff.
“The quick answer, in my view, is this October,” Bradley said. “And that doesn’t just apply to council. It also applies to how the city operates.
“I have sought and offered solutions in the past but I reached the point where I realized the only solution is an election.”
Later, while talking about attracting new immigrants to Sarnia, he became animated in describing his role as mayor.
“I’m always told not to mention this because it seems to get people’s blood up – which I enjoy doing.” As the audience laughed, Bradley turned serious.
“You know what? On issues that really matter to me, that’s my job, right? They don’t like it at council now when I point out things … ‘Oh we don’t want to talk about that.’ Well, no, that’s my job is to give advice.”
On NOVA Chemical’s announcement of a $2.2-billion polyethylene plant in St. Clair Township, Bradley said it proves the region is a good place to locate.
He expects more announcements “of significance” in 2018 that show Sarnia has “repositioned itself” for industrial investment, he said.
He took credit for brokering a project agreement years ago he said proved “a very strong sales tool” in landing NOVA. That agreement keeps labour costs down in Sarnia-Lambton, guarantees the use of local trades and ensures no strikes when projects surpass $50 million.
No single factor sways big development, Bradley added.
“(But) we have worked together to bring about co-operation between business and labour…and I really do believe this is our time now.”
Bradley also touched on:
A residential detox facility – “Addiction is the biggest social issue we face right now … I am optimistic we will see (a withdrawal management facility) this year.”
Legalization of marijuana – “I do support legalization because I don’t think another generation should grow up with criminal records for having a couple of joints.” The “real issue” is municipalities getting some of the revenue the province will receive from marijuana sales, beginning this summer. “As a border city, we are likely going to see a lot of toking tourists.”
Attracting more jobs – “When you have a NOVA, it is intoxicating and people will say we don’t have to do anything else … but the time to renew and diversify your economy is now while we have the benefit of (a major project).”
A national news story last fall about spills and leaks in Chemical Valley – “It was inflammatory, drive-by reporting,” adding he strategically didn’t respond to focus on promoting positive messages about Sarnia. “But I will tell you, it hurt deeply because I’ve seen the changes, the responsibility in the industry … the results of public sector and industry’s investment to protect the river.”
Closure of former SCITS building – “SCITS is a challenge. I have already talked to one investment group looking at condominiums there, but it’s just a conversation at this point. I think there’s value to that building.”
Speeders and a perceived lack of enforcement – There are 12 to 14 Sarnia Police officers on duty nightly, he said. “I’m not making excuses but what I’m trying to say to you is … you get into the domestics, the drug stuff and all the others … they can only do (traffic control) for a little while and then they have to go back and do all the other things.”