Political newcomers say its time for fresh start at City Hall

City Hall

Cathy Dobson

It’s time to move past the conflict between politicians and senior management at City Hall and get down to work, say the four newcomers elected to Sarnia council.

“I have been critical of senior management in the past,” said Margaret Bird, a vocal Mike Bradley supporter. “But I don’t go forward bearing grudges.

Margaret Bird

“I can work with anybody at all as long as there is respect, maturity and professionalism,” she said.

Bird, Nathan Colquhoun, Bill Dennis and George Vandenberg each won a council seat on Oct. 22 without any previous political experience.

But all four say they have extensive business backgrounds and want City Hall to be more business-friendly and a healthier workplace.

The tensions of the last term of council can be calmed by clearly defining the roles of elected people and management staff, said Bird.

City council should not be involved in day-to-day operations, and city management should report to council, not run it, she said.

“If those elected and those employed follow their roles correctly, the problem should be resolved.”

Bird, who worked for 21 years as a technical writer and editor at the former Bayer Rubber plant, is also one of four councillors who will represent Sarnia on Lambton County council.

At age 34, Nathan Colquhoun will be the youngest politician serving the city once the new council is sworn in Dec. 3.

Nathan Colquhoun

He backed Anne Marie Gillis for mayor, but realized during the campaign Bradley was well in the lead, he said.

“I went in expecting to work with Mike. I know we both want what’s best for the city,” said Colquhoun. “I have a lot to learn and I’ll probably be very quiet at first.

“I’m going into this with no agenda. I’m honest and I appreciate honesty and transparency in others too.”

Colquhoun is co-founder and co-owner of four local businesses including the Refined Fool Brewing Company.

“I’m not sole owner of anything,” he said. “Everything I do is with teams and by co-operating with people around a table. I’ve had great success with that.”

Colquhoun is also a former pastor and co-founder of a downtown community church called theStory.

Longtime Sarnia realtor Bill Dennis said he’s optimistic there will be a new civility with this council.

He led the polls for a city seat, beating 27 others in the race while advocating for Bradley’s return.

Bill Dennis

“It may be very difficult to move forward with this mayor and this administration, but I hope we can do it,” Dennis said.

“I have the utmost respect for city staff,” he said. “I don’t want to fight with anybody.”

Bradley made mistakes when he was found guilty of workplace harassment and bullying in the last term, Dennis said.

“But we all make mistakes and we need to learn from them, then move on.”

George Vandenberg, a 65-year-old former police detective who now fights traffic tickets as a licensed paralegal, is the fourth newcomer.

George Vandenberg

“This is my first time at City Hall but I’ve chaired a number of boards and I’m a big believer in working together,” he said.

Vandenberg is currently on the board at the Sarnia & District Humane Society and became president in 2012 at a time when conflict dogged the board and staff there.

“We brought someone in to talk about governance and, even though there was a lot of emotion, it worked well,” he said, suggesting similar third-party consultation might get this term of council off to a good start.

“I’m sure we can all get along,” Vandenberg said.

Only two incumbent councillors were re-elected: Brian White and David Boushy.

Former Sarnia councillors Mike Stark and Terry Burrell are returning as well. Both bring many years of political experience and have worked with Bradley before.