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Councillor Stolte expands on what she thinks civic politics and public service is all about; some real surprises

By Pepper Parr

April 11th, 2022

BURLINGTON, ON

Part 3 of a 3 part interview.

As we prepared to bring the interview to an end we asked ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte what she would do differently if she were to serve a second term; what did she get right and what did she get wrong.  She was surprisingly direct in answering the question.

The debate that ended a 24 year career in municipal politics; Jack Dennison on the left with Shawna Stolte on the right during a debate at Nelson High School.

“I think I focused on what I ran on. I ran on the tree canopy protection,  on affordable housing.  I ran on engagement and a voice at  City Hall. I ran on improving public transport and I ran on services for seniors. A lot of other issues  have come up in the meantime, but I feel like I have stuck by what people chose to vote on me on.

“This is what I didn’t do right and this is a mistake I’m not going to make again. I did not learn how to use my system.

“It took me till halfway through the term to understand how to work well with my assistant and how to  be a 10.

Editor’s note: The following two paragraphs are highlighted – they are very relevant to the decision Mayor Meed Ward made  revise a Council meeting agenda

“There is no fault in how things worked out in assigning me an administrative assistant.  (City staff choose who a Council members assistant is going to be – there is no input from the Council member.) During my first week on the job my assistant was very open and said she didn’t want to be here. She said she had a one year contract. She said she wanted to work in the Clerk’s office doing election work. She said “that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be an assistant but I was sent up here because it’s my home job and I plan to get out of here as soon as I can.”

“I appreciated the honesty, it was better than finding out all of a sudden. So within six months she was gone. I went through June, July, August, September and October, four months of not having an assistant . I was bounced around .  I did appreciate all the other assistants taking a turn helping me out but it left me with no ability to fully understand  the practices or procedures on my end. I then had a contract assistant for about five months before I got Nancy. She came in three weeks before the pandemic. It was a rough.

“Something else I didn’t know. I assumed work in the city was done in a collaborative way.

“The learning curve, the confidence in being able to handle that learning curve and being able to handle the level of responsibility and expectation of the role and expectation on myself in the role was immense.

“And things were coming at us at a fierce pace; all five of the newly elected were struggling.

“I really wanted to dive into the issues and into the best practices of the city. I think that’s a piece of work that has surprised me the most.

“Naively, I discovered how much work needed to be done on policies, practices and procedures.

“Especially with council – so much of my work had to be focused much more internally than I was expecting.

“Going into a second term I would like to do things on two levels: the personal things, the things that you aspire to – I think I can get this done.

“And then the bigger picture, the things that I really think are critical fundamental for the way the city grows, because we have huge changes..

Seven new towers will be built in three phases with a projected population of about 2500 people.

“The growth at the GO stations where we are going to build this city and add 25 to 30% in the way of new population. The growth is real.

“This community is in transition; it is growing and evolving so quickly. I do think council should be bigger. I would love to see some consideration given to a council that’s made up of Ward councillors and councillors at large. I had a meeting with the city manager and councillors from Thunder Bay where they have that model.

“I think a model of having councillors doing constituent work and having votes on major city issues is important but I also really believe strongly in the model of councillors at large who do not have a ward to oversee they more have a portfolio – perhaps two councillors at large one who has for an example of a portfolio of environment, public transportation, and planning, where they kind of focus like they’re the higher focus on bigger issues that are city wide.

“Because I do think, having worked with the other councillors there still this protectionism around a lot of little things.

“Regional representation can stay the way it is just add two City Councillors at large. I think that would take Council up to nine. I think whenever you have a group dynamics, the smaller the group, the more opportunity there is for stronger personalities to have a bigger impact on a smaller group. And I think that that is part of the challenge for the City Council. I think if there would be less opportunity for strong dynamics if there were two more councillors added in. And I think when you look at our fellow regional councils, they’re all 11 to 13 members.   I think going up to nine is reasonable.

“There’s a bigger picture that has stunned all of us.  The challenge for all of us is immense.

The proposal is for 40 storeys – it will be less than that – begging the question- is Brant and Lakeshore the place for this kind of building.

“The size of the developments that were coming forward; the determination as to what was going to happen at the intersection of Brant and Lakeshore where two huge towers were being proposed.

“The Planning department was overwhelmed – how were we to fully understand the long term implications?”

I once asked a council member I was having a conversation with about the vision for the city in the Strategic Plan.

What vision was the response.  There is no vision.  When I put this response to Stolte she responded:

“I think anytime you’ve got a new council coming in with a new city manager, that vision is going to be preliminary and will need a lot of tweaking.   I think this next term  hopefully with some returning members, –  oh my gosh, a whole new council again, would not be very helpful for the community. I don’t start the learning curve all over again.”

“I would like to improve public transportation, though from an environmental perspective, hopefully get more environmentally friendly transit,  to get people out of cars.  We need to tackle the environmental issues as well as the traffic issues that we’re dealing with.

“I want to land this housing strategy complete with immediate short term, medium term and long term action items. I want it to be actionable, come heck or high water. I am not going to be okay letting this housing strategy become a policy that gets stuck on a shelf or not implemented.

The public hasn’t had much in the way of opportunity to watch what the Working Group has done. The need to do everything by Zoom has been a problem.

“The Working Group on Housing is sending out messages left, right and center to staff about the expectations that will go to council. There are some pretty high expectations for the implementation of the housing strategy.

“One of the things  that I really want to continue to focus on is low rise residential construction guidelines. Right now it’s the Wild West out there.   There are no rules.  The contractors doing  low rise, residential  construction are not managed and it is the residents in these areas that are suffering.

“I have been working on this problem for two years trying to get some changes made. Cary Clark has been helping. He’s been the champion for it but has admitted to me that his authority to effect change is extremely limited, which I understand.  There are parts of the city where there is a lot of this work taking place with no low rise residential construction management in place.

“There are places in my ward where you have three, four, sometimes five, infill properties, private residential properties being bought, torn down and rebuilt.  There’s no guidelines  – which results in construction vehicles and porta potties out on the street and piles of debris.

“There are construction management rules for the bigger developments, not for infill projects  and it is awful for some of these residential streets.

“The problem is that there are six different bylaws that need to be amended.  There is a report coming from the Legal department in  April.  I finally put my foot down and said I need a summary of these bylaws from the legal department to hear what’s getting in our way. And what strategies and solutions are we going to implement in these bylaws so that we can actually get some of these construction guidelines in place because it’s awful for some of these families who are trying to live their quiet life and they’re surrounded by construction. That’s worse for them. Because they have it literally outside their bedroom window. Literally.”

Nothing about the antics from this lady.

I said that would be the last question but not quite.

What was the funniest thing funniest thing that happened in the first four years ?

“I can’t tell you. Off the record I might tell you some of the antics that took p[lace on the seventh floor of City Hall. We’ll leave it at that. Okay.”

The first four years have been a real ride for the five elected for the first time. They were new and there was nothing in the way of a support system for them, no one to mentor them.

They had to rely on what they could learn from the city manager, the man they made the decision to hire.

Nothing from us on those antics.

Part 1

Part 2

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2 comments to Councillor Stolte expands on what she thinks civic politics and public service is all about; some real surprises

  • Robert

    Another councilor who believes we should double the number of councilors. No surprises here, Fiscal restraint is clearly not in the vocabulary of our civic leaders. One benefit of getting older is the ability to identify the pathetic decline of our political leaders

  • Alfred

    Councilor Stolte.

    Let’s start with stats. That show there is no problem with an occasional infill home being built on a street. I literally mean occasional. We will be lucky to surpass the 50 home mark this year for a City of 200,000 thousand people. How many other municipalities have a construction management plan for 1 single family home. The answer none. You seem concerned about affordable housing yet you keep adding additional costs by over regulating everything. How do poor people who are the first to buy in a subdivision survive. With hundreds of houses being built around them. Tell these people to suck it up. How did Burlington get built without a management plan for individual homes.

    Let’s be honest this is Roseland neighborhood cry babies talking, not you. Care to disclose how much influence this neighborhood has over your decisions? A resident in this neighborhood had a dead tree on his property. He did the right thing he contacted forestry met with the City arborist. The City arborist said the tree was not dead, though it was. The owner was told to get a report from the tree coroner an arborist. The arborist declared the tree was dead. The City arborist under the influence of Roseland nimby’s, not being satisfied made the owner get another report from a specialized tree surgeon( The lord of the trees) to verify that in fact the tree was dead. Something an 8 year old could have concluded without an arborist report. How did the City hire an arborist that can’t tell what a dead tree looks like. Did this neighborhood scare him or her that bad, that their eyesight was affected.

    This same home owner made a request to add a deck to their property they were denied. He appealed to the OMB. You guessed it, he won. Between all the tree reports and application fees and legal and planning fees. It cost the owner most $55,000 dollars.

    Councilor is this your attempt to make housing more affordable. When a City loses most of it’s appeals there is something terribly wrong with the City?

    Councilor any chance of getting a letter of recommendation from this homeowner, you served him well.

    Councilor to make housing more affordable, you decrease the costs not increase them with nonsense.