As my term as Acting Mayor of Cote Saint-Luc drew to a close I sat down to ponder this unique experience.
Cote Saint-Luc follows a tradition typical in many municipalities by having each of its councillors alternate as Acting Mayor should the duly elected mayor be unable to fulfill his or her functions. My latest turn in the eight-person rotation covered the last three months of 2015 so with the resignation of Mayor Anthony Housefather on November 4, 2015 subsequent to his election as Member of Parliament for Mount Royal I immediately and seamlessly assumed the role of Mayor of the City of Cote Saint-Luc.
What a time of year to take over! We went straight into intensive planning for the next year’s budget which has ramifications for all residents and taxpayers, for employees and contractors. Presiding over such meetings is no easy feat as passions flare, opinions clash and nerves get frayed. Thankfully, our City Council functions quite harmoniously.
In planning for the $67 million budget and much more in the triennial capital expenditures we needed to consider services to residents, infrastructure upgrade and maintenance, staffing, fleet acquisition, service contracts for snow clearing to name some of the major issues. There was also the little matter of requesting a ministerial extension on the prescribed election period in order to allow enough time for the majority of our snowbirds to be back home in time to vote for our next mayor.
Dealing with human resource issues is never an easy topic. With personnel expenses reaching 70% of our operating budget it’s not possible to look at trimming budgets in difficult years without affecting staff. This was the sad reality that we had to confront. Decisions were made based upon business plans and economic factors despite the inevitable emotional tone.
I dealt with many emails and inquiries on the change in library opening hours and wrote an opinion piece that was published in the Suburban Newspaper. Several emails praised the city for its superb handling of the first snow storm of the season. I was updated on two late night major house fires as well as an early morning bank robbery with suspects at large. A ride up in the city’s “cherry-picker” to light the Chanukah Menorah and greeting residents in four languages was quite special. I also attended a Russian holiday festivity and caroled outdoors to welcome Christmas while lighting the tree in front of City Hall.
Back inside I presided over several public meetings, keeping decorum, steering the agenda and fielding questions from the public and media. Most inquiries were rather pleasant and positive. Unfortunately, some were downright aggressive and nasty. I presented the Annual Report of the Mayor, a lengthy speech about the city’s performance over the past year and predictions of financial intentions and plans for the next year. The “In-Committee” meetings go on for hours and hours, usually to midnight, sometimes beyond.
All this takes place after hours, as mayors and councillors in all but the largest cities typically have careers that are the mainstay of their livelihood. So, for those of us with families, young children and responsibilities at home this means lots and lots of time away. I cannot thank my wife, Judy, enough for constantly supporting my political activity and managing an extremely busy household alongside her own 24/7 practice. My children, Jeremy, Nathalie and Nicole are usually rather forgiving having experienced (since birth) that daddy is constantly checking emails, taking calls and out at meetings and events, missing dinner, playtime and unfortunately some special moments. This harrowing routine continues late into the night and into the weekends. It follows you on vacation. It’s never-ending.
On the whole, serving as Acting Mayor has been an immense privilege and honour, an experience that was both personally and professionally rewarding. Thank you Allan, Dida, Mike, Mitch, Steven, Ruth, Sam, Nadia and Anthony too! Although it only lasted eight weeks I must say it was one of the most interesting periods in my 25 years since being elected. The demands are unending and thanks to the support of council and a truly dedicated administration the job is manageable and incredibly interesting.