I recently sat down with Mayor Jody Wildman and I had a few questions that he enthusiastically answered as we are approaching the October election for the position he currently holds.
** Mr. Wildmans video address**
1) Being Mayor for a very long time here in St Josephs Township; what drives you to peruse this position for yet another term?
The simple answer is that love being involved with our community, I enjoy this work and I think I’ve done a good job at it. My family is supportive and I like the people — the staff, volunteers and council members — I work with. I enjoy challenges and trying to solve problems and I’m always looking for practical ways to utilize our community’s potential and to improve.
I want people who visit our community to look around and feel a bit jealous and want to spend more time here. We have actually received that sort of unsolicited feedback, which is very gratifying and tells me we’re on the right track.
I think naturally people love St. Joseph Island, you cross that bridge and stress falls away and you’re at home. However, its not just about natural beauty. There’s a lot of work involved in making this what I think is the best place to live and make your life. Part of that is preserving our natural beauty and rural character, part of it is having a high standard for maintaining municipal properties and infrastructure, part of that is controlling those costs we can control, and part of that is fostering and encouraging a strong sense of community. That’s what has always driven me to be involved in the community, and what continues to drive me.
2) If you would have to list a few achievements that you are proud of that you helped bring to fruition as Mayor; what would they be?
Twenty-two years is a lot of time to summarize into “a few achievements”. Part of that is because I want to be proud of every initiative we take on – whether it is a major project development, or whether it is putting on a soccer program.
I’ve been pretty consistent from my first campaign, right up to the present. I have wanted residents to feel they had lots of opportunities to voice their concerns and ideas, I’ve wanted to focus on recreation and activities for residents of all ages to bring people together, provide the conditions for economic and business development, encourage and foster a strong sense of community, advocate for services such as healthcare and education to be provided in our community, set a tone for cooperation and on Council and with staff, maintain municipal infrastructure (including roads and recreation properties) at a high standard, and keep costs reasonable.
Things that come to mind that I have been proud to be a part of are:
- representing Algoma communities to successfully lobby the Minister of Health to reduce the municipal costs for the re-development of Algoma Manor and elimination of annual contribution
- working with members of the public and central Algoma municipalities to successful fight the closure of Matthews Memorial Hospital
- the initial re-development of the Tranter Park outdoor rink, and continued improvement of those facilities
- the expansion and growth of the Dr. Harold S. Trefry Memorial Centre and its services
- bringing some focus to environmental sustainability, including the establishment and expansion of recycling, our share shed, and the re-configuration of our landfill
- working with health care experts and the Trefry Centre to begin a homecare pilot project
- the establishment of new arts and music festivals, and concert series
- our Township’s response to COVID-19
- the balance between maintaining a low tax rate while ensuring the financial health of the municipal organization
- the history of well-functioning Councils that have worked together with a focus on what was best for the community
- trail development, such as the 10th Sideroad trail
- organization of the St. Joseph Island Triathlon and the ongoing establishment of St. Joseph Island as a cycling destination
- the high standard we have for the maintenance of sports fields, municipal properties, parks, trails and roads, and the high standard for the organization of events and activities
Many of these things lead to people wanting to be involved, whether as a staff member, councilor or volunteer. It is great to be able to work with people who are passionate about this community. Sometimes the most vocal people are those with a negative view, or cannot see beyond there own agenda. Working with people who care about their community and their neighbors’ well-being makes the negative stuff pale in comparison.
I have tried to establish an environment where we have high expectations, we support people who are passionate about projects that will benefit the community as a whole, and encourages positivity. That sort of the builds on itself, so I think that’s probably the biggest achievement I would name.
3) The last time you ran for office against an opponent (Bryon Hall) the ballots showed it was almost split down the middle and that a good percentage of the residents wanted some change in leadership. Do you feel that that experience made you a better Mayor as per regaining your passion?
Well, I’m not sure I would accept the premise of your final sentence regarding “regaining my passion”. I’ve never lost my passion for the for the work that I’ve done with the township.
With regard to the question itself, each election is its own thing — one doesn’t lead into the other and there are always different factors at play. There were a lot of factors that went into the 2014 campaign, not the least of which was that Bryon was a very good candidate with good experience. He’s well respected in the community, has a lot of connections and has been here a long time. He’d held office, been on council number of times and does a good job. I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy campaign to begin with, and then there were some really weird fringe elements at play as well.
A two-person race is usually going to be close, but in the end the result was 53% to 47%. But, when you are looking at a relatively small number of electors, it looks close, which is why it’s so important for people to come out and vote.
4) What will you do if elected Mayor once again? Do you have anything new that you want your platform to be built on that maybe was as not a priority to the residents that they are now since the C19 life altering scenario (2022)…for instance .. year round tourism or things of that nature.
You could have a question just on our response to COVID-19, which was a double-edged sword for small towns and rural communities like ours. The changing nature of work and technology meant that people could re-locate to where they want to be and that has meant an influx of new people to St. Joseph Island. People spent a lot more time in the community, getting to know the community, buying local and supporting local businesses. On the other hand, there were negative impacts on many businesses, there was dealing with isolation and there was loss of loved ones when visiting wasn’t possible.
For us as an organization, our main philosophy to begin with was how could we help people through COVID. Very shortly after it started in March of 2020, councilors, key staff and management started to meet weekly to talk about how we should respond to each new challenge and help individual members of the community deal with them. Staff connected with service groups and businesses, the Trefry Centre kept in contact with their clients, we tried to connect people with services. We sent out newsletters to provide information about services, we researched what was being learned about the virus and shared that information, best practices and services that were available. When vaccines became available, we lobbied Algoma Public Health to establish a clinic in our community to serve people in central Algoma and we continued to research to make decisions that made sense.
It was really moving to see how everybody really had a focus on helping people through this. We encouraged people to check in and look out for one another. We made sure that all of our staff felt safe in in their work and continued to do it productively from home and gradually open up the office as we were allowed. We wanted to make sure that we continued to run programs, and we changed focus of our recreation activities to encourage people to remain active under any restrictions that were in place.
We also didn’t follow blindly and we didn’t go overboard. We wanted to make sure that if we were not ordered to, for instance, lock something up, especially in the outdoors, we didn’t. We would insist that reasonable precautions be taken, but we wanted to use common sense. We kept our outdoor rink open when allowed, we encouraged people to get outside, we kept our boat launch open and we used technology to meet and connect. I know there is some division on this issue, and we recognized that and talked about it in our newsletters. The overriding message was to respect others, use common sense and make your own informed decision. I’m really proud of how our community in general responded throughout.
What was confirmed through our experience with COVID was that people are generally caring and want what’s best for each other, but when they feel ignored or they don’t think decisions make any sense, they become frustrated and question the credibility of those in positions of leadership. Overall, it has confirmed my belief in this community.
With regard to my focus for the next four years? I’ve been doing this now for 22 years, so it’s not as if I would be saying, “Well, I’m going to get in there and and change this thing or do that thing”. There are a lot of initiatives that are ongoing that have been started either last year or 5 years ago or ten years ago which are multi-year processes and we are continuing. We also have to ensure that we have the money and human resources to undertake something new and do it well. That requires saving up, or getting a grant, sometimes hiring someone or starting a new volunteer committee — sometimes all of those.
My goal remains for this to be an attractive community to live, raise a family, run a business, retire. I work with council and staff to try to keep taxes low while being able to provide a well-run, attractive community — a place that people want to visit and people want to live in. This, in turn, benefits the business community. We are always open to working to find ways to expand what is available in the community to attract residents and tourists, but we need those who want something more to get involved and be willing to volunteer.
In 2026, this Township will have its 150th Anniversary. Over the next four years, I want to focus on preserving what we love about this community, and positioning it strongly for the future. This will mean focusing on strategic growth by:
- connecting residents to the community by continuing to provide residents with opportunities connect such as sports and recreation activities
- providing activities for residents, as well as supporting businesses through the attraction of visitors, through arts and cultural events such as art shows, music series and festivals
- planning and engaging with service providers and upper levels of government on education and child care being in the community, and health and well-being services that meet the needs of our community’s population and that of central Algoma
- capital projects for renovating and rejuvenating important infrastructure such as the Children’s Library, the Richards Landing Marina, and the downtown streetscape
- maintaining a high standard of care and improvement for municipal infrastructure such as roads, walking trails, sports and event facilities
- working with the business community to develop a strategy for buying local, attracting tourists and year-round sustainability
- looking at planning and zoning issues to find options to promote housing affordability and food security
- focusing on environmental responsibility and sustainability and climate change action and adaptability through strategic Landfill development, departmental responsibility, education and promotion and community activities, and providing good, open government with opportunities for residents to make their voices heard and become involved in the decision-making process.
5) This election you will be running against a local business woman in Mrs. Henshell. Do you think allegiance or policy is going to make the difference in the outcome since this is a very tiny community and residents rely on each other closer than in a community with the size of…let’s say sault Ste.Marie?
No matter the size of the community, there will always be some element of the population who vote because of their connection with a candidate. However, for the majority of people, there has to be some combination of a record of service and policy proposals they agree with. In every election since 2003, I have relied on my record of service, as well as talking to people about how we can make improvements for the community over the next term.
I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think I was good at it and that I was making a positive difference in the community. I think I have worked very well with the vast majority of council members, staff and volunteers that I’ve worked with over the years. I have developed the experience necessary to not only know how to work with people, but also have a good grasp of the amount of effort it takes, the history behind issues and developing the contacts outside of our community to help when advocating for the needs of our residents.
I feel confident that the people of this community will consider the candidates and ask themselves some questions like: is this community attractive?, is it well-managed, does Council work well together?, are there things for me and my family to do?, is my tax rate low when compared to other municipalities across the region? are the services I need (within reason) available to me and my family? are there opportunities for me to share my ideas and concerns, and are they listened to?
I think when they look at my record of serving this community, I think most people will agree that I have worked hard and have done a good job.
6) What do you think that you have learned over the years as Mayor that you believe will benefit you in succeeding again on Oct 24. May I also clarify; what challenges did you find when you first became Mayor that you were not prepared for in your earlier terms and how much of a adjustment was it?
I’ll start with your last bit about “what have I learned since I first was elected?, which was in 2000. I had been raised to believe that if good people were involved in politics then they could make a positive difference for the people in their community, and I was interested in that.
I had joined the fire department and started to get involved in the community, but I didn’t really know the people on council, I didn’t know the Reeve and I thought, as a relatively young guy, that I was going to be this breath of fresh air. I didn’t have an axe to grind, or some personal agenda, but I figured I could bring a fresh perspective. Lorraine Aelick was the Reeve at the time and I became impressed with the way she did the job and the knowledge she had of so many issues and files. From watching her I started to understand the amount of discussion and work that had to go into the decision-making process and that council actually wanted to hear different perspectives, they liked when people showed some interest. I also started to develop my own thoughts on conflict resolution and finding common ground, or at least finding a common goal. So, when in 2003 Lorraine asked me to run for Mayor, with her running as a councilor, I felt I might be able to do a good job.
I ask a lot of questions, sometimes it can be frustrating for people, but I want to really understand the issue, the history, the motivation and why someone wants what they are looking for. Through well-informed and open discussion, and with the advice of staff, I think Council generally arrives at a position that is best for the community. Sometimes, individuals disagree, but you have to learn that you can’t make everyone happy, and you shouldn’t try. Your goal is to do what’s best for the community, and the questions you have to ask yourself, “does this fit with our community?, is this best for our community?” That is what I have learned.
There are always going to be individuals with a personal agenda, or who are unhappy because the Township made a decision that they personally didn’t like, but the job of Mayor is to keep the focus on the community as a whole. What I wasn’t prepared for is that some individuals make their disagreement personal, and that can be difficult, but I can’t help that. Its not about me, I want to make a positive difference in this community and in the lives of its residents, and that’s why I continue to do it. I have been lucky to have worked with many councilors, staff and volunteers who believe the same thing.
7) Recently; were you surprised to learn that you would have to campaign once again against Mrs. Henshell as 2 of the 3 last wins were by acclamation?
No, I wasn’t surprised at all. I have served six terms on Council and only two of those were through an acclamation. Anybody who is interested can run. You can’t assume that just because you’ve done a good job, nobody will run against you. People run for their own reasons.
Thanks for reading!