Sarnia Mayor candidate Anne Marie Gillis and incumbent Mayor Mike Bradley square off for the first time. September 11, 2018 (Photo by Melanie Irwin)

Mayoral frontrunners square off for first time

Mayoral candidates squared off over the current dynamic at city hall in their first face-to-face debate Tuesday.

Incumbent Mike Bradley and veteran city Councillor Anne Marie Gillis were asked a number of questions by the Rotary Club of Sarnia, including how they’ll ensure a cohesive council with a strong working relationship with the chief administrative officer if elected.

Bradley said at the beginning of every term he sits down with council and the management at the time, but in the last four years, there’s been a “complete unbalance in the system.”

“I can’t point to you one decision of Sarnia City Council that wasn’t an endorsement of a staff report,” said Bradley. “When councillors, my friend councillor [Dave] Boushy when he raised questions… I raised questions… we’d be shut down. If citizens want to come to council, they’re told they can’t come. The former ombudsman said Sarnia was the most open government in Ontario, repeatedly, when he was speaking across the province. I want to return to that.”

Bradley says he wants to take away the “fortress mentality” and take away the wall, both physical and others.

“We cut the hours of service. We cut the reception. We’re not listening to the people that pay for what we do and who we are. There needs to be a balance. It needs to be the right balance and I would make the case to you that the administration is running the city and the political people are not doing their job as it relates to bringing that balance of political accountability and staff accountability,” he said.

Candidate Anne Marie Gillis disagreed with Bradley’s perspective.

“Clearly my colleague has a completely different interpretation of what’s gone on in the past four years,” said Gillis. “I would suggest to you that it’s a completely different dynamic. I have not sat down with the mayor to have discussions about what I wanted to do in the next four years when I was elected in 2014, but what I have done is sit down with my colleagues to discuss what they wanted to do, what their visions were.”

Gillis said the mayor needs to be one among equals.

“The mayor is not better than council. Council is a decision-making body. We listen and we understand what the staff is telling us, but we are the final decision makers. Councillors work together to make a decision. The mayor is the person that promotes that decision. The mayor is not the person who takes away everything from council so that they are basically trained seals,” she said. “That is not good governance.”

Mayor Bradley said if re-elected, he’ll call for a review of spending.

“We need fiscal accountability at city hall,” said Bradley. “I was elected last time on a platform of eliminating the debt, continuing to decrease our staff, continuing services and not overspending. All of those things have fallen by the wayside in the last four years.”

Bradley said it’s time for a reset and more accountability is needed on both the political and administrative side.

“One of the things I will be asking the new council to look at, if successful, is an independent review of how we spend our money. We have the power to establish an auditor general’s office, Sudbury has one, Windsor’s looking at one. All you have to do is look at Centennial Park, the Donohue Bridge, Sarnia Arena, the naming rights issue… to know why I want to do that.”

Gillis said there’s been an inference that Bradley was the one who instigated the elimination of the debt.

“But, I can tell you that in 2003 I belonged to a group called ‘Coalition of Sarnia Taxpayers’ and that was our number one issue, to reduce the debt from $110 million to $10 million today,” said Gillis. “That was our primary focus and that’s what we did. We received several threats from the mayor because we were going on that path, but we continued on that path.”

The other two mayoral candidates, Kip Cuthbert and Fred Ingham, were invited to Tuesday’s luncheon meeting, but did not attend.

Voting in Sarnia’s municipal election begins on Thursday, October 11 at 9 a.m. and ends on Monday, October 22 at 8 p.m.

This year votes will be cast by telephone, computer, cell phone, iPad, tablet or laptop.