One hundred years ago, my Great-Grandfather Charles Austin was elected mayor of Chatham. My Grandmother wrote in her diary, "The election was such a nasty affair. You wouldn't believe the terrible lies they told about dad." I hope her comments won't prove just as valid today for me.
I have agonized over my decision to run for mayor. My papers were supposed to be filed much earlier, but my family and I were subjected to anonymous criminal extortion attempts that I think were meant to intimidate me against running. Apparently, some cowards don't like what I might say, and they tried to stop me by harassing my family. This may be validation that the research and facts I presented on the Maple City Star are sustainable. Somebody wants me taken out of circulation and muzzled during the campaign.
When you see "Austin Wright" on the ballot for mayor, that is who you will get if I am elected. I have no tolerance for the bait-and-switch we experienced last time, and I'm clear of third-party influences. My advisors will be council and you the public. I am not running for me - I am running for our future, our children's future, and to give a voice to every person in this community. I am a businessman dedicated to achieving big results without using huge resources. No other municipality in Ontario has such an untapped potential for success!
There is already an organized smear campaign poised to wreak havoc with my candidacy. It includes malicious falsehoods, defamatory libel, forged documents, extortion, vexatious lawsuits against innocent citizens, and invasions of privacy. I will not allow anonymous cowards any success in employing fraud to limit the choice Chatham-Kent voters have of candidates for mayor on the ballot.
The only way this kind of activity can be combated is to expose it to light. My platform includes a comprehensive ethics component designed to peel back the opaque layers of secrecy and phony transparency at city hall. I will move to appoint an Integrity Commissioner, and implement a Lobbyist Registry so that nobody is able to short-circuit our elected council by whispering instructions in Administration's ear or hide behind privacy laws to conceal their lobbying efforts.
I will recommend the establishment of a protocol for private citizens meeting to lobby directly with municipal staff, including rules requiring council notification prior to developing any reports or policy. Municipal doors should always be accessible to the public, and the will of council must prevail. People must be free to bring concerns to council without fear of retribution. We need to have strong ethics guidelines and freedom of speech in place if we plan to prosper.
Not many people know that mayor Hope was quietly put in charge of Freedom of Information administration, which politicized the process by giving the mayor copies of FOI requests and responses without the knowledge of the applicants. I will bring a motion to immediately appeal the by-law that allows the mayor to view and filter all freedom of information material and use that information against opponents.
Chatham-Kent is in a financial crisis. Our unemployment rate is practically the highest in the country. We cannot afford to keep raising taxes and spending like a big city. Time and again we read how potential investors fell off the radar and located somewhere else. The last four years of mayor Hope 's business attraction efforts have been about as effective as shovelling incinerator smoke.
I have an aggressive plan to pull Chatham-Kent out of the present stagnation and pursue prosperity. My business attraction efforts will exceed the current strategy of mailing a letter. I will relentlessly pursue potential business leads, and utilize every resource within my reach to make a positive first impression and give Chatham-Kent the edge we deserve.
Efficiencies will be identified that maximize tax dollars. I will insist that new spending be analyzed for a Return On Investment. We can still achieve big results with fewer resources if we work smarter. The notion of taxpayers being a limitless ATM must stop.
We've had no meaningful success towards filling our vacant industrial land. I propose changing the concept of our 401 Industrial Park to a new design introducing green elements with which industry will want to be associated. When courting business, I will consider all available commercial and industrial opportunities in every community of Chatham-Kent, not just Chatham.
I will present ideas to find economies with the fortune in tax dollars being spent on Information Technology, while putting Chatham-Kent on the forefront of open standards. We will strive to be leaders in saving money by taking data out of costly proprietary formats, and using free Open Source software that we can modify and control, unencumbered by licencing requirements. This strategy can actually create local IT jobs for a lower IT budget.
Our website should be made more user-friendly, and I'll make sure there is a portal for every community in Chatham-Kent. We will endeavour to solicit world-class content from our own residents, at no charge to taxpayers. Chatham-Kent will maintain a positive presence on emerging new media. Council agendas will be made more accessible online, and online services will better accommodate those with disabilities.
We have spent too much on logos, professional studies and master plans that could have been developed much more economically by our own people. This is our community, but it's being molded by distant consultants with no stake in the outcome. As mayor, I will oversee a migration towards less reliance on costly consultants, and start making better use of resources within the community by initiating citizens committees, think tanks, and brainstorming sessions.
If elected, I will establish a policy direction to encourage the creation of special events that would serve as tourist attractions. Our unique history will be maximized as a basis for new programming and travel destinations. Chatham-Kent will be promoted as a centre of excellence for motion picture, television, and new media arts to facilitate local movie and television productions.
Our PUC must be kept public, and follow policies that are in the public interest instead of being driven by corporate marketability. I'll establish criteria limiting expansion and amalgamation to initiatives firmly in the best interests of ratepayers. I will work to mitigate the financial impact of misguided time-of-use electricity billing policies that will negatively affect the cost of normal household routines despite conservation practices. Seniors and families should not be limited to cooking, washing, heating, cooling, and living during the night to avoid excessive hydro costs.
High-speed internet is critical to keep Chatham-Kent competitive. I will work with industry participants to position Chatham-Kent on the forefront of innovative fibre internet projects. Access to this infrastructure is becoming the number one criteria of business and residential attraction. Whoever gets it first will have the edge.
Education is the key to success. I will work to improve our graduation rates, literacy, and skills training. I want to form a qualified citizens committee to develop a strategy aimed towards attracting post-secondary education to Chatham-Kent, including academic programs. It will explore possible options for the Southwest Regional Centre. I will reverse damaged relations with St. Clair College.
My conduct as mayor will strive to restore a sense of community identity and civic pride that amalgamation didn't seek to preserve. I favour initiatives that provide a degree of local autonomy, and allow some local benefit and reward for community accomplishments. I'll support removing red tape for local endeavours such as outdoor ice rinks and celebrations. I will partner with local groups to inspire entertainment ideas that will encourage "city" people to visit our rural communities.
I am not a politician. I'm a father and husband struggling to make ends meet like too many other people in this community. I've walked the walk, and have an acute understanding of the need for greater municipal fiscal accountability and economic opportunities. Over the coming weeks, my platform will outline additional ideas, and address the concerns I hear. People expect answers and foresight during a campaign, but they often get double-speak and publicity stunts instead. I will commit to listening, remaining accessible, and being responsive even after the ballots are counted.
I may not have a warchest of financial resources to run a mayoral campaign, but I have the best interests of my community at heart. I believe that I represent the strongest vision for moving Chatham-Kent forward, and some of my past platform ideas have already been implemented. If elected as your mayor, I will devote a full-time effort to achieving the success that has eluded Chatham-Kent during the past four years. Together, we can make Chatham-Kent better than the sum of its parts!
My official campaign website and bio will be posted at www.ckon.ca.