| Feb 07, 2008

Feature Article - February 7, 2008.class { BORDER-RIGHT: black 1pt solid; BORDER-TOP: #000 1pt solid; BORDER-LEFT: black 1pt solid; BORDER-BOTTOM: black 1pt solid } .class1 { BORDER-RIGHT: #9f5128 1pt solid; BORDER-TOP: #9f5128 1pt solid; BORDER-LEFT: #9f5128 1pt solid; BORDER-BOTTOM: #9f5128 1pt solid } .class2 { FONT-SIZE: 8pt; COLOR: #666 }

Back toHome

Feature Article - February 4, 2008 Jim Vanden Hoek – county warden promotes a new vision By Jeff Green

Like most Wolfe Island residents, Jim Vanden Hoek could probably walk into any public gathering between Sydenham and Cloyne and no one would know who he was. But he happens to be the senior politician on Frontenac County Council and this year he is taking what will most likely be his final turn as Frontenac County Warden.

And this time he is trying to make a bit of a lasting impression.

“The success of our individual communities is directly tied to the successes of the region and when one succeeds we all do … I believe we can create stronger communities and more opportunities, and that we need to spend more time collectively preparing for some of the challenges we face,” he said in an address to county council on January 16. He is bringing that message directly to the township councils in North, Central and South Frontenac this week.

Vanden Hoek is not promoting a fixed plan for an expanded county role. Instead he wants to create a fund, to be administered by the county. “The focus of the fund is the creation of cultural, community and financial wealth in the County of Frontenac,” he said.

His hope is that the creation of a fund will be tied to the beginning of a new relationship between township-based politicians and Frontenac County, a relationship that he acknowledges is not always very positive.

Vanden Hoek names himself as one of those who took a dim view of the county when he first became Mayor of Frontenac Islands.

“When I was first elected as Mayor of Frontenac Islands, my mission was to eliminate the county and, by doing so, cure the ills of the township,” he said; but he added that he is as far from that view now as one can get.

In a telephone interview with the News, he said, “As far as I can tell, each of the townships takes care of their responsibilities well, and the county basically runs Fairmount Home and the paramedic service. But there are opportunities out there, and the ability to reach out and grab those opportunities is beyond the scope of what any of us do right now”.

Over the past year, Jim Vanden Hoek has taken on a role with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and in that role he has noticed how much higher the profile of other counties is with the province than that of Frontenac County.

“I don’t want to revisit amalgamation, and it has worked for the past 10 years, but it may have been a mistake to limit the role of the county at that time,” he said.

While he is not promoting a signature project on which to hang a new vision, a new brand for Frontenac County, Jim Vanden Hoek is trying to create the political atmosphere where a project or a series of projects will arise.

Among possible outcomes of such a strategy are: the creation of stronger community hubs to rival such centres as Westport and Picton; the development of Highway 38 as a county road with improved signage and standards; or an increased focus on marketing locally produced food.

“Getting the money for this is the easy part,” he said, “I think the biggest challenge is to convince the politicians to take it on.”

He sees the semi-regular joint county council meetings as an opportunity to do some convincing, but says the meetings will have to change, and participants at the meetings should have some authority to approve certain kinds of proposals.

“We don’t need 30 township councilors to oversee day-to-day county operations,” he said, “but when we are talking about economic development, they should have a say.”

In promoting his vision to the townships, Vanden Hoek has run into some reluctant councils.

When he presented his ideas to North Frontenac Council last week, resentment over county council decisions regarding the Rural Routes Transportation Service and Pine Meadow Nursing Home overshadowed any positive response to Vanden Hoek.

South Frontenac councilors were less hostile than their counterparts in North Frontenac when given the same pitch this Tuesday, Feb 5, but there was not much out and out support either.

Councilor David Hahn voiced a common South Frontenac position when he said, “South Frontenac has 25% of the votes at the county, and pays 58% of the bills, and the perception is that we don’t have a reasonable amount of control over the money that is spent at that level. It’s hard for us to see a bigger role for the county. Now, if we had another vote, we would have 40% of the vote …”

“The way things are at the County now, with Fairmount Home and the ambulance being the major programs, with few exceptions, most decisions made at the county level are made by the Ministry of Health, so I’m reasonable comfortable with the way the county runs, but I would have no trouble making changes along the lines you suggest,” Vanden Hoek responded.

Deputy Mayor Bill Robinson found the whole thing a bit esoteric.

“My constituents say, what’s in it for us? I don’t know what to tell them,” he said. “Where I come from I see something here that is hypothetical. We’re being asked to put money into something we can’t even see.”

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.