Two-term city councillor Danielle Ingram will not seek re-election in October.
Ingram made the decision late last year. The mother of two will have more time to focus on her family, which is always her priority, she said, and for her career in planning with the City of Waterloo.
Ingram didn’t mince words about the challenges of the last four-year term of council, particularly since the pandemic hit.
“This last term, the pandemic made us struggle,” Ingram told StratfordToday. “Because we were not in person as a group (meeting virtually) we never really formed as a group. We never got past the storming stage. Never got to perform and it made this last term a lot more difficult.”
Ingram felt more was accomplished as a group in her first four years, from 2014 to 2018.
“Some of it was budget restrictions and pandemic-related. We could not make a decision well. We struggled to come to a consensus. We struggled to move forward. I don’t think that is the sign of a well-functioning council.”
Ingram said it was obvious to people watching meetings that council struggled to communicate.
“When you can see that you are not progressing, not making good decisions, not moving forward, it is difficult, you feel sluggish, you feel the weight of everything that you wanted to move forward and everything you know is sitting there waiting and you just can’t get to it.”
Ingram said there were some highlights – some of the bigger ones mentioned recently include Market Square and Tom Patterson Theatre. Not getting the big headlines but just as important to the community were a demolition control bylaw and a private tree cutting bylaw, for example, she noted.
Ingram also praised the hiring of Mike Beitz, the city’s corporate communications lead. His work has brought council and the community closer together, she said.
“It has made a big difference in how we communicate, how we engage with the public. We didn’t have that when I started council.”
One of the items that did not move forward but it is still on city’s council’s radar is a renewable natural gas (RNG) project, at the city’s water pollution control plant, or another location.
Council decided late last year not to move forward on a proposed project at the West Gore Street plant.
“I still maintain that has to move forward...with the help of some partners. It got pushed aside because of the pandemic.”
The project would have involved the addition of new equipment at the West Gore Street plant to allow for large quantities of organic matter, including food waste, to be processed, with a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting organic waste.
“It is a really good project and it is viable and it would benefit the community in so many ways.”
There was a group of citizens opposed to the RNG project from the start, Ingram said.
“There is always a really big project out there that someone is going to be interested in. It could be a group of 30 people that email you daily or it could be a group of 650 emailing you once.”
“You are never going to make everyone happy.”
Ingram is accustomed to public feedback on projects both in her day job as a development application coordinator and as a city councillor.
“Public advocacy groups are not new to me.”
Advocacy groups, Ingram noted, did not lead to the Xinyi Canada Glass plant project not moving forward. Citizen groups against the proposed $400 million glass plant noted a lack of communication to residents from council, but council had much to consider, she said.
“There were other factors that played into it, a number of other pieces that played into the puzzle.”
Ingram started publicly letting people know she was not in support of the Xinyi project in late 2020/early 2021.
“I think that is a good example of how council did not perform well together. Unfortunately for the public it was dragged on more than was perhaps necessary.”
Asked to clarify how council did not perform well together on the Xinyi project, Ingram declined to elaborate. “I don’t think I can speak to that.”
Consider the balancing act
Ingram said potential city council candidates should do their homework on the commitment required and decide if they have the time and the support behind them to put forth their best effort.
“It is a big juggling act.”
In addition to committee and council of the whole meetings, there are lengthy meeting packages to review, as well as phone calls and emails from residents.
Ingram had a good idea of the level of commitment required by working for a municipality, though noted many who run and are voted in are unsure of the time they need to commit.
It is 24/7, she said, recalling once being approached at a funeral to discuss city business.
“You have to want to serve your community and do the best job you can, and keep in mind the public interest when you take on this opportunity.”
Ingram would like to see more diversity on city council.
“The future of the city and the vision of the city is a complete community, which includes children, families, young professionals and the older population. So you really want to have a broad spectrum sitting on council that is representative of the community.”
Ingram said voters should do some homework, too, especially if considering an incumbent councillor.
“Take a look at what they put forward, what they were able to accomplish during their term. How they involved themselves in conversations. What they felt strongly for and what they advocated for, how many meetings they attended, how many boards and committees they sat on – that can be a good indicator of how involved they were and a good indicator of their pulse point on the community.”