Avis closes 21-year career on council

Duane Hicks

Outgoing mayor Roy Avis this week marked the end of a 21-year career in municipal politics, calling it “a long but satisfying journey.”
“I had been committed to the second and fourth Monday of every month for 21 years and I will have to refocus on a future without that commitment,” he noted during Monday night’s council meeting–the final one for Mayor Avis and outgoing councillors John Albanese, Doug Kitowski, Ken Perry, and Paul Ryan before the new council is sworn in this coming Monday (Dec. 3).
“I must say it has been a great experience.”
Mayor Avis thanked Couns. Albanese, Kitowski, Perry, and Ryan, along with mayor-elect June Caul and returning councillor Wendy Brunetta, for their dedication in making Fort Frances a place that people can live, work and play “knowing that it is the best and most affordable community in Northern Ontario to live.”
“We can all be proud of our results,” he remarked. “I consider council a team and all seven players must pull in the same direction for the best results.
“At the end of the day, we may have differed slightly but when we reviewed the issues and listened to all opinions, I felt confident we attained the best results.”
Mayor Avis, who thanked voters for electing him to three terms as a councillor and then three terms as mayor, admitted “being mayor has not always been easy.”
When looking back, his first major challenge was the mill assessment that caused a reduction in tax dollars that “seemed insurmountable.”
“But the most devastating news was the closure of the mill indefinitely,” Mayor Avis added, noting just under 500 direct jobs were lost–and this happened one week short of the mill’s 100-year anniversary.
“I had many sleepless nights trying to plan a future with and without the mill,” he recalled.
“I must say council did not look back as we fought the fight and to this day, we will hope that some parts will be salvaged.”
Over the past 21 years, Mayor Avis has been involved in numerous projects, including the Ice For Kids Arena, Townshend Theatre, Rainy Lake Square, waterfront development (including the tower and “Hallett”), Riverwalk Condominiums, the new sand shed, animal shelter, tennis courts, the acquisition of the Shevlin wood yard for $1, and the Huffman Court subdivision.
There also was road work, as well as upgrades to the Civic Centre, airport terminal building, and several other municipal facilities.
While the cost of building a new library concerned him at first, Mayor Avis admitted his worry ultimately was proven “needless” as the late Joyce Cunningham had the passion, perseverance, and commitment to see the project through.
“I have never seen any other project that was totally funded with money in the bank from the government before the project started,” he lauded.
Council over the last 12 years has been especially financial prudent, added Mayor Avis, noting the town “is in excellent financial shape.”
“Our reserves are at acceptable levels, our debt is the lowest I have seen in 21 years, and we are able to, as I say, ‘pay as we go,'” he remarked.
Mayor Avis also gave kudos to current CAO Doug Brown and his administration team for providing input and support to council, as well as past town CAO and former FFPC CEO Mark McCaig, whose dedication to the community was “very apparent.”
He gave special recognition to the late Sharon Tibbs, who passed away in early 2013.
“Sharon was the deputy mayor and her contributions to the table were always well thought-out and Fort Frances came first,” he noted.
Several other council members also shared words Monday evening.
Mayor-elect Caul thanked every member of council, noting she wouldn’t be where she is today without them.
“You have been true mentors and I have been so privileged to work alongside of you fellows for the last four years,” she said.
“You’ve given so much. I know that you’ll continue to give.
“And Mayor Avis, I could only ever hope to fill your shoes, and I will call on you when I need you,” she added.
“You are our Fort Frances hero. Thank you so very much for all you have done.”
Coun. Brunetta called the final meeting a “monumental day,” noting Mayor Avis and the outgoing councillors combined have 70 years of experience in municipal politics.
“It’s quite amazing, and we–June and I–have been very fortunate to learn from all of that experience,” she remarked.
“Personally, I’d like to thank you.”
Coun. Ryan, first elected in 2006, said he wants residents to know it’s been his pleasure and honour to be a councillor for the past 12 years.
“I am proud of the many accomplishments of this council and, also the past two councils that I’ve served on, as we strived to make Fort Frances a better place to live,” he said.
“We leave Fort Frances in a sound financial position and we now pass the torch to a new, very capable council,” added Coun. Ryan.
“I would like to thank the management and employees of the town for their continued support, research, and advice to council so that we could make sound decisions.”
He noted he’s enjoyed working with the mayor and other councillors, and their relationships have fostered “great friendships.”
Coun. Ryan also thanked his wife, Gay, their family, and all of the other people who supported him along the way.
Town CAO Doug Brown wished Mayor Avis and the outgoing councillors well on their “retirement” and urged the public to thank them the next time they see them.
“Pat these people on the back. They’ve done a great job for the community,” stressed Brown, adding the incoming council has “some big shoes to fill” but he’s confident they will do it.
The incoming council, including Caul and Brunetta, along with newly-elected councillors Michael Behan, Andrew Hallikas, Douglas Judson, John McTaggart, and Rick Wiedenhoeft, will be sworn in at their inaugural meeting next Monday (Dec. 3) starting at 7:30 p.m.