Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — While all the big talk now is about the June 2 provincial election for MPPs, local municipal races have opened up this week.

In the Gateway to Muskoka community here Mayor Paul Kelly has announced he won’t seek a second term saying he “could not commit to putting myself ‘all in’ for another four years.”

And veteran councillor Terry Pilger is the first in to replace him, filing his nomination papers at Town Hall on Monday’s first day of eligibility.

“Our town has faced many challenges, and still do,” he said in a release.

“But we have also made a lot of progress over the past few years. We need to keep this momentum going and continue to work together. We need the right kind of leadership from the mayor’s office. That leadership means taking good care of our community and its people and a willingness to stand up for Gravenhurst.

“This simple approach has guided my efforts as a councillor for many years. Now, I am asking for your support so I can put that experience to work as your mayor.”

Pilger previously ran for mayor in 2010 coming in third when he was also first in the race. He has been on council for decades.

Former federal Green Party candidate Marc Mantha has also apparently thrown his hat in the ring as well.

Gravenhurst town councillor Terry Pilger signs his papers for town clerk Kayla Thibeault this week to run for mayor. He has been on council for decades.

Meanwhile Kelly, who was acclaimed in 2018, said at the last council meeting in his mayor’s update, that “After much thought and consideration he would not be running again Oct. 24.”

In a release of his own, he said wanted to “put to rest any speculation of a second term as the head of council in advance of the nomination period (May 2 to Aug. 19, at 2 p.m).” Following his announcement, Kelly released the following community update.

Mayor Paul Kelly, here at last Friday’s Opera House grand re-opening, cited its renovations as one of council’s achievements during his first and only term of council.

Dear residents, constituents, businesses, and visitors of the Town of Gravenhurst:

Being the Mayor of Gravenhurst is an honour and enormous responsibility, it has been a role that I have has embraced and given my all. It has been a term of highs and lows, full of surprises, and delivered moments of absolute pride and uncertainty.

During COVID-19, council was determined to push forward and embraced new ways of engaging and communicating with constituents.

I believe electronic streaming of our meetings provided a real bonus to our community. Both year-round and seasonal residents now have greater access to the business and decision-making process of council than ever before.

While devastating and posing so many challenges and no road map to follow, COVID helped to bring out the best in people. Our community really came together to support each other during these trying times and continues to do so. There were so many shining examples of good human nature, such as Gravenhurst Against Poverty (GAP), the Masketeers, and Caretagion 2020.

In the last four years there have been many proud moments for the Town of Gravenhurst, including a change in attitude. We are moving in a positive direction, people want to live here, people want to work and start a business here.

We’ve been known for a long-time as the Gateway to Muskoka, but now more than ever, Gravenhurst is also the stopping point.

One of my real highlights of this term has been to help facilitate much needed rental opportunities, which will be available to all of Muskoka, not just Gravenhurst. The shift in Gravenhurst’s commercial landscape has also become undoubtedly noticed and impressive with numerous new businesses moving in.

There has also been a swell in sub-division approvals that will create many new living opportunities for new and existing families. As council, we are quite proud of contributing to our goal of increasing housing opportunities for our community and realize there is still work to be done.

During my term, I have been determined to keep the development of the Muskoka Regional Centre site a primary focal point in discussions with the province for the benefit of Gravenhurst. With the support of my council and the town’s administration, we continue to advocate for the most suitable proponent and have not hindered, despite numerous attempts and standstills. I know that the community has felt our frustration, but we continue to be optimistic that our voice will be eventually heard, and this property will once again bring new life and new opportunity for Gravenhurst.

The loss of the Ontario Fire College was another setback for the town and a decision council and I fiercely fought to avoid. When we lose facilities like the Fire College, not only are jobs lost, but we also lose a piece of our identity and our history.

Over this last term, we have streamlined many of our processes, including introducing online permitting to make it easier for people to conduct business and collaborate with our building and planning divisions.

Our budget process is inclusive, well-oiled, and an efficient means of delivering both the capital and operating budgets in an accountable and responsible timeline.

This past fall we introduced Scott Lucas as our new chief administrative officer, a leader who we believe brings a considerable amount of knowledge and passion for our community.

Council remains committed to investing in the safety and well-being of our community through the future purchase of a new ladder fire truck under the command of Jared Cayley, the new fire chief.

During COVID the town used the opportunity to modernize and make significant capital upgrades to some of our public facilities. I know guests are going to be pleasantly surprised the next time they visit our Opera House and positive feedback has already been received regarding the library.

When the community needed a voice during critical moments, like the extreme cold power outage or when the town endured a water system scare, I did not shy away from the opportunity to clearly articulate as much information as I could and made myself available for our community. There’s no road map for this kind of stuff, but I’ve always prided myself on getting back to people right away.

Relationship building is certainly an area that comes naturally to me, whether it be attending lake association meetings, hand-delivering celebratory plaques, taking part in dozens of ribbon cuttings and grand-openings, participating in countless volunteer events, or working with local youth.

Drawing on my roots in education, and with the support of council, I initiated the Gravenhurst Youth Council to ensure that young voices were included at the council table.

I have particularly enjoyed working with the local media to help introduce staff, promote initiatives and better explain Council directions. Along with well-known local personality, Bob Collins, a monthly television show was created on YourTV Muskoka called ‘Gravenhurst Connections,’ which provided some amazing insight to the many positive things happening in Gravenhurst.

I certainly realize that we’re never going to please everybody, it’s just the reality. It doesn’t mean you don’t try and bridge a gap.

I am so proud of how our council has come together to work with one another and carry out professional, meaningful dialogue.

We never had an integrity commissioner prior to it being mandated by the province in 2019. Having people responsible for what they say and do, both through a streaming meeting and through an integrity commissioner, has changed the dynamics of municipal government for the better.

As mayor, you become very involved and have a pretty good handle on the pulse of community simply by the nature of the role. It has given me the opportunity to meet new people and have the chance to do things that I wouldn’t have normally ever had the chance to do, like take the inaugural Porter Airline flight from Muskoka to Toronto or ride on the Northland Commuter train test run.

What an exciting time for us right now. Connecting with ministers at both the provincial and federal levels has also been a very positive experience.

Committing to being the mayor has always meant ‘being all in’ for me. In making my decision, I realized that I could not commit to putting myself all in for another four years.

COVID has really worn everyone out and demonstrated the need to live our lives to the fullest as we never know when it will end. It touched a nerve for me and amplified that we have a limited time on this planet.

It’s been an honour to serve and work alongside council, our dedicated staff and volunteers, despite some of the challenges we’ve faced.

I know, too, that I could not have done the job without a supportive spouse. Sue has been fantastic; always being there while keeping heavily involved in our community in her own way.

Come Nov. 15, we’re already planning for our next journey and will continue enjoying life with a long road trip south in our RV.

For those in the community who might be considering a position in municipal politics, please give me a call. My door is always open to discuss life on town council. It just might be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

Finally, to the people of Gravenhurst, thank you for your confidence and trust in me and thank you for your friendship. I will be forever grateful.

I am certainly not finished yet, though, we have a lot more work to do over the next several months. I am extremely excited to be involved in this summers’ amazing lineup of events and activities. Gravenhurst is such a special place we should all be proud to call home. I can’t wait to see you again in person.