Ladysmith’s new mayor is excited to move forward on issues that will make the community he loves even better.
Aaron Stone, who will be turning 40 this year and was successful in his first bid for municipal politics in November, was sworn in as Ladysmith’s new mayor Monday, Dec. 1.
“The main reason that I ran for mayor is that it wasn’t because I wanted to be mayor as much as I wanted to serve Ladysmith,” he said. “I grew up here, I love this community and I believe that the difference I have, just in being younger and coming up through a different time gives me a different perspective on things that we can do here and what the potential is, while still understanding that there are some real hard issues to deal with.”
Stone says he felt that with his personality, his public speaking abilities and his abilities to connect people in a way that’s maybe a bit more modern than what has been done in the past, he was probably better suited to being a mayor than a councillor.
“It really came down to what role I felt I could best fill for the community,” he said. “I felt that I’m 40 years old this year coming up, I have time and energy to give to the community in terms of where I am at my stage of life, and I felt if I started now, it would give me an opportunity to sort of take on the challenge while I still have the energy for it to become acclimated to the level of work that’s involved.”
Stone realizes that people seem to expect information from the town in a different way, and he is eager to connect and communicate in different ways.
“I’ve always been able to find out the information I wanted by just asking, but people expect a different sort of communications plan and strategy in today’s times, especially the core group of people who need to be reached more on a municipal level, and that’s the younger people,” he said. “The people under 50 years old expect a different way of being informed, and the use of social media is a big piece of that, as well as just focusing on pushing it onto people’s plates so they have the information.”
Stone is really excited about the council that is coming in and the diversity he sees around the council table, with three new councillors (Carol Henderson, Cal Fradin and Joe Freisenhan), two incumbents (Steve Arnett and Duck Paterson) and former mayor Rob Hutchins.
“The reality is differences of opinion and differences of perspective will lead to decisions that provide strong governance and strong perspective,” he said. “It is not a criticism to previous councils at all, but it’s very clear to me in talking to different people, both the new and the existing council that have been re-elected, that there is a strong willingness to work together, but coming from different perspectives, and I think that’s a really valuable tool and will lead to a strong term for all of us.”
In terms of priorities, Stone feels there are some house-cleaning items that need to come onto the front burner right away.
“We need to resolve issues that have been kind of bandied about in the community for too long, variances and some of the other pieces,” he said.
When it comes to larger goals, he feels the top three priorities he spoke about while campaigning are still high priorities — transparency and communication from City Hall, reinvigorating downtown Ladysmith and beyond, and waterfront development.
With City Hall, Stone would like to see council meetings online so that they can be streamed, he would like to see the Town get information out to the public as soon as it is reasonably able to, and he would like to see town hall meetings that may have a different look than what people have seen in the past.
“I’ve talked with our First Nations council, a couple members, about doing joint town hall meetings a couple times a year where we have one in Ladysmith where the whole community’s invited from our First Nation and from Ladysmith and we say ‘let’s all get together and talk about our plans together’ and be able to connect our communities on a broader piece than just the two councils connecting,” he said. “As a spinoff from that, we need to up the engagement level on culture and celebrations and things like that so that when we have our Light Up or we have our Ladysmith Days, that Stz’uminus First Nation is front and centre as well. And from an arts and culture piece, in terms of installations in Ladysmith, you wouldn’t walk through Ladysmith and think we have a rich First Nations past, and I’d like to see that get upped as well. And that will take time, but I think the pieces that all go into that and incorporating the resources and co-operation on things like the Waterfront Area Plan will only really show its true value when we connect the culture piece and the art piece to it as well.”
When it comes to the business environment, Stone thinks more in terms of reinvigoration than revitalization. He’d like to get the energy back onto First Avenue and beyond and start moving the yardsticks for business development.
“That doesn’t mean that the mayor and council are now going to be tasked with developing businesses in Ladysmith, but what it does mean is that we need to engage the businesspeople, the leaders that we have here, the Chamber of Commerce, the Ladysmith Downtown Business Association, to put plans out there that can be supported by council as a resource and how those opportunities will look, they will have to take shape, but if we’re all on the same page when it comes to economic development and tourism development, there’s a much greater chance of success,” he said.
Stone thinks the waterfront could very well be the most important issue, although he believes these elements have to happen on parallel tracks.
“I see the next year being the year of the waterfront plan because I think we need to look at the framework we have in place that provides a solid jumping-off point and bringing it back to the community to find out what the vision really is,” he said. “I think that’s probably going to be the most public piece that we see over the next year.”
Education is a key for Stone, and he’d like to see council offering a primer for the public that summarizes all the documents those sitting around the council table must digest when it comes to something like infrastructure issues.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure people are informed and not to take away people’s desire for certain amenities or tax cuts or whatever it is they feel they desire from their local government, but so that they understand what the realities of the situation are,” he said.
Stone says he would like to be known as a mayor who is accessible.
“I feel passionate about so many things that I feel I can bring a real broad perspective to what can be attractive as a place to live, a place to visit and a place to stay and play. I hope that makes me more accessible to people, that they feel they can talk to me and be straight with me and understand that we may not always agree, but I’m willing and ready to hear that feedback, especially if it’s delivered in a respectful and constructive way,” he said.