By John Dance
It’s only been a year and a half, but Capital Ward councillor Shawn Menard has been vocal and effective in advancing the interests of the ward, its communities and the direction of the city. A key reason for this is the support of his four staff advisors, three of whom have been with him since the beginning of his term.
Whether it’s COVID-19, the climate-change emergency, Lansdowne, pushing back against excessive development proposals, affordable housing or LRT transparency, his team has passionately done the necessary research, consultation and policy development while simultaneously handling daily requests and questions from residents.
Ariela Kay Summit, Miles Krauter, Mélanie Boyer and Jonathan McLeod each brought varied and rich experience to the office when they were hired. Each has two basic roles – to cover the issues for assigned communities and to be lead on specific files.
For instance, McLeod is the Glebe-Annex-Dow’s Lake representative, but he also handles transit and transportation files and is the lead for public communications, briefing notes, policy papers and reports.
All four advisors relish the mix of broad policy issues and the nitty-gritty. “There’s a variety of things, it’s never boring and often difficult,” says Krauter, noting how the range of issues and working with residents makes the job very “grounding.”
“The appeal of the job comes from actually being able to accomplish something that has a direct impact on others,” says McLeod. He cites initiatives like the restoration of the Mutchmor rink as examples of “fostering communities that are better for everybody’s physical and mental well-being. We’re not just pushing paper – we are all working together to advance a city-wide vision.”
The four advisors and a student intern all work in the small open space in front of Menard’s office at city hall. The phone rings continually and a white board listing both long-term priorities and immediate projects and tasks is easily visible to all. In terms of residents’ calls and emails, 40 per cent during the winter are about snow and ice clearing, 16 per cent are vehicle complaints, 11 per cent are about infrastructure issues, 10 per cent relate to neighbours, development and business, eight per cent are for water and hydro matters, another eight per cent are transit-related and seven per cent are about parks, environment and miscellaneous.
“We truly all work together in this office,” says Boyer, “but my main responsibility is organizing Shawn’s day – scheduling meetings, making sure he has time to eat lunch – as well as triaging emails we receive from constituents to the right person’s inbox. I answer the phone with the help of our placement student and take care of service requests from our residents.”
She says the best way to contact the office with an issue is to email email@example.com “with as much detail as possible,” because the councillor’s office may not be aware of the background. She then assigns the issue to one of her colleagues and tracks it, unless it’s a Heron Park issue, in which case she will follow up herself.
So what are the challenges of the job? McLeod says it “can be difficult trying to harness the power of the city because it is a dispersed city with desires that have severe detrimental impacts on our ward.” He also notes that “the rules and protocols of the bureaucracy restrict us.” On other fundamental problems, such as the implementation of photo radar, McLeod points out that “the city is hamstrung by the province.”
As well as being the go-to person for the Glebe, Annex and Dow’s Lake neighbourhoods, McLeod’s files include Lansdowne, the Bank Street height and character study and heritage.
McLeod has a background in corporate communications. He spent the previous decade working in marketing and communications in the information technology and human resources staffing industries. In addition, he covered local politics as a columnist for the Ottawa Sun and Ottawa Citizen as well as the Glebe Report and Centretown Buzz. He was born and raised in Ottawa and has lived in the ward for the last eight years.
John Dance is an Old Ottawa East resident who takes a keen interest in the beauty and smooth functioning of the city.