Sackville Town Councillor Joyce O’Neil will wrap up over 16 years on council this Wednesday. O’Neil announced her resignation at council’s September meeting, along with mayor John Higham.
Erica Butler called up Coun. O’Neil for a final interview in her capacity as town councillor. Here’s their conversation:
First off, I will ask you to tell me a bit about your career on council. How long did you serve?
I have served for 16 years and four months.
EB: Wow. When you started did you think you would be on council for that long?
No I certainly did not. As a matter of fact, the first year I ran, it was for three year term, right up until almost the time of the election when the government decided that no, it was going to start being four year terms. So it’s been four year terms ever since. And after each term, then I would run again and get reelected.
And so what brought about your decision now to step away and not re-offer?
Well, after 16 years, I just decided that it was time I stepped down. My age doesn’t help any, although I feel well.
And it was just time I guess. I’m hoping that maybe there’d be some young blood that would come in and would offer to run.
Would you say there were highlights to your time on council, something you’re maybe particularly proud of?
Oh, there’s a number of things that I’m really pleased that I’ve seen happen. The first thing was when we had Veolia come in and clean up our water. We had dirty water and complaints from people all over town, and myself being one. Anyway, once Veolia came in and and worked with our water people here in the town, they found out what our problems were, and it’s been corrected. So now it’s very seldom that we have any complaints on the water.
And the next thing was we didn’t have a lot of pressure, so we saw the water tower built. And the many upgrades in the Waterfowl Park. And I guess the big thing, as well, we had the Town Hall on the corner of Main and York. And then we had a fire department that was not big enough to house our new trucks. And the RCMP building was outdated. So I was involved in the planning for our new town hall, fire, and police departments. So that was a big thing.
And then after that, our work that has been done on the Bill Johnstone Park.
And I guess the latest things are the Lorne Street renewal both below and above ground, and the retention ponds.
So all in all, there’s been a lot of a lot of things happen over the years.
What were what were some of the most difficult decisions that you faced while you’re on council?
I guess every one is difficult when you start looking at the cost of what it is to do these projects, and wondering if the money is there or can be for what we need done. And then we’ve had changes in our staff and so on. But everything has worked out well, I think. Our staff is super and they all seem to work well together.
I was realizing while watching the council budget meeting when the community groups were presenting, I’m sure it’s difficult sometimes to decide where to put resources when you have a limited budget.
Yes, it sure is. I guess it’s just the same as when you’re running your household, what you really need and what you can do without, I guess.
EB: From your perspective, what are Sackville’s big challenges right now and into the future?
Well, I guess our big challenge, of course, is how well we can handle this COVID business. And our hospital is so needed, that’s a big challenge. I know that our mayor worked really hard on that, along with other community members, so that is a big challenge. And I guess the other is that we can still receive the necessary funding from the government to help the town complete their different projects, foreseen and unforeseen, that happen.
We don’t know exactly when an election will be happening, but it’ll be happening sometime before May 10th, next year. What advice do you have for people who are considering throwing their hat in the race?
Well, number one, if a person thinks they can run for council and get everything done the way they want it, that never happens. It’s not just the decision of one person. It’s the decision of many.
I know that I’ve heard people say, well, boy, if I was in there, I do this or that. Well, that isn’t the way it works. It’s a group of people, and their decisions are the ones that really rule the day.
They have to be prepared to spend time that they didn’t really think they were going to have to. Special meetings are called and sometimes your meetings go a lot longer, you might think you’re there for two, but you could be there for four hours. So it’s, you have to really make up your mind you’re going to be dedicated to being there for the next four years.
EB: Now, what the public sees in terms of the work of councillors is those public meetings where, right now, we see you on the screen, but we used to see you in town hall. Tell me a bit about the work that happens behind the scenes, like outside of those meeting times when we see councillors in action?
Well, the work is all done by staff really. And then staff keeps the council up to date. And you have to be prepared. I guess you do what you feel is in your own heart, the way you think things should be done. And then also by listening to what the people, your taxpayers and so on, what they say their feelings are. And you sort of let that all help you make decisions of what should be or shouldn’t be done.
Did you get a fair number of phone calls or messages from residents while you were in office?
No, not really. You get a few. You get a few that make you smile, because they’re telling you how they appreciated what you did. And you’re also getting some where people are certainly telling you that you didn’t make the right decision, or they’re disappointed with what you did. But that all goes with the job.
So what are your plans now that you have decided to retire from council?
Well, haven’t really taken time to really make any plans, because officially I’m not done until the 30th. But anyway, I’m a member of the Sackville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. And my part that I play there is in fundraising. I head up a fundraising committee. And once we’re through this COVID, or things change, then we’ll be able to get going on some fundraising again. But right now we’ve just been sitting back and and not able to meet or put groups of people together.
We’ve had teas and coffee parties. We’ve had different histories and fashion shows, music jamborees and so on, which takes a lot of time if you’re putting something like that together.
And then also being a mother, grandmother and great grandmother to eight little girls. I guess that’s going to help fill in my time.
EB: I suppose so. That’s a full time job, basically.
JO: Yes. I volunteered for years before I even ran for council. I believe volunteerism is so important to our town. And I don’t know, I haven’t really given a lot of thought. I guess my thought is just trying to realize I’ve got to
find something else to do now that I’ll be not going to council meetings or reading minutes and so on and so forth.
Well, thanks very much for your time today, Joyce.
Okay, Erica. Thank you for thinking of me and all of the best there.