Inaugural Address by Mayor Mitch Panciuk

Welcome to our honored guests, our dedicated City of Belleville employees, my colleagues, my fellow citizens, my friends, and to my family - Welcome one and all.  On behalf of the entire new Belleville City Council, thank you for sharing this special day with us. 

We want to invite you all to join us for lunch immediately following this ceremony.  All rooms and offices on the 4th floor here in this historic building will be open for you to explore.  You are welcome to take as many photos as you would like, and I especially encourage you to take photos in this chair, first used by a Mayor in 1874, as it represents the great history and future legacy of Belleville.

I would like to thank our incredible City Staff, with a special nod to those in my new Office, for all their help and hard work in organizing this day.  If it has gone well, it is because of them. Thank you to all the presenters today, and a heartfelt thanks to the Mayors of our neighbouring communities for bringing your message of welcome and congratulations.

I would also like to thank Justice Tausenfreund for conducting my swearing in this morning.  As a former Belleville City Councillor himself, he knows the importance of this day.  When Lisa and I first arrived in Belleville, Wolf was an active member of the Rotary Club and one of the very first to welcome us, and encourage me to get involved.  Wolf continues to be a great ambassador for our community, and to have a friend like him officiate today is indeed special.

Some of the people here today have journeyed far, which makes their presence all the more special for us.  I’d like to thank my mother, Lisa’s parents, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and our very special friends for being here.  Those who have known us the longest may be the most surprised that we are here, in this room, today, having achieved what we have:  That we are your new Belleville City Council.

Our families and friends may remember us from our less mature, less developed, less wise times; some of them probably thought they would never see this day.  You can stop pinching yourselves – We are, indeed, here – Your previous investments of time, energy, wisdom – and, in some cases, bail money – appear to have been worth it.

I would also like to thank my past Council colleague Jack Miller for investing me with the Chain of Office. Emily and Cara are away at school but are here in spirit with Lisa and Samantha as they helped me don the Mayor’s Robe for the first time.  And it is very special to me that my only remaining colleagues from the past Council were the ones who presented me with the Mayor’s Gavel. All of these items are steeped in tradition and symbolism, and their meaning is not lost on me. I promise to dignify and respect them in my new role.

It is an incredible and humbling honour to have taken the oath to become the 76th Mayor of Belleville.

It’s quite remarkable to me that I stand before you this morning as your Mayor.  The fact I am standing here speaks to how special a community Belleville is.  There are not a lot of places where someone can be elected to the highest civic office only seventeen years after first moving to that community. This is exactly what has happened to me.

My family and I have been welcomed and constantly amazed by this city since we moved here in 2001 to open our business on Bell Blvd.  In many other communities, you couldn’t even think about becoming Mayor without family roots going back multiple generations.  Belleville, on the other hand, is an open community, where people are not only welcomed but are also included and allowed to fully participate in making their city better. This has been our experience in Belleville, and my family and I are grateful.

I know this sentiment is shared by some of my fellow City Council members, who originally came from other communities and have also been welcomed here with open arms.  Now is our opportunity to repay that generous spirit with our own public service, and I know we all recognize the privilege and responsibility that comes with our positions.

Even before we moved here, Belleville has always had a special connection to our family. My wife Lisa’s grandfather, Jack Moss, was a Bernardo child and came to Canada through Marchment Home right here in Belleville, in the present-day area of Moira and Yeomans street. He was fortunate to have been placed with a good family.  He went to West Huntington School in Thurlow Ward, and then moved to the Oshawa/Whitby area where he went on to marry and raise his own family.

Life has a way of coming full-circle:  Jack’s grand-daughter moved here to Belleville, the city he started his Canadian journey in.  It seems fitting that we are now able to provide service to a city that has given so much to my family.

To everyone who helped me on my journey to this chair, both during my last four years as a Councillor, and during the municipal election campaign, I say thank you. Your support, encouragement, and assistance mean so much to my family & I.  You were essential in helping win the election on October 22nd.  From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you to each and every one of you.

I would like to thank the previous City Council for their efforts, guidance and advice. Former Mayor Taso Christopher, and former Councillors Egerton Boyce, Jackie Denyes, Mike Graham and Jack Miller all served with distinction, and all made significant contributions to our community. They delivered many positive improvements for our City.  I hope all of you join me in thanking them for their public service.

I also want to thank every voter that selected me on their ballot, trusting in our vision for Belleville.  You have given me a clear mandate for the future direction of our City, and I will do my best to honour your vote. 

To those who may not have supported me on October 22nd, rest assured that I am your Mayor as well.  Being the Mayor of Belleville is a privilege that, first and foremost, comes with the responsibility of representing all Citizens. Citizens who live in both Wards.  Citizens who live in every neighbourhood.  Citizens who have means, and Citizens who do not.  Regardless of your background, your beliefs, who you are, who you love, or how long you have lived in our community, in my eyes you are a Citizen of Belleville.  And as your Mayor, it is my duty to represent all Citizens.  To represent everyone.

You spoke loud and clear, to elected representatives, hopeful candidates, and City Staff alike during this election and your message was, quite simply, “We want change.”  You want us to chart a new course for the City of Belleville, and you want us to do it together.  You want us to build a Belleville that offers quality of life to all people in our community, from Thurlow to the Bay of Quinte, from Wallbridge-Loyalist Road to the Tyendinaga border, and all areas in between.

You want us to make Belleville a modern, thriving, and healthy City.  You have given us an incredible opportunity to pause, refresh, and reconsider our City’s strategic and operational plans.  It’s an intimidating agenda, and you have high expectations.  And we, your new City Council, are up to that challenge.

The most important lesson learned during my term as a Belleville City Councillor is that I have a lot to learn.  While I learned a lot this past term from other City Councillors and, most often, from City Staff, I know that the learning is not over – far from it.  It has only just begun.

Learning is something that we, as elected officials, will do every single day we are in Office.  While I know I will do my best, I am also asking for your patience.  As Mayor, I will rely heavily on the amazing women and men who work for our City, as well as my fellow City Council members, to start working to deliver for you.

Even though I will make every attempt to do my job as Mayor to the best of my ability, I will make mistakes.  Most importantly, I want to ask that you please assist me wherever possible when I do, and I would ask you to please be generous with your feedback.

Your help, and your assistance, will ensure that any mistakes I make aren’t compounded or made worse.  If you believe there is a better way to do something, I want to hear it.  I care more about getting things right than I do about being right.

Trust is a difficult word in politics; it’s a word I heard most during the election campaign, and a word I have heard many times in the days since. Trust is hard to earn, and very easy to lose. You need to feel you can trust the leadership of the City of Belleville. We, your new Council, must demonstrate that we have heard and understand your message by taking additional steps to earn, or in some cases re-establish, that trust.

An important first step was establishing web-streaming and archiving of City Council and Planning Committee meetings during Council’s last term.  Citizens now have unfettered access to see not only the business we conduct at Council meetings on their behalf, but also how we do it. I believe the next steps to increasing transparency and access to City Hall include webcasting even more committee meetings, and I hope the rest of our incoming Council will support this and other initiatives.

I also believe it is high time that Belleville adopted the same policies as our Provincial and Federal governments by ensuring all matters before City Council be put to a recorded vote whenever a vote is required.  You have a right to know how your Council members vote on all issues.  Under the current system, recorded votes are optional and occur only when a member of City Council specifically requests one.

In the interests of transparency, and building your trust, I believe this has to change. I’m not only recommending a change to how City Council does business:  Many other communities already have systems integrated into their web-streaming features that identify how all members vote, so that you can see this information as you watch Council meetings online. This coming budget cycle, City Council will consider options that would allow Belleville to deliver this level of accountability to you.

Then there is the recently created position of Integrity Commissioner, a resource that will be accessible to all Citizens and members of City Council and provides guidance about the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.  You must have confidence that your elected officials are following the rules and do not ever act as if they are above the law. This new position will help ensure your local government acts in your best interests, helping to further build your trust.

Staff have already started the process of identifying candidates that might fill this role.  Your new City Council will have the opportunity to select Belleville’s first-ever Integrity Commissioner in early 2019.

With increased transparency, your City Council can focus on the issues we heard from door to door, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, from ward to ward, and everywhere in-between.

First priority is dealing with our housing crisis and, in particular, the acute shortage of rental housing in Belleville. I am pleased to announce that I will be calling a Special Meeting of Council which will in essence be the first ever Belleville Housing Summit.  We intend to bring together all of the agencies and organizations that can help us develop a made-in-Belleville solution that addresses our immediate and future housing needs.

Yes, there are currently rental unit projects at various stages of development but we need more. To get more, we need to do more.
- We must assist Developers working to bring rental housing projects to Belleville.
- We must ensure we are making every effort to access our City’s fair share of available National Housing Initiative funding.
- We need to look at other initiatives and improvements that can help Rental Housing developers reduce their construction cost, access available Provincial and Federal government funding, and consider incentives that will spur the private sector into building more rental units in Belleville.

I want to welcome both Ruth Estwick from the Quinte Home Builders Association, and Bob Cottrel from the All-Together Affordable Housing Corporation, who are here with us today.  They have both agreed to share Chair duties with me for this upcoming Housing Summit.  I would ask Ruth & Bob to please stand so they can be recognized for their willingness to help lead this critical initiative for our community.

I believe that progress on the housing front will unlock additional prosperity for Belleville, helping improve our community and make Belleville a better place for everyone to live, and put us on the road to becoming a healthy community in the truest sense.  Affordable rental housing means quality of life for all, and also helps us take a step further in helping our community provide better services to support our vulnerable residents in need.

Financial support for our vulnerable sector comes from many different sources. This past term, some of the proceeds our City receives through our partnerships with the OLG & Shorelines Casino were assigned to Belleville’s Social Infrastructure Reserve Fund. The Grant Committee, which I had the privilege of Chairing this past term, makes recommendations to Council about the distribution of these funds to the groups and organizations in our community that our vulnerable residents depend on.  In 2018, the fund distributed $150,000 to those organizations, and while we can be proud of that number, it still falls short of what these organizations need every year.

During this new Council’s first Operating Budget process, I will bring a proposal to double the current 5% allocation of Casino revenues assigned to this fund to 10%, so that we can help these organizations help even more Belleville Citizens at risk.  In addition to these funds, Shorelines Casino corporately, and their employees personally, donate their own money to these same organizations.  Andy Lacriox from Shorelines Casino is here with us today, and I would like to ask him to please stand and be recognized for the ongoing partnership between the City of Belleville and the Shorelines Casino Group, and their continued support of our community.

We are indeed fortunate here in Belleville to have so many groups and individuals who give of themselves – their time, efforts, and financial support makes life better for the less-fortunate among us.   Many of our community benefactors do this simply because they believe it’s their responsibility.  Belleville would be a very different place without the efforts of our faith-based communities.  Representing many different beliefs, they all contribute tirelessly to our City, by helping others during particularly difficult times, by helping vulnerable Citizens make ends meet, by sponsoring and welcoming refugee families, even by helping feed our hungry children.

To recognize the contributions these faith-based organizations make to Belleville, I will be establishing an annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, beginning in March of next year.  It will be an inter-faith celebration of their contributions to our community, and a dialogue about how, together, we can do more for those in need.  I have asked the Reverend Shawn Stickler to assist me in organizing and hosting this event; Reverend Stickler is here with us today and I would ask him to please stand so he can be recognized for his assistance with this new initiative.

Additional economic prosperity will create more opportunity for the City of Belleville.  Safe, responsible growth will allow us to make progress on providing High-Speed Internet access to all areas of Belleville, and that includes Ward 2.   Prosperity will help us move forward with making Belleville the safest city in Ontario.  It will improve our ability to deliver best in class customer service. Safe, responsible growth will allow us to increase our green and recreational space, provide more playgrounds for our children, and additional amenities to improve the quality of life for everyone, and make Belleville more attractive to families and businesses considering a move.

That path to prosperity and growth means maximizing the use of, and unlocking the potential of, any and all resources at our City’s disposal.  We need to successfully complete the negotiations for an agreement to relocate the Belleville Agricultural Society to a more appropriate location. Doing so will allow us to realize the economic potential of the fairground property. The last Council started this process, and we now have the east-side of the property in our control.  We must push forward and finish the process for the remaining 22 acres on the west-side.

The Belleville Agricultural Society will soon celebrate its 200th anniversary, an incredible achievement in the history of the City of Belleville, the Province of Ontario and even Canada itself. I firmly believe we can come to a win-win agreement, one that recognizes economic benefit to taxpayers, while retaining the rich and important legacy of the Agricultural Society.  BAS President Rick Caddick is here with us today, and I would like to ask him to please stand and be recognized for his continued efforts on this initiative.

The challenges before us are many – some we are aware of and some we will find out as events unfold during the next four years. It is a tall order we are called on to fulfill, and a challenge that I know this Council is up to.

Many times during the election, I made a point of saying that a Mayor does not get to pick the City Councillors they will work with.  That job is up to you, the voters, and I promised you that I would work with whomever you chose.  I believe you have chosen well.  I am extremely pleased with the make-up of our new Council and the skills each of you as City Councillors bring to the table.

I have enjoyed getting to know you better since the election, and as your Mayor I am here to serve you in the best way I can.  With the support of my office, I am here to provide support for all members of City Council, and we will make whatever changes are necessary to best serve both you, and the residents you represent.

That support extends to your spouses and support networks as well, from the Mayor’s office, Lisa, and me personally.  I have learned that being on City Council is not an activity we do as individuals, our families and our support networks are essential. We know they will be there to help us and also share in our duties when called upon.

Councillor Malette – Welcome to Belleville City Council. This is a great accomplishment.  During your many years as a journalist, you helped residents better understand their City.  Your willingness to now serve those residents as a Councillor demonstrates your love of our community.  I look forward to, and appreciate, the opportunity of working with you.

Councillor Thompson – you are now Council’s longest-serving member.  You will be called on to share your knowledge and experience to help us make good decisions going forward. As your former seat-mate, I benefited from seeing how you used your vast knowledge and experience to guide your efforts.  I look forward to working with you again this term and congratulate you on your re-election.

Councillor Sandison – Welcome to Belleville City Council.  Your background will not only assist this City Council, but will also assist me personally.  We have much work to do to ensure all residents of Ward 2 feel connected to our city, and have access to the services they need. I look forward to working with you this term.

Councillor McCaw –Congratulations to you on your re-election. You have deservedly earned a reputation as someone who stands for transparency, integrity, and the best interests of our Citizens. We have sometimes agreed on issues, and sometimes we have not. But I have always appreciated your willingness to take a clear position, and I respect your consistency and steadfastness. I look forward to working with you again in my new role.

Councillor Williams – Welcome to Belleville City Council. We have had the chance to work together on many projects over the years and I appreciate the contribution you and your family have already made to our community.  And I know that was just the start. You are a tremendous activist for strengthening our economy and promoting our regional brand. I look forward to working with you over the coming months and years as we put Belleville on track for a better future.

Councillor Kelly – Welcome to Belleville City Council.  I have known you personally for many years, and have always appreciated what you do for our City.  The communication skills you have developed professionally, and your service as an elected School Board Trustee, will be of great use to us over this term. I look forward to working with you and congratulate you on your election.

Councillor Culhane – A warm welcome back to Belleville City Council. We are incredibly fortunate to have your experience, knowledge and long-standing track-record of being a tireless community advocate. These qualities will assist us greatly in our work over the next four years, and I look forward to working with you.

Councillor Carr – Congratulations on your re-election. Over the past four years we collaborated on many motions, and brought much positive change to our community.  I know you share my belief that our city now operates and treats our citizens better.  We have an incredible opportunity before us to bring about even more positive change, and I will rely on you for your continued guidance and initiative to help make our City the best it can be.  As a Ward 2 Councillor, you have always seen the bigger picture of the entire Belleville, and we benefit greatly from your continued service. Congratulations.

I want to thank you all for your eagerness and openness as we prepare for our new responsibilities. I have sincerely enjoyed our one-on-one meetings, and appreciate your input, advice, candor and contribution to our combined plans for Belleville.  For us to succeed, it cannot be an agenda of one – We all must contribute, and you have already displayed you are up to the task.

Going forward, I pledge that I will always be available to you, and that I understand much of my job is to ensure you are able to do your job.

As we start this new journey I want to thank my family:  Thank you for your unwavering support, and for allowing me this opportunity to serve. As a family we will serve our City together.  I know with your support, encouragement and help nothing is impossible.

I want to reiterate that after the ceremony I invite you to stay and have photos taken with us, our staff and other guests. The Mayor’s Office and the entire 4th floor is open, and we invite you to explore and enjoy lunch.

My dear friends,

Today has marked one of the most sacred principals we uphold as freedom-loving, self-governing people.

For today, we continue the tradition of democracy in our great city, the sacred ritual of the peaceful transfer of power from one City Council to the next and from one Mayor to the next.

We do this as part of our hard-earned freedom to select those who govern us – a right that has been secured with the blood, sweat, tears and lives of those who fought for this freedom and built this city.

We are grateful to the previous City Councils and Mayors who have come before us – they built our community into what it is today. They rightly take their place in the history of our wonderful community as will we in the future when our term is completed.

These seats we occupy are but as temporary representatives.

Many have come before us in the history of Belleville and many will come after us – let us always remember it is a great privilege and honor to represent our peers and our duty to serve each of them.

On this day, we gather to reaffirm the greatness of our City.

While we have much to take pride in, we also have much more to do.

Belleville is bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions. It is greater than our differences of birth, or wealth or where we came from.

The greatness of our City is the journey we continue.

This journey is on the path of Loyalty, Tradition and Progress which is the motto of our City and are displayed for all to see on our Coat of Arms.

I relish our opportunity to serve and I thank you for your cooperation, patience and assistance.

May divine providence, hard work and ingenuity mark our term in office and may we bring about great improvements for the good people of Belleville.

Thank you.

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