Year One: Mayor George Bridges goal is to streamline towns procedures

This is the fourth article of a five-part series on first-time mayors from the lower tier municipalities in Wellington County.

George Bridge didn’t really think he’d end up in politics when he officially retired three years ago.

Instead, the first-time politician thought he’d continue volunteering in the community where he was born and raised.

But it was the words of his late father, Milton, that persuaded him to take a run at the top political office.

“My father always said to me, wherever you live you’ve got to give something back,” Bridge said of his decision to run for mayor.

It’s a philosophy he has followed in every community he has lived in his former job as a bank manager with TD Canada Trust. That job has taken him to postings at branches in Hanover, Fergus, Elmira, Barrie and Midland.

Depending on where he and his wife Susan were living, he has served as chairman of the Elmira Business Improvement Area, Master of the Masonic Lodge, president of the Hanover Rotary Club, and president of the Barrie Agricultural Society. He also served a three-year term as general manager of the Barrie Agricultural Society and Event Center before moving back to Minto.

Bridge is active as vice chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Group Pensions, Treasurer of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Ayton, president of the Harriston Curling Club and poppy chairman for the Harriston Legion.

Bridge is a graduate of Norwell Secondary School and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.

Politics had been an integral part of family life. His father served as reeve of Harriston for 12 years and was a Wellington County warden, and his grandfather George served on Palmerston council for 30 years, 15 as reeve.

“I guess it is in the blood,” he said.

The election saw basically a new council at the table with only incumbents Rick Hembly and David Turton returning. The balance of council is made up of newcomers Bridge, deputy-mayor Terry Fisk and councillors Ron Faulkner, Mary Lou Colwell and one former councillor, Ron Elliott.

The election in Minto echoed elections in surrounding municipalities where voters decided to bring in new blood. In Wellington North, a new mayor, Ray Touta was elected along with new councillors Al Lennox, Sherri Burke and Mark Goetz along with veteran Dan Yake.

Bridge sees the revitalization of councils, including his, as a positive step. Not only is the majority of his council new, its members also bring a wide range of experience to the table.

“They have good business experience,” he said. “Number one is dollars and cents. We have to run the town as a business. You have to be able to read [financial] statements.”

He said the new council is prepared to try new ways of doing business.

“One of the advantages of being new is you don’t have to run with what’s gone on in the past.”

Bridge credited previous and current councils for work needed to put together top quality staff to manage the town’s affairs.

The new council was trusted with hiring new chief administrative officer and clerk Bill White and recently hired new director of public services Brian Hansen, along with long-time staff, including treasurer Gord Duff.

The mayor said council and senior staff are currently in the process of preparing the town’s budget, a document that will be easily understood by residents.

“I’m hoping it will be very good when the public looks at it,” Bridge said.

Upgrades to the town’s website have assisted with making it easier for residents to access services and Bridge said eventually he hopes a “delayed feed” of council meetings will allow residents to follow issues dealt with at council.

Bridge is also passionate about economic development, essential to Minto’s growth. He credited the town’s business and economic development manager Belinda Wick-Graham with forging ahead with several initiatives, along with local volunteer groups, whose work included establishing farmer’s markets, streetscape and park improvements and cultural plans in Clifford, Harriston and Palmerston.

Minto recently hosted a joint economic development meeting with Wellington North and Mapleton townships to discuss potential joint ventures to attract new business.

“The present council did a good job seeing economic development was needed,” Bridge said.

Bridge recently took on the duties as chairman of Wellington County’s economic development committee, a committee that has been in place only informally in the past year or so. He sees economic development as a key to growth, whether it is due to county or local efforts.

According to the mayor it is essential that correct information regarding township issues gets to residents. He said there have been times when he has found himself in a coffee shop disputing misinformation about a given issue.

“If anything, it would be people who run to make judgement before hearing all the facts,” Bridge said of his main concern when dealing with town issues.

“I think if anything, that’s a frustration. If you are really upset, come and give us the facts. Nobody is hiding anything.”

He admitted there have been times when incorrect information has gone out to residents, but he trusts staff with providing the correct information. It’s something he has learned in his years as a bank manager.

“One of the advantages of being an ex-bank manager; you have to trust your staff,” he said.

Another positive he sees in Minto is that more and more people are volunteering their time on various projects and with different groups and organizations.

Bridge believes volunteers make the community continue to thrive and grow.

The mayor said he will continue to ensure residents know and understand how their community functions.

“I’m really looking forward to going into the next year.”