Win This Space finale moved to Brussels following council discussion - Oct. 26, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
A heated and, at-times, pointed discussion regarding the location of the Brussels Win This Space finale has resulted in a last-minute change of venue.
The celebration of local entrepreneurs, as well as the culmination of weeks of training and development, will now be hosted at the Brussels Legion. However, that was not the case just days ago.
Councillor John Lowe raised the issue at council’s Oct. 17 meeting, saying that numerous Brussels residents were very angry that the Win This Space finale, scheduled for Oct. 27, had been set to be held in Seaforth.
Lowe said that residents felt the move contradicted the spirit of the competition. The Brussels installment of Win This Space is encouraging entrepreneurs to open a new business in Brussels. However, he suggested that hosting the finale in Seaforth suggested that some thought Brussels would be good enough for the contestants’ businesses, but not suitable to host such an event.
Lowe said the decision, made by Economic Development Officer Jan Hawley, has really left a bad taste in the mouths of some Brussels residents.
Just because there are establishments in Seaforth, where the event is being held, that have successfully hosted such events before doesn’t mean Brussels establishments shouldn’t have been considered, Lowe said.
“There are many good establishments in Brussels,” he said.
Councillor David Blaney had discussed the issue with Hawley, he said, and the conversation didn’t end well.
Blaney said that Hawley effectively told him that the finale would be held in Seaforth because “that’s where she wants it”. He also added that the exchange was not so much of a discussion as it was Hawley making a “flat-out statement” that she would host the event wherever she wanted to host it.
He then added that the two still hadn’t spoken three weeks after the discussion.
“Jan has done a lot of good things, but I think there are times when Jan’s lack of understanding of political realities could be considered to be weak,” Blaney said. “This is going to cause a problem; it is already causing a problem.”
Other councillors then proceeded to pipe up regarding past dealings with Hawley that were similar, adding that they also had similar results when they raised concerns of their residents.
Councillor Ray Chartrand said he was critical of Hawley’s decision to host the Vanastra Win This Space finale at the Seaforth Golf Club when the Vanastra Community Centre could have been used. Residents were also upset, he said, but when he brought it up to Hawley, he said it was a “no-win situation”.
Councillor Bob Fisher said he spoke to Hawley when the first Win This Space – which was technically for both Seaforth and Brussels, but Seaforth attracted far more attention – finale was being scheduled. He said that instead of the Seaforth Golf Club, he suggested other buildings that are more central to the community, like the Legion or the community centre, and was also shot down.
“I was pretty much told, ‘it’s my budget and I’ll spend it how I want,’” Fisher said.
Lowe said that if it were a smaller event, perhaps it would be understandable. However, with an event of this magnitude, he felt there was no reason it couldn’t be held in Brussels.
“This is huge,” he said. “This isn’t some little tea party. This is a big event.”
Lowe, however, agreed with Blaney, saying that at this point, and after the conversation Blaney had with Hawley and no changes coming from it, he didn’t feel there was hope in bringing the event to its “rightful home” in Brussels.
Deputy-Mayor Joe Steffler agreed, saying that from an “outsider’s” perspective, he feels the event should be held in Brussels.
“The gala should be in Brussels,” he said. “Brussels is a big part of Huron East.”
While councillors agreed that the event should be held in Brussels, the conversation raised a bigger issue in regards to council’s involvement in decisions made by municipal department heads.
“Should we let Jan do her job, or should council step in?” said Mayor Bernie MacLellan.
He said there would be no room for a grey area in council’s decision, as casual attempts to convince Hawley to move the event to Brussels had been met with resistance. MacLellan said that council either has to leave Hawley to do her job as she sees fit, or dictate that council would be making the decision for her.
Larry McGrath didn’t see it that way. He felt that council correcting a decision felt to be wrong would be council’s right. If it offends Hawley, he said, he apologizes, but numerous Brussels residents are already offended at what has gone on.
In an interview after the meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Brad Knight said that based on council’s discussion and direction, the venue had been officially changed to the Brussels Legion.
“It’s unfortunate that there was a lack of communication on this issue, but in the end, staff will comply with council’s direction,” he said. “It does cause for some last-minute planning issues which were not anticipated, but I am sure everyone will pull together and we would certainly encourage the Brussels community to attend the event.
In an e-mail to The Citizen, Hawley said that her original plan was to host the finale at the Four Winds Barn, however, it will not be completed in time.
She said she felt the golf course would be a good fit, given that the Four Winds Barn was no longer an option, and a natural location for the event.
However, given the nature of the council discussion, she said that staff had decided to move the event to Brussels.
The Win This Space finale is set for Friday, Oct. 27 at the Brussels Legion, beginning at 6:30 p.m. with a meet and greet, followed by presentations at 7 p.m.