This past Sunday at 7 pm marked the second episode of St. Marys’ new weekly talk show, The Front Porch Show. Recorded ‘in front of a live lawn chair audience’ at Riverside Bed & Breakfast and broadcast to the world via Facebook Live, this week’s show included an interesting interview of Mayor Al Strathdee by host John Stevens. Included below are some excerpts from their front porch chat:
John Stevens (JS): So what made you run for Mayor?
Al Strathdee (AS): I decided I wanted to make a difference. I thought that there was a differing philosophy I had about the infrastructure…I was trying to save some of the important things like the Green Bridge…I thought I could make a difference so I talked to some people and assembled a good team and was able to be successful.
JS: What was the greatest difficulty you had when you were first elected?
AS: Getting council on board, trying to share some priorities and build a team. Also getting to know the organization and trying to create a culture change to be a little more customer friendly. I’ve been in small business and I believe you have to look after people.
JS: What does a mayor do?
AS: My kids would say ‘go to a lot of meetings’, but the reality is that the Mayor is like a chairman of the board. We’re a council of seven and I run the meetings and I perform duties at special ceremonies. Basically it’s a part time job for me but there are key duties…I have to sign off on all by-laws and make sure everything goes smoothly.
JS: How much influence do you have on the direction of the town as mayor?
AS: I’m one of seven as I said. I think influence is something you gain through trust and hard work actually…We are a team and I don’t think that the influence of Mayor is any different than Council per se.
JS: How would you describe your leadership style?
AS: I like to think I’m a cooperative leader and that I lead by example. I like to think I’m a hard worker and that people would gain respect through that. My leadership style is to try and bring everyone together and work together as a team. I think teamwork is the most important thing in politics and that sometimes we forget that and that teamwork should cross all boundaries. One of the problems we’ve seen recently is that the system gets so polarized. We all need to work together and respect each other regardless of our beliefs.
JS: What’s the thing you are most proud of?
AS: Some of the infrastructure projects we’ve done, the opening of the Green Bridge is a big one and I’m also very proud of the work our team did for the reconstruction of the downtown. I think it really turned out well and it turned into a real positive thing for the businesses. It was a difficult decision but it was a good one.
JS: What’s the most difficult decision that you’ve had to make so far?
AS: Budgetary decisions are always tough John…I also think that the decision about the downtown was a tough decision because we were going to inconvenience people and affect their livelihood. I was in retail for a number of years and I know it’s tough. The reconstruction was a tough decision to make but I think it’s paid off.
JS: What do you see as the main priority for the well-being of St. Marys in the future?
AS: I think that we have to look after our infrastructure. We have fallen behind in our infrastructure and we need to look after the things that are important to us. We’ve been blessed with a real legacy here, some really special things, and I think it’s up to us to try and look after not only maintaining our roads but also our heritage symbols like the water tower and the bell tower. All these things are what makes the town special.
JS: Getting new businesses to come to St. Marys is important. What is the town doing to attract new businesses, both stores and manufacturing?
AS: Getting new business is important and we have an economic development manager now that we’ve done a restructuring. It’s also important that we look at trying to grow the businesses that we have…It’s hard to get new businesses given the international world that we live in and sometimes our geography works against us, so not only do we have to focus on getting new businesses but let’s look at how can we help the ones here…I think we need to focus on small businesses, the 5-and-10 job businesses are the ones that can grow and make a difference in our town.
JS: How’s your life changed since you’ve become Mayor?
AS: Well I get to be on talk shows now actually [laughs]. It’s been incredibly busy. I’ve been very lucky. It’s a great opportunity to be the Mayor. I’d like to tell a story actually when people ask me what it’s like to be Mayor. I took my kids to the grocery store recently and we get there and my daughter says, “You stay in the car Dad, It takes too long to shop with you now.”
JS: So when you leave as Mayor, how do you want to be remembered?
AS: I think I just want to be remembered as someone who got things done and was honest and worked hard and that people could respect. I think it’s important to do your best and I always try to do my best.