This is the first in a two-part series on assessing Windsor city council two years after they were elected. To read the second story going deeper into the "6-4 divide" on council. Follow this link.


Drew Dilkens admits to being a daydreamer. Sometimes, he stops what he's doing in the mayor's office and gazes out his window to the construction zone below.

One cement truck after another backs up to dump a load, while workers in reflective vests and hard hats mill about in a deep cavern.

To Dilkens, this is more than a new city hall taking shape, it's part of a city at work. "I'm proud of that," he said.

Windsor's economy has improved dramatically since the last municipal election, exactly two years ago. That's a major theme in the mid-term report cards CBC News presents today.

 

When Dilkens and the rest of this council was elected on Oct. 27, 2014, Windsor's unemployment rate was 9.8 per cent. The highest among larger Canadian cities and a position it clung to stubbornly, month after month.We took into account everything from attendance and voting records to how engaged they are with the public on social media. Then, we awarded the following grades to the mayor and 10 city councillors.

Today's statistics would have seemed implausible then. The jobless rate has shrunk to 5.7 per cent, well below the national and the provincial average.

"We're experiencing prosperity in this region, almost to an extent where you're hesitant to discuss it," Ward 8 Coun. Bill Marra said. Marra is now in the middle of his sixth term, and was one of two councillors to earn an A on CBC's report card.

"I think being able to maintain the fiscal discipline has been helpful," Marra said.

Empty council chamber

Successive Windsor city councils have not raised property tax rates since 2008. (Peter Duck/CBC)

That discipline has come in the form of two more city operating budgets that have kept property tax rates frozen.

"Hopefully, we can continue to hold the line on taxes," Ward 1 Coun. Fred Francis said. Francis is a rookie on council, but it was under the mayoralty of his brother, Eddie, that the eight-year streak began.

"I'll continue to advocate for that, because I believe that helps create jobs, helps people's bottom line, either a company's bottom line or an individual homeowner's bottom line."

More than the tax freeze

Dilkens himself is quick to acknowledge Fiat Chrysler for the job growth. The automaker added an estimated 1,200 employees to its Windsor workforce when it refurbished its assembly plant earlier this year.

Dilkens believes council decisions in the past two years were also critical, even though some were controversial.

"It also has to do with the reboot of our economic development organization, having new leadership there," Dilkens said. "Having an economic development officer just focusing on city initiatives, having a sports tourism officer that's been out beating the drums."

Sports tourism and the showdown with former Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation CEO Sandra Pupatello were just two flashpoints in a long list of memorable spats at city hall in the early days of Dilkens' first term as mayor.

Dilkens coat of arms

Drew Dilkens served eight years as a city councillor before moving in to the mayor's office. (Peter Duck/CBC)

But Dilkens earns an A- on our report card in part because of the rave reviews he gets from councillors, even those who have voted against his agenda, in some cases dozens of times.

Rave reviews for the mayor

"We're still working out the relationships among ourselves," Rino Bortolin said. The rookie Ward 3 councillor is another standout, earning an A on CBC's report card. "We've seen a lot of positive things happen, so I can say that he being the head of council for the first two years, has worked well."

Bortolin and Ward 4 Coun. Chris Holt distinguish themselves by pushing an urban-thinking agenda that is sometimes at odds with the concerns of the suburban neighbourhoods Dilkens represented in his former role as a councillor for South Windsor.

"We are getting on a roll" - Chris Holt

"We are getting on a roll," Holt said. "We're starting to understand where each other's coming from and each other's priorities. We're all working towards our own vision of where we want to see the city going, and a lot of times, when those visions overlap, we see some magic happen. We see all the hands go up around the table, and we accomplish a lot of things."

For Hilary Payne, that can be attributed to Dilkens' easy-going style. Payne was the city manager for 18 years, and has been a councillor for six years.

"He's got a completely different style though from the previous mayor." Payne said. "He's got a much more laid-back style, but he gets things done. He really does, and he runs a very good council meeting. I think he's a great mayor actually. I have some experience in mayors. I worked for five mayors when I was here before."

City hall wide

This is the last council that will serve in the current city hall building. (Peter Duck/CBC)

"Any one term as a mayor or councillor is kind of a learning experience, but I think now he's past that learning experience," Ward 5 Coun. Ed Sleiman said. "One thing I give him credit [for], he listens to the council."

Two councillors received grades in the C range on our report cards. Ward 2 Coun. John Elliott admits he's still finding his way at city hall, two years in. While he is a strong defender of his west-end constituents and their concerns about lost services and blight, his voice was rarely heard during the pressing debates of the day.

In contrast, Ward 10 Coun. Paul Borrelli was only too happy to speak out with colourful quips. However, his shifting positions on Open Streets and a claim that he was the brains behind the move of the downtown farmers were difficult to justify.


Key issues, debates and decisions of this council

  • Continuing to freeze property taxes
  • 20-year strategic vision
  • Controversy over regional policing with LaSalle/Amherstburg
  • Construction of new city hall, and rising costs
  • Acrimony over performance of economic development corporation
  • Seminole Library branch kept open
  • Future of retail spaces in Pelissier St. parking garage
  • Switch to more ambitious revamp of Cabana Rd.
  • Bulk pickup of large waste items rejected
  • Debate over re-establishing auditor-general office
  • Hiring sports tourism officer, bidding for and hosting major events such as CARHA, Memorial Cup, World Junior hockey, FINA swimming diving
  • Accepting large number of Syrian refugees
  • Reversal of decision to use synthetic ice at Charles Clark Square
  • Rejection of outsourcing of caretaking jobs
  • Regulation of Uber
  • Commitment to fund mega-hospital, imposing levy
  • Debate over continued sponsorship of Detroit Grand Prix
  • Ending first hour of free parking at downtown garages
  • Patio fees for restaurants
  • Pedestrian tunnel under Riverside Dr.
  • Enhancing cycling infrastructure, addressing "Dougall Death Trap"
  • Removing development fees in older neighbourhoods