General News

Former Shelburne mayor reflects on many years in public office

February 6, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Written By PETER RICHARDSON

The name Bennington has been around,in Shelburne for a long time, but most residents today will recognize it as belonging to former mayor and now real estate agent, Ken Bennington. 

Ken, has spent his entire life in Shelburne. His grandfather had a farm on the southern edge of town, on what is now Franklin Street, while Ken grew up on Main Street, along with his brother and sister. His sister still lives on Franklin Street, as do his parents. His brother resides just out of town, in Amaranth. 

Growing up, Ken’s dad worked in construction, in Shelburne, building streets and other pieces of important infrastructure. One of Ken’s first summer jobs was with his dad in construction, when he was 16,  helping to construct Andrew Street. The following year, when he was 17, he worked on building a new subdivision by the IGA store. 

Following high school, Ken went to Georgian College, in Barrie, to study Business Administration, following which, in 1989, at 19 he was hired to work at the Honda plant in Alliston, which had opened three years previously. He worked in numerous departments, from welding to final assembly, stamping and back to welding, before starting with material service, where he spent his longest tenure with Honda. He was eventually promoted to an administration tech staff position, coordinating getting the parts into the hands of those installing them in the cars. 

In 2019, Ken’s 30 years with Honda entitled him to retire with a full pension, so he took the package and decided that  he would start a new career, as a real estate agent, with Royal LePage Rcr Realty, in Shelburne. 

Somewhere, along the way he chose to become deeply involved in public services in Shelburne.

His first foray was with the Fire Department. A position had opened up and Ken applied, in 1996. The night before his interview, Ken spent the entire night awake, taking care of his teething young son. He went through the interview, on no sleep  and felt that it could have gone better. He recalls that he didn’t hear a thing from the department for an entire month, although that may have had more to do with the area being hit by a tornado, which, in hindsight, probably kept the Fire Chief pretty busy. 

However, Ken eventually got the call and stayed on with the fire department until 2014, when he was elected Mayor of Shelburne. 

After spending 17 years as a volunteer firefighter, Ken still misses being a part of the department. It isn’t so much the lights and sirens, he said, but the camaraderie and helping people in need. He had wanted to get his 20 year pin, but being the Mayor simply took up too much of his free time. 

So, how was it that Ken became interested in becoming a public servant? In 2000, after having a disagreement with one of the sitting members of Town Council, Ken decided that rather than just complain, he should step up and run for office. With no idea how to run an election campaign and very little money, Ken approached then Mayor Ed Crewson and asked his opinion. The mayor was very supportive said Ken, so he decided to proceed. With a name like Bennington, Ken said, you need a big sign, so he bought six signs, for $200 and placed them at all the entrances to Town. Then he printed some pamphlets and started knocking on doors. 

His first election was virtually, totally based on name recognition. As it turned out, both he and his adversary, ended up being elected. 

After two terms as a councillor, Ken was elected as the Deputy Mayor, in 2006 and in 2014, became the Mayor of Shelburne. Since his first election, Ken has seen Shelburne grow from approximately 4,500 residents to more than double that today. He noted that being on Council tends to keep you running for office. 

“There is always something that you are working on and you think, well, if I stayed for one more term, I could get this done and so you try again,” Bennington said. “One term leads into the next, until it just becomes a part of life.” 

Ken feels that the Town of Shelburne, was always the “other woman” in his life. She took up many of his nights and weekends, early mornings and late nights, a demanding mistress, always in need of attention! 

Overall, Ken feels good about his time in public service. He feels he has left his mark, with that of his fellow councillors, all over Shelburne. Driving past the Natasha Paterson Park, adjacent to the high school, he remembers that in his time as Mayor, the Town rebuilt the pavilion there, and he is particularly proud of the $3 million renovation of the CDRC complex. It was the biggest project that he had ever been involved in. 

Ken remembers many endeavours undertaken, but does not believe that he ever took 100 percent of the credit for any one thing. He set himself as just a part of the team that got something accomplished. As long as all seven members of Council were moving in the same direction, he was happy to just be one of the team. 

Another point of pride, is the Hometown Heroes Banners that the Legion displays around town every November. 

Ken and then Councillor Dan Sample, worked with the Legion to make those happen. Ken felt that the hiring of first Clerk and then CAO John Telfer was a highlight of Shelburne Council. Council had a vision, to develop Shelburne, but no idea how to accomplish that end. John Telfer was the man who brought Councils dreams to fruition, in Ken’s mind.

Things were not always bright and shiny however and there are certainly devastatingly hard and trying situations while Ken was Mayor. The potential sale of Fiddle Park, was by far the worst. Ken recalls that Council could not control the message they were trying to deliver and it blew up in their face. The news of the impending sale went out at 10 o’clock at night, after a Council meeting and the townspeople had twelve hours to stew about it before they could reach anyone to voice their opinions , the next day. By then, the tempest, had kept out of the tea pot and spread throughout the Town! Despite the uproar and the subsequent cancelling of the sale, Ken still believes that that sale was the answer to Shelburne’s financial woes at the time. With the arsenic in Well 3, the police accommodation issue and all the other infrastructure issues facing the Town, Ken see’s the sale as the saviour of all this. He says the response was overwhelming, but was particularly critical on the social media sites. He recalls a letter, sent to Town Hall by his Sunday School teacher, expressing her dismay at the decision and her disappointment in the Mayor, as a person. This is a woman I had probably not spoken to since I was ten years old, and I grew up to be a disappointment, said Ken. The reaction of the public was overwhelmingly negative. Council just never was able to explain how this money would be spent and the benefits that the development would bring the town. If everyone has their Waterloo, this was certainly the Mayors.

Nevertheless, the sale was bigger than people realized. In addition to the $8 million dollar sale price, there would have been $40 million in development charges and a further $1million annually in tax revenue. Beyond that, Council had a backup plan for the park. There was a 45 acre parcel of land for sale near the arena, that could have been purchased for only a million dollars and fiddle park could have been moved to a new location. One that was actually larger and closer to town than the existing one. That message, however, was drowned out and never heard by the electorate. Adding to this, the objections of KTH and the potential loss of jobs, a claim that might not have been entirely accurate and the sales fate was sealed. Shelburne had gone through a huge job loss when Johnson Controls left town and Council could not justify going through that again.

When asked why he withdrew his candidacy for re-election as the Mayor, Ken’s reasoning was multi-faceted. Firstly, he was retiring from Honda and starting his real estate career and he had learned from Ed Crewson, that when a controversial decision was made at Monday nights Council meeting , Ed’s phone would ring Tuesday morning with people cancelling their insurance. Ken did not feel he wanted people calling telling him to get his sign off their lawn, when he was just starting out. Then he had remarried and felt that having that “other woman” in his new married life, might be a recipe for disaster. However, the final marker was the police issue. Ken could see the writing on the wall for the Shelburne Police Service and he had always been a big supporter of the force. He did not want to be the one, in the history books, responsible for dissolving the 147 year old service. After Fiddle Park, his crystal ball was pretty foggy and having served on Council for 20 years and done a good job, he decided that this might be a good time to step aside and let younger minds have a crack at the complexities of governing the Town.

In retrospect, Ken Bennington is happy with his time on Council and as the mayor, he has nothing but respect for those now around the table and for those to come. He admits that he may not always agree with their decisions, but he totally understands what they have to go through and the toll it takes on their other life, their friends and family and their regular jobs. Although he personally preferred to just be a team player and avoid the spotlights, when they are thrust upon you, you do your best and soldier through. Being the Mayor was never always bright and cheery, but overall it was a great experience and Ken is now looking forward to the life and times of a successful real estate agent, here in his hometown of Shelburne.



         

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