Gene Whitney: “There’s something that doesn’t measure up here.”

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Gene Whitney Gene Whitney

Gene Whitney of Ste. Agathe began contemplating a run for mayor of Ritchot following the council resignations this spring. As soon as the by-election was called, the former Ritchot councillor sprang into action.

“I guess the easiest way to explain why I’m running is that the reason for those people resigning, from my perspective, doesn’t pass the smell test,” says Whitney. “I spent most of my life doing investigative work, and there’s something that doesn’t measure up here.”

Before living in the area, Whitney spent seven years with the Ontario Provincial Police as a special investigator for employment insurance cases. He then worked as a wildlife investigator for Environment Canada. Whitney lives by the motto that there’s three sides to every story—your side, my side, and the truth.

“We’ve heard Ms. Hunt’s side, and we’ve heart the alleged bullies’ side,” Whitney says. “To me, it hardly seems that [the bullying] required that kind of drastic action… When the mayor resigned, there was no budget passed. So I should have gotten a tax bill at the end of May or early in June. I don’t have it yet. And from what I understand, it’ll be the seventh wonder of the world if I get it by September. The municipality can’t do anything. Public Works can’t do anything. The school boards aren’t getting their taxes. There’s going to be a backlog in front of council, I would imagine, of variances, zoning, lots of things. And what if we get the same five people back? You know, problem not solved.”

Whitney previously served two terms as councillor for Ward 4, from 1995 until 2002. When he was first elected in 1995, the new council was an entirely clean slate.

“It was five new people, and none of us had met each other before. The first time we met was at the municipal office after we were elected.” Whitney adds that the previous council had been highly dysfunctional, with a lot of “personal executions” in the council chamber. “I wasn’t a witness to any of that, but we agreed that if we had any problems, we’d go to the back room and sort it out. But not in the council chamber.”

He points out that the situation back then isn’t much different than the situation now.

“One of the things I’m still pretty proud of in that term is that we said, and we were all new, that if we made a mistake, let’s make it right and move on. Let’s not try to defend stupidity. And we made mistakes, but we corrected them and we moved on.”

Although these were challenging years, especially in terms of dealing with the aftermath of the Flood of 1997, Whitney remembers them as a great opportunity to serve the community and effect positive change.

“It was almost a full-time job, because we built the dike in Ste. Agathe,” Whitney said. “And then during that time we put water [services] in from Ste. Agathe to St. Adolphe and Île-des-Chênes, and I oversaw that. I was the chairman of Public Works for the seven years that I was on council.”

Whitney adds that he personally wrote the current zoning by-law that is still in effect, and which has recently been questioned in terms of the controversy over Garden Ridge Park. “In that case there, by approving that [park], what little I know about it, you’re saying to people, ‘Well, the zoning by-law is not really relevant here. Just do what you want to do.’ But then why do you have a zoning by-law? It’s a real mess.”

According to Whitney, the timing of the council resignations, regardless of what led to them, was irresponsible.

“If the bullying had been going on, as they say it was, for two years or longer, well, what if they had passed the budget?” Whitney says in conclusion. “Sixteen more days wouldn’t have made a difference. Pass the budget, and then at least allow [the municipality] to go on. Then they would at least have funds for their public works to operate, for school boards to get their money, and people can get their tax bills.”

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