There are going to be some big shoes to fill with the retirement of Michele Kennedy, Whitchurch-Stouffville’s Town Clerk who stepped down on January 31.
For the better part of three decades, this quiet powerhouse has been in the thick of the action while our town nearly tripled in size from the roughly 17,000 residents who were here when she started. Ms Kennedy has served under 10 councils and four mayors – Fran Sainsbury, Wayne Emmerson, Sue Sherban and Justin Altmann – as part of the town’s senior management team helping to carry out Town Council policies.
“I would know almost everyone, and I would know every street,” she recalled of her early years after starting work as Subdivision Clerk in “sleepy little Slow-ville” in 1987. This was the era of snail mail, typewriters and one computer that filled a large room in the municipal offices. As the Town grew, with more residents, more subdivisions and more facilities, so did her responsibilities. She was appointed Deputy Clerk in 1990 and Municipal Clerk in 1993. In 2015, she added the role of Director of Corporate Services to her repertoire.
“Michele has been a great asset to the Town over the years,” said Mayor Justin Altmann. “Overseeing the Corporate Services Department and holding the position of Clerk at the same time is a tough job, and she has performed that duty admirably.”
Ms Kennedy was particularly moved when she received recognition for her work in municipal administration from her peers in her area in the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks & Treasurers of Ontario in 2012. However her fondest memories of her 29 years on the job, “are of the people and of the interactions with members of council,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Making a difference in the place where I live is important for me.”
If you want a career with variety, being a Town Clerk seems to fit the bill, dealing with everything from cemeteries and bylaw enforcement to taxation. As Town Clerk, Ms. Kennedy was also the town’s Returning Officer. With eight elections, two by-elections and four re-counts under her watch, she basically had to build each election process, from designing the ballots to training staff. Election nights in the municipal office, were “a real adrenaline rush,” she recalled. Low-tech equipment -chalk and a chalk board – was used to record the results as they came in during those early elections.
Her job wasn’t all serious work, however. When Mayor Wayne Emmerson retired, she organized a flash mob in collusion with local dance theatre Motus O, that got the whole council chamber audience moving. Another time, the council turned into a fashion show runway as bylaw officers strutted their stuff, modelling their brand-new uniforms, with Ms. Kennedy as MC. When the last election rolled around, she wanted to make sure everyone in town knew about it. She decided that a theme song was needed, and staff came up with 24 suggestions, with the theme song from the 2014 Lego movie, ‘Everything is Awesome’, winning out and being sung at all opportunities. “A day you don’t laugh is a day without sunshine,” she said.
For many years, Ms Kennedy worked closely with Mr. Emmerson.
“As a former Mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville, I know first-hand how Michele’s knowledge and experience helped provide important legislative and clerical support to the town and members of Council,” said the current York Region Chairman and CEO. “Congratulations on her well-deserved retirement.”
Ms Kennedy will be anything but bored upon her retirement. She looks forward to exploring New Zealand and Finland along with her fellow avid traveller and husband Michael, a federal liaison officer with Elections Canada who has travelled overseas, most recently to Ukraine, to oversee elections. She also plans to spend more time nurturing and enjoying her large colourful perennial garden, while other interests are percolating.
By Hannelore Volpe