Gananoque Councillor Dennis O’Connor, who was recently reprimanded over a perceived conflict of interest, says he will not be seeking re-election in the fall.
“I gave four years and I worked very, very hard despite what anybody likes to say, but I managed to do a lot of good things in town and [the experience] has affected my health and I don’t think I want to be in the public eye anymore,” O’Connor said.
“You certainly become a target and I just don’t want to do it anymore.”
Town Council recently reprimanded O’Connor following an integrity commissioner’s report in May that concluded O’Connor put himself in a perceived conflict of interest. The report adds a more severe penalty is not necessary because O’Connor co-operated with the investigation and believed he was not in conflict.
The integrity commissioner stressed the conflict, resulting from a vote on a business operated by O’Connor’s brother, was a matter of perception only.
O’Connor is proud of the time he put in on Town Council.
“To me, it was a real honour to be voted in and it was a real honour to be councillor and I took it very seriously, did it at the best of my ability, but it’s not always perceived the same way by some people,” he said. “That’s exactly what I was dealing with. But I have absolutely no intentions of running again.”
O’Connor called his decision not to run for another term unfortunate, adding there were too many “outside factors” that made his job particularly difficult, but he wouldn’t go more into detail.
“And for that reason, and for my health, as this has seriously affected my health,” O’Connor added.
“I had a TIA (transient ischaemic attack or ‘mini stroke’) last year. I’m also diabetic – a pretty serious diabetic. I have lots of issues that surround that. [Being] a councillor is a stressful position to be in if you take it seriously and it becomes even more stressful when people make it difficult for you, and, as much as I feel that there’s so much more I’d like to do, I can’t do it. I’m pretty exhausted with the whole process.
“When you’re a councillor, you can get attacked for anything because you’re supposed to be held at a much higher authority, and I found myself being a target for many things for various reasons.”
While he wouldn’t go into detail, asked if he was a target from fellow councillors or the public, O’Connor replied, “everything.”
“Not the general public,” O’Connor added. “It’s always come down to a few people. I believe I’m a fairly popular councillor because of the number of things I’ve done and people tend to like me, but then there’s all the other things that happen.”
O’Connor said he initially intended to seek re-election when he was first voted in four years ago, however, his exhaustion with the experience of being a councillor, along with his own health issues, changed his mind.
“I also believe change is good,” O’Connor said.
“I don’t think anyone should run anything for a long time because then you get stuck in a rut. The best policy for any organization is to give someone else a chance to run because new ideas are always there and it’s important to have new, fresh ideas all the time. That’s not my whole reason for leaving, but it’s not a bad thing to bow out and let someone else have a chance. I think there’ll be some really good candidates coming up.”
Though “exhausted” from the experience, as he put it, O’Connor said serving the community as an elected official was a tremendous honour.
“Anytime I could help, it made me happy,” O’Connor said. “I loved going out and representing the Town.”
O’Connor said he has other projects on the go that have nothing to do with Town Council, which he’ll be shifting his focus to, like the O’Connor Gallery, an art gallery in Gananoque. He’s also the chairman of the Gananoque Arts Network (GAN), which set up its headquarters on King Street in February.
The Ontario municipal elections will be held October 24.
Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.