Meet The Team Behind Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard

John Dance

It’s only been a year and a half, but Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard has been vocal and prolific in forcefully advancing the interests of the ward, its communities and the direction of the City. A key reason for this is the support of his team of four staff advisors, three of whom have been with him since the beginning of his term.

Whether it’s the future of Lansdowne, the climate change emergency, pushing back against excessive development proposals, affordable housing, LRT transparency or whatever, his staff have passionately done the necessary research, consultation and development of policy positions, all the while simultaneously handling the daily requests and questions of residents.

Staff of the Capital Ward Councillor’s office are, from left, Miles Krauter (Old Ottawa South), Mélanie Boyer (Heron Park), Ariela Kay Summit (Old Ottawa East), Jonathan McLeod (Glebe), Rosalind Curran (student intern), and Councillor Shawn Menard. Photo by John Dance

Staff of the Capital Ward Councillor’s office are, from left, Miles Krauter (Old Ottawa South), Mélanie Boyer (Heron Park), Ariela Kay Summit (Old Ottawa East), Jonathan McLeod (Glebe), Rosalind Curran (student intern), and Councillor Shawn Menard. Photo by John Dance

Ariela Kay Summit, Miles Krauter, Melanie Boyer and Jonathan McLeod each brought the varied and rich experience to the office when they were hired. And each has two basic roles: to cover the specific issues within one of the ward’s four major communities (or five if Glebe and Dow’s Lake is counted as two) and to be the lead for specific large files.

For instance, Summit is the Old Ottawa East representative and she handles “all the ‘green’ files in the office,” as she puts it. So, she was the office lead for the City Council initiative to declare a “climate emergency,” and such things as improving Ottawa’s solid waste management. She is also responsible for “the more granular issues involving parks, recreation infrastructure, wildlife management, and water.”

All four advisors relish the mix of the broad policy issues and the nitty-gritty. “There’s a variety of things, it’s never boring and often difficult,” says Krauter, noting how the range of issues and working with residents makes the job very “grounding.”

“The appeal of the job comes from actually being able to accomplish something that has a direct impact on others,” says McLeod. He cites such initiatives as the restoration of the Glebe’s Mutchmor rink as an example of “fostering communities that are better for everybody’s physical and mental wellbeing” and goes on to note, “We’re not just pushing paper – we are all working together to advance a city-wide vision.”

The four advisors and a student intern all work in the small open space in front of Menard’s office at Ottawa City Hall. The phone rings continually and a whiteboard listing both long-term priorities and immediate projects and tasks is readily visible to all.

In terms of residents’ calls and emails, during the winter 40 percent of them are about snow and ice clearing, 16 percent are vehicle complaints, 11 percent are about infrastructure issues, 10 percent relate to neighbours, development and business, eight percent are for water and hydro matters, another eight percent are transit-related and the other seven percent are for parks, environment and miscellaneous.

Boyer says, “We truly all work together in this office, but my main responsibility is organizing Shawn’s day – scheduling meetings, making sure he has time to eat lunch – as well as triaging emails we receive from constituents to the right person’s inbox. I answer the phone with the help of our placement student and take care of service requests from our residents.”

And she notes that the best way to contact the office with an issue is to email capitalward@ottawa.ca “with as much detail as possible,” because the Councillor’s office may not be aware of the background. She then assigns the issue to one of her colleagues (unless it’s a Heron Park issue in which case she will follow up) and tracks its progress.

What then are the challenges of the job? McLeod says it “can be difficult trying to harness the power of the City because it is so dispersed. The goals and desires of some wards have severe detrimental impacts on our ward.” He notes that “The rules and protocols of the bureaucracy restrict us.” He also notes other fundamental problems: for some issues such as the implementation of photo radar, “The City is hamstrung by the Province”, and the Province and the federal government have many more revenue sources.

Summit, the OOE “go-to” person, describes herself as “an urban enthusiast, seeker of wonder, with a passion for nature, movement, and social justice. I’m originally from the Boston area (no, I don’t have an accent). I love Ottawa and can be found traversing its many pathways by bike, x-country ski, and foot. I studied urban planning and environmental management in Los Angeles and worked for years at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund.”

“I’m often humbled by the compassion and dedication – and patience – of my colleagues,” she adds. “The office works well and manages to accomplish so much because Shawn trusts us to work independently, but there’s a high degree of collaboration in the office that keeps us aligned.”

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