By Craig Lord –
Jeff Leiper was sworn in as the councillor of Kitchissippi Ward on Dec. 1, but he started working for residents very soon after the polls closed.
“It took about six hours since I got elected before the text messages and emails turned from ‘Congratulations Jeff, this is awesome!’ to ‘let’s talk about the pedestrian crossing at the corner of Island Park and Merivale,’” Leiper muses.
Since then, he has taken only a single day off. The rest of his 14-hour days are spent getting caught up on ward issues, establishing his office and duties, and speaking with new constituents.
The new councillor’s office was flooded early on with calls about getting busses off Scott street, proposed developments for the corner of Clare & Tilson, and concerns about the LRT.
“In that first week, I was just like, oh my god, we’re just being hammered with requests,” says Leiper. “People wait until they know how the election’s going to turn out… And then, boom, they’re posting to Twitter.”
Getting up to speed on ward issues can be challenging. Outgoing councillors destroy their records from their time in office, leaving the arriving councillor with a mountain of municipal history and resident concerns to catch up on.
After about three weeks on the job, Leiper says his team found its rhythm.
“In terms of it being a challenge, I’ve got to say it hasn’t been. Residents have not been shy in letting me know what their concerns were in the past term,” he says.
The hours for a city councillor are self-imposed, but demanding. Making it out to every event can seem exciting for a new representative, but Leiper says that finding the proper work-life balance has been a challenge.
“It’s a temptation for me, that this work is so fun, that you could do it 24/7.”
While it’s becoming easier for his wife and teenage son, he says that he’s grateful for gentle reminders from colleagues who advise him to pull back.
While Leiper is proud of his performance these first crucial weeks, he’s anxious to get to work on some of the issues in the ward that “won’t take shape until the new year.”
Many of his ideas have to do with making himself – and the rest of the community – more accessible to residents. In December, he began offering “ward pop-up offices,” one-on-one informal community meetings which will take place at various locations across Kitchissippi. Five residents showed up at his first pop-up at the Hintonburg Community Centre on Dec. 19.
Starting Jan. 17, Leiper will be making good on a campaign promise to bring town halls to the ward. Every three months, community associations and residents can speak at a round table event to update one another on all things Kitchissippi. Once the formal forum ends, the tables and chairs will be put away for a more casual platform to discuss community ideas.
Leiper says this is where he sees residents best being heard.
“That’s where people are going to start talking to each other offline, and have those meaningful discussions,” he says.
Leiper is excited by his chance to work on his recently assigned committees. His seats on the planning, transit, and environment committees reflect what residents were looking for in the election. His history working in the technology sector and for the CRTC informed his requests to work on the film and television and information technology committees, where he feels he can make an impact.
Coun. Leiper is optimistic about 2015. He wants to look at removing extra busses on Scott Street and ensure that LRT is going to be completely submerged beneath the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway. He is also passionate about projects that promote cycling and live music in Ottawa. He is confident that he can do all of this, but is prepared – perhaps as residents should be – to face obstacles ahead.
“There’s going to be compromise. You’re not going to get everything you want… There’s not all the money to do everything that we want to do… But I think we’re going to make significant progress and we’re always going to be moving in the right direction. And that’s exciting. That’s exciting.”
Popping up across the ward
On regular Fridays for the next few months, Coun. Leiper will be setting up a “Pop-Up Ward Office” at a variety of public locations across Kitchissippi. Residents are encouraged to drop by to chat about on any issue and no appointment is needed. Bookmark KitchissippiWard.ca, or follow @KitchissippiWard on Twitter or Facebook for dates and times of future pop-up drop-in sessions.