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Joe Sponga: gone but not forgotten

Most people watching the video of Joe Sponga’s resignation speech on Monday would be totally mystified as to the reasons why he was stepping down.

Of course, there are those in the know but they won’t tell us what they know.

Joe mentions unspecified allegations that have been made against him but doesn’t go beyond this except to say he would not be challenging them in Court.

It is no secret that Joe had a series of run-ins with the downtown business community and made statements that were, so I am told, intemperate. My spies tell me Joe’s belated attempts at private one-to-one apologies didn’t satisfy. Those on the receiving end – outraged and indignant - demanded a public apology which was not forthcoming.

Hence Joe’s resignation.

“To the residents, the clerk, the Town of Newmarket and the Town of Newmarket council. I am giving public notice that I am vacating the seat of Ward 5 councillor in the Town of Newmarket effective immediately this June 27, 2016 and, Mr Mayor, if I could, may I make some brief remarks?

First of all, let me apologise to all the residents of Newmarket and especially those of Ward 5. Thank you for your support, hard work, collaboration, input and vision. This is what has driven me for the past almost 13 years. I am sorry to leave you at this time.

My values and work ethic are based on a collaborative, inclusive, creative and progressive environment. With you, my supporters, we shared many debates in this spirit and achieved some incredible milestones.

The proof - too long to cite at this time - but there are approximately 3,427 cities and towns in Canada and for the past decade Newmarket has been in the top 25 best places, best communities, to live in. This is a great town. And for this I thank you.

I am now at a crossroads and the path ahead is marred with controversy, potential civil law suits, code of conduct complaints. This is not the path of positive and constructive work that defines me. Let me make it very clear that I will not engage personal resources to fight these allegations nor will I expose my family to the potential media and court spectacle.

In conclusion, I will now excuse myself from these Chambers knowing that I have accomplished great work and I did not compromise my honesty or integrity.

Thank you Council. Thank you Mr Mayor. Farewell. Thank you.”

Joe gets up and exits stage right. I like the theatrical “Farewell”. More Stratford than Newmarket but it works.

Passionate Person

The Mayor says he is truly saddened by the resignation. He tells us Joe is a passionate and caring person who leaves a significant positive legacy.

If there is one word that describes Joe Sponga – at least in the eyes of his colleagues – it is “passionate”. It is the word that keeps repeating.

Tom Hempen says Joe was passionate about his Ward and passionate about making improvements to the downtown core. Joe would be up at the crack of dawn getting things ready for the Fiddle Fest or some other festival.

Kelly Broome-Plumley seems stunned even though Joe’s resignation was the worst kept secret in Town. She tells us she is already missing Joe even though his seat is still warm.

She tells us:

“You don’t quite know what he is going to say next.”

Very true. I was often on the edge of my seat, wondering what was coming.

The Reverend Dave Kerwin is now delivering a valedictory that would not have been out of place at a memorial service.

“Joe I am going to miss you. You were a lot of fun.”

Kerwin tells us Joe was a very creative person, an accomplished musician and linguist. But he had other talents – like tracking down and getting rid of bad smells.

“No-one could believe that we could terminate the aroma that came from Halton Recycling on Harry Walker Parkway.…”

Losing the passion

But Kerwin tells us Joe has made the right decision.

“… he was dedicated to the job but when you lose that passion then you begin to wane and I believe that Joe has made the right decision for the right reasons so, Joe, goodbye. I am going to miss you. It has been a great journey and thank you for those many many years you gave to the Town of Newmarket.”

Now John Taylor reminds us that Joe is a passionate person – as if we were in any danger of forgetting. He pays tribute to Joe’s successes such as the Tim Hortons skating and water feature at the Riverwalk Commons but then he moves on to the other, darker, aspect of the resignation.

“In the last five, six or seven years politics in general but (also) at the local level has gotten a lot more difficult. And with social media and the unfortunate emergence of what seems to be a norm - the law suits, threats of law suits, tribunals, investigations, that – I won’t go into the details – wears on people.

“I could tell you I experienced this – what I considered to be nonsense myself – and it is very hard on people and families.

“And I hope as a society we can find as we struggle through this new era of social media and other mechanisms that we can find our way to a better path when it comes to those things. I can imagine it has been very stressful for Joe.”

Taylor leaves the impression Joe Sponga has been run out of town by a gang of local people with a grudge, armed only with twitter accounts and Facebook.

What got them so upset in the first place is not part of the story.

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