If you call Outlook home or just make the town a regular part of your week, the odds are fairly good that you’ve at least heard of one Maureen Weiterman.
The long-time dedicated volunteer and outspoken advocate of everything Outlook has now added a new role to her life – Mayor.
Weiterman was selected to be the newest mayor in the municipal election held on Monday, November 9 in what turned out to be a landslide victory, defeating the incumbent B. Ross Derdall, who served as Mayor since his win in the 2016 election.
Maureen says any excitement on Election Night had to wait until the morning because she actually managed to doze off, feeling tired due to moving snow that had arrived in last week’s infamous snowstorm in the province.
“First off, I slept because I couldn’t stay awake!” Weiterman admitted, speaking with The Outlook. “We stayed up until midnight, and by then you think, ‘Oh gosh, maybe I didn’t get in’ or whatever, and Rachel had said she’d phone me but by midnight, I couldn’t do it anymore. I had my phone right by the bed, and apparently it DID ring, but I slept through it. Rachel had left a message at 1:57 am. Lots of counting to do, for sure.”
Still, the mayor-elect was taken aback when she got the news of her win.
“I was excited and then there was a feeling of, ‘What have I done?’,” said Maureen. “I looked at the votes and it was very humbling to think that that many people stood in line to put an ‘X’ beside my name. The ratepayers have spoken.”
Weiterman was lifted by the talks she had with people in the weeks leading up to the election, including ratepayers who weren’t shy about sharing their views on the issues permeating in the Town of Outlook, as well as those who pledged their support to her. Maureen believes the strong voting results indicate that people want their elected officials to move in a different direction.
“I think it’s a strong desire for change from what we’ve had in the last four years,” she said. “I mean, had there been two other people running, would I have won by 703 votes? I don’t think so. I was the only one standing there, so I guess I had to be that change, you know? I had people text me and say things like, ‘I was just thinking we need a new mayor and you’re the first person I thought of.’ I’ve had support from all over the place; people who live in town and people who don’t live in this town. I was in a grocery store and talking to a lady who said, ‘Oh, you’re running for Mayor!’ and so I pulled my mask down to show her it was me. I asked who she was, and she said, ‘Oh, I don’t live in Outlook, but I saw your article in the paper and I hope you win!’ That just makes you go, ‘Whoa’.”
When we take a second to move outside the local bubble and look at the political landscape elsewhere, more women are being voted into high-ranking positions at a time in our society where we’re doing our best to make the once-impossible seem possible. The biggest example of this is the fact that the United States of America will have a Black woman serve as its vice-president for the first time ever. Back in the Land of Living Skies, the City of Regina elected its first-ever female mayor in Sandra Masters last week.
Evidently, this same courtesy of making municipal history has been extended to Outlook as Maureen is the town’s first female mayor to be elected in the 112-year history of the riverside community.
Her election comes just weeks after this newspaper printed an edition of its ‘Stored Stories’ feature that touched on a then-upcoming visit to Outlook in October of 1920 from Nellie McClung, the noted author and social activist who championed for women’s rights across Western Canada, including the right to vote and run for public office.
Weiterman is grateful for the opportunity to serve as Outlook’s first female mayor, but she says it isn’t something that will take center stage as far as her time in office. When this reporter brought up McClung’s appearance in Outlook a century ago, Weiterman couldn’t help but smile and share an interesting coincidence.
“This is kind of interesting because Equinox Theatre did ‘Saskatoon Pie’ quite a few years ago, and I played Nellie McClung in that play!” she shared. “I have a sash that says ‘The Vote’ across it for my costume, and Tekla (her daughter) also played Nellie when she was in Grade 1! The fact that Nellie actually came to Outlook was exciting to read. As far as being Outlook’s first female mayor, I just think it’s high time to be a woman in that role. But that being said, I’m not going to hang my hat on that. Like Kamala Harris said, you’re going to see more from women. So, I may be the first, but I hope I’m not the last.”
Weiterman’s predecessor Ross Derdall noted a number of times that he was only seeking one term as mayor before eventually putting his name forward again. Maureen says she can’t speak to whether or not she’ll be a one-term mayor right now as it’s too early to tell. She’s focused on making her and her new council – Sharon Bruce, Kevin Grotheim, Kyle McLeod, Bob Stephenson, Justin Turton, and Ryan Husband – a cohesive unit where things are accomplished as a collaborative effort between everyone in the room.
The mayor-elect’s thoughts on the work done by the previous mayor and council are perhaps something of a mixed bag, to say the least. Weiterman had previously served on council after being elected in 2016 but decided to exit a year later, feeling uncomfortable with where things were headed at the time. She echoes much of the same sentiments that have been shared by Outlook residents, and now that she’ll assume the role of Mayor, she hopes that she and the rest of council will be able to steer things in a different direction.
“Unfortunately, I had left council because I felt that they were not going in a direction that I felt comfortable with,” said Maureen. “The fact that there was so much in-camera stuff, I don’t know what the heck they did do! I know Ross had talked about finishing Mann Street, water treatment, and the fire hall, and I know they were doing things, but there were things that weren’t stellar. When they attacked the paper, that was not our finest moment. I’m just sorry that Ross had started this new fire hall project so late in his term. Had there been more public consultation and gone about it differently, we would be well on our way to having a new fire hall, but people didn’t like the way it was handled. The same goes for the recycling program and how that was handled. It’s working great for me and I like having those bins out there now, but it makes me sad that we lost three jobs, that I as a ratepayer had no input into it, and it just got rolled out. That’s not how I would do it. But all of this is in the past and it’s time to move forward.”
Weiterman’s biggest measure that she wants to tackle at the moment is being more open with ratepayers and making herself and council available to them. She has a plan (to be confirmed) to set up shop in the town offices building – most likely the art gallery – in which she’ll be available to anyone and everyone from 9:00 am to noon on Tuesdays. Have a question, a suggestion, or a complaint? In the event that you can’t catch her out and about in town, the mayor has a weekly open house for three hours. Measures such as this or the ones Maureen intends to introduce with council go far with residents.
“My first point was transparency, so I think we need to have a more open and transparent council,” she said. “In saying that, I’m going to try and reduce the number of in-camera meetings. We need to look at the Act because they even warn you that more in-camera sessions can lead your ratepayers to become more suspicious and wonder if you’re hiding something. There are ways for us to do our business in the public. I want to be available to the ratepayers, and that wasn’t always what happened with the previous mayor and council. I know that they said that if anyone had questions, they were not to talk to councillors and they were to submit them, and a file would be opened and eventually those questions would be answered. Well, no, we’re not doing that. I’m going to be handing every one of my councillors a little notebook at our first meeting and I’m going to tell them that they need to talk to everybody that they see who wants to talk to them. They’ll write down their name, number and their issues and questions, and we’ll talk about them! Sometimes it’s those little things that go far, right? Maybe we’ll have things to talk about and maybe we’ll have nothing to report, but we can’t know what’s going on with the ratepayers or how they feel if we don’t talk to them.”
As far as what Weiterman wants to tackle right now upon taking office, she wants to provide opportunity to those on council who seek it.
“Right now, we need to know where we are,” she said. “I think this council is well-educated, smart, and full of enthusiasm. The first thing we’re going to look at is the Deputy Mayor position. It will not be appointed by me because I want everyone to have a chance to be Deputy Mayor. If there are six councillors and it’s a four-year term, everyone can be Deputy Mayor for eight months if they want to do it. I think everyone should be given an opportunity to see what goes on in that role. We’re also going to talk about council reimbursement. If we can get our government to run a little more smoothly, I don’t think we’re going to need a lot of special meetings or in-camera sessions. So, we’re going to talk about that; how we’re going to handle ourselves in a responsible manner and a manner that’s responsible to the ratepayers.”
Weiterman knows the importance of good leadership when it comes to serving as an elected official, but she says that it also takes the work of residents to help one’s community move toward prominence. In the end, whether it’s larger-scale projects or even the littlest of things, the goal is to make this town do one thing – prosper.
“We need more business here, right? Especially with this Westside Irrigation Project,” said Maureen. “Maybe a new restaurant or two, maybe a clothing store will come back. Four years isn’t a long time because this project could be over 25 years, but hopefully we’ll be moving towards that. Hopefully, Outlook will grow because people will be coming here for jobs and maybe we’ll be able to attract more big business. We want to grow, and I want to make Outlook a more beautiful place. I have some ideas for things like street or block ambassadors, and maybe those who’ve run for council would be great in those kinds of roles. Like an ambassador for Simpson Street, for example. Think of it: ‘This Saturday at Simpson Street back alleys, the Town will be out with their trucks and the councillors will be coming around as well. You’ve got stuff that needs to be taken to the dump? Guess what, Simpson Street gets one free dump this week – clean it up!’ We want to set an example, and we need to set it first so that the ratepayers will hopefully buy into it. Those relationships would grow, and we’d become a more cohesive unit.”
Though Weiterman does have some large-scale goals in mind over the next four years, Outlook’s newest mayor knows that nothing happens overnight. However, if everyone finds a way to work together and move toward common goals to achieve, there may be no limits to the benefits that the town may be rewarded in the future.
“We have to deal with the fire hall,” said Maureen. “The fire so to speak has been lit, so now we need to figure out where we are on that and where we’re going to go on it. I know we can have a new fire hall, but we just need to find the right fit for us – for our people, our population, and our pocketbook. We also need to make sure that our water infrastructure is perfect. We’ve got lousy pressure on the east side of town, and we need to find out what that’s all about. The Westside Irrigation Project is another big deal, but with that, we need to repair our relationships with the RMs of Rudy and Fertile Valley, and then we need to look at our town. We’ve got to figure out where we’re going to put some people because we’re going to have them coming in here fast and furious and we are not ready! Business infrastructure too; we need offices and more accommodations. We have to look at all these things, and because we’re the Irrigation Capital of Saskatchewan, we want to be able to use as much water as we can. But the ratepayers need to understand that we’re not going to be HERE to HERE in two days, two weeks, two months, or not even two years: we’re working TOWARDS it and moving FORWARD. We’re not looking back.”