Kristal Chopp has mixed emotions about serving as Norfolk’s mayor.
There have been “dark days” since upsetting incumbent Charlie Luke in the 2018 municipal election, she said in a May 4 presentation, ones defined by a great deal of “negativity” from the community.
On the other hand, Chopp says she’s worked with many people at Norfolk County that she admires and from whom she has learned a lot.
“Be prepared for a lot of abuse,” Chopp said during her annual state-of-the-county address in response to a question about what prospective candidates in the 2022 campaign should look forward to.
The mayor’s state-of-the-county address is an annual event sponsored by the Simcoe and District Chamber of Commerce. In years past, it has been held at a local venue in front of an audience of 150 or so. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday’s event was streamed over the internet to paying subscribers.
Chopp, 40, was non-committal when chamber president Sue Downs asked whether she’s considering running for a second term.
“Isn’t that the million-dollar question?” the mayor replied. “Everyone will have to stay tuned.”
Chopp said criticism from the community for tough policy prescriptions can be difficult to endure, adding, “I miss my freedom.” But she went on to say that the past two years have been ones of incredible personal growth.
Chopp was less elusive when Downs reframed the matter by asking if she would have run for mayor knowing what she knows today.
“Yes, I think so,” Chopp said. “But there have been some pretty tough days. There have been some rough times. But again, it’s been an incredible experience – an incredible learning experience. For all the grumbling I do, I do love it as well.”
Chopp’s overview of the county’s progress from her installation to the present accounted for the first half hour of the event.
In the question-and-answer session that followed, she was asked to address the large number of senior county staff that have come and gone during her term as well as the workplace culture at Governor Simcoe Square.
Chopp replied that managing Norfolk during a pandemic has been challenging at the best of times, adding many workers are stressed and suffering from burnout. Norfolk council’s job is complicated by the fact that council acts as the board of health for both Norfolk and Haldimand County, with Chopp serving as chair. This arrangement is unique in Ontario.
Chopp – a commercial airline pilot who continues to fly international routes for Air Canada – added that perceptions of any given workplace will differ from person to person. Where some see conflict, others will see a tough decision-making process where hard questions are asked and expectations are high.
“As a pilot, I am trained to do my job whether there are personality conflicts or not,” she said.
She added Norfolk also has retention issues because – when it comes to in-demand management talent – the county’s compensation practices aren’t as competitive as other municipalities. Many of the senior staff that have moved on, she said, have been lured by more money, a lighter workload, and the opportunity to be closer to family and friends.
During the “rapid-fire” portion of the question-and-answer session, Chopp said her favourite food is ice cream, her favourite destination to visit is Indonesia, that her favourite activity is boating, and that she’s more of a dog person than a cat person.
Afterward, Downs said 70 people paid to watch Chopp’s address.
“I think it was well attended for a virtual event,” said Downs, who also serves as the advertising manager for The Simcoe Reformer and Norfolk & Tillsonburg News. “I know if we were able to have the event in-person we would’ve had a much larger crowd.
“I thought Mayor Chopp did an excellent job. She didn’t shy away from answering any questions. She did a great job explaining why decisions have been made and talked about the recovery plans for Norfolk County after the pandemic.”