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Elsie Sierens: Our COVID-19 recovery model relies on bringing people together

Elsie Sierens: Our COVID-19 recovery model relies on bringing people together

Interview with the Mayor of Destelbergen, Belgium

Elsie Sierens was born in 1967. She has been mayor of the Flemish municipality of Destelbergen since 2019, an alderman between 2017 and 2018 and a city councillor from 2012-2017. In this interview, she talks about the challenges facing a full-time mayor, the major local projects and how the municipality designed their post-coronavirus recovery, based on a popular survey.

Mrs Sierens, would you present the municipality of Destelbergen to the audience of TheMayor.EU in a few words?

Destelbergen is a beautiful municipality not far from the historic city of Ghent. Our municipality is characterised by its green surroundings, beautiful nature and historic castles. The number of inhabitants is 18.000.

In 2018 you took over the mayor’s post, announcing that you would quit your business and dedicate your energy entirely to the municipality. Are you happy with this decision?

After 2 years as a mayor, this feels like my second skin. I am fully dedicated to this function as a full-time mayor, a choice I do not regret at all.

This position demands dedication, consultation, action, interference, adequate communication. As a full-time mayor, I can deal with problems quickly, am available and can easily consult our municipal services.

Half of your time spent in office so far has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. Are there any important projects that you were forced to put on hold or cancel because of the crisis?

With the whole crew, we have tried to stick to our plan. Some projects have been delayed for a short time but so far, we did not have to put projects on hold.

This crisis also gave us the opportunity to add value to our organisation. Together with our inhabitants, associations, companies, we have added extra actions to overcome this crisis and to give extra oxygen to those in need.

And what are the main projects and initiatives you accomplished since becoming an alderman in 2017 and mayor after that?

The main projects in progress are a new school in the centre of Destelbergen and a new recreation area in Heusden (a sub municipality of Destelbergen).

To design a plan for recovery from the pandemic, the municipality launched a wide consultation involving citizens, associations and companies. Could you tell us more about the process, the main objectives of the plan and how its implementation will be supported financially?

During this pandemic, a variety of people were impacted. We think it is important to know what people think about the crisis and where they feel needs.

Therefore, we launched a survey (#Watbeliefteru9070helpt which translates to “we want to help you"). We questioned several categories and were happy with the results. With them in hand, we were able to focus on specific actions.

We were surprised and happy to find out that people were most in need of connection, space to come together, initiatives to bring people together. Our model is based on these principles.

Why did the council decide to ban the setting off of fireworks ahead of New Year’s Eve and how was this restriction accepted by the local population?

Because of the pandemic, the federal government decided to ban fireworks throughout the country. Our council decided to ban fireworks during the period of New Year’s Eve for private individuals.

There is danger involved, the fire department advises us to ban fireworks. There is also the aspect of healthcare, we do not want any victims in the hospital.

Finally, there is also the aspect of animal cruelty. The response to our decision is positive.

Finally, coronavirus aside, is there another good practice or initiative from your municipality that you would like to share with the other mayors in the European Union?

I think we have brought citizen participation to a higher level, make people count.

Another important aspect is the climate. Therefore, I have signed the Covenant of Mayors, the reduction of CO2 emissions is high on the agenda.

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