Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Report On Council Meetings

Planning Committee and Council Meetings-Sometimes better than the last episode of Corner Gas
Since I had the time recently, I felt it appropriate that I attend some of the meetings of our council since I have read so many negative remarks in your paper. For those that don’t pay attention to our municipal politics, the two key bodies of importance are the Planning Committee and the Council which are comprised of all the councilors in both forums. I have attended many over the last 5 years but they usually were a result of me doing a deputation of some kind on behalf of our local community.
Generally it appears that the two key players leading our council have forgotten that they were elected by the people who are in fact both their customers and bosses at the same time. When I hear the Mayor refer to “the jokers out there”, it appears that those are the ones that don’t see the universe as he does. They are the people that use the local media, write letters and express their concern and frustration with this council. I have a feeling that I am one of those jokers. The Mayor also made a statement that if there was a survey, 90% of the population would say the council is doing a good job. I want to meet those people.
At the March 30 Planning Committee meeting , when the letter from the Midhurst Ratepayers Association was tabled, the Deputy Mayor did a verbal attack on the content saying it was crap and then criticized the writer. The Mayor concurred with the Deputy Mayor. Jointly they suggested the council had gone beyond the call of duty during the venting process regarding the secondary plan for Midhurst. For those that have followed this development it could well turn Midhurst into a small metropolis, a far cry from the unique settlement it is today. The Mayor then expressed his concern that the message of the good work of council is not getting out there. Who’s fault is that? They hired a communication officer to sell the message. However, it is tough to sell something you don’t have. The one bright light was that Ward 2 Councilor Cowan suggested that they respond to the Ratepayers group and inform them of the steps Council had taken. That is the type of action and response a good council would undertake. Hats off to Mr. Cowan for his suggestion.
Since that meeting was mildly entertaining I contacted a few more people to enjoy the performance on April 6 at the regular Council meeting. They got their money’s worth. Everything was quite civil until they got to Staff Reports item 9 on the agenda. It was a detailed report with information and a suggested Request for Proposal for reviewing the newspaper advertising. Mr. Cowan Ward 2 Councilor simply asked how this matter got on the agenda as he had made a notice of motion the month prior that would have proposed moving the township newsletter “Springwater Link” back to the Springwater News. It was somewhat unanimous with everyone including the two senior politicians that the Barrie Advance has not served the township well in its mandate to communicate. Hmmm! Maybe that is one reason why the Mayor’s message of good will among all people is not getting out. Sorry I digressed. Mr. Cowan rightly questioned why this was on the agenda as reports from staff must be requested by Council as a whole and neither Mr. Cowan nor any of the other councilors could recall making the request. CAO Grant reported that there was direction given when they first moved to the Advance. Her recollection of the direction was that they try the Advance for a year and then review the matter. If you read the minutes you can understand why people don’t remember what happened at past meetings as most items are only recorded as “staff to proceed as directed” with no detail on what they are to proceed with. I am not sure that meets the requirements of Section 239 of the Municipal Act for records of meetings. I would like to point out that the unexpected agenda item was not a simple review supposedly requested by Council. In my estimation it was a blatant attempt to again make it difficult or at least delay the process of moving the information link back to the Springwater News. The Mayor took offence at Mr. Cowan’s question and felt that Mr. Cowan was implying that possibly the Mayor had influenced the agenda item as it appeared. He removed Mr. Cowan’s privilege on the floor, and terminated the discussion. It appears that asking challenging questions are not permitted by councilors. Now I understand why Councilors normally go along for the ride. There was further discussion on the benefits of the Springwater News, and I was pleased that Councilor Collins from Ward 3 made mention that the lack of readership of the Advance was tabled at the Anten Mills Recreation meeting only the week prior. The mayor was somewhat aggressive with her and challenged why she had not mentioned this before. Her answer was polite and succinct and she responded, “it had not been brought up before”. Another honest and forthright answer from one of our representatives.
Later Mr. Cowan was allowed to present information that he had prepared in support of the motion he had hoped to table. He provided information on the high use of Springwater News for local businesses and the virtual absence of local businesses using the Advance to promote their goods or services. The audience gave a round of applause for Mr. Cowan’s information. The Mayor took this opportunity to jokingly but sarcastically suggest that Mr. Cowan had a fan club. Further discussion and support for the Springwater News continued, but then our good Deputy Mayor went off on a tangent culminating with a statement which I will paraphrase, “Michael Jacobs is an asshole and I don’t care who hears or reports it”. The Mayor is the chair of the meeting and by the rules is obliged to immediately remove the floor from the Deputy Mayor as he did with Mr. Cowan earlier. He is then required to demand that the Deputy Mayor either immediately apologize to those present or remove him from the chamber. For whatever unknown reason, the Mayor allowed the Deputy Mayor to spew his venom with no regard to proper decorum or conduct a direct contravention of the township’s own procedural by-law’s decorum policy that was passed a year ago.
Now for a positive observation, I must commend all the councilors for their response to the new Hillsdale group that are trying to preserve the O’Neil Tavern with Council delaying final action until the next council meeting with a promise to meet with all parties involved. Everything is not all bad about this council. Councilors Anderson, Clement and Caldwell also contributed input and comments throughout the meeting regarding the matters on the agenda and were more actively engaged than I have seen for some time. It appears the true flaw in this council may be leadership.
As a further update, I attended the April 20 Council meeting. It is unfortunate that there were few in the audience as it was conducted in a much more appropriate manner. I was pleased that the Deputy Mayor at the beginning of the meeting acknowledged his lack of decorum at the April 6 meeting and apologized for his comments regarding Michael Jacobs being an asshole. I hope the Deputy Mayor takes the time to phone and apologize to Mr. Jacobs directly which would be appropriate. Possibly the Mayor should have followed the Deputy Mayor’s lead and apologized for his reference to the public as “jokers” which occurred at the same meeting. The council is taking positive steps in attempting to secure some of the infrastructure and stimulus money from the government and have identified a number of important projects over the next two years. I do want to say that this was one of the more productive meetings I have attended where each member was treated with proper respect. That doesn’t mean that they were in “lock step” as I have accused them of being in the past. Each was forthright in their position on matters before them which lead to healthy debate.
We are only a year and a half away from a municipal election. It is time to start asking your councilors and other elected officials to be accountable and inform you of what they are doing or have done to provide improved services and at the same time control the costs of our municipality.
If we as the public are not content with the way Springwater Council is conducting our business and it is our business, then participate in the process and go to the some of the planning committee or Council meetings. You will then be better prepared to re-elect your incumbent if he/she is doing a good job or elect someone else in November 2010.
In addition to the business conducted by Council which is serious and important, these meetings at times can provide some much needed entertainment and comic relief, almost as good as Corner Gas. So come out at 5:30 p.m. and join some of us other jokers. Admission is free.
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