Monday, February 14, 2011

Springwater Council – moving forward

I want to correct a misperception I may have created in my last posting. Councillors Webster, McConkey and Hanna approached me at the last council meeting and mentioned that I left the impression in my last article that this council was focused on percentage in the budget deliberation. This is not true. There was a brief discussion at one of the early budget meetings on whether a simple percentage approach should be taken and it was rejected. The new Springwater Council has went through the line items and are cutting costs where possible and at the same time trying to avoid any service delivery disruption. They will be tabling the budget at the next meeting and I am sure the residents will appreciate the thoroughness of the process. When I reread my posting I realized I failed to separate the process that was used by the County and the Township. The County was more focused on the percentage approach. My point in the budget process is that it should only include what is needed to meet the needs of the tax payer. It should not include unneeded expenditures such as outside consultants doing the work that staff are paid to do or that could be done with key stakeholders and volunteers in the community. The council in the budget deliberation has been very effective in this area and should be congratulated.
With 5 of the members of Springwater Council being new, they did an excellent job at the 2011 budget and I am sure next year will improve their efforts and give us more value for our hard earned tax dollars. A positive move on this front was from Councillor Jack Hannna who suggested the establishment of a budget committee at the Feb 7th Council meeting under Items for Future Consideration. It received support from the other councilors which illustrates there is an eagerness by all to better serve the residents of Springwater from a fiscal perspective. This Council is getting things done by planning ahead and the addition of the Items for Future Consideration on every Council Agenda is quite effective in having new ideas brought forward. It prompts the council to think into the future. It is subtle, but you are now seeing a council driven agenda rather than a staff led exercise which I find quite refreshing
I was also pleased that the Council has passed a resolution to allow the Elmvale Foodbank to move to the unoccupied Knox Building and use the old Council Chambers. This should have been undertaken by the past council as the need was stated clearly in a deputation last May.
My next comment is truly a personal perspective and is not a concern for most people. Councillor McConkey asked about adding a public portion to the Items for Future Consideration section of the agenda before the closed session part of council. Deputy Mayor McLean and Councillors Webster and Clement spoke against the idea and were not interested in opening the actual council agenda up to open dialogue which I find disappointing. I think the reasons stated for not doing it were weak and not well discussed as few people attend the meetings. The good news is that there is an opportunity to ask questions and make comments at the end of the meeting after the adjournment which I guess will suffice for most people. Wasaga Beach have used an open 15 minute question period in the body of the Council Agenda for some time and have not encountered any of the fears expressed by Deputy Mayor Dan McLean. I do find the council position a little disappointing and contrary to what everyone stated at the public debates during the election campaign.
I also have one minor complaint which is easily corrected and was probably a simple oversight. I addressed a point to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Council via email. Two councilors phoned me and we discussed the issue which is great. The disappointment is that the written response I received which told me things I already know, which I found condescending, was provided by staff. If correspondence is addressed to council it should be responded by someone from council and most likely the Mayor. If it is a highly technical issue than the response from the elected official should say something to the effect that the matter was referred to that person, but the response should come from the elected official. If you check the correspondence that the council received on their agenda at the Feb 7th meeting, Premier Dalton McGuinty provided a written response to a letter from the Mayor and Council regarding the specimen collection issue in Elmvale. That is common courtesy.
I know this council has only been at it for 3 months and still in the honeymoon stage but it is great to see individual ideas are encouraged and yet still able to retain a common purpose of doing what is best for the Township of Springwater. I hope when we start addressing the real challenges such as growth and development that this council will dedicate the same energy to those important and difficult issues.
Council can only be as responsive to the needs of the residents of Springwater, if they know what they are. Come to the Council and Planning Committee meeting as that is where the future of Springwater is shaped. If you cannot do that email or write to your councilor and tell then what you think is important in your area. Far too few of us speak up and simply grumble behind the scenes. That is not effective or productive.
Since I follow it diligently, I know that we do have a council, that I think can get the job done and has a lot of fresh ideas and few personal agendas. That is what we wanted and that is what we got. I can only hope that the openness I have seen with the individuals remains for the next 44 months. Effective councils will have a healthy level of conflict. That is good as it challenges the individuals to do their job and not rest on their laurels. They can only do that, if they are held accountable and yes supported in those things that matter.
Keep abreast of what is going on in Springwater. It is our community, so let’s be part of the solution.