Sunday, September 22, 2013

Perspective on Springwater Council

Years ago on X-files, Special Agents Scully and Mulder used to accuse the government of trying to “deceive, inveigle and obfuscate”, lest anyone discover the truth about what was really going on. 

As I watched Springwater Council in action twice this week, including the notorious Special Public Meeting on the 17th, these iconic words came to mind.  At the Council meeting on the 16th, Rick Webster suddenly withdrew his petty motion to chill public dissent, camouflaged by the proposed naming and shaming, via taxpayer-funded legal action, of anyone indulging in so-called slanderous or libelous innuendo.  Perhaps he read Gary French’s masterful dissection of this motion in the last issue of the Springwater News, and didn’t like his portrayal.  A more alarming and sinister theory is that he lost one of his 4 votes; and thus had no choice but to withdraw his motion to avoid an embarrassing defeat.  Should we believe that’s the end of Council trying to stop commentary they don’t like?

That brings me to Question Period, a 10 minute sop to the long-suffering residents in which 5 members of the audience [I use this word literally] have 2 minutes each to ask Council about something that’s on their mind.  And to which they expect an answer right then or no later than necessary.  Do those public questions get answered?  Usually not.  Regular attendees, like myself, seriously wonder if our questions drop into a black hole, never to see the light of day again.  Then, there’s Council’s latest attempt at ham-stringing voters: they want us to ask questions relating only to that night’s agenda.  That certainly keeps the topics narrow, doesn’t it?  What if your burning interest is not on the agenda or you didn’t have a chance to read the agenda beforehand because you’re busy with real life and it was published late? 

On Tuesday, there was the sideshow of the Special Meeting, advertised to residents online and in the mail as an opportunity for Council to discuss and debate the Township lawyer’s report on the legal issues associated with the Midhurst Secondary Plan and determine next steps.  Right after the lawyer finished, Councillor Hanna asked Council to permit a Question Period.  All-knowing Mayor Collins said this wasn’t required at a Special Meeting and said no.  Clearly, in her opinion, the overflow crowd was just expected to sit there like dumb animals and let Council’s pontificating wash over them unimpeded.  After some testy discussion, it was grudgingly allowed.  Of course, the public had more questions than 10 minutes could accommodate and, therefore, wanted more time.  Well, you’d think Council had been asked to open the vaults!  More wrangling ensued among the Councillors, most vocally Councillor McConkey who said she’d okay a measly 2 additional questions because how much time did we want [read that as deserve] anyway. 

The icing on the cake was Council’s sudden introduction and quick passing – 5 to 2 [Hanna and Ritchie voted no]  - of a motion that could only have been written, let alone understood, by a lawyer [it was] to cut off any further review of past events leading to the MSP as it is today.  One reason given was that staff resources are “finite”. They can’t be expected to keep on finding answers to the many serious questions and concerns the community has about this utter travesty of good planning, can they?  And who pays their wages, again?  Well, talk about being blind-sided! This infamous motion was not listed on the agenda, the public was shocked, and word has it that not every councillor even knew about it beforehand!  Some knowledgeable folks are wondering if this motion is even legal, given the apparent lack of due process.  Whatever the facts, it was not “open and transparent”, as Council likes to describe itself.

Yes, “deceive, inveigle and obfuscate” live on in Springwater Council.  Welcome to your local government. 
Sandy Buxton

Collins, McLean, Clement, Webster and McConkey Agree: Growth Trumps the Wishes of Residents

On September 17th at a special Council Meeting, slated as an update and answers to questions of Midhurst residents, turned into a resolution to stop any consideration of this Council reversing the disastrous plans for mega development in Midhurst.

Instead of the Mayor actually responding, it was left to hired legal representation to respond to the questions that were posed to council. Some blatant misinformation was provided. I will not elaborate in this article but in a series of articles I will be publishing over the next number of months, I will dissect the answers provided and outline many misleading and erroneous statements. For example the lawyer said the Province was mandating the growth and the numbers. That is not true. The province have provided forecasts to 2031 and now 2041 for what might be needed. In fact the forecasts were intended to prevent not encourage paving over farmland. The province a number of years ago realized the growth in Simcoe County was poorly planned and they found it necessary to create a special section to control it in the Places to Grow directive. Besides, schedule 7 of the Places to Grow puts a forecast for Springwater to 2031 at 24,000. Considering we are around 18,500 it suggests we will see another 5,500 new residents in Springwater by 2031. If you check the monthly planning report agenda you will see a report that suggests today that we have enough lots and development at various approval stages exceeding that 5,500 number without Midhurst’s 12,000 to 28,000 added numbers. Unfortunately a “Special Rule” unknowingly, promoted by our heads of council and the landowners, have set aside good planning principles for the sake of unnecessary and unneeded growth.

The resolution itself to me is, on one hand ill-conceived but on the other hand allows all residents to know exactly where our elected officials stand. I congratulate councilors Hanna and Ritchie for not caving in to the intimidation of possible lawsuits both against the Council as a whole and individual councilors. I really don’t like that kind of scare tactic which I think swayed the Clement and McConkey vote in the end.

The reality at this point is that the only signed agreement in place to proceed with the Midhurst Secondary Plan and mega developments is an agreement with the landowners to pay for the Environmental Assessments at an estimated cost of $300,000. There are no written agreements for the cost of infrastructure (estimated at $100,000,000 for the first phase), only letters of position. Deputy Mayor McLean has referred to these letters as “Letters of Intent”. McLean with his many years of experience well knows letters of intent, which are always subject to reaching an agreement are only binding if signed by both parties. The letters I have seen are not letters of intent and have been provided by the landowners representative for guidance purposes. If there are any such letters of intent for the cost of infrastructure then produce them.

The Midhurst Plan can be stopped but it needs a political will and that does not exist in this council. Regardless of where you live in Springwater this Midhurst development will have long reaching negative impacts on your taxes and your way of life. Get involved as we have an out of control freight train that is heading for a very dangerous curve and no one is at the controls. If we all get on board we can slow down the process and allow the voters at the next election to make the final decision by replacing those that do not have the best interests of all Springwater Residents in mind.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why Won’t this Council Reconsider the Midhurst Secondary Plan? Special Meeting!


*Don’t miss Sept 16 Council or the Sept 17 Special Midhurst Meetings.* 

I really appreciated the letter from Margaret Prophet from Midhurst in the last edition of SN. Her concern for costs and long term impacts are legitimate and well founded. The one disagreement I have is her assumption that the developers could sue the township if the township stopped the development plans is not totally correct.

It is obvious that the Midhurst Secondary Plan (MSP) would have been cancelled if not for the Amendment 1 and 2 of the Places to Grow Provincial Policy. Both the province and the county objected to the growth numbers of the MSP as they did not meet the population criteria of either the IGAP or original Places to Grow guidelines. If not for the Special Transition Rule for Midhurst, even the first phase of the development could not proceed. It does illustrate how much influence the large development community has on planning in our local municipalities.

It is clear in the Municipal Act and the Planning Act that the council is immune to lawsuits for things that have not been approved. Remember, the worst case scenario saw the approval of a future settlement area in Midhurst even though the people in the know say it was never a settlement area but a planning area. However the Plan which was hastily rammed though by the last Council, which included the current Mayor and Ward 1 Councillor, did not include phasing or controls of buildout such as where and when and what numbers would be permitted. These are all policies that the Township has full control over. The Township can get itself in hot water if it approves site plans and rezones land and then changes its mind. Since none of that has not occurred or been approved, the Township, if there was any political will, can reverse this catastrophic ill-conceived Midhurst Secondary Plan if it chooses to do so. I encourage Midhurst and all residents of Springwater to get into the discussion. The negative impact as noted by Ms. Prophet will increase everyone’s taxes and definitely increase water and sewer rates for those on municipal services in all areas of Springwater.

On September Tuesday 17th at 5:30 there is a public information session to answer a number of unanswered questions about the Midhurst Mega development plans. You should make a point of being at the meeting regardless of where you live in Springwater.

We are one year away from choosing new leadership in Springater and it is definitely needed. Give yourself an opportunity to judge for yourself what some of these elected officials are doing with your hard earned tax dollars. See if you agree that some of them are destroying the very fabric of our rich rural based municipality through their lack of vision or concern when making decisions. The long term negative impacts of the decisions they are making today will not be easily revered even if we toss them out of office.

Now is the time for all of us to act and put pressure on our elected to make the right decisions to the benefit of all stakeholders. Tell them to not cave into the pressures of outsiders who have no long term consequence of the poor decisions of the 2010-2014 council.

As an added note I also encourage you to attend the next Council Meeting on Monday September 16th at 5:30 where the infamous Webster/McLean motion will be tabled to have the Township chase people like me and pay lawyers to do so when we write things that they don’t agree with. It is of course under the guise of Slander and Libel a partial duplication of already clearly defined laws and remedies by provincial and federal statutes. The key is that they want to sic lawyers on people without being vetted by council as would be the current procedure. I am still hoping one other person will join Hanna, McConkey and Ritchie to defeat this unnecessary power. I hope saner heads will prevail and the motion is rejected as was the last ill-conceived motion to pay a communication company thousands of dollars to help this council effectively make itself look good. That approach failed miserably for the County with their expensive communication company that was trying to sell Site 41 as a good idea and a number of local Mayors and Deputy Mayors were punished for it..

These two upcoming meetings will also allow you to consider if you think Webster and McLean, the drivers of recent events, are acting like senior leaders in our local government. My opinion is that I expect to see them on the ballot the next time and one or both I suspect will shoot for the highest office.