"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Wednesday 13 February 2008


I came home from council last night and thought about what happened there. I considered it the worst of conduct. I thought about other occasions that might compare.

My last Blog triggered the first memory. It was a meeting between the election of 2003 and the new council being sworn in.

Councillor MacEachern was arguing in favour of a manual recount. She had disagreed with the Director of Corporate Services before the election that the machines he had recommended to council were the right ones for the job.

Now it was contended the election result proved they didn't work. Two candidates at the low end of the vote. polled within forty votes. David Griffith, an incumbent candidate was unseated, I was the one who unseated him. Councillor MacEachern had already urged David to ask for a recount. He refused.

When I called David to wish him well after his loss, he in turn congratulated me and assured me he was content to accept the decision of the voters. He added he had no stomach to serve on the upcoming council. He anticipated the ugliness.

Nevertheless Councillor MacEachern persisted. There should be a recount and Councillor Damir Vrancic agreed.

"I have no desire to sit here for the next three years looking across the table at someone who doesn't have a right to be there” he said.

I was in the council chamber at the time. Councillors MacEachern, Pederson, Griffith and Timpson were on their way out. But there was a vote anyway and a recount was held.

Councillor Kean argued it would cost nothing because only staff time was involved.As if hundreds of man hours on a particular project does not have a cost.

The result was exactly the same as on election night. The machines were accurate. and efficient. The Director had been right. Councillor MacEachern was not.

I took my seat and Damir Vrancic did have to sit across the table for three years looking at someone who did have a right to be there, whether he liked it or not. I fancy there were several occasions he did not.

I could have been offended by the Councillor's comments. I found them quite amazing. I am accustomed to the concept that a person elected is respected by virtue of being the choice of the electorate particularly by people who arrive at the table by the same process.

Just as David Griffith had expressed. During the recount, Councillor Vrancic took the opportunity to declare to me in a voice all could hear, "The voters are stupid".

I refrained from inquiring if he thought so because of the support he had received. I knew full well what he intended...Something had happened in the years of my absence... A new, and unattractive element had entered our town's affairs.

Most politicians I have known are of a different breed.. Affable. Inclined to be helpful. Competitive yes,they are capable of being angry but they laugh easily and don't take themselves too seriously. Politics is a humbling process. A reputation for simple human decency is the single most important quality one can offer. It is often the only one people care about.

The expectation that a council will work together for the betterment of the community has always been a given. The blatant and virulent hostility; the dog eat dog competitiveness displayed from the beginning of that and the current term of council is a new element to me.m though I understand it was previously manifest.

A person who perceives leadership as taking total control of all decisions while freezing out half the elected council from participation.is, a concept foreign to Aurora and I think most of our neighbours. Determined and persistent sabotage of the role of the administration is equally catastrophic to the competent management of the municipality's affairs.

I understand why David Griffith wanted no part of it. It was meant to be, I think for David and I to change places for a while. Obviously I have a stronger stomach than he does.

I am not so inclined.

Tuesday 12 February 2008


The last Blog reminded me of October 22nd, 2003. I was a spectator at council. One among many. Not unusual for a meeting held during an election . Wiseacres always come out to wring promises from incumbent candidates. That's why meetings are not normally held during a campaign.

A number of issues were exploited that night .Additional swim lanes in the proposed new recreation complex were promised and ultimately delivered.

The deadline for the town's submission to the Province on the Oak Ridges Moraine Act was Oct 23rd .2003 That was the reason for the meeting.

There had been a buzz all day. On the Agenda, a report from the Planning Director referred to a letter from the legal firm retained to advise on the town's submission. . Some properties in the Moraine had already received Official Plan Designations or had had hearings with the Ontario Municipal Board. . They had to be identified as settlement areas and specifically included in the Act as such.The letter was not attached. Staff advised, because of the potential for litigation, the matter needed to be be dealt with in-camera.

Sue Seibert, the Director of Planning repeatedly advised the issue was complicated. The Mayor and Councillor West warned of the need to be carefull..

Councillor MacEachern disagreed. There was more than a hint staff were not being straighforward andMayor Jones and Councillor West were friends of developers.

Councillor Damir Vrancic declared in ringing tones. “We must save the Moraine. We should not fear legal action. We should show the way.for other municipalities to follow.” He seconded Councillor MacEachern's motion that the matter be discussed in public.There was applause from the crowd who had rallied to the cause, Candidate Morris and supporters were in the crowd. as well as the challenger for the Mayor's chair and his teen-age son.

Off the top of his head, as he was wont to do, Councillor Vrancic dictated a lengthy motion in opposition to advice from staf It passed. with the Mayor and Councillor West in opposirion.

At the next meeting, the resolution had to be modified. Councillor MacEachern stated she never intended harm to property owners. But the change was not enough to save the town harmless.

There were consequences.Jones and West were elected with reduced majorities . George Timpson was featured as a flip-flop artist and lost his bid . Morris, Kean and Vrancic came in at the top of the heap. MacEachern had withdrawn her nomination after she saw who were the other candidates . I crept in at the bottom. after a re-count held on a motion from MacEachern and Vrancic.

A subsequent auditors report revealed legal costs of $270,000 were incurred because of the decision. on October 22nd. The funds were not budgeted which is why they received the auditor's attention..

It was not the only questionable decision made on that fateful night. Although it was the most expensive.

Sidewalks had recently been constructed at the corners of Maple and Yonge Streets. Two residents came to complain they weren't like the pictures they were shown.. They did not fit the heritage ambience of the neighborhood.

Public Works Director Wayne Jackson was asked the cost to replace them." $30,000", he said. Treasurer Allan Evelyn was asked if he could find the money. "No" he said

. No matter, Councillor MacEachern moved that the new sidewalks be broken out and replaced. And so it was done. In time for the election.
The following January, Treasurer Allan Evelyn left The Town of Aurora..

Afterwards i checked the new roll-over curbs. .. They were aptly described. The corners were a muddy morass from the wheels that rolled over. I went with a camera , only to discover they had been tidied up with interlocking bricks. I never did discover what that cost.

Wayne Jackson did lots of things like that to smooth things for his political bosses. In May.of the first year of the current term, he found himself publicly criticised by the new Mayor for a problem which he had handled with his usual deft touch.

Within days he tendered his resignation. ,.

I am often informed my views are irrelevant. I am regularly admonished that things are different to how they were forty years ago. Like I am not the one to notice .

Different ? Yes.

Better? Absolutely not.

Common sense and integrity do not go out of style.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Alice in LaLaLand

The town has property for sale on Leslie Street. It was purchased for the Recreation Complex seven or eight years ago. It cost $4.6 million. In the last year of the last term, staff were directed to do the necessary to sell the land, in house, by an auction process. The land has sensitive features and a site plan had to be developed to show the buildable sites. The exact size, shape and location of the parcel had to be meticulously described, an essential factor to determine an appraisal to use against potential bids.

The task was completed and ready for the new council to hit the ground running. They had no such inclination. For almost a year they argued and wrangled. First it was about whether or not it should be sold or kept for speculation. The public were not in on that discussion - it was held behind closed doors. Eventually, weeks later, it was determined the Town's best interest was to sell the property for development which would restore Capital Reserve Funds and provide jobs and assessment.

Then the argument was about how it should be sold. Staff advice was disregarded and a decision was made to retain a Real Estate Brokerage. Their commission would substantially reduce the proceeds but that was no deterrent to our feisty and remarkable new council which was never at any time in need of advice from staff.

Several more weeks were spent choosing the right firm and creating a contract. Documentation and a plan of how to sell the land.was generated by the company. The sale process has been underway for months. February 15th is the closing date for bids. The final step in the dance is almost complete.

But hold on there, not so fast, on Tuesday, February 5th, ten days before the close of bids, a report was tabled to Council in Committee from the Citizen's Advisory Committee of Leisure Services. They had previously received a report from a Citizen Subcommittee of the Leisure Services Advisory Committee recommending that twelve metres of land on two side of the property should be retained for a trail system. The Leisure Services Advisory Committee agreed. They recommended the action to Council in Committee.

Councillor Gaertner, a committee member, stated “It's a good thing we thought about it in time to make it a condition of the sale.”

We have a legal contract with a real estate brokerage company. They have promoted on our behalf at our cost a meticulously described parcel of land, divided into buildable lot sizes and setting out sensitive areas which are not for building.

Potential purchasers have picked up specs which describes exactly what is being offered for sale and to prepare their bids. Now, on the eve of opening bids, it is proposed we change the configuration of the land and the lot sizes. Or alternatively, encourage the sale as previously described and hit the buyers after the fact, they will have paid for land the municipality intends to require for public purposes, namely a fifty-feet wide trail system.

The sale and development will bring new assessment dollars, produce employment, both necessary to keep our economy stable and infinitely preferable to on-going tax increases and help replenish our plundered capital reserve accounts.

The price paid for the land will be multiplied many times in the sale. We already turned down an offer for a parcel at the appraised value with the potential for eight hundred highly paid jobs to contribute to our economy. I have the documentation to prove it.

Had we followed through on the work done by the previous council in this matter, the funds from this sale would have long been realised and tucked away in the reserve accounts from whence they were taken in the first place. There may well have been buildings already constructed, assessment flowing and new jobs for residents of the town.

But alas and alack ... things just don't happen that way in La La Land.

The money to pay for the Burnett Farm where the new recreation centre is built came from the following sources:

$1,750,000 - from Cash taken in Lieu of Parks reserve account.

$1,100,000. from Development Charges. That's money taken from builders when permits are issued.

$525,000 - Municipal Capital Reserves also called Tax Free Stabilization Fund. Taken from previous year end surpluses from taxes.

$2,100,000 - Taken from the Water and Sewer Fund. That's money collected with water and sewer bills for maintenance of water and sewer infrastructure.

When the debentures were issued for the building the cost of the land was not included. The reserve funds were never paid back. That's what I mean when I say the reserve funds were looted.

The Leslie Street land which we are now re-selling was purchased in the year 2000. There appears to be no record of which reserve funds were raided to pay for it. In effect, when it is sold we will not have surplus funds. We will simply be replacing funds previously robbed from reserve accounts, money which could conceivable have been used to pay for capital projects which were in fact charged to the levy (annual taxes).

Staff do as they are directed by their political masters. Who is watching? I wasn't there at the time.

Saturday 2 February 2008

Aurora 1945 - 1965 - by Elizabeth Hearn Milner

~This one's from Heather S. ~

I have finally finished reading "Aurora 1945 - 1965" by Elizabeth Hearn Milner. I thought I'd jump in and post on Evelyn's blog to see what everyone thought of it. I really enjoyed reading all about Aurora, and everything that transpired over a 20 year period that was more than 40 years ago.

I sent a copy to my grandmother, Edith Sisman - who read it right from start to finish over the weekend. Some of her recollections were different from the details provided in the book. I thought I'd jump in here (because a LOT more of Evelyn's blog followers are 'vintage Aurorans') and invite you all to comment on what you thought.

So... what did you think? Did you enjoy the book? The pictures? I'm eager to hear everyone's thoughts, and recollections, given that my paternal family had 'vintage' status as well.

~Heather Sisman

We don't Hold Meetings We hold Court

HEATHER'S NOTE: This post is a letter to the editor that was published in The Auroran's January 29th edition. ~HEATHER SISMAN

This week the mayor issued her edict that henceforth she would decide which questions will permit councillors to ask of delegates. Henceforth disobedience to her edict will result in a culprit being required to apologize or risk banishment from the august presence.

On Tuesday evening, the newly formed Sports Coalition of Aurora presented their mission statement asserting lofty goals and aspirations. A spokesperson of the organization has already lobbied council against any increase in user fees which partly cover costs of operation of facilities. There have been no increases since 2004.

At the end of the presentation, I asked if the organization had developed a philosophy on the principle of paying user fees. He replied, "We have not made a decision on that yet".

On Wednesday, we had a Public Planning Meeting. An environmental lawyer presented opposition to a development in the Oak Ridges Moraine. It has an Official Plan designation which gives the owner rights which cannot be negated. The young lawyer confidently stated Aurora is maxed out on water.

I asked who was paying him to attend the hearing. He answered his organization is funded by charitable donations. I asked him on what basis did he make the statement there is no water available for the development. He didn't exactly answer. So I told him there is an insufficient reservoir capacity to allow people to turn on taps in a drought and let them run until the reservoirs are almost empty.

That's when the mayor became annoyed and stated she would not allow the delegate to be harrassed.I suspect the delegate was there by invitation.

That meeting started at 7 p.m. It ended at 12.20 p.m. I left at midnight without having had the opportunity to participate in debate or vote. For five hours we listened to technological jargon, very little of which is within our range of competence to argue and which will all be repeated April 7th before an Ontario Municipal Board who will make the final and over-riding decision.

The Planning Act requires municipal councils shall not take a position on any application until all interested parties have been heard. At three minutes to twelve, without comment from any councillor, Councillor Evelina McEachern dictated a resolution, three pages long containing a list of actions for staff to carry out and report back to council prior to February 7th, the date the Municipal Board will hold a pre-hearing.

On Thursday night at a budget meeting, a presentation was made by one of last year's 18 vendors at the Farmers’ Market.

He asked for financial support to pay for promotions and provide staff to assist the vendors. The Market is a community event, he said, and should be funded like other community events. I asked: if the permit is $60 and the season is 20 weeks, that amounts to an outlay of $3 a week to set up shop on public property.

He agreed. Then I asked how much he makes from his day at the market. He opted not to answer. And therein lies the rub.

Up and down and on either side of Yonge Street, retailers are operating businesses. They provide their own accommodation, meet payrolls, pay Workman's Compensation. They promote their businesses.

In slow times, they pay more for interest on a bank overdraft than they take in. They pay property taxes to the Town, the Region and the Board of Education. In strip plazas they even pay property tax on the parking spots in front of their stores. They support with money, scores of sports teams that allow young people to enjoy robust and healthy activities. They are solicited and buy advertising in the Leisure Services Guide which is circulated free throughout the community.

Any day of the week, they are solicited by organizations galore for charitable donations. Last year, it was reported the vendors at the Farmers' Market were very satisfied with the success of their endeavour.

Every Saturday, they sold out their inventories. They received $900 of taxpayer money for promotions. This year, they want $3,400 for promotions and staffing. The invoices are to be sent to the mayor's office. The cheques will be co-signed by the mayor and treasurer.

I suspect market vendors have been encouraged to believe their request is reasonable. The issue, like all the others, is more about political currency than any other kind. It always has been.

Like I said, we do not hold council meetings, we hold court. The favourites cluster around. Honours are bestowed. Photos taken. Councillors are invited to proclaim their extra-curricular activities.

Last Tuesday we listened to a proclamation that took 25 minutes to read. The only thing missing was a clarion of trumpets.

At precisely the hour of adjournment, the business agenda of the Corporation finally began. At that hour, it is not at all likely to be given the attention it deserves. Many, many questions are never asked simply by the exhaustion of time and endurance.