"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

Saturday 12 April 2008

A Calisthenic Guaranteed To Secure an Excruciating Self-Injury

I was wrong. The price tag for OMB proceedings on the Westhill Development Proposal up to April 8th was $119,000 not $10,000. Obviously, the consequences of supporting the neighbours' requestfor a Joint Board Hearing were not fully understood. Professional advice bought and paid for was not accepted.

Instead the rallying cry went out to members of S.T.O.R.M.(Save the Oak Ridges Moraine). Support was on hand to refuse the application and join the demand for a Joint Board Hearing. The Mayor subsequently and publicly dismissed concern about legal costs.

It's a familiar scene. Advocates of nature are free to embrace their passion without regard for pesky details like law.. Politicians are free to exploit that passion and ignore the hard reality They may even have made a commitment during the last election.

I have referred before to a similar fateful decision made on October 22, 2003.during a council meeting during the campaign.. A staff report was presented for closed door discussion and to meet a provincial deadline. Legal connotations were cited. They were dismissed by some councillors.with a hint of an accusation impropriety.

Councillor MacEachern argued the matter should be discussed in the open.. Councillor Vrancic dictated a resolution off the top of his head and declared" we should not fear legal costs.We should show the way for other municipalities ." A lawyer resident said talk about legal costs was ridiculous.. He offered to represent the town himself if it came to that.Emotions were high. The Council chamber was full. Ms. Morris, a candidate for council was there with Sue Walmer, to join the crusade toSave the Moraine. .
Next year's audit revealed not-to-be-feared legal costs were $270,000. Nothing was accomplished then or learned either apparently. The crusade paid off in votes for the valiant.

During the last election, at a meeting sponsored by the Coalition of Ratepayers, random questions were pulled out of a hat. A written questionnaire had already been circulated. Candidates views were known. I was asked how I would respond to an application for development on the Moraine.

I said:for the second time:and in the second election;" There is no simple answer. The Town's Official Plan governs. The Provincial Oak Ridges Moraine Act governs . If money is to be spent to protect The Moraine , it should be provincial money. I would not put the burden on the home-owners and businesses of Aurora.

Candidate Wilson was asked the same question. His response was loud and emphatic. He declared he would not permit development on The Moraine .

Evelina MacEachern's question was a bit of a twist. She was asked whether she had ever observed a conflict of interest while on council previously. She said she couldn't believe she had received that question. She had no idea it was coming. She answered in the affirmative. On one occasion, in-camera, the matter of raises for non-union staff was on the agenda. Mayor Jones, whose wife was on staff, declared a conflict and did not participate. Later however when the matter was reported out he failed to declare. Ms. MacEachern said she did not draw attention to the oversight because she didn't know she could.

Of the twenty candidates in the contest only four had previous experience. What was the chance anyone but Ms. MacEachern could have given that answer ?

I have a basic philosophy. I trust everyone until they give me reason not to. then I never do again.

The event and the questions were organized by Sue Walmer. As was the Coalition of Ratepayers in time for the election. As was STORM. Ms. Walmer is still is a member of the town's environmental committee. As was the Mayor. Ms. Walmer was understood to be heavily involved in Morris' bid for the Mayor's chair. It was understood the coalition had a slate of candidates

It often happens when I start on a particular topic the writing takes off in in a circle before it comes back to main theme.

The price tag for the refusal of the Westhill development application and support four of Westhill's neighbours request for a joint board hearing is currently $119,000 and counting – half legal, and half technical expertise.

Had the process been allowed to continue, fees for the expertise would have been paid by the developer. The appllication was refused. .The work became redundant from the applicant's perspective. The Municipal Board will make the decision and t taxpayers of Aurora will pay for the redundant work. The town required it to be done. .

Three weeks had been set aside for the scheduled hearing. That time has since been revised to six weeks. Projected cost is $150,00. Add that to the $119,000 already spent.

The neighbours' lawyer has appealed the OMB decision againsta Joint Board Hearing to Divisional Court .. The town is not supporting it but our previous action will bolster his argument.

A Joint Hearing requires seventeen weeks or therabouts.Our cost for that process will be close to half a million dollars. Add that to $119,000.

Our advocacy budget for 2008 is spent. Pending a decision from Divisional Court the anticipated extra cost will have to be added to this year's budget. It represents between two and three points on the tax rate.

I think this may be where the generational gap between myself and fellow councillors becomes apparent. $10.thousand dollars wasted is to me unpardonable. Make that half a million and you will understand the extent of my despair.

The Westhill lands are designated in the Aurora Official plan to permit a golf course and residential development. There were serious issues that needed to be settled prior to a site plan being approved. Under the guidance of town and regional staff and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Environment, the developer has already spent three-quarters of a million dollars .. Their OMB costs will not be less than ours.

The Ontario Municipal Board cannot disregard the Town's Official Plan. The town cannot argue against The Town's Official Plan at an OMB hearing or a Joint Board either for that matter.We cannot argue in that forum against the Oak Ridges Moraine Act or the Ministry of the Environment or the Region or The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

I do not profess proficiency in math. I do not profess to the expertise of a Chief Financial Officer responsible for a Corporate Budget of fifty-one million dollars and counting. Neither do I claim the Wisdom of Solomon. But I believe there is an obvious conclusion here.
We dug our collective selves in deep this time..

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