"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 29 July 2009

What Happened?

"What happened at last night's meeting? You said you'd keep us informed so I was surprised to find no entry today. Is everything okay?"
Hey look...I have learned how to cut and paste.

Council deliberations were for the first time, live on Rogers Cable. It was a marathon. Council moved behind closed doors, at ten minutes past ten with the solicitor, who had been in the chamber since eight o'clock .

I came home and watched the rest on television.

When council re-emerged, a statement of complaint against me, signed by six members of Council was read into the record. The Mayor directed the document be posted on the Town's web site and published in two local newspapers.

A major criteria for registering a complaint is confidentiality.The purpose is obvious.A written accusation of wrong-doing is fraught with legal liability.

The role of an Integrity Commissioner is required to be independent and impartial.

It is hard for me to see how a Council, hiring a solicitor at public expense, to investigate a fellow Councillor and instruct him to come up with precise material for a written argument to support a complaint against said Councillor, complies with principles of conduct conducive to good faith and the respectful relationship espoused by the Code of Conduct.

The strict rules of confidentiality of the process may mean I will not be able to share all of the experience as we go along.

It is my understanding the rules of confidentiality have already been breached by multiple publications of the formal complaint.

There is no confidentiality attached to the informal step in the process.

I was asked by a councillor at the in-camera meeting, in the presence of Mr. Mascarin after he presented his report, to apologise, retract and commit not to do it any more.

I responded; if the Councillor would list examples of my being "factually incorrect" and other implied misdemeanours and present them to me, I would consider his request.

A second step in the informal process was a letter from the Mayor's office, prepared by Mr. Mascarin I believe, bearing signatures of six members of Council making the same demand for apology,retraction and commitment not to do it any more, to be responded to by a deadline.

I did respond to the letter that I was unable to identify specific examples of implied nefarious conduct therefore I was unable to conform to the request.

Mr Mascarin subsequently stated in a public report that I had adamantly refused the informal request

He wrote that I had published my response to the Mayor, prior to making a response to the Mayor's letter of informal demands to be met by a deadline.

My daughter Heather delivered my response to the Town Hall.

She had been working all day in my garden. It is a mess. It was neglected last year when I had my hip joint replacement surgery. I'm getting along fine,Thank you.

Heather went out to get chlorine and muriatic acid at Donnie Smith's pool shop and hand deliver the letter.She called me from the intersection traffic lights at Mary Street and Wellington
to ask if I was sure she should go into the Town Hall."I'm pretty grubby" she said.

"Yes" said I. "The envelope needs to be stamped with the time and date received"

She did that and called me again after. It was 4.29p.m. I posted my letter to the Blog at that time and forwarded it to The Auroran as a Letter to the Editor immediately after.

The Mayor's letter was not marked confidential. The informal process is not required to be confidential. I did not publish the Mayor's letter. I published my own.

Thanks to all of you, for your concern and expressions of support. I am in good spirits I sleep well.I look forward to watching and being a part of the process as it evolves in whatever direction it takes.

Check out the latest picture of my great-grandbaby twins, Reid and Claire on my personal Blog.

Sunday 26 July 2009


Excitement is high. Yesterday's Blog obviously struck a few nerves resulting in a spate of anonymous abuse.

It's interesting. They who shall be nameless, are compelled to read what I have to say . Then orchestrate a chorus to express their contempt. How much more sensible it would be and serve their own peace of mind, if they just refrained from reading what I write.

But being sensible is not an obvious characteristic.

If they didn't say and do the things they do, I would not be able to repeat them.

If their discourse was sensible and fair and decisions had a modicum of intelligence, I would be able to paint quite a different picture.

Their problem is accepting that utterances on behalf of the public are rightfully the property of the public. You can't make a statement in public and expect it to not to be repeated..

They claim I make "factually incorrect" statements. They paid a lawyer with town money to put it in writing.

As of this moment , no "factually incorrect statement" has been specified. Apparently they haven't noticed the absence so they think no one else will either.

It's like that hilarious and horrendous scene in a Monty Python movie; White Knight and Black Knight are sword-fighting in the forest. Black Knight has lost both arms and both legs.

White Knight is unscathed. Black Knight legs cut from under him , no arms to defend himself is bouncing on the forest floor screaming "Fight. Fight...You Filthy Coward!"

I am tempted to publish this morning's anonymous crop, if only to illustrate the meanness of spirit. There were five but no way of knowing if individuals made the effort or one person drew on every resource to compose all five.

I decided the world would not be improved. If they want that stuff read, let them create their own web site and readership.

They could provide a link to Hugo Kroon's Blog and happily wallow in the muck together.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Summer Time and The Living is Easy

Sometimes I sit and think
And sometimes I just sit

It was the caption under a picture of a white Sealyham terrier, head tilted , on a calender in my grandmother's house. I don't remember which wall or even which room. Just the picture and the caption . I have seen it of course many times since.

I thought of it when I was sitting on my deck this week. It occurred to me a dog never just sits. A dog is forever watchful and aware. Their eyes are full of intelligence and inquiry. Speak to them, about things they understand, they know the words .Many of their senses are superior to our own.

For some reason, my thoughts wandered to how children's nursery rhymes are a recount of some horrible event. Ring-a-Ring o' Rosy depicts the Great Plague during the Middle-ages.

Recently I learned Little Red Riding Hood was an account of rape and murder.

I wakened this morning thinking about Snow-white and the Wicked Step-mother Queen
whose magic mirror on the wall assured her daily she was the fairest of them all. Then
one day when she asked, the mirror gave Queenie the terrible news; Snow-White is the fairest of all.

It could not be allowed. The Wicked Queen called the Woodsman and told him to take Snow-White deep into the woods and kill her. Y'all know the rest. Hundreds of years later, Disney made a full-length movie from the fable, first in techni-colour I believe.

History always repeats itself.

Here in Aurora, a person with power suffers under the delusion of being supreme. Nowhere in her ambit can anyone be permitted who has greater knowledge,better education or more experience. Only lackeys, sycophants and lesser stars must be permitted to circulate within her orbit .They detract nothing from her brilliance. .

At the time Snow White became a legend the main character was not the Wicked Queen. The story was about purity and innocence, beautiful Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs and the Handsome Prince who came to find her and presumably made her his Queen.

It was about the triumph of good over evil.

In this place and at this time, we watch the old story play out. The Queen who must be the only star in the firmament, the axe-wielding woodsman, the hag with the poisoned apple, the whole shebang.

A couple of chapters are yet to be written..

The end is not yet in sight. There will no doubt be a few more twists and turns.

I look forward to following it but the end is predictable I'll wager.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Information That Might Come in Handy

A line on the twenty-four hour news channel noted a charge of intoxication against the husband of Vaughan Mayor was QUIETLY withdrawn by the Crown Attorney.

People can read into the word "quietly" whatever was intended. My own reaction was immediate. It triggered another memory.

Such a charge can only be laid by the officer present at the scene. He must describe details
and circumstances to support the charge. He may consult with the duty sergeant but only he/she can lay the charge.

He does not prosecute. That's the job of the Crown Attorney. The police officer is a witness in court proceedings.

Theoretically, the crown attorney must examine the charge and determine if the evidence is sufficient to support it before the case proceeds to trial.

The lawyer for the defence has a right to examine the charge and supporting evidence .
Since the charge was withdrawn against the husband of Vaughan Mayor one might reasonably assume the defence counsel successfully argued the evidence was insufficient to support the specific charge.

Withdrawing the charge might just have been the wisest course of action.

I had the opportunity once to ask a lawyer the question:

At what point does the Crown Attorney examine the charge and decide if the evidence supports it?

He swung his chair around to gaze at the impressive law books on the shelves behind him and thoughtfully responded:

"That's a very good question,Evelyn."

It was a parrying response which became familiar over the years.

I am reminded of it every time I read of clogged courts , overcrowded jails and people released because "justice delayed is justice denied"

When I read of the need for more judges, more courts, more crown attorneys and ever more servants on the public payroll I am reminded of my experience.

On the occasion ,I spent memorable hours going from lawyers' offices, a police station , crown attorney's office, the library on the top floor of the new court house. Three appearances in court; the last acting as defence mother.

A thousand dollars expended would have been more than fifteen had I gone with the first lawyer, a Queen's Counsel. Four hundred and fifty for the second and a day in court when nothing at all happened .

All to argue against a charge which never at any time had a scintilla of evidence to support it.

Monday 20 July 2009

An Invitation

The Mayor is hosting a reception in the Holland Room at the Town Hall ay 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday
July 21st 2000 for the July 1st Canada Day Parade sub-committee for their generous volunteer commitment. Refreshments will be served.

A presentation will also be made during the Council Meeting, following the reception.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Like a Whirling Dervish

Politics in Aurora has never been thus . I am accused of being responsible for legal costs incurred by the Mayor and followers since the election.

The first two lawyers, were retained to pursue an action against the former Mayor and political rival. It came to nought. Costs were never revealed.

The latest adjective used against me is "relentless". I am accused of pursuing "those two women" Mayor Morris and Councillor MacEachern, the same who pursued the former Mayor, and made it eminently clear even before the election who were friends and who were not.

Relentless is not a character flaw in a politician. It's important to know your enemies. I make no apology for being focussed. I play the cards I am dealt. The game is not over until the term ends.

If legal costs incurred by the Mayor and followers are my responsibility, why is there such determination to keep them a secret?

Once I asked a question in Council; the Mayor scolded from the chair and said I should not speculate.

I answered respectfully: " Madam Mayor I asked a simple straightforward question. If I do not get the answer I will speculate". I got the answer.

I now speculate hundreds of thousands of dollars have been expended on legal costs by this Mayor and her followers.

Aurora taxpayers have never carried such a burden before. . It is not carried elsewhere in the Region that I have been able to uncover. Or perhaps, even in the Province of Ontario.

I asked the town solicitor to provide me with all legal costs for 2007/8/9. He said yes, but would I mind if he spoke to the Chief Administrative Officer. I did not mind. .

Why would I ? I asked for information which is part of the public record. The solicitor is free to talk to anybody .

After a day or two, I received a call saying the figures were forthcoming but it would take a couple of days.

"Would that be acceptable Councillor?"

Why not? I could not imagine in this day and age, why the figures were not on hand. But a relentless person tends to be patient.

Next was the submission to Council of an Interim Financial Report from the Chief Financial Officer. In non-sequitor, a comment from Councillor Wilson introduced the issue of legal costs. From there, on an equally divergent path, came a motion from the Councillor seconded by Councillor MacEachern, directing the following report be submitted.

"That the Director of Finance and the Town Solicitor prepare a report to Council which indicates on an issue basis, the totals of the year to date and of the projected expenditures for the legal services line under the CAO's office."

Was there a connection to my request? I decided it bore no relevance. Giving the benefit of doubt to staff, I did not vote in opposition to a seemingly innocuous motion.

However, subsequent communication from the town solicitor removed all doubt. He informed me I would not receive legal costs for 2007/8/9 as requested. The resolution of council expressly prohibited him from providing them,he said.

Now, I thought. There's an interesting kettle of fish?

The phrase brings back one of those childhood memory flashes I talked about in a recent post; I was seven, living in my grandparent's house. There was an explosion of laughter from adults in the house at my expense:

I had intended to say "I have a bone to pick with you " I forget now who or why.

Instead I said; "I have a herring to pick with you "

Herring is a fish with a thousand bones, difficult to eat . Split open,filleted, coated in oatmeal, fried and served with mashed potatoes, it's a tasty, nourishing meal and inexpensive.My grandmother told the story once of a shoal of herring coming into the harbour and staying for weeks. People were lifting herring out of the water by the bucketful.

At the time of my tale, I was seven ,for goodness sake, I deserved marks for trying. The right words would have given force and drama to my argument. But it was part of my family dynamics... in an argument... no holds were barred.... no quarter given. Old or young, the rules were the same.

So ... in response to the question asked frequently by taxpayers; how much has been spent by the Mayor and her supporters for legal support to provide comfort and relief in their own affliction?

The information, has been requested and refused by the town solicitor.

When I made my request, I was assured the information would be provided. Mr.Cooper asked only if I minded if he spoke to the Chief Administrator. Subsequently there was direction from council which bore no relevance to my request but was deliberately planned and apparently intended to be used as a rationale to refuse to provide the information requested.

Now you know everything I know. Until further proceedings.

Thursday 16 July 2009

An Aurora Anachronism

Last week,on the news, was an image of a beautiful young woman ,in the flower of her youth,dying in the arms of a friend on a city street in Iran.

She had been shot by "security forces" of her country on the orders of her government. Many precious young people, the future of our world, have declared themselves willing to die for freedom in that country.As in others.

She had been demonstrating for the right for her vote to count in the country's election

A few weeks ago, beautiful girl children in Afghanistan, faces scarred from acid thrown at them for persisting in their determination to attend school, were also featured in world news.

From Afghanistan, bodies of young Canadians, in the service of our country, having been murdered in a conflict which observes no rules. They are brought home to their familes on a ; fathers, sons, brothers, husbands;mothers,wives, daughters and sisters; young Canadians sent to help bring to the people of Afghanistan the freedom we enjoy.

In Aurora, Ontario. in 2009, under the leadership of Mayor Phylis Morris and five out of nine councillor members , we have unflagging determination, at public expense, to deny the basic right of freedom of expression to one particular individual.

Anonymous comments are posted to a Citizen Blog to support the endeavour. A "legal test" is necessary to determine " limits" to freedom of speech, they say.

They are not sufficiently secure to put their name to their views although they are certain a person who does should be stopped.

This morning, a comment is posted; there needs to be restriction on "nature, spin and content". Freedom should be for "civil discourse" only.

As an example, exception is taken to the title of my last post.

"Ladida Ladida"

The writer complains I am having fun while others are concerned about taxes having to be spent to bring me under the control of the Mayor and her followers.

The argument confounds me.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

La-di-da La-di-da

I received an e-mail requesting I correct my records. I had received a letter to which I responded formally, copied in a Blog and forwarded as a letter to the Editor of The Auroran . The Mayor's correction stated her letter came from Council not the Mayor.

I regretted I was unable to accommodate the request since there was no record of Council's authority to send the letter . The Mayor responded there was.

Yes, well, but I have a problem with that. A Council is deemed to have legislated either by Resolution or Bylaw. Bylaws must bear the Seal of the Corporation over-written by the signature of the Clerk of the Municipality. Decisions are confirmed by Bylaw, in case any strings are left hanging, so to speak.

There is no record of a vote to authorise a letter.

The Mayor's request presents another problem; lines provided for signatures at the end of the aforementioned letter on the Mayor's stationery number eight. Aurora Council has nine members.

If a document fails to cite the relevant Resolution or Bylaw and has not been circulated to ALL Members of Council, I would contend it has no official status.

Though it can be deemed to be a statement of intent by six individuals who happen to be members of Aurora Council.

Material in the letter was produced through services rendered by a lawyer with municipal expertise. The decision to retain his services was by vote in open council. The purpose was not stated. Deliberations were conducted behind closed doors. No report out to Council took place. No resolution put forward for further action. No vote taken. Nothing confirmed by Bylaw.

It follows therefore no authority was given for an informal complaint under the Code on Conduct written by a lawyer and signed by six individuals to be processed in a letter. Council authority may not be assumed.

Further to that, if additional services by the lawyer were not authorised, payment of same becomes questionable. On what basis does the Chief Financial Officer issue cheques from the town treasury for services rendered without proper authorisation.The Procurement Bylaw does not permit.

How can the Municipality be liable for cost if service was not duly authorised?

A formal complaint bearing the same six signatures has now, I understand, been forwarded to the Town's Integrity Commissioner.

When Council votes , the Clerk of the Municipality is responsible to prepare the public record "without note or comment. Processing decisions takes matters from the political to the Administration which makes the process corporate.

Traditionally, a Mayor has the Clerk of the Municipality at her elbow. If a council debate takes a direction likely to prove impossible to administer for any reason , the clerk thereby has the opportunity to discreetly alert the Presiding Member without entering the political debate.

Since the Town has had a Chief Administrative Officer, the practice has been for the Presiding Member to be flanked by both Officers of the Corporation. If the debate might be taking council beyond their realm of jurisdiction, the opportunity was there for discreet re-direction.

This mayor decided early in the term the arrangement did not suit her. Both officers now occupy seats at sufficient distance to ensure little interference with the Mayor's and Councillor MacEachern's jurisdiction .

We have a situation where Officers of the Corporation are regularly instructed in detail how to carry out their function by politicians...mostly the Mayor and Councillor MacEachern.

As we can see, from the current situation, with calamitous result.

Six members of council with no administrative guidance or involvement whatsoever, and with murky intent have engineered an expensive process for an objective which has not been stated and results which cannot be ascertained to be in the interest of the Corporation .

And the tab is still mounting.



Sunday 12 July 2009

Next Chapter

It's about thirty months of knowing it's wrong and unable to do a thing about it. It's about having five councillors who support their leader no matter what. Their fate is tied.They have to believe, she who must be obeyed must be right.

Others found because I was the only one saying it and it is too incredible to believe that it could in fact be true Of course at some point I stop repeating what I know to be true. It's like spitting into the wind.

Like Shirley Valentine, kitchen wall and rock on a beach on an island in the Aegean Sea, I always have Blog for confidences.

Staff knew but it didn't matter a hill of beans what they said. She would do it anyway and they have the inhibiting factor of walking the plank, or more likely, being escorted from the premises.

Traditionally, municipal people have the next election to anticipate relief from change. There's an awareness of that between politicians and public servants. It doesn't always sit easy. Things are even less comfortable with four years in between. It's a long time to hold the fort.

It's ironic. No other level of government has fixed terms of four years. Stephen Harper passed a law to that effect and broke it within months. Both senior levels have the opportunity to caucus out of sight and sound. If they break the law, they can re-write the law to fit. If there's a serious challenge of confidence, they can call an election. If they generate scandal across the land, the opposition and the media go into full cry and judgment rests with the electorate.

Being alone on a particular issue is not unusual. It happened throughout my career. It was never lonesome. There were always people who trusted my judgement .Others who respected the fact I stood my ground. Always as now, they kept me informed of their support and encouragement.

Then of course, there was time. Time to prove I was right.

But I never said "I told you so." For one thing, it was no satisfaction. Being right and not being able to persuade others is failure of sorts in politics.The guys would have been testy if I had gloated over their error and there was always the need to nurture the working relationship.

I could never tell what I thought of their competence which was just as well because they were equally likely to say what they thought of mine.It would have been an undignified exchange at best from which nobody could emerge unscathed.

Not like this term. The Mayor and her coterie, now somewhat shrunken, made it clear from the start there would be no working relationship. Whoever did not fall into line would be punished accordingly. For six months I made the effort to influence that attitude. But all was for nought. Their resolve was unshakable. So and thus, they set me free. It's been bare knuckles ever since.

Last week I spent a number of hours calling every municipality in York Region and one other. I asked the same question of each: What is the process in your municipality for retaining and communicating with legal counsel?

The answer was the same. Administration advises Council when services are needed. Council authorises. Communication from that point is between administrative staff and counsel retained Occasionally, if the situation merits, there may be direct conference with Council.

In NO municipality does a member of Council have unlimited and private communication with lawyers at public expense.

Except in Aurora.

In No municipality does Council retain legal services independent of advice from the administration.

Except Aurora
In No municipality does the Council retain legal services for political expediency

Except in Aurora.

Not every municipality has an in house solicitor. Most have a roster of firms to deal with items of specific expertise.

Mayor of King, Margaret Black, who is herself a solicitor, may on occasion consult a lawyer. She pays the bill herself.

In Vaughan , members of Council each have an office expense budget. It's probably the same in Richmond Hill and Markham. Each Councillor exercises judgement about how they use the resource. They don't have to but they publish on line how it's spent..

Over the years, I have served on councils with seven different Mayors, including myself. Our practice of communicating with legal counsel has always been, as it currently is, in neighbouring regional municipalities.

The Administration advises.. Council authorises. Direct communications from that point are between staff and legal counsel with reports submitted from staff to Council when necessary.

Mayor Phylis Morris is the first Mayor in Aurora and the only one in the Region who habitually
retains lawyers for political expediency and converses directly with counsel on corporate legal matters.

There is no indication she pays the costs she generates for legal expenses. In fact, when she retained legal counsel to make a futile case of wrongdoing against the former Mayor, she adamantly stated she had no intention of using her own resources.Two solicitors were involved over a period of two years with council never at any time having the opportunity to view the correspondence.

First Chapter

I gave a lot of thought to presentation of my quest to obtain figures for legal expenditures during this term of office. Then I decided I'm not Agatha Christie , this is not Miss Marple's latest adventure and there is no crime of murder.

The question of how much money has been spent on lawyers during this term is still outstanding. People have been asking for weeks now. I called the solicitor on June 22nd and requested documentation of all bills paid for legal services in 2007/2008/2009.

He indicated he would provide it but asked would I mind if he spoke to Mr. Garbe about it. I said "No"

Why would I? It was not a secret request for information that I did not have a right to receive. I did indicate however, I would mind if I didn't... receive it that is.

A couple of days went by. I received a call indicating the information was going to be provided but would take a couple of days to put together.

"Was that acceptable?" I was asked. " It was". I responded.

Still more days passed. I called again and left a message .

In response, I received an e-mail from the solicitor informing me of the denial of my request.

A resolution was cited. Passed unanimously by council on June 25th

"That the Director of Finance and the Town Solicitor prepare a report to Council which indicates on an issue by issue basis,the totals of the actual year to date and of projected expenditures for the legal services line under the CAO's office"

One might imagine the resolution was coincidence coming as it did three days after my request for the record of expenditures for the past thirty months. But the substance bore no relevance to my request or anything else for that matter.

Nevertheless, it was the reason given by the Solicitor for a refusal to provide information which is a matter of public record.

Following that, an e-mail was received from Councillor Wilson ,who had moved the resolution seconded by Councillor MacEachern.

The Councillor states his opinion: "request by phone is not only excessive work I would imagine but should be an issue brought to council rather than this way especially since we have a motion currently underway by staff to provide information."

It goes on: "If the councillor wanted more I don't understand why it wasn't debated at the table at the time? Nevertheless I believe the staff response is more than appropriate until we meet again."

In summary:

1. I asked the town solicitor for information which is a matter of public record .

2. A conversation was held with Mr. Garbe, the Town's Chief Administrative Officer.

3. Three days later an Interim Operating Budget Forecast was provided to Council by the Town's Director of Finance.

4. A discussion launched by Councillor Wilson, enjoined by Councillor MacEachern, resulted in an amending resolution,directing the Treasurer to prepare a report on" totals of the actual year to date and of the projected expenditures for legal services line under the CAO's office."

5. From whence came the Solicitor's refusal to provide information that any resident of the town is entitled to access.

6. In a letter, signed by six members of Council, sent to me on the Mayor's stationary, a paragraph reads by way of an informal complaint:

"Our town staff is hardworking,committed and conscientious in carrying out their responsibilities and duties on behalf of the Town. Their efforts are supported and greatly appreciated by Council. Your publications and statements appear to have unjustifiably and unnecessarily disparaged and maligned Town staff and must cease without delay."

It is my understanding this letter was written for the group by a lawyer paid for out of town resources.

Now.... on this matter, you know everything I know. Form your own conclusion.

Friday 10 July 2009

A Quick Note

My garden was neglected last year . It always means double the effort to bring back a semblance of order. It is quite remarkable how quickly a garden can assume the character of wilderness if left unattended.

I like gardening. It's one of those contemplative endeavours that allow thoughts to roam while achieving immediate satisfaction of restoring physical order from chaos one piece at a time.

This year my daughter Heather is giving much of her time and I need to be alongside doing what I can. Even while thinking about how to keep readers up to date on town business. My daughters are both completely involved.

I previously indicated I had been assured that documentation of legal costs for the last three years would be forthcoming. Three times. On Wednesday I received an e-mail indicating my request is being denied due to a council resolution giving precise instructions to the Town Treasurer how to compile his report on legal expenditures.

Town expenditures are a matter of public record. Refusal of my request therefore is simply a matter of refusing to compile the material and provide it. The information cannot be withheld.

I will be dealing with that. Right now I have to hang out my laundry and do some tilling with the garden claw.

Yesterday and today, I've spent several hours on the phone to municipalities within the region and one without, to confirm my understanding, from long experience, how legal services and expenditures are handled.

Now I have to put the information in order , in order to write an orderly presentation .

Gardening will help with that and hanging out the laundry will help too.

Stay tuned.

Monday 6 July 2009

Red Tape Tangle

An e-mail went out to members of the Town's Heritage Committee on July 2nd, requesting availability for a special meeting on July 13th. The Committee was not scheduled until September. Fortunately five members are available so a meeting can proceed.

The committee has eight members. Two are Councillors. Five members are needed to form a quorum.

Application has been made to demolish a building on the Willow Farm property. It is listed by the town as "Of Interest" It's not "Designated".

According to the Heritage Act, the Municipality has sixty days to make a decision .If not decided in that time, a permit must be granted.

Last week, I had a call from Martin Paivio a former Councillor and a builder, inquiring about another property. This one I know. Thirty years ago, I learned the interior was in a seriously dilapidated state. Plaster on the walls was bulging and cracked. Old plaster has a bad smell. There is nothing appealing about the exterior either.

The new owner plans to build a School.

Imagine having made the decision to invest in a property ,demolish a crumbling ,malodorous old building to build anew and then discover the Heritage Committee will not be meeting for two months so your application can't even be considered for more than sixty days.

Imagine, the finances, the designs, the contractors that had to be lined up to make such a project feasible. Then being told; " Sorry, the committee won't be meeting for two months"

In the case of the second building, the problem could have been avoided. It's been for sale for at least twenty years. It took that long for the right buyer to come along. It's on Yonge Street. It's one of the many blights on that thoroughfare. .

So...how could this be ?

Well, we did it.

We had a heritage planner for a while who, in the heady excitement of the new Heritage Act, recommended listing everything in sight. Former Councillor Ron Wallace, a member of the Heritage Committee told me, when I questioned the practice, they would stick the label on me too if I would just stand still long enough.

We used to be able to take shots like that at each other in a political exchange without Vesuvius erupting and calling in lawyers..

So, why should I care? I didn't support the foolishness.

Well because it's not in the town's interest and it's not in the property owner's interest. If it isn't the function of a politician to see both sides of a situation, then I don't know if we even have a function.

I phoned Martin Paivio this morning and alerted him to the special meeting being held on July 13th.

I e-mailed the Chief Building Official and brought attention to the matter. I may even go to the committee meeting and point out the problem of listing every old bachle of a building as of "Interest" and senselessly delaying renewal for weeks or months as a consequence.Or worse. losing private investment altogether. It has happened. Repeatedly.

I may even quote from the consultant , to whom we paid $75k to study the downtown and made an interim presentation a couple of weeks ago. He talked about giving" bonuses" to developers in return for extra resources to the municipality.

Dear Lord, we can't even give some of them permits in a reasonable time frame.

Saturday 4 July 2009

The Enclosed

The letter below was delivered to the Town Hall yesterday evening.

My understanding of town business which may be discussed behind closed doors and why, is quite clear.It's not an extensive list.

Strategy by a group of councillors against a single councillor is not within the definition

A correction is needed in the letter below. Mr. Mascarin's report was twenty-three pages not thirty-eight as stated. The number is significant .

I received the Mayor's letter on Tuesday at a Joint Council Fire Committee. An arm came from behind and placed three items on the table before me ; a copy of the contract signed on June 18th with Mr. Nitkin the Town's Integrity Commissioner (requested by me); a bookmark promoting the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast; an envelope of the Mayor's stationery marked "Confidential". The letter was not so marked.

There have been many "firsts" during this term of office. Council retaining legal counsel for purposes separate from the corporation for example:

There was a two year unsuccessful effort to hang a crime on the former Mayor.Letters were exchanged but not shared with Council and there was finally a conference with one of the lawyers retained for that issue.

There was an unproven issue of a leak from an in-camera meeting

Then the question of whether or not the municipality should hold a by-election to fill a vacancy.
It apparently required the assistance of lawyer Mascarin to adroitly shepherd it through the council debate and decision-making process.

An understanding of the phrase "the process was tainted" proved difficult for the Mayor and co-horts to comprehend and required a solicitor to advise and eventually conference with Council.

Further down the road , the question of whether or not a town management team of three had authority to approve payment to a contractor for corrective work he carried out promptly and efficiently to the ARC complex bulkhead;

Now this; a political strategy to discredit a council colleague.

That's just the stuff I know for sure about.

When I asked for a statement of the account for the first matter, it was provided promptly. The amount was $16,200. The Mayor indicated further assistance was provided later by the same solicitor so that account was obviously interim.

In June of 2008, I requested legal costs incurred by the Mayor's office, since the beginning of the term. I received invoices for corporate legal costs from Jan 1st to May's end of 2008. None for specific costs incurred by the Mayor's office.

Being aware of the environment it seemed to me, staff were caught between a rock and a hard place. I decided to await an opportunity which would not compromise staff security. I am
currently assured the information on costs in 2007/8/9 are forthcoming.

Meanwhile, I examined the last invoice I received to see what might be gleaned. It was a Weir and Foulds batch dealing with the proposed Westhill golf course/town house development proposal.

Phone calls are listed by the minute. E-mails by the batch and minutes calculated accordingly .
Mileage and a variety of other interesting details were there.

I found a flat $5k charge for each conference with council. Fifty minute phone "conferences" with the Mayor. An e-mail from Susan Walmer and multiple e-mails from the Mayor. And all the to and fro and back and forth between relevant staff and other parties.

I haven't attempted a calculation. It was after all but a brief glimpse of an issue which has occupied thousands of hours of legal and other expertise in various fields as well as the Mayor and friend Susan Walmer.

If I recall correctly, the 2008 budget included a $250k reserve for legal services. At close of year, the department budget had been fully expended and the reserve went with it.

We are not talking about nickels and dimes . We are talking factors of millions.

Today, I was informed a single page of legal documentation costs $1k

We already know a conference with council costs $5k.

You do the math.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Letter To The Mayor

Madam Mayor,

I acknowledge your letter of Tuesday June 30th, 2009 and respond herewith:

I note six signatures appended and three pages of content ending with formal demands to be met by a deadline of 4:30pm on July 4th, 2009.

The document presents as an “informal” complaint under the Code of Conduct.

Yet once again a solicitor has been retained at a cost of thousands of dollars to provide political justification for your relentless endeavor to pursue the objective that no negative comment or criticism shall be permitted to emanate from a councillor to reflect against decisions made by this council during your term of office.

Three council members including you were delegated to meet with lawyer John Mascarin to instruct him on precise requirements expected.

He was provided with DVDs of council meetings, blog posts, letters to the editor and comments to the Aurora Citizen blog to be examined and report on how my statements may have contravened the Code of Conduct and the Town's Procedural Bylaw.

I have read the thirty-eight page report submitted by Mr. Mascarin. I find it to be without substance. No definitive findings are articulated

Assertions are qualified by the phrase “appears to mean”. No facts are thereby established.

He further asserts that “many” of my statements are “factually incorrect”. Such non-specific references lead to no conclusions.

My sense of propriety suggests, if I provided evidence of your action to a solicitor, there is a distinct possibility, Madam Mayor, that having a councillor investigated in this fashion is not within your authority and is in fact quite outrageous.

At the heart of it, I view the matter as an attack on my right to free expression as a citizen and as a Councillor to communicate with the people I serve. The electorate's right to be informed of my position on issues that come before council is paramount on my list of priorities.

Using public funds to have an elected official investigated to support an issue of strictly political significance is in my view a gross abuse of public resources.

The Code of Conduct and the requirement for each member of council to sign the document by deadline is once again referenced in your letter.

An opinion previously provided to Council by Ms Virginia McLean, acting town solicitor, has advised the requirement cannot be enforced. Therefore it has no validity.

I regard specific wording in the Code as an attempt to restrict freedom and the responsibility of a councillor to disagree or critique the actions of Council for better understanding within the community.

A refusal on my part to accept a staff recommendation on occasion does not signify disrespect. It is my duty to exercise judgment in issues that come before Council and cast my vote accordingly. There is no requirement to provide a rationale yet I regularly do so for the better understanding of the community we both serve.

My appreciation for the role of staff in the daily operation of the corporation and provision of services to the community has been honed by many years of experience.

My ethics are secure.

Onn the other hand,treatment afforded staff by you, Councillors MacEachern, Gaertner, Granger, Gallo and Wilson during this term, does not persuade me I have anything to learn from your perception of the basic principle of fairness.

I do not accept the Corporation can be or is damaged by frank and free exchange of views. Even if a minority of one on occasion, as part of the Corporation. my views are entitled to register.

At considerable expense, and to my mind - questionable purpose, the services of Mr. George Rust-D’Eye were retained early in the term. He recommended the Code of Conduct and an Integrity Commissioner be retained.

In October of 2008 an appointment was made and a Commissioner has been on retainer for the past eight months. On June 18th a contract was signed. Previous offers to provide educational workshops met with opposition and refusal by three members of council including you.

The Commissioner has indicated the Code is in need of review.

I note the expression of frustration made by a Councillor during the meeting with Mr. Mascarin, about how “awkward” it was to be planning strategy against a Councillor with said Councillor present. Incredibly, acknowledgment of what was taking place alerted none of the parties to the unseemliness of the process.

Madam Mayor, given that our political principles are a canyon width apart, it is not exceptional we might find ourselves at odds on many issues.

I submit there is nothing untoward in the situation. Except that your reluctance to accept the reality of politics creates an additional and unnecessary tension within Council.

Continued expenditures for legal services to pound a councillor into submission might be justified if you were using your own resources. It would not likely be more successful.

The day a Councillor of the Town of Aurora is not free to speak and write her mind, is the day I shall lose interest in participating in the governing process.

I shall go down fighting before that happens.

Sadly, the climate you have created within the Administration is tortuous in the extreme. My sympathies are with staff. There can be little professional satisfaction in the obligation to be silent witnesses to regular and degrading public demonstrations of hostility and gamesmanship at the council table.

Or to know their inevitable fate, if they fail to accede to your direction.

You have set the precedent.

In conclusion,I find nothing of merit in your complaint. If nothing changes, regrettably. things will remain the same.