"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

Thursday 31 December 2009

In Reply

In a Letter to the Editor, the Mayor refuted my statement that the Town Treasurer was appointed without Council authority.

A reader wonders what to believe when a Councillor makes a definitive statement and the Mayor says it isn't so.

The public record establishes facts.

Council makes decisions by resolution. Resolutions form the public record.

Staff take direction from Council Resolutions .

A Municipal Treasurer must be appointed by Bylaw. Only Council has authority to adopt Bylaws.

Council, by resolution, directs staff to prepare Bylaws . It's all in the record. If not, it didn't happen.

The public record does not support the Mayor's contention that staff were directed to make the appointment. Council cannot delegate authority to pass Bylaws.

Provincial regulations require municipalities to adopt a Recruitment Policy... by Bylaw.

The Mayor claims the position was recruited in accordance with provincial regulations.

Recruitment can be done two ways. The position can be advertised, usually in the Globe and Mail and other suitable publications. Or by using the services of a consultant

Either way, dates of publication and copies would be a matter of record. As well, the resolution if there was one. The Mayor refers to neither.

A Statutory Officer within a municipal administration may, on occasion, be in a position of having to provide Council with advice they do not wish to hear. Or anyone else to hear either.

To fulfill their function, professional staff need the security of knowing, they owe their lawful authority to the municipal corporation and not to a particular individual. The process needs to to be fair and square.

The public have a right to know professional advice bought and paid for with tax dollars is given without fear or favour.

And accepted or rejected by the political body.They need to hear the arguments pro and con. If they so choose, they have the right to decide on the logic or lack thereof .

It is the means whereby we govern ourselves.Anything less is a betrayal of trust, in my view.

I rest my case.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Enough of Being Nice

The town budget for 2010 is an election platform for the Mormac regime. Anyone contemplating a run for office should study it well. Supporting documentation is as important as the figures. Hopefully, the Library will keep the 2009 budget on hand for comparison purposes.

An interesting picture emerges of the effect of changes in the administration. Like...are you better off ?

Council completed lengthy deliberations last Dec. 8th, when the Mayor triumphantly announced hard work and success in achieving a "low" tax increase.

The completed document, I am informed, will not be ready until after January 26th.The Bylaw will not be passed until early February.

It's believed to be good economic strategy to complete a budget before year end. There's a head start on contract awards. Council met two full Saturdays and several extra evenings to that end. If the Bylaw isn't passed until early February, we will have lost that advantage by a month.

There's more. Keep the calculator handy.

You already know about the $100ks for the Arboretum to plant trees. They still have $20Ks left of last year's $50Ks. That means a group of well-meaning non- elected residents have $120Ks to spend however they see fit in 2010. $80Ks have already been spent and little to show for it.

In 2009, immediately after the new CAO joined the administration, $95ks was allocated for a re-organisation study. One might think it wise to learn how an organisation functions before determining what or whether change is required. Not in the Mormac regime.

Financial impact from re-organisation adds $231ks to this year's budget. Four new management positions are created. Changes in salary grids are another consequence.

An additional $231K is being transferred to management of the Church Street School facility. We didn't hear what was done with the first $300K. Not much of anything it seems. This year's transfer is over half a million. Add $140K for operation of the building ,heat and light and maintenance etc and we have three quarters of a million additional annual burden for something that gives no sign of being needed let alone profitable.

We are handing over $50ks once again to the Aurora Historical Society to do with whatever they fancy. They are an organisation of fifty-nine members. A few years ago they committed to raising a million dollars to restore Church Street School. Now they need the town to keep handing them $50k every year to keep doing whatever it is they do.

$290K of the surplus from 2009 is tucked into an account to "stabilise" next year's tax rate. That means, we pay extra this year to make next year's tax rate look better.Over $300Ks filched from anticipated supplementary assessment not yet on the books, shows on the books as actual revenue. The $600Ks combined substantially improves the bottom line.

$100K is still in 2010 budget for the rotting, mouldering, crumbling shack that was the Petch family abode which still sits, after more than six years, at the side of Leslie Street south of Wellington. For nothing, we obtained an expert opinion that it could not be moved in one piece. Councillor Mac Eachern was sure that wasn't true. As the town's representative on the South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority,the Councillor convinced the Chairman and Manager of that body to accept the building on Sheppard's bush property as long as no trees had to be removed in the transfer.

After more than $2Ks was paid to get a new report; the building would have to be taken to pieces, mouldering boards replaced with vintage but not rotten . Then the Ontario Heritage Trust exercised their authority and declared the structure would no longer be authentic and they didn't want it. Financial resources, staff time, Council deliberation, metres of print and paper were expended on the exercise before it was finally, apparently, not laid to rest.

After six years of fruitless ruminations about what if anything can be done with it, we still have a $100Ks in the budget to do it. $8ks was anonymously donated in addition.

I'm not finished with this election platform of a budget. All kinds of sugar plums dance in my head that you need to know about but will not necessarily be a comfort to you.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

A Kindness

Among my readers is one who picks up errors . In my last post I referred to M.P.P. Smitherman as John. I was gently chided and the correct name of George was forwarded.

In the New Year, I hope to improve my format to allow corrections to be acknowledged and questions answered more conveniently.

I appreciate the response .

Thank You .

Monday 28 December 2009

A Sideshow

last year gave a hint of things to come.

Professor Robert McDiarmid of York University, by invitation of the Mayor, made a presentation to Aurora Council. He had carried out a study and claimed a connection between contributions to candidates by corporations and unions and planning approvals. He was unable to close the final link in the chain because votes in public planning meetings are not recorded . So he couldn't prove his theory.

No matter

He was not disturbed. He did a masterly job of convincing himself he was on to something real. Insinuating wrong -doing against others is modus-operandi of the Mormac regime so the Professor's theory was a good fit.

McDiarmid pulled a few figures together from a number of GTA municipalities and did what academics do. He wrote a paper.

He checked councillors' campaign expenses against a list of planning approvals and leaped over tall buildings to the conclusion that councillors had sold their souls.

Aurora wasn't one of the municipalities he scrutinised. No matter. He was sure the particulars were the same here.

Subsequently the Professor was a panel guest on Rogers T.V. He had much to say on the subject.

Don Cousins, former M.P.P. and former Mayor of Markham was also a panellist.

Heady with the attention, McDiarmid contended candidates should not even be allowed to finance their own campaigns . He seemed to suggest campaigns should be financed from public funds.

They are. Partly. But not at the municipal level. Mr. Cousins dismissed the Professor's ideas.

"Nobody would put their name forward for public office with all those rules" he firmly stated.

Then the Province put forward new rules about who should be allowed to contribute to candidates' election expenses and they imposed limits.

Professor McDiarmid declared his ideas vindicated.

The problem is. The Professor doesn't know, how much he doesn't know about municipal campaigns.

A few weeks before the new rules, I was a guest at a well attended Liberal fund-raising dinner where M.P.P. George Smitherman's political career was being celebrated. Scant weeks later, Mr. Smitherman declared himself a candidate for the Mayoralty of the City of Toronto.

Such a campaign will undoubtedly cost millions of dollars. Does anyone imagine funds raised at the Liberal fund-raiser in his honour, would not find their way into Smitherman's campaign coffers?

Does anyone believe funds raised do not come from people who need to ensure smooth passage to people with decision-making power ?

Does anyone think for a minute, if John Tory throws his hat in the ring for the Toronto Mayoralty, Toronto Conservatives will not avail themselves equally from the same pool of resources.

It will be a battle of Titans. Few holds will be barred.

We will hear Shakespeare lines and Churchill quotes and probably little that's original . Scheckels will be scattered plentifully along the way.

Money will still make the difference despite Professor McDiarmid's puny efforts and new Provincial regulations.

Here in Aurora, we will continue to scratch happily like free-range chickens.

Thursday 24 December 2009

God Rest Ye... Let nothing you dismay.

What tidings can a blog offer for a meaningful place in the celebration?

Many years ago, I found the recipe for Swedish Meatballs in the Toronto Star. They have taken their place among children, spouses of children, grandchildren, friends of grandchildren and now great grandchildren.

Grandchildren elevated them to their current status. They have become a tradition . Modest and homely they may be, yet they deserve their place of honour.

Preparation takes hours. No skill is required. Patience and attention to detail are key to excellence.

Onions must be finely and evenly chopped. Pieces must be no larger than the grind of the lean beef, pork and veal.

Salt must be precisely measured. Nutmeg freshly grated for an exact element of spice. From a jar, there needs to be more than half a teaspoon. Up to a spoon, if need be.

Bread crumbs must be soft. Not from freshly baked but bread no more than one day-old.

Eggs and milk must be beaten to the smoothness of nog .

One doesn't think of meatballs as souffle. But they are. Beaten eggs and milk are exactly the makings of a puffy pancake or fluffy scrambled eggs. Worcester sauce is added. Freshly ground pepper also blends better at this stage.

Two pounds each of lean beef, lean ground pork and ground veal is a substantial measure. The onions are added to the meat. There's no better way to blend than with bare hands.

Salt and nutmeg are tossed with the breadcrumbs before adding to the mixture.

Eggs and milk are the final addition to be worked in. A wooden spirtle is useful for this task.

Meat balls should be eaten the day they are cooked. They should not be chilled and re-heated. Light juicy texture is reduced with re-heating. The whole recipe cooked at once takes time. Everything else can be done the night before.

The prepared mixture should be covered gently in its bowl with saran. Flavour must be kept in and it should not be exposed to air.

A heaping teaspoon, shapes like a small egg in the palm of the left hand. Dropped onto a flour covered plate and sprinkled with flour from a sieve makes the right bite- sized morsel. Gently rolled in flour and cooked in hot vegetable oil creates a crunch to contrast with the soft moist interior.

A short rest on absorbent paper towel is the final touch before dropping into a crock pot, the heat set on low and the lid replaced after each batch is added.

The Christmas Feast is a symbol of blessings we enjoy and a celebration of life. The cook is a priest or priestess in the kitchen. A proper appreciation of the meal is their rightful due.

God Bless Us, Every One.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

The Law is an Ass????

Few laws are introduced out of the blue.

Often they come into being to combat nefarious schemes to exploit advantage derived from a position of public trust. Many rules aggravate the problem or generate something worse. But they usually come about because some blackguard was up to no good in the first place.

A Code of Conduct is a classic example. The Bellamy Inquiry into shady events in the City of Toronto prompted the new legislation.

David Nitkin, Aurora's Integrity Commissioner, in his first workshop, referred to failure "in a neighbouring municipality". He noted expense was a major factor.

Councillors were originally allocated $5 thousand dollars to defend themselves. In his first report , the Integrity Commissioner noted the allowance wasn't being used. It was determined to be insufficient and subsequently increased four-fold.

Combined with Commissioner's fees for investigations costs mounted. Councillors with scores to settle complained against councillors.

Councillor Doug Holyday's office expenses were complained about. He didn't have any.

Nevertheless the complaint, deemed valid was investigated and Councillor Holyday was ordered to have expenses.

Often Commissioner recommendations were ignored. At an average cost of $40.thousand a pop nothing was accomplished. A Code is a double-edged sword.

The City of Toronto and the City of Vaughan spent time, resources and with citizen input composed their own Code. Little has been heard of them lately

The idea may have lost favour since George Rust D'Eye, expert in municipal law recommended the solution to Mayor Morris when they met at a municipal conference. in 2007.

Some time in the past, the Province mandated municipalities adopt a recruitment policy. The rule has not suffered the same fate as the Code. It's purpose is to combat the chance that plum municipal jobs might be handed out to friends, supporters or relatives of people in power.

Recruitment has never been a controversy in Aurora. Competitions have been held and appointments made in accordance with a policy even before the Province passed a law.

Aurora's politicians have tended to avoid any suggestion of tainted choice. Part may have been our small size. Not much happens that doesn't get out and about in fairly short order in a town our size.

A major factor is the importance of statutory offices.They are officers of law. They must be appointed by Bylaw. The authority cannot be delegated. Only Council can direct a Bylaw be prepared. Only Council can process a bylaw.Council cannot give orders to a statutory officer in a matter of law.

The weight of responsibility cannot be over-emphasised. Statutory officers and those who appoint them can be held legally accountable for failure to perform.

The Municipal Clerk, Treasurer, Chief Building Official, Planning Director, Fire Chief and Police Chief are all agents for ensuring Laws of Canada, the Province and the Municipality are upheld.

When people in Walkerton died from drinking contaminated water, an employee went to jail. He will carry the burden for the rest of his life. He was not qualified for the job entrusted to him. The elected officials who hired him were not prosecuted.

Legislation has since been introduced to change that..

Monday 21 December 2009

It's Not a Christmas Card

It's a collection of thirty glossy card sheets eleven inches long by seventeen inches wide fastened together by a wire coil and distributed to me at the Town Hall. Any candidate for public office. knows how much that stuff costs. More than most can afford.

A quick scan reveals twenty-five per cent of the space is blank. Value is reduced by that amount of emptiness.

At least fifty-per cent are coloured pictures of the Mackenzie Marsh. If we need a peek, we can barrel on up there and take a gander. So seventy five per cent of the production is wasted.

The final twenty-five per cent is verbiage describing soil conditions, animal habitat and principles of conservation. We have heard it all so often already we can rhyme it off by rote.
Like the times tables.

God help Me, I read it in its entirety. Then a second time to confirm my suspicion.

The title gave me the first clue. Known locally as Mackenzie Marsh, it is now called " The Hadley Grange Nature Reserve"

Hadley Grange is the seniors' apartment building. In historical terms, a recent addition to the landscape.

When St. John's Sideroad was constructed, a commemorative plaque was unveiled with great ceremony with members of the Mackenzie family present to mark the honour.

Now,with no ceremony whatsoever, not even Council approval, the name has changed.

The "Report" was prepared under that title by Ogilvie and Ogilvie Consultants, for the Town of Aurora. I am an Aurora Councillor. Nobody asked me. It may even be possible whoever changed it, never even knew it already had a name.

On grandiose card number 16 entitled Development Limitations and Opportunities on the Site,
I found the second clue;

"The presence and proximity of the Hadley Grange Seniors Apartments. Residents of that building have expressed concerns about locating the proposed Nokidaa Trail too close to their building for security, safety and privacy reasons. The location and design of such a trail will need to take these concerns into account"

There you have it. The entire justufication for this expensive document.

Since Spring, the town has spent $50 ks to "facilitate" our plans to link the Nokidaa Trail with Newmarket's planned hiking trail . It will allow nature-loving Aurora residents an opportunity to spend pleasurable hours wandering in the wilderness between here and Newmarket.It may even take a few cars off the road as residents find it possible to walk or ride bicycles to work or shop.

Many many consultation lunches have been provided to overcome the objections of a couple of residents of Hadley Grange that the trail will not in fact interfere either with their safety, security or privacy. To no avail.

First $20ks was spent by staff . Then a further $30ks was approved by Council. In the end ,what we have for fifty thousand smackeroos is an extravagant publication giving us a reason to decide not to design or build a trail in a location previously determined to be the best place for it.

Months of staff time and effort. Thousands of taxpayers' dollars.

In the end , Zero, Zilch, Nada . Amen my friends. Nothing.

A deficit in fact. They even took its name away and gave that to the opposition as well.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Beggar's Tick Stick

And Hairy-tailed mole.

Last night we had a meeting to consider an Official Plan and Zoning Amendment. The application was to ourselves.

We sold the land at a price and on the understanding it would be commercially developed.

We took the precaution of paying to have it assessed for environmental impact. We spend an awful lot of money for that stuff. It's how I learned about a plant called beggar's tick stick.

I asked Bob McRoberts if he was familiar,being native -born and all that. He wasn't. That made me feel less culpable for my ignorance.

I tried to picture it and the image that came to mind were the spindly sticks less than five feet high along the Industrial Parkway in the Lambert Willson Park. They were planted this year by The Arboretum. No leaves graced them when I saw them.They barely showed above the waist- high weeds that grew around them.

In two years,the Arboretum has received $100Ks from the town. In 2008, they bought a pre-fabricated tool shed with the money.

In 2009, a riding lawn mower, a watering tank was purchased. A contract for grass-cutting and weeding was let. Some other stuff like fertiliser and mulch and stones for paths and power to the building were purchased.

They didn't have time to complete tree-planting , so they had twenty-thousand dollars left in November when they came and asked for another $100Ks for 2010.

Council gave it to them. Councillor MacEachern put the motion forward.

With the best will in the world, I do not agree . It was a bad idea from the start. It took a couple of allocations of $50ks to come to terms with the reality.

We have no business handing out taxpayers' money like that to non-elected people who are accountable to no-one for how it is spent.

How do you call a very small group of well-intentioned volunteers, whose hearts are in the right place, to account for failure to perform?

Well....you don't. But when you are accountable to people for how you spent their money, you don't keep making the same mistake three times with double the money.

Another hundred thousand dollars give- away means a total of two hundred thousand in three years and little to show for it.

With the $20Ks left from last year added to the $100Ks allocated this year, that's $120Ks in my judgement, should not be in the 2010 budget.

There will be high dudgeon and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that I would be so bold as to say so. No doubt, in several quarters, I will be the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Its a lot easier to give money away than it is to say no.

Who ever suggested the job of a Councillor should be easy?

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Another Budget Snippet

The budget is huge. A single post would be tedious in the extreme.

Thirty hours were spent in the process. I missed the first Saturday when the Capital was discussed. A family friend's memorial service took precedence.

It's expected the forecast will be adopted in January.

I keep meaning to buy a stop watch. For a record of actual time spent on figures as opposed to enduring the Mayor's pontification about the need for thrift while pushing through extravagance such as I have never seen.

The tax rate is derived from three budgets; the town, the region and the board of education.

Since 2004, the Province has been absorbing all increases in education costs. In the last several years the region has been sending considerably less to Toronto to pay for their social costs.

Since 2004,the region's share of the tax bill has increased by a mere 0.8%.

Board of Education's share has decreased by 4.2%

There has been no corresponding relief in the property tax bill. The municipality has increased its share correspondingly..

As noted in a previous post, our revenue figures went up with increased assessment, gas tax sharing, and federal infrastructure grants , and by bloating revenue figures with assessment not yet on the books.

Requisitions are down from the other bodies but we still have an increase in taxes.

It's true the municipality has scrimped in the past. Things that needed to be done didn't get done. The local council carries the can. It's also true increased costs are incurred with increased assessment.Though not at the same rate. Fill in commercial and industrial development simply make more economical use of municipal services.

Empty lots have water and sewer lines running past them, pavements are plowed, lighting is provided and police protection but revenue is not there to share the cost..

Empty lots cost us. They are not just a blight on the landscape.

With the burden for education shifting to the province and the region keeping the lid on, there is no longer anyone else to blame for increases

The rate increase does not reflect the spending increase. The latter is more. Substantially more.

Much of the spending can not in any way be described as necessity We are soon coming to the
time when council must account for its stewardship.

Monday 14 December 2009

A Point Reached

Sometimes you have to wait. It was always a possibility if not a likelihood. You hope it's not so. Then the day arrives and the obvious can no longer be denied.

A reader expresses confusion; how can Provincial laws and regulations and Procedure Bylaw continue to be dis-regarded ?

Asked that question three years ago, I would have argued they can't. I would have been wrong.

Last Tuesday was par for the course. Councillor MacEachern proposed a report be prepared of all recorded votes cast during the term. The motion led to a discussion about the record.

The Mayor made a reference and I cited the Municipal Act as it relates to the duties of the Clerk:

"The Clerk shall record the decisions of council without note or comment".

I noted "unanimous" has been appearing regularly in the record. It is redundant.

Our new and highly experienced Clerk was on hand. Zella Phillips, Assistant Solicitor was as well.

It was Mr. Leach's first attendance at a council meeting.

The Mayor called upon Ms. Phillips to arbitrate the question.

"Madam Mayor. if you need me to respond, it will have to be a written report" she replied.

Ms Phillips departed our service on Friday. By all who knew her work, Ms Phillips was held in highest regard. She is our loss, Newmarket's gain.

On Tuesday, no note was made of her leave taking. No appreciation expressed for excellent service.

A report is unlikely on whether the public record should or should not carry a note or comment following a decision of Council.

It makes no never-mind. .

There are nine hundred municipalities in Ontario. Just over a hundred have Chief Administrative Officers. Few municipalities of our size have a legal department.

In all those other towns, the Clerk is head of the administration. The Clerk advises and keeps the town functioning within provincial and municipal laws and regulations.

Council is a legislative body. Bylaws are passed . Adherence is expected.

Generally speaking, a body that creates law, understands and respects law.

If not by them, by whom for God's Sake?

Sunday 13 December 2009

A Couple of Precedents

Every now and then, I have to tidy up the mountain of paper. I have to scan it to make sure I didn't miss anything and decide what to chuck and what to file.

It sounds like organisation, right.

Not right.

My daughters bought me a two drawer file cabinet for my birthday. All I need to do now is set up a system.

I spent about four hours yesterday reading stuff. I found something to share. I got it from research when Tim Jones bet it would be easier to get me to apologise than to get Damir Vrancic to back down.

I'm quoting now.

Several judges have eloquently described the basis of the application of this defence to municipal councillors.

Riddell, J.A. in Ward v. McBride (1911), 24 O.L.R. 555 at 568(C.A.) speaking with reference to the office of aldermen:

"Aldermen are legislators in as true and in mane instances as important a sense as members of Parliament or of the Legislature-it is their right and their duty to speak their mind fully and clearly without evasion or equivocation - they should show no fear, favour or affection; and it is their duty,as well as their right,to use all legitimate means,oratorical or otherwise to impress their fellow- legislators with the righteousness of their views-they have no need to be mealy-mouthed and should call a spade a spade"

Lord Diplock in Horrocks v Lowe (1974) 1 All E.R.662 at p.671 uttered similar sentiments:

My Lords, what is said by members of a local council at meetings of council or of any occasion, The reason for the privilege is that those who represent the local government electors should be able to speak freely and frankly, boldly and bluntly, on any matter which they believe affects the interest or welfare of the inhabitants. They may be swayed by strong political prejudice. they may be obstinate and pig-headed, stupid and obtuse, but they were chosen by the electors to speak their minds on matters of local concern and as long as they do so honestly they run no risk of liability for defamation of those who are the subject of their criticism."

Don't you just love the way those judges talk.

Some people carry a Bible for comfort . I keep that page handy at all times. I think I will have it plasticised. I used some of that stuff in my last campaign literature and on my web site.

It Hit The Fan.....Again

On the morning after the last Council meeting of the year, Chief Administrative Officer Neil Garbe circulated an e-mail informing Council and all staff of the appointment of a Director of Corporate and Financial Services.

My reaction was immediate and swift.

In April, Mr.Garbe informed Council behind closed doors he had made an appointment on an interim contract, without recruitment, to the position of Chief Financial Officer to replace John Gutteridge. Mr. Gutteridge gave three months notice. I informed Mr. Garbe he did not have the authority. The decision rests with Council.

Mine was the only dissenting voice.

The Treasurer is a statutory officer. The appointment must be legislated. Only Council has the power to legislate.

A Bylaw was passed after the fact.

On October 6th . Behind closed doors Mr Garbe had advised of his intention to make the interim appointment permanent. Again I disagreed with the process. When I believed the discussion had ended I left the meeting.

Since then I asked in a public meeting when recruitment was going to start for the Post of Treasurer.

The Mayor responded Mr. Garbe has authority to appoint. I disagreed. I referred to the Recruitment policy mandated by the Province.

Two months passed, Nothing further was reported. Until Wednesday morning and Mr. Garbe's announcement by e-mail.

In a nutshell, I responded; when the authority of Council is not respected, it is disrespected.

I clicked hard on Reply. Only it wasn't. It was Reply All. My response went to every soul employed by the Town of Aurora. For the next two days I received a stream of acknowledgements my message had been read . Along with other communications.

I was informed Council had approved the appointment.

Since the Province legislated the right of citizens to seek investigation of closed door meetings ,
the practice has been for decisions made therein to be ratified by resolution.

I asked for the record. I have yet to receive it.

I pointed out decisions made behind closed doors must be, according to legislation, reported out.

When did that happen?

The appointment must be made by Bylaw. Council must direct a bylaw be prepared Please forward the record of those proceedings.

My last request was sent after business on Friday. The information has not been provided.

Instead, I am informed the Bylaw to appoint will be processed on January 26th

It is Council's prerogative to direct a Bylaw be prepared. The direction has not been given.

Two months passed after the discussion behind closed doors. No decision had been reported out.

Mr. Cooper was Acting Clerk of the Municipality. after the precipitate departure of our former Clerk, Lucille King.

The morning after the last meeting of the year, Council was informed by the Chief Administrative Officer of the appointment of a statutory officer.

Without due authority.

I have not told the full exchange between myself and Mr. Garbe. It is not necessary for you to know.

It is certainly necessary for you to know when your elected council is being disrespected. When Council is disrespected...you are.

I have no doubt with full concurrence of the Head of Council.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Should You Be A Candidate?

  • When first elected, I had everything to learn. My work experience lent nothing. I had seven children in my house, the youngest ten months old.

Nothing daunted, I faced the challenge. I sought a seat twice before I was successful on the third try.

My life has been forever transformed. No university could match the education I have acquired as a Councillor.

In the beginning, I did not know what I didn't know.

An early campaign claim ; "I 'm as good as the best and better than the rest "

The last one, "Aurora deserves the best".

Within weeks of being first elected, a discussion took place on something to do with the waterworks site (Park Place Manor). Angus MacGregor, Superintendent of Public Works responded to a suggestion I made;

"You'd need a sky hook to get in there"

I replied defiantly;

"If that's what it takes then that's what we should use"

The roar of laughter that went up from the fourteen men present literally vibrated the windows.

They didn't smirk or sneer, roll their eyes or cast sly sidelong glances at one another. They
laughed and enjoyed the inadvertent comedy at my expense but without malice.

I blushed to my waist, learned a new expression, acquired a little humility and caution and carried on undiminished.

A debate is about thinking on your feet. Words may come easily. Quick reaction may be an error. Timing is everything and a moment lost may not come again.

Anyone can make mistakes and everyone does. It's how they are dealt with that makes the difference between a political team that works together and one that doesn't.

The drama is real though there is no script. Reason is expressed as it occurs. Confidence comes with practice. Having a worthy opponent and an audience sharpens the natural wit...like a forge, a hammer and an anvil.

It's a skill like no other. Unique to the individual. Trial and error is the teacher but it's always
in the public eye. Veterans are often willing to share knowledge and experience.

A valiant effort is well worthwhile.

Thursday 10 December 2009

A Question from a Reader

Elizabeth Bishenden said:

"I am no financial wizard, but I have to question why is the treasurer putting those potential developments on the books? If developments don't happen and the payments don't appear from the developers, what happens to the budget?It seems that this is a change in process for the Town's budget, which used to be based on known income. So who developed the change in process and who approved it? And what the heck do we do if the estimates of potential income are wrong?"

It is a change in Aurora's process. Provincial law prohibits deficit or surplus budgeting.

The principle is property owners who live in the town during a given year will not be taxed more or less than required to meet forecast needs. Population shifts. If a property owner living in the town in 2010 pays more than should have been collected and moves, he can't get his money back. If he paid less and leaves town, his share of the deficit passes to those who remain.

Surpluses and deficits in municipal budgets represent inequity for new and former property owners and that's why they are prohibited.

In the last twenty years Aurora has enjoyed surpluses from supplementary assessment. This year it 's a million dollars.

Sometimes a surplus has saved our skins. If the budget was too tight or something unexpected happened during the year. Some years there were no supplementaries. They were the same years when inflation was running at eighteen per cent and retailers were paying more in interest on overdrafts than they were taking in over the counter.

Many of the nine hundred odd municipalities in Ontario have never enjoyed supplementaries.
Currently there are municipalities like Windsor losing assessment and having to consider cut backs on police and fire services

I have argued surpluses created by new assessment should be applied to the following year's budget to be fair to taxpayers of the previous year and not to be using them to artificially deflate the tax increase.

At the beginning of the term,Councillor Wilson argued successfully, we should use anticipated surplus to reduce the current year's budget. Our philosophy was not much different. Mine was to use it after we had it. His was to use it before.

We are doing it Councillor Wilson's way but not completely.

Treasurer Elliott tells me Richmond Hill has been doing it for years. I'm not surprised. Once the tax increase is deflated with assessment not on the books at the time of the budget, you have to keep doing it to stabilise taxes. Otherwise a deficit is created which is precisely what regulations prohibit.

It was that risk Mr.Elliott cautioned when Councillor Mac Eachern proposed adding an
additional $100Ks over and above the $350Ks already showing on the revenue side of this year's budget from assessment not yet on the books.

Treasurers are statutory officers. They are required to work in accordance with provincial regulations which substantially circumscribe municipal finances.

They are also subject to the authority of the local council. Municipal treasurers must be conservative. The regulations do not allow risk-taking.

If a Municipality falls afoul of regulations, the Treasurer is the person accountable.

The second half of the Smart Centre according to the Chief Building Official is expected to go forward in 2010. Permit applications are being processed. It seems not to be much of a risk. We've done it every budget this term.

Still, it's not my way.

I am of a generation that accepted instruction and direction from professional staff who knew their stuff. Some might not recognise me in that statement but when it comes to abiding by the rules,my choice is to do so.

I opt to keep expenses tight to keep the tax rate manageable rather than spending wildly and inflating revenue to create an illusion.

The $100Ks. took part of a percentage off to decrease the increase below 3%.

Optics are the new deal.

Shades of the Past

And Knowles Crescent and political compromise. Which cost us dearly.

Nisbet Drive is scheduled to be re-constructed in 2010. Early in the process, residents informed the town they did not want a sidewalk. The stated preference was accepted in accordance with policy.

Since that time, the preference has changed as has the policy. Sidewalk is preferred. One who did not support it before now acknowledges the need. Seems the sidewalk was not the problem . It was the location that troubled one more than the rest.

"Don't cut my driveway in half with a sidewalk. It will reduce my parking space" he cried.

A compromise has been found. It is clearly political. There is no way on God's Green Earth it can be anything else. Yet it is proposed by the Director of Infrastructure and Environment.

Some Councillors have noted a reduction in staff reports recently. Often agendas literally have only minutes of previous meetings to approve. The reason now seems apparent. Compromise is embedded in staff reports.

See if this makes sense.

My continuing reference to pandering and extravagance to a handful of Knowles Crescent residents by the Mormac regime has been a source of chagrin. It has resulted in a different method of handling sticky wickets.

Have staff recommend the compromise and politicians will be in the clear. Those opposed to staff recommendations will be declared infidels. What better arrangement could there be?

Nisbet Drive links two older subdivisions; my own neighbourhood and Golf Glen. Partial sidewalks are in place exactly where they should be. The proposed sidewalk should simply connect the two. Like the dots.

Instead, the sidewalk is to be built abutting the road.

Six metres wide of concrete to accommodate snow and pedestrians and the road bed will be moved over by a metre.

To justify the recommendation is expense of moving public utilities, sidewalk plows will remove snow piles created by road plows and the sidewalk already there will be broken our and thrown away.

Concrete is substantially more expensive than asphalt. Two metres is twice normal width. Therefore two metres will cost twice as much.Add the cost of breaking out existing sidewalk and disposing of the same.

Sidewalk plows do not accompany road plows. They do not handily move snow pushed off the road .

Fifty years ago, public rights of way were taken to allow for future urbanisation. It's the reason we are able to accommodate boulevards and sidewalks when re-constructing roads in subdivisions of this vintage.

Sidewalks could be on both sides of the streets if need be. Public utilities have been placed accordingly. Pictures forwarded by the resident of Number 63 Nisbet show the facts clearly.Light standards and hydrant are in the boulevard section.

Therefore the expense of moving utilities is a canard.

Boulevards serve three purposes. They accommodate utilities, snow in the winter until it melts and they separate pedestrians from the travelled portion of the road.. It's safer and people are not drenched with spray and muck from vehicles during flash floods.

They accommodate trees and grass beneficial to our living environment. They absorb exhaust fumes and keep them from reaching the environment.

Boulevards are not just a pretty face.

Nisbet Drive is well travelled . Residents from the north use it for access to shopping.

Residents from the south use it to reach the Liquor Store. Traffic can be hazardous on occasion. Vehicles sometime swerve dangerously. No person has been injured but property in driveways has been damaged.

Moving the road bed by a metre is proposed. It's not really a bed. It's not like pushing it it's being pushed. A road bed must have a base. Shifting it a metre, means a metre width by street length of a new base to be constructed,. estimated by some to add $50ks to the cost of re-construction.
The extra costs can have been reflected in the budget approved for the project. Nor were they provided at last week's meeting.

But Aw Heck...who cares when you've got ten per cent contingencies and politicians are all on side...except one.

I wonder dear readers, if you really appreciate how much it means to be able to share this stuff with you.

Tis said residents of Nisbet don't care as long as they get a sidewalk. I think they 're just like residents of Knowles Crescent and every other taxpayer in town ...wasting money for no reason but political expediency is not a principle they embrace.

Damn Right!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Budget Cheer

We are having a very good year. A surplus was created by supplementary assessment which wasn't on the books when we struck the last budget. So a cool million was in the coffers before we even started to calculate our wealth for the 2010 budget.

Supplementary assessment in one year becomes regular revenue in the next. Already we are two million dollars richer this year than last.

We have $1.2million from the province for our share of the gas tax to be used for capital projects.

Infrastructure grants from the federal government for more than twenty projects which have been on the books for a number of years were approved in an amount of another million or thereabouts.

We will have supplementary assessment again later this year. Half of the Smart Centre development at 404 remains to be finished and assessed. . The treasurer put half the anticipated $700Ks. supplementary assessment in the budget, to offset next year's expenditures.

It's like going to one of those shops where they cash your pay cheque before you get it.

Councillor MacEachern thought we should show an additional hundred thou from that source on the revenue side. It inflates revenue figures by another half million.

Every year since 2004, the province has absorbed increases in the cost of education. The property tax has not increased for education since 2004.

Add it all up and we have about 5million dollars in extra revenues showing in the budget before we even started talking about what we are going to spend in 2010.

Good News ...eh!

Just think what your tax bill for 2010 would have been, without five million dollars to soften the blow.

Monday 7 December 2009


I started the Blog on December 2006. In August 2007 , I started the political post.I waited seven months for a working relationship to emerge. It didn't.

Without re- reading the posts I realise they reflect negatively on how this council has functioned.

I'm aware of that. And how easily it can be argued it's because of my bias. It is hard to refute.
It may even be true. But what can be made of it.

It's Christmas. The Season of Good Will to All in the Name of The Christ Child. Surely I can think of something warm and positive.

It's hard.

I am looking at a document. I received it rolled like a parchment scroll of old and tied with a golden ribbon.

It 's an invitation to a Council and Senior Staff Celebration at Church Street School on Friday, December 18Th.

My first reaction was what! ... Another night ...whose idea was this?

Then I heard of the separation between senior staff and all others.

Then came a request for a response. I decided to decline.

Next came a notice of change of venue from Church Street School to the home of Mayor Morris
and husband Brian.

The rumour mill is active. I heard some staff indicated they would not attend the afternoon
celebration for lesser lights and were threatened accordingly.

Now I'm looking at the first proclamation before I discard it. It's very nice. Quite beautiful in fact. Probably took a day to design.

Old habits are hard to break. Questions occur. The document took time to create. The host is not indicated. Who decided ? Which budget? The venue has changed. What's to be made of that?

After all three years of tortuous evenings of sitting with hands folded, colleagues disappearing , new ones appearing, eyes downcast, listening to endless meaningless, pointless, contradictory often hostile commentary, why would senior staff be any more inclined to spend another evening in the company of a tense and fractious council than lower level staff are inclined to accept an invitation that isn't ?

Do my thoughts reflect my bias?

Or does the situation simply defy logic?

Probably a bit of both.

Friday 4 December 2009

Chronology of Sorts

Our new Chief Administrative Officer joined the town on Jan 5th 2009. I remember the date Treasurer John Gutteridge submitted his resignation the same day.

The budget had been prepared since September 2008; a target approved by Council. A schedule of meetings had also been approved but not followed. Since the exit of John Rogers our former Chief Administrator.

On the day Mr. Garbe joined the town, the Mayor marched into Mr. Gutteridge's office threw the budget on his desk. Made disparaging remarks and ordered him to start again. Mr. Garbe was present for that display.

The Mayor often comments how much she loves her job.

An item included in the new Chief Administrative Officer's budget was $65ks for a consultant study of the administrative organisation .

I did not support the 2009 budget. I chose to focus on the Library Board Budget which had been reduced. I didn't support the 2008 budget either. I referred to it as the Councillor Mac Eachern's budget which caused the Councillor some distress.

But it occurred to me, it might have been wise to know what the organisational structure was before one contemplated change. .

The study is complete. The 2010 budget includes $231ks to accommodate changes. .

I am not content. No obvious improvement jumps out to justify additional cost. No obvious merit appears from shifting from here and putting there of various responsibilities

I am aware of deficits in manpower in various areas.The situation is not improved from the top down.

Throughout the term, the main mal-function aspect of the town's administration in my view is political. Improvement is not likely to result from shifts in the administrative structure.

The Mayor and Councillor MacEachern spent hours after conclusion of council meetings at the town hall since the beginning of the term.

During the 2009 budget discussions, the entire group of six stayed behind in the Council Chamber after Council meetings were over.

For me, it is difficult to accept any recommendation for change from staff does not have prior imprimatur of the Mormac regime .


The ravine land that stretches from St John's Road to the Town Hall site was a part of Lambert Willson's farm. I'm not sure if it came to us as parkland dedication or the Town purchased the parcel for the Town Hall site. It was in the works when I left Council in 1989 so I'm not familiar with details except that ravine lands are not typically capable of development. They are usually flood plain lands.

To the best of my knowledge the group now known as The Arboretum came into being when the Seniors Centre was built. They saw an opportunity to beautify the land around the Centre. Their vision was to plant an arboretum. They were doing that at their own pace. People were paying to plant trees in memory of loved ones.The group were making it happen with the help of our parks department.

The Vision enlarged. The parcel, one hundred acres would lend itself to a beautiful concept of specimen trees and meandering paths for the enjoyment and education of the community

The forecast was one million dollars.

Council agreed it could happen over a period of years.

I understood the money would come from the interest on the Hydro reserve fund.

I was persuaded. . The first year 's allocation was $50.k.

I was somewhat deflated at the end of the year ,to learn $47ks was used to purchase a prefabricated building for tools and such.

The second year, money was apparently spent in good part for a riding lawn mower, a watering tank, and a contract for grass-cutting and shrub bed weeding . Trees were planted. Funds were provided from other sources and the town parks department continued to assist.

They are a small group and not as limber as they once were but ambitions are high.and intentions good
The budget request for this year was $100ks.

I learned I had been mistaken. The money did not come from interest on the Hydro Reserve Fund.

I am not much in favour of having money stashed in a bank. People can't go out on a lovely spring day and meander on pretty paths and breathe in the scent and enjoy the lacy wonder of dollar bill buds bursting open in bank accounts.

The hydro reserve money deserves a better fate. It should not be used for paying the gas bills

It should be used on something spectacular in the here and now and forever and a day. A beautiful Arboretum along the lines of Edwards Gardens in North York would be something to show for the interest money on the Hydro Reserve. I gave the project my wholehearted support.

Again I was deflated by what we had to show for the $50ks provided in 2009

The Arboretum group came to Council during budget discussions to support this year's request for $100 ks. It was November. They still had $20ks left to pay for a tree-planting contract which hopefully would be completed within days.

It had taken therefore, even with their purchases other than trees, the whole year to spend the allocation.

I don't give up my dreams easily. I again expressed my support for $50ks for 2010. But there was some fancy footwork and the figure finally included is $100ks.

Couple that with hours of wrangling about providing sufficient funds to operate the town parks department; to cut grass when it needs to be cut, to service our fifteen thousand tree urban forest to fight weeds without using undesirable chemicals. Remember the argument about whether it is sensible to use staff to build park furniture to our own specifications in the winter months and during inclement weather , buy it from a hardware store or pay substantially more to buy it from a manufacturer.

My resolve hardened.

The Lambert Willson ravine is town land like any other open space. . It needs development. An arboretum is a perfect use for the property. Whatever funds can be allocated for the project should be under management of the town parks department and should be rated in competition with other parks needs.

I am no longer in favour of providing $100ks to a volunteer group to develop a hundred acre parcel and talk about signage and education while areas of park maintenance are starved for funds and our own staff are harried and harrassed for doing their jobs by putting forward a realistic budget for that purpose.

One other point; it's a terrible thing not to be able to trust. But it would not surprise me in the least to discover the Arboretum group were invited to ask for double the money.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Monday Last

And another long drawn out budget session . We sat from seven until eleven fifteen p.m. and didn't finish the agenda.

The Historical Society were invited to provide a history and justification for the continuation of a $50k. annual grant.

A market vendor thanked us for the invitation to provide a mess of figures to suggest if we hand over $7,800 to pay for a manager it won't cost taxpayers any money at all.

The Treasurer discovered an additional chunk of money has to be sent to South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority for restoration of the East Holland River and provide trails and other amenities in East Gwillimbury. We got into that at the beginning of this term without a staff report. It was a mistake that needs correcting.

We still haven't finished the Leisure Services budget. Director Al Downey is like a ping pong ball in a game with six players taking turns at smashing him into the table.

While the Public Works Director walks on water.

The Librarian and several board members were there at seven . At 10.45 p.m. we got around to the library budget. We cut it.

Three hundred and thirty one thousand is being handed over to the outfit managing the Church Street School. Add a $140ks for the cost of operating the building and that's half a million of brand new spending for a brand new program.

We have not had the benefit of a presentation to inform us of what's going on over there. Apparently, according to the agreement, we are obliged to simply hand over the cash and let them do their thing.

The only thing I've noticed is how many town functions have been transferred to the Church Street School. They are not cultural events. Not Historic. Not artistic. They are run-of-the-mill town functions. It's not even clear our use of the facility is free.

We have yet another budget meeting upcoming on Monday night.

Every question I ask has to be re-formulated by the Presiding Member. Extensive fulmination is added to staff answers to illustrate my feeble comprehension in contrast to the Member's superior intellect.

Hours drag by. Staff sit opposite with no role to play. Blank expressions alternate with feigned interest while eyes struggle not to reveal passing thoughts and avoid meeting any glance for fear of being outed .

I already know I am not going to support this budget.

I will not vote to hand over more than three hundred and thirty thousand dollars to the reclusive management of the Heritage and Cultural Centre without even the courtesy of a visit and an update on their activities.

I will not vote for $7.5ks for a Gala Opening of the facility during an election year.

I will not vote for $50k annual grant continuing to the Historical Society. Only recently they required a legal agreement with the town to protect their million dollar investment in renovations to the Church Street School which they committed to manage independent of the municipality all of which I accepted and supported which turned out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

I will not vote for additional expenditures for new management plans for properties we do not own and reflect huge bites out of our assessment base.

I will not vote for $100ks for the Arboretum. Another vision I swallowed holus- bolus that turned out not to be what it seemed.

I will not vote for $231ks for additional management positions that came out of a re-organisation study that cost $65ks and created titles like Executive Leadership Team for what used to be simply Senior Management . Director of Infrastucture and Environment for what was Public Works . Director of Customer Service and goodness knows what else in exchange for Town Clerk. These small indices may not represent a substantial financial cost but extravagance in verbiage instills no confidence in me that all else is well.

I will not vote for almost three hundred thousand additional taxes to subsidise taxpayers several years down the line. Where's the equity in that notion?

I will not vote for a budget that doesn't allow for grass in the parks to be cut when needed. Or tree branches pruned that strike pedestrians in the face while pushing a baby stroller on a town sidewalk. Or the extra cost of controlling weeds without using undesirable chemicals.

I will not vote for a budget that doesn't allow library staff to maintain the same level of service provided the year before at a time when people use it and are in greater need of the service than ever before.