"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 31 March 2010

Windows at Church Street School.

Are fine now. When they were replaced last term,they had to be single paned. When we take money from Ontario Heritage Trust, they have to approve the work to be done.

Authenticity is paramount in Heritage Buildings.

Eventually. when we used the grant for a gas heating system ,we added interior thermal paned low-e argon windows which also filter out the light.

The Basement windows are similar to tempered glass to resist vandalism.

Town staff have recently caulked and painted all the window frames. The new gas heating system is highly efficient and the cost is good. .

The thermal heating system would have been a huge outlay to begin with but would eventually
have paid off. And we had the grant.

My point is; We can't suck and blow at the same time. We either mean what we say when we
trumpet the cause and shop as if the planet is watching us. Or we don't.

It's no use asking the private sector to do stuff, we're not prepared to do ourselves.

Being mealy-mouthed about it doesn't grab anybody's attention either.


Tell Tale Tit
Your tongue will be slit
And every little puppy dog
Will have a little bit

Gruesome eh.

There was nothing soft or sissy about my childhood in Scotland. Between it, the weather and the craggy landscape, they go a long way to explain a typical Scottish personality. It's chiseled from the impervious. Whatever shape it takes, it never wears down.

Last night's closed session was interesting. I had said previously I would not attend for the part dealing with "solicitor/client information re the Westhill Development application" I believed the issue should be discussed in public.

I changed my mind about not participating .

If I have to be there, why would I forfeit an opportunity to argue the question.

Well that brought on hissy fits of significant dimension . Councillor Mac Eachern indignantly left the room and the Mayor rose to her full height and declared her intention to "go out there and make a statement to the press that I was bringing the town's business to a halt"

I suggested respectfully she should do what she must. As I would.

She didn't. I did.

She demanded to know if I intended to breach confidentiality. I said I had questions if she would allow me to ask them.

A tussle ensued. Eventually I indicated I would visit Mr. Cooper and ask my questions privately.

Well no that didn't suit Madam either. Somehow or other the words "unethical" and "moral" worked themselves into the thread of her comments.

Eventually Councillor MacEachern returned quietly and sat back at the table.

We had quorum plus one . Councillors, Gaertner. Wilson and Gallo were absent.I had a phone call from the Mayor's administrative assistant before the meeting to determine if I would be there. Councillor Collins Mrakas received an e-mail with the same query.

Such inquiries are normally the purview of the Clerk's office .

The agreement and appointment of the new Integrity Commissioner, David Tsubuchi was also on the agenda.

Three Councillors present are on record as opposed to an appointment with only five months left in the term.

Three Councillors present are in favour of the appointment.

The vote would have been tied.A tie vote is defeated .

Councillor Gallo appeared shortly after ten, in time to cast his vote in favour.

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Is The Lying Deliberate ?

Or is it language comprehension deficit? I have never been quite sure. I don't often get the opportunity to see it in writing.

A couple of weeks ago, Councillor MacEachern , without input from staff, presented a resolution to Council, that $15Ks held in a reserve fund be used to place a marker on a local beauty spot, bearing the names of two individuals who had supported its conservation.

Opposition would have implied disrespect . Neither party sought the publicity. In fact, it was later learned the reserve funds had been raised by one to plant trees in a neighbouring park.

Mackenzie Marsh had been the passion of Gord Mackenzie and his wife.They owned the land. Took every opportunity to draw community attention to the special character and merits of its conservation.

When St John's Sideroad was built, a boardwalk promenade, chest high railings and crossings under the road to allow safe passage for the wild-life that abounded in the Marsh were provided. Cost of the extra amenities might have been in the area of a couple of million.

A formal opening ceremony with dignitaries present was held and a plaque unveiled. Unhappily, Mr. Mackenzie was not alive to see that day. But Mrs. Mackenzie and daughter Linda were there to acknowledge the tribute to Gord and his lifetime labour of love.

When Councillor MacEachern made the proposal to use the $15Ks cache, I was caught off guard. The persons she named had shown consistent support for the conservation. Mr Kestein had proposed a bridge between Yonge Street and the level railway crossing with an estimated cost he said, of twelve million dollars . He brought a plan he had drawn on a board into the Council Chamber.

In an effort to avoid a second marker being inappropriately placed, I suggested we might allow for imagination. I noted many talented artists live in our area. .I was thinking about an extraordinary tree-carver and a stone carver we know of, who might create something to enhance the beauty of the area. In my mind's eye. I saw stone carvings of blue herons.

Mr. Mackenzie's daughter, Linda Napier heard of the proposal of a marker bearing names at the place which marks her father's life and memory.

Immediately she wrote a letter to The Auroran defending his lifetime endeavour .

Council received a copy of the Mayor's response to Ms Napier. Councillor MacEachern had made a phone call and the Mayor expressed full support for the Councillor's comments.The e-mail noted the Mayor was not aware Ms Napier was seeking further recognition for her father.

Ms MacEachern had noted in her phone call, a proposal had been made of "a bust" to be placed at the Marsh. In her e-mail, Mayor Morris named myself and re-iterated that I had proposed a statue.

The Mayor's e-mail was circulated to All Councillors.

The obvious questions are;

Did they not hear what I said?

Did they not understand ?

Did they hear and understand it very well and deliberately contrive to misrepresent it to deflect attention from the proposal which so offended Mr. Mackenzie's daughter.

Then, incredibly and stupidly, forward it to myself and others, who did hear and understand and ponder the Mayor's and Councillor's comprehension or lack thereoff and the purpose of their misrepresentation.


During this term, while we talked the talk about saving the planet several odd combination decisions have been made.

We received a $700Ks grant and a decision had to be made about how to heat Church Street School. We considered the alternative of a heat pump which takes warmth from the ground.

We turned it down and voted in favour of fossil fuel.

For historical authenticity, fourteen foot high ceilings in the building had been opened up and single-glazed diamond glass windows installed. No-one in their right mind ,responsible for paying energy bills out of their own pocket, in this day and age, installs single- glaze diamond windows where warmth is a consideration.

Heat, as we know, rises. Hydro keeps it circulating in those cavernous hundred year old rooms. Even when it was built, students shivered in class in outdoor clothing with single glazed windows and heat seeping out at the ceiling from wood furnaces in the basement.

In the first budget of this term, we included funds to hire an environmental engineer. I asked what such an expert would do.

Councillors Morris and Gaertner and Susan Walmer were on that Environmental Advisory Committee.There were to be seven. Eleven applied. The interest was so encouraging,we appointed all of them. We soon had twenty -one. Think of the paper that had to be circulated, the space occupied , the hours of talk and employee hours in attendance.

Public Works Director Wayne Jackson was required to attend as "resource person". A recording secretary had to be supplied.

Mr. Jackson answered my question with eyes cast down. "identify environmental initiatives"he said.

I couldn't quite visualise that. Every year after at budget, I inquired what"initiatives" had been identified. As years passed, it seemed the question became ever more mystifying to those being questioned.

I always suspected the only environment Wayne Jackson was conerned about was his sanity. He was the first to exit after the Councillor became the Mayor.

When heating for Church Street School was being considered, the environmental initiative engineer was nowhere to be seen or heard. The building is currently pumping out $75ks worth of carbon into the atmosphere which didn't need to be.

A few weeks ago, the chairperson of the Environmental Advisory Committee came to Council to urge a plan to reduce our carbon emissions. It was cold outside. We were freezing in the Council chamber. I had a blanket over my knees..

Massive folding doors comprise an entire wall of the chamber. They were open to accommodate cable cameras. One set is always held open to signify" openness and transparency".

Rogers Cable approached the town four months ago about installing cameras in the chamber at no cost. The issue was discussed behind closed doors. Once. Our most enterprising Councillor thought Rogers should be asked to pay for the privilege. The idea has never been heard of since.

The Council Chamber has a thermostat. The building is heated by furnaces. I suspect somewhere those suckers are burning like hell itself in a totally futile attempt to keep that chamber's temperature at the level set on the thermostat. .

To-night at Council ,we will approve a "sponsorship" of a thousand dollars to an environmental group to publish two thousand , eighteen page leaflets, to distribute "where needed" to urge people to "Shop like the Planet is Watching You". It is recommended by the Environmental Advisory Committee which has an Environmental Initiative Engineer as resource person.

Thirty-six thousand pages of paper, milled, printed and collated and stapled with power, to be circulated throughout the community adding to litter already blowing about and having to be collected by vehicles burning combustible fuel, and taken elsewhere to be turned into something else using....you guessed it ...power.

While we have righteous well-meaning individuals, whose avowed reason for being is to save the planet, blithely and blindly contributing to its destruction, what hope is there.

When the Green Bin program was approved by Regional Council, an item for subsidised compost bins was removed from the regional budget. The material people had been putting into their compost was needed for processing of green bin material.

I noticed a recommendation in a recent report from the Infrastrucure and Environmental Department that a means of reducing collections was to encourage people to use backyard composters.

Imagine how much additional paper, print and collating is needed annually to accommodate all those double and triple barrelled titles we now have in our administration re-org.

I saw a poster on the wall of Owen Slingerland's office once. Owen was the Medical Officer of Health for the Region. I was Chairman of the Board.

The poster said, and I paraphrase; " It's not corruption in government you have to worry about, it's the stupidity"

Amen Amen I say .

Monday 29 March 2010

Events Recalled.

Last year I requested copies of legal bills paid in 2007,8.9. I was assured they would be forthcoming. The Chief Administrative Officer was consulted. I repeated my request and received further re-assurance.

Then after a resolution proposing a method of accounting ,by Councillor MacEachern. seconded by Councillor Wilson, acquiesced by Treasurer Elliott and supported by a council majority, I was subsequently informed , I would not after all be receiving the information previously requested. Council's motion was cited as the reason.

The information about legal costs forms part of the public record. Mr. Cooper's initial assurance indicates awareness of that fact. .

I told you all that before.

In a closed door discussion with solicitor Roger Beaman, after a third failure to win a Joint Board Hearing on the Westhill application. I inquired about legal costs up to that point.

The town solicitor intervened ; the information was solicitor/client privilege he said.

Costs to the public treasury are not intended to be secret. Mr. Beaman stated his fees were $130,000. Later, he indicated the fourth action would bring the total to $200.000.

I thought I heard at that time, costs to neighbours opposing the application were $600,000. Later that figure was scaled down to "more than $200,000".

The neighbours' business is not ours. They decided to spend no more. It was intimated one person had carried most of the burden. That too was not town business.

Later, with no record of a request , a report was presented to Council of various options of how the town could reimburse the residents for costs of their action. A grant was one of the options.

I pointed out protocol for grant applications is not confidential. A wave of the hand dismissed the matter.

I told you all that.

Council subsequently directed Mr. Beaman to file a Request for Leave to Appeal the last Divisional Court denial of a Joint Board Hearing.

Councillors McRoberts,Collins Mrakas and myself voted in opposition.

Advice received in closed session failed to persuade me the public expenditure was justified. Neither for that nor any of the previous failures.

We still face the expense of an Ontario Municipal Board Hearing. Forecast legal costs for two weeks of hearing ,$250ks. A joint board estimated at seven weeks would conservatively triple the cost.

In committee last week, I opposed closed session consideration of an agenda item I believe should be publicly debated.

Friends fear if I disclose the particulars, I will play into the hands of those who wish me ill.

If they do what I believe is intended, they will be obliged to disclose it themselves.

The chronology of events clearly indicates which pockets are about to be picked again.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Epilogue Two

Judicious oversight of town business is the responsibility of the elected body.

The Municipal Act regulates. The Administration advises .Council consents.

In Aurora, we have a Chief Administrative Officer. a Clerk, a Treasurer , a legal department with two solicitors, two law clerks and a roster of external legal firms with separate expertise .

There are 440 municipalities in Ontario. A CAO heads the administration in about 25%.

In 75% of Ontario municipalities, the Clerk is head of Administration.

Until November 2008, in the absence of the CAO, the Clerk acted .

Council has recently been informed, in the current CAO's absence; the solicitor is in charge; in his absence; the public works director is in charge ; in his absence, the treasurer is in charge: in his absence; the Clerk is in charge.

Absence on such a scale, is not the only peculiarity in the edict. But in true Mormac Format all things are grist for the mill.

Oftentimes, Council is not given the chance to consent.

Making an issue of an issue is an option but God knows, it's hard enough to get past presentations, delegations, awards and Lady Bountiful Performances, let alone deal with town business in the time legally allocated.

Chances of orderly debate are remote. Chaos.confusion, nasty digs and innuendos are more the order of the day.

Council's role of judicious oversight is lost in the melee.

I pursued the George Rust D'Eye matter to its end for a reason. I needed to hammer out the disconnect between majority decisions, solicitor's advice provided under instructions and the obligation to fulfill my commitment.

The stuff is dry, dreary and seems hopelessly convoluted. I feared I would lose your attention.

I haven't. Numbers continue to grow. Thank You.

Mr. Rust D'Eye rested his argument on the Municipal Act giving a Council authority to make decisions and adopt rules of conduct for themselves and others. According to his advice, no Councillor has the right to exercise judgement, in the face of a majority. The solicitor seemed critical of the concept.


I would argue regulations regarding closed door discussion are at all times qualified by the requirement to protect the municipality's interest and privacy of individuals for whom we have responsibility. The operative phrase used to be "to save the town harmless"

The strongest argument favouring a nine member council, is the unlikelihood nine people will think the same on any matter of substance No more than unanimity can be expected within the community at large.

It should mean every side of an issue will be considered. Aurora had that number of councillors with a population of 5.000.

For government to be relevant, people need to hear their views represented. They don't need to win all the time. They just need to know that at least their side was heard.

By the same token, people have a right to know nothing is done in secret that should be public.

Intuition is what keeps people in public office on their best behaviour. If it's not there, it can't be learned.

No Councillor of any self-respect, is inclined to be held responsible for what they consider to be a bad decision. Nor to keep their opposition secret. Except when making it public might subject the municipality to potential litigation.

The will of the majority is the democratic rule. It doesn't mean the majority are always right.Or the minority always wrong.

It means consequences are shared by all. It doesn't mean the minority are compelled to maintain silence.

No Sirree

That's my introduction and explanation for what I'm going to share next.

Saturday 27 March 2010

The Tale End

Reaction to Mr. Rust D'Eye's advice when presented to Council behind closed doors on May 6th 2008, was surprising and revealing.

"Is that it" Councillor MacEachern said. "Our reputations are seriously damaged and that's all you have to give us?"

It was clear, after all was said and done, The Auroran story about turning down the Regional Police Headquarters for Aurora had not been the problem.

I had made a comment about cheques being issued to half a dozen residents of Knowles Crescent .
The town had spent a million dollars constructing to urban standard a small crescent of forty-five homes It was beautiful. There were complaints. Councillor MacEachern took over and five or six people received cheques, one for $10ks, to complete driveways in the style to which they were accustomed.

I said with all the strength of my conviction: "If I voted for that I would consider myself in breach of my Oath of Office."

Mr Rust D'Eye was clearly astonished by the reaction to his presentation. His advice was substantive, he insisted.

It was interesting to watch. Had I realised at the time, Mr. Rust D'Eye's report had been submitted five months earlier, the spontaneity of the outrage would have surprised me too.

As it was, the "crisis" of November 13th suddenly became clear.

Remember... the Mayor refused to state the purpose of the emergency requiring a closed session.

I refused to be persuaded not to attend the closed session.

That was a couple of things that happened which were not planned.

My being there obviously made it awkward to talk about the real issue. They had to feint.

When Mr. Rust D'Eye completed his presentation, on May 6th, Morris ,MacEachern and Gaertner were the ones in a tizzy.

The beans were spilled. The issue had been about damage to their professional reputations. The Mayor was doubly concerned because she bore her husband's name and his reputation was also at stake.

When I asked later for legal costs of the services rendered ,they were provided promptly and without question.

The current invoices totalled $16,200.

There was a press conference later with Mr. Rust D'Eye present and reference by the Mayor to $4ks for assistance in writing the Code of Conduct.

So what have we learned:

The emergency meeting was not about damage to the municipality caused by a leak from a closed meeting.

There was no damage to the municipality.

It was not about protecting privacy of an individual.

Politics are not about privacy.

It was not about any of the exceptions that allow public business to be conducted behind closed doors.

It was about settling political scores with a lawyer paid for from the public purse.

Much the same as two lawyers retained for two years, to fail to prove wrong-doing against the town's former Mayor, the current Mayor's erstwhile political rival.

Now I think that tale is ended.

Friday 26 March 2010

From The Beginning

At the first meeting of this Council, after being recognised by the chair, I had not said five words when Councillor MacEachern interrupted with a point of order. Five words further along, Councillor Wilson interrupted with a point of order.

Councillor Wilson adopted a habit of lolling his tongue out the side of his mouth and letting his eyes roll, each time I spoke. I never witnessed it myself. I normally addressed the chair. Viewers and grandchildren, watching at home informed me of the Councillor's bizarre behaviour.

It was before we adopted a Code of Conduct containing a clause about treating each other with respect.

It was after that, realisation dawned that few holds are barred in politics. What you give is what you get. One way or another it comes back to you.

That's when the squawking began.

When I first expressed firm opposition, they advanced upon the town solicitor, Shelley Pohjola demanding she suss out a law of prohibition.

Eventually, the opinion needed to be in writing:

"Councillor Buck has every right to express an opinion." it said. "She goes right to the line. She does not cross it."

The next complaint was about e-mails in response to e-mails.

The Mayor attended a conference. Councillor McRoberts also went. The Mayor circulated an
e-mail informing of Councillor MacEachern's appointment as Deputy-Mayor in their absence.

The Mayor had to be respectfully informed, it was not within her right to appoint a deputy-Mayor. Only Council has that authority.

The Mayor responded, a resolution to appoint would have been presented had there been time. I expressed relief it hadn't happened. I would have been obliged to oppose the recommendation. Councillor MacEachern does not enjoy my confidence.

A fire destroyed a rental town house. The Mayor arrived on the scene after it had been extinguished. The family had departed. Neither they nor their circumstances were known.

It was Saturday.

The Mayor circulated an e-mail. Councillors MacEachern, Gaertner and herself planned a fund-raiser for the family's benefit.

I commended the concern. I noted personal resources and facilities would have to be used. The Mayor's office and town resources could not be used for that purpose.

The fund-raiser never happened. Nothing further was heard.

Except for bitter complaints from the Mayor about not being allowed to think or do her job.

Efforts continued to find a law to prohibit my "interference" and efforts to "frustrate" and "undermine " council decisions by the simple act of expressing and often a solitary vote in opposition.

Nada.. Nil ..Zilch and Zero. Nothing was found.

So a law had to be created.

But first, there had to be legal advice to Council recommending its creation. Ergo George Rust D'Eye and creation of the Code of Conduct.

It was better than a Code of Ethics because penalties can be imposed. Remuneration can be suspended for three months.

If a seat is empty for a period of three months, it is automatically declared vacant.

No government at any level allows itself to be viewed as attempting in any way to unseat a duly elected representative.

Nevertheless, an Aurora Councillor found in Breach of the Code and having a penalty imposed of three months suspension of remuneration, would have the following options.

Work without pay.

Not work without pay.

Let the seat be declared vacant by not showing up for the period of suspension.

Or show up only to be recorded as present to prevent the seat being declared vacant.

In the meantime, an election was held in 2006.

Voters elected representatives for the next four years.

Apparently, it's alright for a council, acting on legal advice, to contrive a law, to frustrate voters rights and undermine their authority, by doing everything possible to rid Council of a duly elected member.

In the last election, I made a commitment. I asked for trust. I didn't promise voters would always agree with me. I promised they would always know where I stood. I would keep them informed.

As it was in the beginning, is now and always will be.

It is the single promise, I know I can deliver.

Thursday 25 March 2010

A Tardy Post

I attended the monthly meeting of the Joint Council Committee of Fire Services this morning.

I went to a great party last night, in honour of Steve Hinder, Aurora resident and recipient of the Community Service Award from the Community Living Association.

"The award exemplifies the essence and spirit of a lifetime dedicated to making this world a better place to live ,for this and future generations. The award honours a commitment of volunteerism to the community by a person who has selflessly given of their time for the betterment of their fellow human beings, not for just a month or a year but over their lifetime."

The evening began at six o'clock. Two hundred and thirty people sat down to dinner at seven.
Speeches and presentations continued until eleven . Seated five hours on a hard surface.
Not a soul left the room. Everybody stayed until the end.

It truly was a tribute.

A Bird's Eye View

Distance provides perspective and clarity.

Municipal law specifies public business shall be conducted in public. With a few notable exceptions.

Individual privacy is one

Real estate negotiations and litigation are others.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms articulates the right of privacy.

The Municipal Act requires openness and transparency in the public's business.

Litigation and negotiations are essentially corporate business which need to be protected and held in trust.Ergo the need for confidentiality.

On November 13th 2007, when the Mayor undertook to retain and instruct Mr.George Rust D'Eye, solicitor-at-law, the pretext had to do with neither privacy, litigation nor negotiations of any kind.

It had ostensibly to do with a completed decision made behind closed doors two months previously which should have been disclosed, was not, was eventually, but not by the body
responsible for doing so.

There was therefore no justification under the Municipal Act for retaining the services of Mr. Rust D'Eye. No justification for the closed door meeting. No requirement for a legal opinion on actions or non-actions of an unnamed member of council.

Consequent recommendations to appoint an executive committee of select council members and adopt a Code Of Conduct and appoint a Commissioner of Integrity, were without validity within the context of aforementioned circumstances.

When legal counsel is retained and instructed by a client, the client's instructions are followed.

More than once, during this term, the Mayor has personally retained, instructed and privately consulted with counsel to achieve political objectives at the expense of the public purse.

Obtaining council approval was always after the fact.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Random Thoughts

Much is written how to attract birds to your yard. Nothing about how to deter a specific species. Grackles come down in gangs and chase away the pretty ones. They croak and strut, full of their own importance, pecking furiously and tossing leaves over their shoulders, checking out the larder. Seems like a futile exercise. There doesn't seem to be much under the leaves.

A red wing blackbird visited the bird bath last Saturday and stayed for a while. They tend not to hang around much in built up areas. The swamps at the sides of the roads are their favourite habitats. Judging by the deafening chorus of sweet clear sound, there must be thousands of them in the wet places of Bloomington Sideroad. On a warm day, it's like the air itself is vibrating.

Woodpeckers don't leave in the winter . I see them running up and down the upright maple tree branches. They visited the bird bath on Saturday as well.

But the first robin I've seen this year really made me chuckle. Robin walks about proudly with his chest out full in front.He looks like an usher at a wedding in his brown morning coat and coral coloured vest. He cocks head and listens. Every now and then his beak plunges into the ground and sure enough, he pulls up a worm.

But this was funny. The worm was so long and stretched so far , the robin literally staggered backwards.

A pair of beautiful mallards often visit for two or three days before leaving to find a better place for a nest.

Sometimes , a pair of mourning doves will stop for a rest on stones warmed from the sun. Apparently, they fly for days non-stop from North Carolina. When they come down in my yard, one sleeps while the other watches for a while. They spell each other before continuing on.

Some days the bird bath corner is a kaleidoscope of colour. Blue jays, cardinals, black and white chickadees and the perspicacious robins take turns bathing and perched on the bare branches of the magnolia. Later, yellow finches swoop around in families of ten or twelve. They look like dandelions surfing on an unseen ocean wave.

I know little about birds. Haven't consciously done anything to bring them to my yard. But there they are and very welcome too. I can sit inside and watch them from my comfy chair or later,
in the shade under the maple tree

Sometimes I think how barren this place was when we first came. How much has changed . And how often.

My back yard is sixty-three wide by fifty feet deep, in the middle of a seven hundred and fifty home subdvision. It is home to birds, rabbits ,raccoons and skunks, to say nothing of cats,dogs and humans.

I've seen a red fox, in daylight, sitting on the corner of Wellington and Bathurst, watching traffic.

At dusk, I've seen a shadow crossing Bathurst from woods to fields . At first I thought, that' s a pretty big dog before I realised to my excitement, that's not a dog it's a deer, by jings.

And I' ve thought.... what do those nutbar environmentalist know anyway when they carp and crake on and on about how human habitat destroys wild life ?

What a crock!

Tuesday 23 March 2010

The Story Continues

I never know how a post is going to evolve. I sit down at the computer. Sometimes it's complete in my mind before I start. Sometimes it 's a hazy idea that has to work its way out. Sometimes it starts clear then takes off in its own direction. And sometimes it's a surprise.

The last two posts are part of a whole.

My daughter Theresa came home to live a couple of years ago. We have a familiar routine. Much like my childhood.

Every day my grandparents would settle in the afternoon, side by side, Grampa in his rocking chair with pipe and tobaccoand the Daily Express, a labour-oriented newspaper. Grannie, with a book, or a rug she was hooking, in her big comfy chair, much like the one I have now. A cheerful fire burned in the grate.

It was wartime. Two aunts, my older sister and my mother came home from work at different times. Each had a story to tell of the day's events, complete with characters,quotes, side-splitting laughter, and "the cheek of it"

Two married aunts visited; Mary on Monday and Jean on Saturday. Characters and events in their lives were part of the collegiality that was the family.

There was no television. But life was never dull. I concluded long since, it was a feature of our Irish oral culture.

Grampa never had anything to say. He was Scottish. He was also the only man in the house.But his shoulders shook with laughter along with the rest.

It lives on in my house.Theresa tells me about her day and reads my daily post. And we chat .

Last night I was ironing. After she read the post she said with a smile;

" I wouldn't be surprised if you hear from Mr. Rust D'Eye, asking you to stop citing his name"

I felt an unexpected surge of anger.

" I hope he does " I said. "it will give me the opportunity to tell him what I think of his conduct in the Council Chamber that night "

Unknown to myself, Mr Rust D'Eye had been summoned to the meeting and instructed by the Mayor.

Under no other circumstances, would he have engaged me in that conversation in that place at that time.Nor did he have the right then.

No social, legal, moral or ethical authority allowed him to engage me in that conversation. Let alone attempt to persuade me, I should not attend the business of the Council to which I have been elected and within which I have equal authority to any other member.

No vote authorised Mr.Rust D'Eye be retained. No resolution instructed him to do what he did.

Nothing more than instructions from the Mayor, acting without Council authority, using public funds to accomplish a purpose which had nothing to do with the municipality's interest and everything to do with the political intent of herself and Councillors MacEachern's and Gaertner, to destroy by legal means, if that's what it took, a political adversary; a part of the body which is Aurora Council. .

Looking back on it now, it seems the rot set in when, behind closed doors, Council authorised the Mayor to retain legal counsel to pursue action against former Mayor and political adversary for non-existent wrong-doing It took two years, two lawyers, unshared communications, unknown fees paid from the public purse before that effort was finally abandoned.

That's partly what caused Councillor Grace Marsh to abandon her commitment. Not just the threat to professional reputation and livelihood .

It was abundant experience in politics and my own confidence to manage that made me slow to realise exactly what I was dealing with.

I have this simple political philosophy;

If somebody does you dirt, don't fret .... Watch and wait.
When opportunity presents...and it always does ...you will know it the minute you see it.

Nothing in my experience allowed me to grasp the significance of lawyers, recruited at public expense, to service one side of the political spectrum. .

It was beyond my ken.

Sunday 21 March 2010

From A Distance

Perception grows and understanding takes its place.

November 13th 2007, Council went into a back room and instructed Mr Rust D'Eye. No prior or public notice of the meeting was given. No agenda provided of its purpose. In fact, the Mayor refused to disclose.

Obviously there had to have been previous discussion. From which at least one person was excluded. Me.

I was not among friends.

Council as a body is the sum of its parts. Aurora's Council is nine parts.

That night, apparently previously instructed, Mr Rust D'Eye attempted to separate a part from the body.

Now, with twenty-eight months intervening, it was truly an astounding concept.

It came to nought. How could it not?

Recommendations emanating from the secret process were two.

1. Council should appoint an executive committee of select members.

2. Council should adopt the Code of Conduct already in the works.

I know of no discussion of the first option. All that can be said for sure is, it didn't happen officially. Regular group discussions do occur after council meetings. Three Councillors McRoberts,Collins Mrakas and myself, do not participate.

We are all aware of :

The Code and First Integrity Commissioner, an ethics czar, hired;

Eight months later ,contract signed.

Days later, first Complaint filed and publicised with much bally-hoo.

Weeks later, first Decision rendered and delivered.

Concurrently almost, first Integrity Commissioner fired and dispatched.

Months later, Second Integrity Commissioner, solicitor at law, hired.

Mr. Rust D'Eye; apparently had little further involvement since first recommendations, written December 11th 2007, presented to Council May 6th 2008.

Can't hardly wait for next chapter.

Introducing Mr. George Rust D'Eye

The Mayor met the gentleman at the Ontario Municipal Association Conference in Ottawa in the summer of 2007.

Representatives of various legal, planning and other consultants are much in evidence at conferences. They sponsor various events and introduce themselves to Councillors from out of town.

The Mayor returned home in 2007 with news . Mr.Rust D'Eye had advised of recent legislation allowing municipalities to adopt a Code of Conduct. It was superior to a Code of Ethics in that it provided for penalties.

The prospect of meting out punishment clearly had appeal. "Bring it on" said Councillor Wilson. Staff were directed to prepare a Code of Conduct. How about that?

I had noticed a difference in relationship between appointed and elected officials since my return to Council in 2003. Many decisions were made without council consultation.Language of the Procedure Bylaw nuanced the subservience of Councillors.

It did not and does not sit well. Being the only Councillor who recognised the denigration in Council's role,opportunity to reverse the trend with either the last or current council seemed unlikely.

In discussion of the Code, I repeatedly referred to the complaint process. I warned it was a double-edged sword. It could not be one-sided.

Came the Big Emergency; the news story in The Auroran about the decision to refuse to sell land we had for sale, at the appraised value, to York Regional Police to establish the Regional Police Headquarters in Aurora.

The police have a presence in every urban municipality in the Region except Aurora.

What a story. We must have been the laughing stock of the region. Every person with a scintilla of sense knows the colossal advantage of Regional Headquarters of anything in your municipality. Hundreds of the best paid jobs in the Region are represented.

It's worth millions annually to the local economy.

We tossed it.

It's a habit we have.

We spend money as though it's printed in the town hall basement. And we cast aside opportunities to improve things for our business partners and ultimately our own economy.

The Mayor put on a great show of outrage when the story broke. In a voice trembling with indignation she announced Mr. Rust D'Eye's presence at the Council meeting to deal with the crisis.

I was only surprised the story took so long to get out. I had previously asked CAO John Rogers when the decision would be reported out. He said, while legislation required Council to report out decisions made behind closed doors, there is no time limit for that to happen.

Thirty one months later, it still hasn't. Now we know the significance of the legislation. If a Council doesn't intend what the law intends, they don't have to conform.

Of course, there's always the likelihood the story will out. Then ordinarily, secrecy has to be explained as well. But not if attention can be diverted.

I know I'm harping on this issue. It's because I still can't believe we did it.

As noted, on the night of "The Crisis" Mr. Rust D'Eye was present in the Council Chamber. Summoned by the Mayor. Council was in progress. The Mayor called a recess to go into closed session. She announced Mr. Rust D'Eye' had been retained to advise.

I asked if the Mayor intended to state the purpose of the closed meeting.

"Ah No, Councillor Buck" she responded knowingly "You will not draw me into that"

Councillors rose and proceeded to the back room. Then the Mayor was at my side with Mr. Rust D'Eye. He was introduced. I said we had already met. He made a presentation at the off-site orientation of the previous Council on the subject of Conflict of Interest.

(Councillors Morris,Keane and Gaertner did not attend on principle)

I was still seated. Between the two, they seemed to want to steer me out of the Chamber.

The Mayor explained Mr. Rust D'Eye wanted to have a few words .

"Fine" I said "Grab a seat, Mr. Rust D'Eye. We'll do it here"

He tucked the brief under his arm, placed his briefcase on the floor between his feet and sat down. A little awkwardly I thought, in a chair facing me and the audience.

The Chamber was busy that evening. Staff were in their places, as were TV cameras and operators. The late Dick Illingworth was there and some citizens.

Mr Rust D'Eye asked had I retained legal counsel.

"Why would I do that" I asked in surprise.

"Oh, I'm not suggesting it" he hastened to assure me.

From there the conversation moved in a circuitous route. There was reference to current Conflict of Interest legislation. How much more serious penalties are now than they were.

Finally, an intimation I should not attend the in-camera meeting, in the event there might be litigation. I might hear something which would be to my advantage that might place me in a Conflict of Interest .

I said I could not imagine a circumstance where I might be involved in litigation with the Town.

Ten or fifteen minutes had passed. People were waiting. Council was in a back room waiting.The purpose of the conversation was finally apparent.

"I am a member of Council"I declared emphatically. "I am entitled to attend any meeting of Council. And that's exactly what I intend to do"

Whereupon I rose and climbed the stairs, leaving Solicitor George Rust D'Eye to bring up the rear.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Confidential ! Yes or No

As a Councillor,Reeve and Mayor, until this council, I have never known dispute about confidentiality requirements.

No member was ever accused of "leaking" and harming municipal interest.

No lawyers were called in to "advise" if a Councillor had damaged reputations of other Councillors on the basis of strong opposition to a council resolution.

No councillor was ever accused of "undermining" or "frustrating the decisions of council" by casting a vote in opposition to the majority.

A vote is a vote. When the die is cast, the deed is done. It cannot be undermined or frustrated by a solitary vote in opposition.

Of politicians I have known in fifty, of one hundred and fifty year history of the town , only one hoisted herself on a pedestal, challenged the integrity of colleagues and avowed the need for a Code of Ethics and subsequently, for the added advantage of punishment, through the terms of a Code of Conduct .

Mayor Phyllis Morris may claim that distinction.

Six lawyers,at public expense, have been used to further her agenda..

Now a seventh , David Tzubuchi has joined the team. Mr. Tzubuchi is newly appointed Integrity Commissioner which office requires exercise of independence and impartiality.

Until the last term, no-one had difficulty discerning when the town's interest was at issue. Nor to recognise individual privacy.

Things became obscure when the municipality's interest was confused with political imperative.

Last week, I found a memo on a confidential agenda which did not meet the test It was dated June 2nd, 2009, within a day of a Council vote to retain Solicitor John Mascarin to carry out an investigation of me, myself a duly elected spokesperson of the Town of Aurora.

They did that at a special meeting held on the evening, prior to the Annual Civic Awards Ceremony.

Former Clerk, Lucille King submitted the memorandum, in response to a question from the Mayor regarding Town Insurance coverage for Councillors respecting litigation.

According to the Code of Conduct and the Procedural Bylaw, no member of Council has authority to direct staff to prepare a report.

Yet, there it is; a confidential memo setting out the question and direction from the Mayor.

The request was to report circumstances whereby a Councillor may or may not be protected against liability by the town's insurance provider, Public Sector BFL Canada Risk & Insurance Services Inc.

The memorandum included an e-mail response from an Officer of the Insurance providers. It was not qualified by a confidentiality clause.

It noted as follows ; "Members of Council are defined as "Insured".

"No policy covers for a claim by insured against insured"

There's more; three bullet points. Can't think why I never noticed it before.

Despite lawyerly admonitions, I do not agree such information mitigates against the municipality's interest. Nor that of individual privacy. It does not therefore qualify as an in-camera matter.

Clients of insurance providers are the people who pay the freight. Like any other corporation, officers of the corporation are protected. Clients are entitled to know terms and conditions.

If Mayor Morris believed council members needed to be aware of liability protection, and a report was required .....in accordance with the Code of Conduct and Procedural Bylaw, two Councillors, probably Gaertner and Granger needed to move and second a resolution to direct staff to prepare the report. The resolution needed to be supported by a majority for the report to become part of the public record.

Where's the harm to the corporation?

The process also needed to be in accord with the oft-trumpeted principle of "open and transparent".

I don't need a lawyer, instructed by the Mayor, to advise me when the municipality's interest needs to be protected. Or, when the real risk is to political posteriors exposed to the elements of public opinion.

Friday 19 March 2010

The Devil is in The Oak Ridges Details

It's lovely to have leprechauns. They work all night long. In the morning, all shoes are repaired and polished to a high shine to the delight of inhabitants.

In politics, putting things in writing is always risky. If a comment doesn't reflect favourably on an adversary, one must be very sure of it's accuracy.

I referred to the sequence of events in the Westhill Development application yesterday.

Regional planning recommended to committee, committee recommended to council.

Mayor Morris was at the planning meeting.. A comment was made relating to town population forecast during the meeting. No reference was made to the Westhill application.

At Council on January 21st, in a verbal report, Mayor Morris noted without comment, pro or con, Westhill's application was approved and would be presented next day at Regional Council.

There was lunch with Mr. Lebovic, where he was given mayoralty assurance the application would receive town support.

Then came the Public Planning Meeting on March 24th 2008.

Neighbours represented by legal counsel, opposed the proposal .

Sue Walmer spoke against it.

A young lawyer from Earth Roots located on St Patrick's Street,Toronto joined the chorus. .

Mr Beaman, the town's external solicitor, was there that night to advise Council on issues of concern before the pending Ontario Municipal Board Hearing.

Staff recommended the application be approved in principle pending outstanding matters being resolved.

That was a no-go. Instead staff received marching orders in a hand written multiple- clause resolution written on the spot by Councillor Mac Eachern
Subsequently, the neighbour group indicated a legal argument requesting a Consolidated Board Hearing would be mounted. Mr. Beaman was instructed by Council to enjoin the fray on behalf of the neighbours.

Three times legal arguments led by neighbour- financed legal counsel, followed by town financed counsel were presented. Three times, they failed to persuade

They would have failed with only one lawyer presenting the argument. It was the same argument.

After the third failure, there was talk of compensating the neighbours for costs.That has not been spoken of again.

The fourth time the neighbours baled. The town went alone.

Now the town has launched a fifth attempt. Again with the public dollar.

A clarion call was heralded. Destiny and righteousness are at stake. The Mayor is ever at hand to help residents in need.

Evil must be vanquished. Mormac will prevail.

Oak Ridges Moraine, our home and habitat, must be protected, one hundred and fifty years late, from two- legged critters of the human variety.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Declaration of Office. A Pale Replica.


Can you please provide the Oath of Office taken
by all members of Council?

Verbatim if you please

I found it. cut copied and pasted it, and was sternly admonished not to do that any more.

It's now called " Declaration of Office". "Malfeasance" is no longer the operative word.. That marvelously expressive medieval term has been replaced by mediocre reference to Conflict of Interest.

Is nothing sacred?

Even the Oath has been modernised and dumbed down. Despite the effort, there are those among us still who do not understand the term " Conflict of Interest"

Some declare it when they shouldn 't. Others don't when they should.

A Leprechaun

There's a little one who digs stuff out on occasion. I wanted to be sure of my information about the Region's decision on the Westhill Development application.

It was on the planning committee's agenda circulated in December 2007. Planning Committee approved it on January 16th 2008. It went forward to Regional Council , where it was accepted on January 24th 2008.

The Region audio tapes committee meetings. After the minutes are recorded, tapes are destroyed. All that shows in the record is the recommendation was approved.

No record of opposition exists to regional staff's recommendation by our representative at committee. There was no representation at Council, where the application received regional support.

It wasn't until it reached a Public Planning Meeting in Aurora that town staff advice was tossed. Councillor Mac Eachern wrote her own report at the table, on the hoof so-to-speak, for staff to follow.

Since then, there have been two Ontario Municipal Board and two Divisional Court Hearings. All unsuccessful in the quest for a Consolidated Board.

Three were funded by neighbours opposing the development. The town instructed a solicitor to support the neighbours' argument at our cost of course. .

The neighbours decided after the third failed attempt not to expend further resources.

The town continued with a fourth action. Again it failed.

The fifth attempt is a request for leave to appeal the fourth . We are proceeding alone.

I gather the losing side of any legal action is liable for the winners cost. We have instructed legal counsel to argue against costs.

We have a Municipal Board Hearing ahead of us .

Estimated cost for two weeks, $200ks.

A consolidated board would take six weeks. Triple the cost.

The decision in the end, as it was in the beginning, will still be in the hands of the Ontario Municipal Board.

A touch of irony. Sue Siebert, the towns retired Planning Director was called to testify on the town's behalf. Only Sue possesses the institutional memory.

Eyebrows rose and disgruntled comments muttered, when an invoice was presented for payment for professional services rendered.

High School Student Population

Where do they come from? Homes of course. Makes sense doesn't it?

A few years ago, I did a bit of research into various taxes hidden in the price of a home. They amounted to about $40ks. The largest figure was for development charges. The region and school boards calculate their own and provide the town with the requisition .The town collects it We are the tax collectors.

So... the town collects for recreation facilities in anticipation of need created by new families moving into new homes. Developers are required by the Planning Act to provide 5% of their land for parks.

Therefore, families which produce students for schools, have already paid for parks pre-determined to meet their needs in the price of their homes.

Schools, particularly high schools, which provide indoor and outdoor recreational facilities,
and share them with municipalities, do not therefore generate a need for more parks.

When Elizabeth Crowe, Aurora/Newmarket Separate School Trustee, delegated to the town for exemption from the Cash in Lieu of parks payment , the request was valid.

The refusal was unbelievable.

In effect, the town was demanding the same parks be paid for twice.

Once by the developer who built the homes and charged the cost back the families who bought the homes and produced the children who attended the school which had to be built by the school board to accommodate the students who came from the homes ...etc etc etc.

And paid for again as Cash in Lieu by the school board.

The board had land surplus to their needs. It is contiguous to town land being developed as an arboretum. Ms. Crow offered to transfer title to the town as an alternate to Cash In Lieu.

That too was refused.

Cash in Lieu of parks charge is calculated on the basis of value of development land. The town didn't bother with an appraisal. They just named a figure which calculated to a fee of
$413 thousand dollars plus.

Both public bodies, the town and the board are currently engaged, at the expense of legal counsel, in negotiations to arrive at a settlement.

How is any of that in the interest of the taxpayers?

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Come To Think Of It

Aurora is a ward. We are a ward within the Region of York. We have one representative. How much do we know of what's going on up there?

Are Regional Council Meetings televised? Does anyone care?

During my reading week, I absorbed the transcript from the first Municipal Board Hearing on the Westhill Development Application. I learned the application had been processed through
Regional Planning . The department recommended approval to the Region's Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The committee accepted and recommended approval to Regional Council. Regional Council approved the recommendation.

It occurred to me to wonder, since we hadn't heard, and considering the opposition to the proposal at our level, led by the Mayor, what position our regional rep(the Mayor) had taken on the issue at the Region?

As it turns out, Mayor Morris is a member of the regional planning committee. Attendance was noted when the application was approved for recommendation to the Regional Council. No opposition was noted .

Absence was noted at the subsequent Regional Council Meeting, where the application was once again approved.

A Regional staff person attended the Ontario Municipal Board Hearing. He did not ask for status. He was there as an observer.

Legal counsel for the developer noted regional approval.

We receive a regular Regional Report from our Regional representative (the Mayor)

From time to time, we hear vehement opposition from our Regional Representative(the Mayor) to what the Public School Board is contemplating or deciding.

We are currently before the Ontario Municipal Board on an appeal from the Separate School Board on the amount of Cash in Lieu of Parks they paid "under protest"

We were almost before the Board on a refusal to grant permission to build on land they had assembled for the purpose of building a beautiful new high school.

We frequently hear negative comments about the incompetence of the Ontario Municipal Board at the table

All from the same source.

But we didn't hear a dicky bird of opposition to the Region's decision to approve Westhill's Application.

Although our Regional Representative (the Mayor)is a member of Regional Planning Committee and of course, Regional Council.

Our representative is on record as committed to additional representation for Aurora at the Region.

While at the same time, there is no representation at all when our representative fails to attend

So...we don't need to await the Toronto election to make a judgement about merits or lack thereoff of a ward system.

We have our own experience. At the Region. With a single Representative. Who takes one position at the region and a different one at the local level.

Crimes and Misdemeanours

The word "malfeasance" is an umbrella term. Deliberately so. It means bad faith, treachery,exploitation, bribery and corruption and everything else peculiar to a position of trust and authority.

I believe it's the operative word in the Oath of Office.

Being elected is not the determinate to taking office. A successful candidate is not a member of council until he or she has sworn the Oath of Office before a Justice of the Peace or a Commissioner of Oaths.

It is a binding contract. Break it if you dare.

Some assume being elected and taking the Oath of Office is a warranty of intelligence and integrity.

It isn't.

Warranty lies in numbers of people taking office. Nine independent minded persons on a council provides a reasonable assumption of responsible conduct.The odds are reduced with a gelatinous majority.

This week the R.C.M.P announced no charges will be laid in Toronto's computer leasing scandal of five years ago.

Whatever the reason, this much is true.

The Bellamy Inquiry cost the taxpayers of Toronto in the area of thirteen million dollars. Every stone was upturned. Disgusting and degrading aspects of human behaviour were uncovered.

Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were shown to have flowed from the treasury without measurable return.

An elected representative, supposed to be minding the store, wasn't. He was living a life style
without obvious means to support it.

An appointed official was wined, dined, transported and bedded by a contract operator who became rich without obvious intellectual ability.

Names will undoubtedly be remembered. Reputations are destroyed.

My guess is, there is no prosecution because of the need not to further undermine public confidence in the ability of government to manage their affairs.

It is no small consideration.

Until now, Mayor David Miller has somehow managed to escape blame in the computer leasing scandal. Why was that?

Is the Mayor of Toronto so far removed, he could not have picked up on what was going on? Is there no scuttlebutt in Toronto City Hall?

How could that affair have flourished so long, so openly, so brazenly, before the whistle was blown.?

What about timing of the announcement of the police decision not to prosecute?

It's an election year. David Miller will not be a candidate. Adam Gambrione was. Will Mayoralty candidates pick up on the issue?

Will incumbents be called to account for failure to notice or sound the alarm?

How could that happen?

I can offer one possibility.

Toronto is a massive city.They have, I think, forty five Councillors. The city is divided into wards. Councillors have offices in their wards. In a ward system, they are responsible only for their wards. They will be re-elected or not, in their wards , on the basis of how the ward was served.

Will corruption - at- the- core matter to ward electors? Will ward councillors be held accountable for crimes and misdemeanours at city hall?

Toronto's election will be interesting to watch. The circumstances are a barometer on the merits or otherwise of a ward system.

Yet, considering the size of the city, they have no alternative.

In Aurora, the current population is fifty-three thousand people. It's not even the size of a city ward.

We do have an alternative.

A computer leasing scandal with thousands of tax dollars flowing out of the treasury without measurable return could not happen here. No Treasury official, male or female, could be wined dined, bedded and transported for months without somebody noticing

Trust me .... scuttlebutt would be sufficiently rampant. One person could not claim ignorance let alone nine.

Everybody would be accountable to all of the electors.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

The Nature of Things Political

The Province is in charge. The town is a creature of the Province. Various tasks are assigned to the municipality to be carried out under provincial legislation.

Ontario is responsible for how her cities, towns and villages grow; how they are governed and financed. They are also responsible for education. If they were to provide our children with an understanding of how their community is governed, they might have less trouble implementing laws they adopt and pass on to municipalities to carry out.

In 1971, Regions were created around Metro to plan for orderly growth and development.

Much like Metro was created in 1954.

The private sector builds homes and develops industrial and commercial facilities.

Government supports development by providing hard services; highways,water supply, sewage treatment, hydro and transit.

The Federal government controls population growth through immigration.

Economically, growth is perceived to be a good thing.

When Regions were created, the numbers of municipalities within were reduced . Urban boundaries were expanded into the countryside to allow for orderly planning and contiguous servicing.

It's a deliberate fallacy by some and misunderstanding by others to claim development outstrips services.

People like things to stay the same. Facile politics suggest we can live and work next to a burgeoning city, receive half the country's immigration and resist the pressure to grow.

In the 60's under Premier John Robarts, hundreds of thousands of dollars and several years went into a study to avoid making the mistakes of other world megalopolis and keep Toronto
a city of governable human dimension.

The Metro Toronto and Region Transit Study anticipated Green Belt parkways surrounding Metro to hedge in growth. From Port Hope/Cobourg to Niagara, hard services and transit were to follow lakefront to accommodate necessary expansion.It was completely logical.

York Region's role was to serve as the agriculture, recreational and lungs of the megalopolis.

We welcomed that plan.

It never happened.

Political will was overwhelmed by exigencies.Opposition to government re-organisation was growing fast. Regions around Metro were completed in haste. Regions further out were abandoned. MTARTS lies gathering dust somewhere on a shelf in Queen's Park

In 1971,Aurora's boundaries were extended into King on the west and Whitchurch to the east.

Almost forty years ago, it was decided by the Province, Aurora would grow out to her new boundaries by the year 2020.

Our town has grown slowly and carefully. Slower than our neighbours. We have not outstripped services. Neither have they. It is not within our control to do so.Authority to approve development has been transferred from the Province to the Region. Rigid control is exercised.

Aurora's new residents quickly become accustomed to her face. They assume nothing will change. Why is that?

When land changes hands within an urban boundary,there is every reason to expect the purpose is development.

An Official Plan designation has legal status.

There is no turning back. Millions of dollars, public and private, and years, have been invested to bring the property to that point.

The only questions left are the nature and geophysical aspects of the development proposed.
For urban residential the question is... are there sufficient unit allocations of urban servicing available?

A single unit, represents a single family. However many units have been allocated by the Region dictates however many permits can be issued.

It's horrendously costly to achieve this kind of control. It is a deliberate misrepresentation, totally futile and a complete waste of tax dollars to try to frustrate the process at the lowest level of the totem pole.

Monday 15 March 2010

Reading ,Shredding, and Reading Some More

My dining room table is strewn with papers. I have to sort and file in alphabetical order.

Legal opinions will be the fattest file. They date from the first weeks of the first year of the term.

Three solicitors were asked at different times to advise on the same issue.

Does a confidentiality clause at the end of an e-mail carry weight?

Yes it does.

One opinion sought was whether or not I have the right to state an opinion.

Yes I do.

I received the solicitor/client advice from George Rust D'Eye written in December 2007. It wasn't presented to Council until May 6th 2008. It was circulated at the beginning and scooped up at the end of a meeting. No time to notice small details like a discrepancy in dates.

That was the schemozzle about the "leak" of the closed door decision to refuse to sell land to York Region to establish new headquarters for York Region Police Headquarters in Aurora.

The decision was made in September 2007. Hit the headlines in November. A slow leak I guess.

Thirty-one months later, the decision has yet to be reported out by Council to the public. Had there been no news report, the public would still not know they did that.

Some documents are missing from the mass. Opinions from two separate lawyers on the matter of phone logs being monitored," privacy being invaded", egregious wrongdoing by person known. Turned out not to be wrong at all. Legal fees paid by the town for that witch-hunt are still not known. No documents were ever seen by anyone except the Mayor.

Obviously... they will not be in my files.

There is the former to the former clerk's record of an interview he and the Mayor conducted with candidate Nitkin of Ethicscan for the position of Integrity Commissioner.

Mr.Nitkin's contract is in the pile. Signed eight months after he was retained. The Code of Conduct is there. Material from the single workshop he was allowed to conduct. Unattended by two Councillors and the Mayor.

During the workshop, Mr.Nitkin revealed there had been a meeting with "a committee".

But no committee had been appointed by Council.

His first decision is mine to behold. And share.

After that, there were a flurry of e-mails and nothing more.

There's former CAO John Rogers' first contract of employment. The Town's Procurement Policy. The Memorandum of Settlement . The Town's Recruitment Policy.

There's an up-to-date copy of the Municipal Act, which is something of a bible for municipal councillors. It helps to understand the purpose of regulations and how they have been interpreted and enacted for nigh on fifty years

Closed doors meetings are allowed to protect the municipality's interest.The privacy intended to be protected is not political.It is personal.

There is no such thing as political privacy. All that must be open and transparent.

Aurora's Procedure Bylaw, the longest in Christendom. Bourinot's Rules Order. Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules. Several landmark rulings by eminent judges, over the centuries, on the authority of a councillor or alderman to speak her mind frankly and freely, without fear or favour and to call a spade a spade in the course of her duties.

The exercise has been wearing and I'm not done yet. But it has been entirely necessary and satisfying.

Without resources to stand her ground in the face of adversarial jackanapes, a Councillor could find herself harried.... from pillar to post.

Sunday 14 March 2010

True Value Hardware

Many people comment that the attraction of Mike Evan's store is it's old-fashioned character.

Whatever odd thing you may be looking for, Mike Evans has it. Furthermore he knows where it is.

He came there in the seventies. Home Hardware was upset. But they moved out to where they could grow and forthwith grew like gang-busters.

The Aurora Banner was in Mike's location in the seventies. They constructed the barn board facade . For old-time ambiance.Like in a western movie.

Many retailers move from downtown to where they can expand because of success downtown. Unhappily, they take their shoppers with them.

Malls were built north and south of us in the sixties and seventies because our growth was frozen. We were not growing a market.

There was an exodus of shoppers with Hillcrest. Then retailers went with the advent of Upper Canada Mall. Yet we didn't have the same experience as downtown Richmond Hill.

Stores there were vacated and stayed empty. Litter gathered in the doorways and blew about in a swirl. Empty windows were screened with yellowing newsprint and coated with grime.

Our stores rented quickly to service providers and were well maintained. .

Newmarket's downtown was pretty run down for a while. Now it's looking prettier than it ever
did. Standing at the top of the hill, looking down, the street scape is a picture postcard. They have the advantage of having a real Main Street and not a Highway to the North Pole running through the middle of their town.

There is a concern though. Merchants are worried about town plans to replace shoppers' parking with a park. Some are closing up shop.

On the other hand, Richmond Hill also has Yonge for their main street.. The same traffic and parking problems as Aurora Yet Richmond Hill's downtown came back to itself. A building like the one we rejected has been constructed on Yonge Street. They also have many high rise apartments at the north end of town.

Mike Evans came out to support the Centre Street application every time.

Indoor malls have their problems as well. . They are lovely and amenable and attract many visitors. But rents are steep to cover all the amenities. Visitors are not necessarily shoppers.

New businesses don't start up in malls. Old shops present the best opportunities for new enterprise.

A town can quickly grow a reputation for being hostile to business.

Taking hundreds of dollars for an application for a sign variance and refusing to accept
staff advice that it's O.K. to grant it, is no way to win friends and influence people.

There are some things the municipality cannot control. We certainly can't advise retailers how to run their business. But we can examine how we run our own and make sure we do nothing to discourage others from joining our enterprise.

Businesses are a municipality's partners in more ways than one.

Merchants generally don't do what Mike Evans does on a regular basis. He shows up at meetings and gives Council a piece of his mind.

If business is not doing well and the odds are against them and they think they're not getting a fair shake from the people who should be conscious of their problems, business generally just ups stakes and moves.

I'm not sure that's what's happening in our downtown.

Mike thinks it is and I'm afraid it might be.

We've missed a lot of chances to make a difference and we have created new problems.

Saturday 13 March 2010

A Council Visit

Michael Evans is a consistent follower of downtown business affairs. He made a presentation to Council last Tuesday about continued exodus of business from the historic core.

Michael operates a Hardware Store. When he came to town, we had one hardware store and a small population. Wilson's Hardware Store had survived the advent of Canadian Tire and morphed into Home Hardware.

Michael's store has survived against the odds. He continues to participate in discussions which impact on his and other business.

In the past six years, we have had no less than three full scale proposals for a particularly blighted site in a terribly visible location immediately north of Wellington and Yonge, our main intersection.

Centre is the town's oldest street. Older than Wellington.Older than the current alignment of Yonge. The plans were for the North Corner, east of Yonge. Most of the site has been vacant and strewn with rubbish for quarter of a century.A relatively modern single storey building on the corner is abandoned and crumbling ...literally.

It seems the property changes hand with each unsuccessful attempt to develop. As land becomes scarcer, value keeps rising.

Repeated public planning meetings have been held. After months of work by the town's planners and the owners architects, the tedium of listening to the same details over and over is mind-deadening. I can't imagine how it feels for town staff to be working diligently on the site plan, knowing it's likely going nowhere.

Neighbouring residents attend meetings faithfully and provide input. The ever increasing blight undoubtedly offends them most. They are anxious to see renewal.

The last plan met with their approval.

All for nought.

It was referred to the Heritage Citizen Advisory Committee. They commented the historic core height bylaw calls for five storeys therefore the building's height should be reduced.

The height was five storeys at Yonge and stepped back and up from the front and side to accommodate extra suites and sufficient parking.

The design can be seen on Yonge Street in Richmond Hill. It was featured in the business section of the Globe and Mail on January 12th,2010.

A person even peripherally involved is aware of the relationship between economic viability and bankruptcy. We have seen developers go bankrupt.I think our policies and procedures contribute to bankruptcy.They certainly contribute to the cost of building. The condo suites in the Richmond Hill building are $400,000. apiece.

As a public business, dependent on the success of private business, private bankruptcies are not to our advantage. Nor are vacant blighted sites on our main street. Ask any town treasurer.

Still we are content to see the downtown become ever more blighted in order for non-elected, non-accountable advisory citizens to dictate that height of a building in 2010 should be made to conform to a streetscape that's a hundred and sixty years old.

We are required to provide tax rebates for empty stores in our downtown , while spending hundreds of thousands on consultants to yammer interminably at workshops attended by the same few, about airy-fairy impractical ideas that place not a stone upon a stone in renewal of the beloved historic core.

Talk about Nero and His Fiddle.

In the face of Michael's discontent, Mayor Morris spiritedly defended council's policies. Hundreds of thousands of dollars more were spent by this council, as opposed to others, on consultants studying the down town and that was evidence of strong commitment to downtown well-being, the Mayor claims.

Michael did not speak of the three unsuccessful applications for apartment development on the blighted site at the corner of Centre and Yonge. Though he attended all the meetings and urged approval.

The Mayor didn't claim the shift of the Farmers Market from downtown to the town park with convenience of a free band shell for entertainment, hydro and washrooms, has continued to bring business into the downtown core, as initially argued.

Just as well.Since that obviously has not happened.

This conversation will not change during the rest of the term.

It Is A Puzzlement

I always anticipate the perspective I present in this blog will not be well-received by Mayor Morris, Councillor MacEachern and their loyal followers.

I am convinced, they are convinced, their decisions are without flaw. I also think they are confident of the people's confidence. Why else would they do what they do.....over and over ?

My intrigue lies in their reaction to an opposite and often solitary view.

A definite disconnect exists between us about the meaning of politics

For me, it's about glorying in the freedom to take a position and proclaim it, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. And about stimulating interest in public affairs with an alternate perspective.

From their reaction, it 's evident the Mormac regime does not appreciate my modest efforts to "follow my bliss". That's a quote from the late Joseph Campbell, a modern philosopher and a renowned author on world religions.

It's a given, if I write something unfavourable, a reaction will follow. But not open and direct and never in the form of reasoned argument.

A small child could advise them, being nice to me, would make it difficult for me to do what I do best.

I chose to be nice at the beginning of the term. I gave it the good old college try. Over the years I acquired some skills in that direction. I even tried humour to lighten the atmosphere.

After eight months I realised those particular talents were inadequate to the task. I surrendered to my less jovial but I confess more natural characteristics. Everybody has them. Some are just more easily disciplined than others.

So, it's a given, the terrible twins leave no stone unturned to curtail my efforts.

They do have power. They take as much pleasure in that as I do in freedom.

I leave it to readers to imagine how the power might be used or abused.

While certain of limits to my freedom, they are equally sure there's no limit to their power.

They keep on trying.

It's yet another level of dis-connect.

Friday 12 March 2010

Reading Week

I have this huge stack of pink paper. Actually, more than one. It's all confidential stuff. I need to sort out what to keep and what to shred. It means I have to read it...all of it.

It's a huge undertaking. But now I have a filing cabinet. I can maintain a system. Eh!

The last document I read was a memorandum from Shelley Pohjola, former town solicitor. It was directed to Councillor MacEachern. There were many pages, Case law from several aspects of the question was cited. It was an impressive body of work. Undoubtedly involved hours of staff time to research and write.

It had a covering memo from Lucille King, our former town clerk .in response to a directive from Councillor Mac Eachern to add e-mails of mine to a Council Agenda.

It is the Clerk's job to compile the agenda with matters of town business requiring Council's attention within the hours publicly proclaimed for dealing with town business.

The Mayor and Councillor MacEachern had been in the habit of directing staff to add e-mails of mine to the public agenda. Bob Panizza, former to former town clerk ,would happily oblige. He was marking off the days to his retirement,

The objective was never clear. I don't regret stuff that I write.The e-mails would be placed at the end of the agenda. Meetings seldom ended by the hour of adjournment I had not given permission for my comments to be a subject of discussion. I would leave before that happened.

The women would sneer and jeer that I didn't have the courage to stay.

When Lucille King joined the administration, I drew her attention to the confidentiality clause at the end of my e-mails. I pointed out, publication was prohibited without my consent. I do not give consent.

Ms King informed the Councillor her direction to include an e-mail of mine on the agenda would not be accommodated. She attached Ms Pohjola's memorandum.

Shelley's memorandum was on file. Councillor Mac Eachern knew that. It was directed to her, no doubt in response to a demand the advice be provided in writing. It was fulsome Obviously many hours of staff time were devoted to the task; without direction from council by way of resolution.

The Town's Procedure Bylaw and Code of Conduct state succinctly; no councillor shall give direction to town staff

It is an abuse of authority.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Another Reader Asks

Where else can a non-elected person communicate with solicitors retained by the town?
Well nowhere that I know. In fact, I have never known of council members being free to communicate with solicitors outside of conferences with council and receiving written reports.

I did a survey of York municipalities to determine which Mayors retain solicitors for any purpose, let alone settling political scores.

The answer is...none.

Second question.... What are staff doing?

The best they can .... under extremely difficult circumstances.

The Mayor has complete control over five members of council. That's a majority. That's what's needed to allow this stuff to happen. Sue Walmer helped get them all elected. They can't be allowed to forget that.

They were never allowed to discover the principle of their collective authority. They don't even understand when it's being disrespected.

On Tuesday evening, Council went behind closed doors for a performance review of John Leach.
a completely professional municipal clerk of twenty-five years experience. He has been with the town less than three months.

Purpose of the closed session was stated on the agenda .

An employment probation period in Aurora is six months. I have never heard of a performance review after less than three.

I did not attend. I understand it was what I thought it was.

Mr. Leach is the second clerk to join us since Bob Panizza retired in November 2008. We didn't have one for four months.

Lucille King who had signed a five year contract, submitted three week's notice the day she provided me, as she had to, with the decision of the Integrity Commissioner on the much publicised complaint against me by six members of council.

The Integrity Commissioner was fired within days but not before his decision was made public.

The Solicitor, with all of eight months town service and no experience as clerk, was acting clerk for the time between, while managing his own job as well.

You really have to have a sense of the pivotal role of the clerk in the town's business to understand how utterly ludicrous that was.

Like I said, staff do the best they can under the exigencies of the situation.

A Reader Asks

Would Council do the same to the Public School Board?

Well Bless your heart, Yes. York's public school board has certainly come in for its share of criticism and harrassment. When re-location of Dr. Williams High School was contemplated, arguments against were the opposite of arguments against the location of the Catholic High School on Wellington Street.

Susan Walmer's organisation skills immediately reared into orbit. An instant rally was planned. Space at the Town Hall was requested . Ms Walmer lost patience entirely with Chief Administrative officer John Rogers and castigated him by e-mail for tardiness in providing a date for Chamber availability.

Ms Walmer is very confident of her authoritative role in the town's affairs. E-mailing external solicitors at taxpayers cost is also apparently within her purview.

The main argument about the benefits of Williams staying in its current location was the importance of the student and teacher population to the neighbourhood economy. Councillor Gaertner was chief spokesperson for that argument. As she was for the argument against locating the Catholic school on Wellington Street because it was not an economic advantage.

The councillor's inability to understand relatively familiar and simple matters is frequently stated by herself. But she is a favourite spokesperson for the Mayor. The Councillor is always willing to enlist in the on-going cause of righteousness when there's an enemy to be vanquished.

If one contemplates the number of times that's happened in the last three and a half years, one might conclude, no other public or private agency or individual is competent to manage affairs better than the Mormac regime can manage them for them.

Ontario Hydro , CNN , Ontario Municipal Board, Ministry of Environment, Divisional Court, Separate School Board, Public School Board, Canadian Tire, York Transit, Aurora Library Board, Aurora Cable T.V. Town Administration,The Auroran. Not to mention highly paid consultants and a succession of lawyers who have come and gone.

The list of lesser lights who fade in the glow of Mormac brilliance continues apace.

I have heard on the grape vine ,the Town's new Integrity Commissioner has slipped into the town hall after hours for a private conference with our Chief Magistrate.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Closed Door Session Number ????????

We were behind closed doors again last night. To receive advice on "litigation" with the nefarious rascals who are the York Catholic District School Board.

The Board assembled land in a run-down area of Wellington Street and built a beautiful new high school.

Not without a fight with the Mormac regime.

When it came to site plan approval stage, Mormac decided it wasn't going to happen.

"Schools don't pay taxes. It would be too great a burden on the taxpayers. Where will the students come from? How do we know there are enough students to justify the need? There wouldn't be any jobs to speak of and they would be using employment lands".

It took parent deputations from every separate elementary school in Aurora and Father Don Maclean to argue there was indeed a need.

Councillor Wilson indicated he saw the need and the number of teachers would represent "employment" The vote shifted.

If it hadn't, a public agency with the mandate to provide services to families in the community would have had to file an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board against another public agency with a mandate to provide services to the same families .

Work on the site would have ground to a halt. Finances and plans would have been tied up for years. The decision would have been taken out of the hands of the municipality. Lawyers would have had to be hired by both parties, hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been spent on legal fees All of it coming out of the same taxpayers' pockets.

None of it spent to build a stone upon a stone.

It would have been a bloody disgrace.

It was avoided.

The site plan was approved.The permit application was filed.

But all was not well. The Town informed the Board of the Cash In Lieu of Park fee of $413,553.95

Again the trustee approached Council and asked to be exempted from the fee.

The Board has a record of co-operation in sharing their facilities with the town. Land was offered instead of fees. The land was contiguous with town owned lands.

It was no go. The town wanted cash .

Mark you.... in 2008 the Cash in Lieu of Parks Reserve was flush with eleven million dollars. In 2009, it grew to twelve million smackeroos.

Throughout the term, this council has rejected staff advice on the need to purchase land for parks.

A consultant study that cost $53,222 , recommended land be acquired for recreation purposes
was tossed out and re-written in favour of a " land acquisition strategy"

Still we hold out for the pound of flesh from the York Catholic District School Board for cash to buy land which we are on record as having no intention of buying.

What is that?

No Cash In Lieu was paid by the Province when they took up employment lands to build free parking for commuters.

Additional employment lands have been declared surplus by the Town and sold to the Province for still more parking for commuters. No cash in Lieu of Parks will be collected.

No jobs whatsoever provided.

School boards are exempted from paying development charges.

Cash in Lieu for parks is an alternative to Development Charges.

Other York municipalities exempt school boards from Cash in Lieu of Parks fees .