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

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Comments Galore

Conflict of Interest legislation is not straightforward . Only a councillor can decide whether or where there is personal conflict. If a charge is filed only a Judge can make the decision if there was indeed a Conflict. It's a classic example of government sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors.It looks like a response to public clamour. It isn't.

A couple of terms ago, a Mayor of East Gwillimbury was charged with a Conflict. Lawyers no doubt argued the case from both sides. The Judge found he did the deed. He also found it was not deliberately intended. No penalty was imposed. The mayor was no longer in office. It would be hard to estimate the damage to his personal reputation A Toronto Separate School Trustee was thrown off his seat and banned from running for public office for ten years. I would think, after that experience ,not running for public office for ten years might not be much of a hardship.

Only lawyers benefited from the exercise.

When George Rust D'Eye was retained by Aurora to "investigate" confidential information "leaked" to the press, he inquired if I had retained counsel. I inquired back, why would I do that? He implied there might be a "conflict" if I attended an in- camera meeting and heard something that might be to my financial advantage if I were to be charged with something or other or anything at all and it would be a very serious matter. I think the Mayor didn't want me at the meeting. But I went.

Here lies irony.The current Mayor and a Councillor of East Gwillimbury accepted Mr. Rust D'Eye's advice in the "offence" of playing Joe Lumberjack at Sharon Temple a year or so ago. They jointly hired legal counsel.They stayed out of in-camera meetings. We never heard the final tally of municipal cost. At an early stage it was over $11 thousand. The Mayor and Councillor were never charged with anything but on the advice of George Rust D'eye, they did have legal costs. Council was decimated. The community was in an uproar. In the end ,they determined to rally to replace what was removed by the Mayor's trusty chain saw at the request of The Temple Curator on a balmy Saturday morning. All was forgiven and East Gwillimbury apparently lives happily ever after.

We never heard if the Silly-Billy Trustees of Sharon Temple decided to sue the Municipality.It's my understanding, East Gwillimbury provides external maintenance to the property.It would be an act of utter foolishness to jeopardise that relationship.

I learned something new at the time of the much trumpeted "leak" in Aurora. If a person ,as a result of being a councillor, is charged with something requiring legal defense, the municipality is obligated to cover the cost .The principle applies also to an official of a private corporation. I informed Aurora's Director of Corporate Services of my understanding. He responded he knew nothing about that.

Last week, the Integrity Commissioner informed us of the failed status of the Code of Ethics in a municipality which shall be nameless. Three separate Commissioners have been appointed since the Code was adopted a couple of years ago. Councillors routinely fail to enact punitive decisions of the Commissioner. They are entitled to legal counsel when a complaint is filed against them Costs average between $20. and $40 thousand dollars. The Municipality shoulders legal cost of the Commissioner and the Councillor who has been complained about.The financial burden is substantial and who but the taxpayer pays that penalty.

Integrity Commissioner Fitkin informed us he has been meeting with "the committee" Mayor Morris and CAO Neil Garbe. They have been creating an agreement. One of which is that Aurora Councillors, unlike others, will not be entitled to a defense at Municipal expense.

Even if it was a properly constituted committee ,with terms of reference adopted by Council, I suspect that decision is not theirs to make.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Robert....You were asking

The building is commercial on the first floor, parking on a second and condos above. It's a beautiful building and the fifth time a design has been submitted for this corner. Every time the application has been abandoned because of council demands for reduced height and density.

This time the Heritage Advisory Committee recommended it be reduced to five storeys. It's of no consequence to them that a building has to be economically viable or it will not be built. They are all about preserving the ambiance of the past. It's not their money and it's not their property but they have the power. In their minds, they can justify comments like "loving the village core." Aurora stopped being a village in 1863 when it became a vibrant.progressive urban municipality
and gave itself a new name meaning "The Dawn".

The nay-sayers can also contemplate tax increases with complete equanimity. They can vote for a Combined Board Hearing for a golf course development which has been estimated will cost half a million dollars. They can add financial support from the town to a legal request from neighbours of the proposed golf course for a Combined Board Hearing. And they sublimely reject the opportunity to bring in substantial new revenue with the Yonge and Centre development proposal.

The Mayor wasn't there last night. Despite her multiple-whereas ed Proclamation on this being the Year of Business Initiative. The result last night is exactly what was accomplished four times previously on this site.

As to your question about the quality of my Scotch. My sons give me single and double malt on Birthdays and at Christmas. My stash has been depleted. I am back to imbibing Johnny Red and it's taking a bit of getting used to. But I shall persevere. I have to. I can hardly make a case for need to enjoy single or double malt whiskey. a mere fraction of the age of the mouldering, rotting shack, sitting forlornly at the side of the road south of Wellington on Leslie Street known fondly by some as the Petch House.

Library Memo

The following memo explains better than I can why a librarian needs to be added this year.

Page 1

Page 2

Council has authority to cut the board's budget. I'm convinced it's been discusssed and decided by a select few before the scheduled meetings. Councillors have typewritten questions on the desk in front of them.

The Library Board's budget is a simple document. We buy books put them on the shelves and open the doors and provide whatever assistance users need. Two-thirds of the population are members of the library.

Like town outside workers, library staff are unionized. Salaries are negotiated. I learned last week a librarian earns about the same as a town labourer. Like schools, salaries are between seventy and eighty per cent of the budget.

Anyone interested in the cost of library services and how they arise would find the budget straightforward and easy to access.

In the wee small hours of the morning

It's one o'clock .in the morning. I came home from the Town Hall at eleven-thirty p.m. I had been there since 6 pm.The first hour was an educational session about ethics.The last four were spent dealing with a single application for an amendment to the Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw.

A development group called Kaitlin presented plans to build a spectacularly beautiful building on the corner of Yonge and Centre Street. With their money. On their property . It is six storeys high at Yonge Street and reduces to a storey and a half as it climbs the slope on Centre Street

It means millions of dollars of investment in our down town exactly opposite the supermarket which has been vacant for months. For thirty-five years the corner has been a total blight. Before then it was occupied by a shabby run-down shack not much better that the Petch House
known as the Yates property. I can't remember if it was demolished or simply fell down of its own accord.

We have gone through the process with this site before....four times. Last time the project got as far as approval in principle. After we had shaved and pared from the height and reduced the number of suites, the property went straight back onto the market and .... pouffe ...the plan disappeared.

To-night we again spent four hours listening and then debating a resolution moved by myself and seconded by Councillor Collins Mrakas to approve the project in principle. Such a motion authorises staff to work with the applicant, taking into consideration all comments of the public and councillors and strive to come to an agreement.

At ten-minutes -to-eleven Councillor Bob McRoberts read something about " love of the village core" and declared he wanted a storey removed from the building . Councillor Collins Mrakas withdrew her support for our motion and I up and left.

I am going to have another Scotch on the rocks now.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

I just remembered

I have no filing system. Every time I need something I have to turn over a pile of pages one by one. I was looking this morning for stuff about the sports fields in our parks that need to be fenced and I came across a list of invoices for legal services. They reminded me of a question I asked in the budget meeting last Saturday.

If the Court orders a Consolidated Board on the Westhill Golf Course proposal, legal costs will be double that of a normal hearing. A Consolidated Board would take at least twice as long.. Cost estimate is half a million dollars. Mine was the solitary vote in opposition to that piece of insanity. Neighbouring residents were taking the matter to court at their expense as was their right. There was no requirement for the town to spend taxpayers resources in that action.

Last Saturday I asked if we had the half million dollars in the budget,in the event a Consolidated Board Hearing. is ordered. (three government agencies preside).

The Mayor responded we should not speculate. I indicated I had asked a precise question. I was seeking an exact answer. If I didn't get it, I would speculate.

The Treasurer's answer.... if needed the funds will be taken from a legal reserve of $200, thousand. An estimate of $500.thousand has been made for legal costs alone if a Consolidated Board is granted. If there was sufficient conviction to expend funds for legal costs to support the need, in my view, sufficient funds to cover costs for such a Hearing, need to be included in the 2009 budget. Not adding them in doesn't mean they won't be spent. It means the budget forecast will be deflated. It will not reflect the reality of what this council is about.

Furthermore...About the Library...

Thank You Robert the Bruce. I intended to acknowledge a flurry of messages from friends and family that schools do have libraries. Your input rounds out the picture.

Children's services in the Aurora library includes youth up to 18 years. Schools are open during school hours. Students of all ages come to the public library for assistance.Computers and software are an integral part of the service. Staff have instructional skills that teachers do not. The resource is invaluable to schools.

Not all Aurora families are able to provide all resources for their children. Library membership is in excess of thirty-thousand. The library helps to equalise opportunity. Anyone not in the habit of using the service would be amazed by changes over the years. One has to be well behind the times not to appreciate its essential relevance.

Indications are Councillor Gallo's question was assigned. A pattern of orchestration has been noted throughout the budget process.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Keep a Civil Tongue in Your Head

A reader recently noted the increase in number of comments and, in contrast to the Aurora Citizen" which is going downhill" they are civil. . It's not a coincidence. I censor comments. I make no bones about it. I don't publish the nasties. As far as I can tell, they are promptly thrown into the hopper at the Aurora Citizen.

I started the blog hoping for input. At first I printed every comment. Then I thought, wait a minute, why should I provide space to people who only want to vilify me. That's dumb.

So I stopped publishing the rancorous and hostile. But it turns out not to be so simple because some comments have rancorous and hostile things to say about other people. But if they have something to add to the debate, I publish them. It puts me on shaky ground.

I am trying to find a balance. The last comment to the "Budget Matters" post made me feel really bad.

So now I have this to say:

Of course I want you to write what you think. I just want you to do it without criticising what I think. I am not your enemy.

The budget is humongous this year. It hasn't been approved yet. There's a ton of stuff I don't think we should be doing.. All the grant money coming from the two senior levels of government, the reduction in the Region's bite, again no increase for education, and new taxes coming in from new homes and industrial and commercial buildings, means we should be striving for no increase at all in our tax rate.

I think we should add staff at the library to take care of new library users. I think extra miles of roads and sidewalks will have to be plowed and maintained and it will cost more.

I think recreation facilities should be adequately staffed to bring in more revenue so they don't cost an arm and a leg running up deficits.

I think we should use money we collected for the purpose from developers to buy land for recreational needs and provide facilities so Aurora taxpayers don't have to go to Newmarket to play sports.

I think it's insane to even think about spending a hundred thousand dollars on a rotting mouldering old shack that's no use to anybody and has no historical significance.

I don't think we should be giving the Historical Society $50.thousand dollars so they can have a curator and a half for an old house that's only open by appointment from May to September.

I don't think we should be spending $140 thousand dollars to study Yonge and Wellington so that we can tell property-owners how they should spend their own money.They are doing a pretty god job of it themselves without any help from the town.

I don't agree with hiring four full-time people complete with benefits, to sit in the Church Street School during office hours and make like they're operating an Arts and Culture Centre so the Mayor can cavort like the Queen of Culture and Clothes Lines. with Councillor Evalina MacEachern as Chancellor.

The Province spends a ton of tax money protecting the environment. South Lake Simcoe Conservation Society has environmental responsibility for creeks and waterways. They spend millions of our tax dollars. They have no other function. The region has responsibility to protect the environment as well and we all know how easily money flows up there.They have a special conduit for our tax dollars.

The town has no business hiring an environmental engineer on top of the one we already have to study "environmental initiatives". The combined salary and benefits of both and their support staff won't be much less that half a million dollars. I think that's a scam.

I don't think you should accuse me of not caring about you because you don't agree with me about whether or not we need an additional librarian.

I do want you to contribute and be read by others who read and contribute to the blog. I want your friends and neighbours to contribute as well. Let's get a good conversation going. All I ask you is, as my mother (often) told me and no doubt yours did too, "Keep a civil tongue in your head" Write what you think .Use the strongest language you know.Just don't call me names and accuse me of not caring.

I bloody well do.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Budget matters

The Library Board came to Council's budget meeting on Saturday.Their budget includes an increase for an additional librarian for children's services. Because of the town's growth, they have been unable to meet all the requests for services from various community groups which is part of their mandate.

There are four new schools coming on stream, including a high school on Wellington Street. At the start, the high school will have six hundred students which will grow to thirteen hundred as grades are added. They will be within walking distance of the library which means Children's Library Services will be under even more pressure than that which we are currently unable to meet.

Councillor Gallo pointed out schools have their own libraries and librarians. The claim startled me. I haven't had children in the school system for several generations but I understood the Province had literally wiped out school libraries with cuts in funding some years ago. Librarian Louise Procter-Maio, confirmed my understanding .So that settles the matter. The board cannot provide necessary service without an additional librarian. From a cost perspective it is certainly cheaper to provide a librarian in the town library than one in every school in town.

Growth means increased revenue. New homeowners pay their share of taxes. I would argue development charges paid when permits for new homes are issued, means they pay more. Ninety-per-cent of the cost of new facilities are funded from D.C.revenues. .

A puerile little comi- drama was played out in council a couple of weeks ago. Councillor Collins-Mrakas and myself were asked to explain a year-end surplus in the Board's collection budget. The question was posed by Councillor Wilson, who also serves on the Library Board. To the obvious amusement of the other side of the table, including the Mayor, we were unable to provide the answer. The board had not received the year-end financial statement of the library. It had been forwarded to the Town Treasurer. and obviously pre-viewed by Councillor Wilson and the Mayor.

The town reduced the library budget last year. An allowance for an increase in the collection could not be made which meant the previous year's level of service could not be maintained. I argued we should not be setting up a new arts and culture program if we couldn't afford to maintain the one we had.

I voted against the town budget for that reason. There were others but that's where I chose to hang my hat.

There were reasons for the surplus. The librarian was new to the library. The year was almost half over by the time the budget was approved. Libraries are subject to publishers' schedules.. Orders are placed but there's no control of timing for deliveries.If books are not received before year end, payment is not made.

Ergo.on the books, a surplus.... in Council.... a churlish childish tit-for-tat and game of one-up-man-ship with library services as the pawn.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Whose Blog Is It Anyhow?

Anonymous said...

Rumors are rumors and as such they are always orphans. That is why I made it clear that it was a rumor. But you're right. We do everyone a disservice by spreading rumors. I will get the document and review it for myself and report back to this blog (hopefully this weekend).

If Buck is correct, she'll be vindicated. And I'll say that here. I think you'll agree this is fair.

If the rumors are true, I hope Buck publishes by comment and I certainly expect an apology from her for misleading the people of Aurora.

Stay tuned.


Visits have increased substantially. Whatever else it proves, it indicates people are interested in town affairs when town affairs are interesting.

Comments have spiked. Some do not contribute to debate so they are not posted. Why would I print hateful things friends of my enemies have to say about me?

I posted the one above to illustrate how spin evolves. He appears to be offering a compromise. He refers to me as Buck and repeats his contention that I have misled the community.

This term numerous lawyers have been retained because of something or other I have said in my authority as Councillor. It has been claimed I created the need for legal expenditures to protect the town from potential litigation. The Mayor repeatedly stated allegations had been made against a Councillor and the town might be sued. Presumably by a Councillor.

George Rust-D'Eye was paid $16,200 because a story appeared in the Auroran about the refusal of a request to sell land to the Regional Police for Police Headquarters in an in-camera meeting. The story appeared months after the decision. Long past time when it should have been reported out. It was just naturally assumed the culprit was known. Moi. Ce n'├ętait pas moi.

Come to think of it, they never did report out the decision that cost Aurora the Regional Police Headquarters. It was kept a secret. As were George Rust D'Eye's $16,200 worth of "investigative" findings.

I believe I know the writer of the introductory comment. His name has been in the news lately. He's the only member of the cabal with any communication skills. He is close advisor and spinmeister supreme and Hell will freeze over before he twists and turns like a whirlygig in my space.

**************************

I recently published a personal and unkind post about Councillor Wilson. A couple of hours later, overcome with remorse, I removed it. This weekend it was posted as a comment to the Aurora Citizen....twice. Councillor Wilson apparently did not see it when it was posted initially. A "friend" sent it to him. Was I the target of that particular piece of mischief or was Councillor Wilson?

*******************************

There have been comments in this blog about Councillor MacEachern's intelligence. Let me say; the Councillor is intelligent, intense and puts a great deal of effort into her responsibilities. She can be thoughtful and kind and not without humour. Children delight her.

Her skills involve private sector financial control. She is sufficiently confident to inspect roads recommended for reconstruction and advise council the work is not required. She exercises the same confidence in every town department.

Town budgets are heavily influenced by the Councillor.

Public Works overspent their budget in 2008 by half a million dollars. We learned of that tardily, accompanied by quite a juxtaposition of figures to hide how the failure came about.

We have $10.2 million dollars in a reserve account which can only be used for recreational purposes.Last year it was $9.million. Needed facilities have been repeatedly deleted from the budget even though the funds are available and can only be used for such a purpose.

We need to purchase land for future sports facilities. No more is being manufactured. But that too is repeatedly deleted from budgets. Councillor MacEachern has indicated it is better to keep the money and have it earn interest than spend it.

When the level of service in any area of the town's operation is reduced, we cannot claim the same need in new development charge calculations. From that perspective, holding the money in a reserve account to earn interest is misappropriation of funds.

The Councillor has a leadership role. Her skills are undeniable. Her adamant refusal to acknowledge expertise other than her own is a liability to the municipality.

The Councillor is intelligent, hard-working and completely confident her management is superior to anything found in the municipal corporation. She handles opposition poorly. We have new Directors in almost every town department. It remains to be seen how they succeed in the current environment.

There is a common perception in private business that public business is always mismanaged

It's wrong.

Friday, 20 February 2009

While We Are On The Subject of Conflict

Another odd thing happened at Council recently. Councillor Gaertner applied for and received $1 thousand grant for the Hot Spot Club. The Councillor created the club and has operated it for fourteen years.

It's a Friday night dance and gathering facility for young people within an age group. It has been financed from Bingo funds for years and an admission charge. I'm not sure if there's a membership. It is a not-for-profit enterprise which does not mean remuneration is not being paid.

Councillor Gaertner declared a Conflict of Interest which indicates a personal financial interest, when the item came up for consideration. She did not participate in the deliberation. Staff recommended the grant be provided.

There are conditions for receiving a grant. Financial statements must be provided and seventy-five per cent of participants must be from Aurora. The application was considered at committee.

The problem occurred to me later. I made a phone call in the morning to determine if the Conflict had occurred to staff." Absolutely" was the answer, "But it's not our place to advise a Councillor there's a Conflict."

I sent an e-mail and asked for a response before the matter came to Council for confirmation. I was advised my question had been referred to the legal department. We did not have a lawyer on staff. Haven't had for a year or more.

I received no answer.

The Conflict of Interest Act is intended to ensure public officials do not use their position to benefit themselves financially. It strikes me it is not enough to refrain from participating in the deliberation. Asking for the money in the first place created the Conflict.

I didn't say it in Council because I 'm not sure I 'm right. I may be the only one with misgivings. In fact, in committee Councillor MacEachern and Mayor Morris both raised the possibility of providing regular financial assistance to Hot Spot.

I had a problem with Councillor Gaertner's ownership of Hot Spot once before. In the last term, Leisure Services Advisory Committee was considering use of space in the old library building. Councillor Gaertner was a member of the committee and participated in creating a formula to determine which groups contributed most and were most deserving. I thought that was weird as well but that's what they did.

After the formula was created , Councillor Gaertner made an application, declared a conflict of interest, and was granted space. I argued then the Conflict happened during participation in the formula and fee creating stage but it was like spitting into the wind. Thinking like that has won me the reputation for being the nastiest person alive.

Councillor Gaertner is not a calculating individual. She would not knowingly exploit her position to gain a financial advantage. At the same time....that may have happened.

Councillors cannot receive advice from the town solicitor. They must retain a lawyer and make their own decision. It seems there is no advice for Council either. Public funds can be granted which should not be received. Gut instinct tells me that can't be right.

To further complicate things ,the application and the grant were made after the 2008 books were closed, In public financing, money not spent by year end cannot be spent. period. In accounting parlance, they no longer exist.

I frankly suspect, though the recommendation came from staff. the decision was made at another level.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Once More With Feeling

The purpose of this Blog is to informally inform. A daily journal would be a lugubrious read. I don't keep a checklist. of events. Most posts are triggered by something else - like the one about the Vaughan Councillor who declared a Conflict and set off alarm bells and may have jeopardised the municipal interest. The circumstance reminded me of something in Aurora almost eighteen months ago and prompted me to write about it..

It's not my official function to tell tales but I don't have to keep secrets either. People appreciate reading about them though I am often accused of seeking to bring this Mayor and Council down.

Well no...I don't have to do that. They need no help from me.They have been making that clear since day one of this term of office. There is no collegiality to be destroyed. I am left with only one role to perform.... which I do...gleefully. I am one of the ways the word gets around.

Politics is not a science. Leadership is intuitive. If one has the intuition,one learns by doing. People teach you what they expect from you. if you have the sense to listen. They provide the opportunity to learn. If you learn well, their trust is returned and your life is forever enriched by the experience.

Each member of council is separately accountable. There is no collective, no party politics, nowhere to hide. . Councillors do not answer to each other. They answer to the electorate. Every day.

I have provided information of an event not reported elsewhere The truth of it has been challenged. For anyone sufficiently interested in verifying the fact, I have indicated where to find it.
. .
If I copied the material in the Blog that too could be challenged. I am not going to do that.

Check Application for Judicial Review ,Number 499-07..Item No. 51. in Divisional Court of Ontario in Toronto by Osgoode Hall. It can also be read in the office of the Director of Corporate Services at the Aurora Town Hall. It is a public document of record but .it may require a request for Freedom of Information for which there is a fee of $5.
.

You Were Asking

The Document on file at the court is Application for Judicial Review 499-07. The case will be heard next month at the Divisional Court by Osgoode Hall in the city. The documents cannot be viewed on line.

Anyone interested would have to make the trip. But a Freedom of Information application to the Town's Department of Corporate Services costs $5.00. I am not completely sure how it works. The $5 probably allows you to view the entire file. Likely there's a charge for each page of copy requested. It might be a good idea to make an appointment.

There has already been one hearing. The applicant requested the town make further documents available. The judge found the request unreasonable and awarded costs against them.

We pay costs for defending the action. If we lose, there will likely be an application for costs from the other side. In that event, we would have to pay their costs as well.

I don't imagine we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the principle applies across the board. It's why councillors are regularly reminded to keep lips buttoned to protect the municipality's interest. If we are not responsible for that, who is?

It's why we are required to swear the Oath of Office before we are allowed to take the seat to which we were elected. It is not an empty ceremonial. We legally bind ourselves to do all things necessary to protect the Municipality's interest. We are legislators, just as they are in Queen's Park and in the Federal Parliament.

Going off half cocked because you think you know better than anyone else, including professional staff appointed to advise, sooner or later is bound to bring a person to grief.

Councillor MacEachern is not much inclined to take advice from anybody.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Furthering The Discussion

Anonymous said:
If this can be verified - that Councillor MacEachern sent information to the lawyers of people who had a beef with the Town (were going to sue the town?) - then this is a very very serious matter and I am truly shocked that the Town's lawyer has not taken the necessary steps to address this on behalf of the residents of Aurora. Why didn’t the Lawyer advise the Councillor not to do that? Why the heck didn’t the CAO do something about it too?? With all due respect – what the heck is going on over there???

If this is true, then I cannot believe that the Councillor has been allowed to sit there for months after betraying the trust of the community she serves.Of all the nonsense that goes on with this Council, (and many of you have been guilty of one thing or another) - this is by far the worst.

I am dumbfounded

How can we as residents do something about this?Please don't tell me we have to wait until election time. That is not good enough.

We do need to do something RIGHT NOW...But first I need confirmation that what you are saying is true...You said that the documents are public? How can we get a copy???

No offence, but I’d like to see for myself.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It should not be assumed that Chief Administrative Officer John Rogers and the Town Solicitor did not do their job. Neither are currently in the employ of The Town of Aurora.

The documents I refer to have been filed in the Court in an appeal against a decision of the Town to order the removal of a fence. I know it as the Blue Grass Fence issue.

David Atkins, Acting Director of Public Works who advised Council on the matter is no longer in the employ of the Town of Aurora.

Bob Panizza, Director of Corporate Affairs, who liaised in the matter between Council, Town Solicitor , Chief Administrative Officer and Mr. Atkins is no longer in the employ of the Town of Aurora.

Charges against elected officials under the Municipal Act are not common and are usually filed by a resident.

Appointed staff do not prosecute charges against elected officials. Except for Statutory Officers, they are subject to the authority of elected officials. Appointed Officials provide expert professional advice to Councillors who are not obliged to accept it.

It is not the convention for elected officials to take legal action against one another. They probably could and there may be examples, but my gut instinct tells me one reason they wouldn't is the likelihood such an action would be seen as political and given less credence as a consequence. To be honest, I have never encountered such a circumstance.

The Department of Municipal Affairs is the appropriate agency to provide advice and answers to inquiries.

Conflict of Interest

I referred in Bits and Pieces to a Councillor in Vaughan having declared a conflict of interest and the report that it may cost the municipality insurance coverage if they lose a court action. A reader seeks more detail.

Anonymous said...
What other details can you provide about Councillor MacEachern's alleged conflict of interest? Something for the integrity commissioner?

Conflict of Interest is not a difficult concept to understand. But it has been made so by the anxiety of politicians, due to dire warnings by lawyers, to declare a conflict even when they have none. 'Better to be safe than sorry' is the conventional wisdom.

The principle is that no elected or appointed officer can exploit their position of trust and influence to gain a financial advantage. A separate school trustee in Toronto has just been thrown out of office because of a conflict of interest. The only thing obvious in the news story was that he had been found guilty. Ten charges had been filed against him by a citizen.

The story in Munimail was that a Vaughan councillor declared a conflict of interest two months after he attended a closed door meeting during which a law suit between the municipality and a close friend of his was discussed. It was a news story because his declaration might cost Vaughan their insurance coverage if they lose the case.

The story was not about a councillor being in conflict. Unless he shared confidential information about the town's case with his friend and stood to gain financially from doing so, he was not. Nor did he make that admission. But by declaring a conflict and thereby suggesting the possibility of information being provided to a litigant against the town, the Vaughan councillor may have, in the eyes of the town's insurerers, jeopardized the municipality's ability to defend or prosecute the case. In the event the case was lost there may have been a denial of liability. That's the sense I take from the story.

Municipalities must carry liability insurance. Councillors are advised in the strongest terms at the slightest hint of possibility of litigation, it is imperative they keep their lips shut as tight as a clam. Councillors are regularly accused of keeping secret information the public are entitled to know by observing the rules. It may well be the hardest thing I ever had to do.

There is no option. Putting the municipality in a position of financial jeopardy is not a conflict of interest, it is a breach of trust. It is a betrayal of the Oath of Office. It is an offence under the Criminal Code.

Sending a document to a lawyer for litigants against the town, with a hand-written note suggesting it might be of interest, and said document becoming part of the public record in the courts is at least problematic.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

ANOTHER BIT

On Monday, Family Day, at the Town's Arctic Adventure , among other exciting and fun events, a Chili Cook Off will be held in the Town Park between 11.30 am and 2.oop.m.

The Rotary Club , Firefighters, Jonathan's and two other restaurants will be participating in the competition and fund-raising occasion. Grace Marsh will be there helping to serve The Rotary Club's Chili entry. If you want to say hullo and encourage Grace to put her name forward again in the next election, that would be a good time to do it.

I can't do everything by myself, for Goodness Sake.

Friday, 13 February 2009

BITS AND PIECES

The City of Oakville had a headline in the Star for putting Council Meetings online. I understood it was included in our budget last year. Eventually it got as far as being shown
as a pilot but never seen again. We have the cameras and audio in the Council Chamber. The only additional cost is staff time. Being open and transparent may not be as much of a priority as has been trumpeted so many time

******************

A Vaughan Councillor declared a Conflict of Interest two months after participating in a closed door discussion of a law suit between the municipality and a close friend . It may cost the municipality insurance coverage if they lose the law suit.

Aurora may be in a similar situation. Councillor MacEachern sent an inter-department memo to the lawyer for litigants against the Town and attached a hand-written note that she " thought it might be of interest" to him.

***********************

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Just When I thought

The Blog has so much flexibility I thought I could post and go back in repeatedly to make little changes. Just keep fixing it up until no more needs to be done. To-day I learned about Google Reader. It posts the initial blog and every time I go in and make a change, it posts it again.

Today I posted an unflattering blog about Councillor Wilson. Before the day was over I regretted and removed it. Then I learned it would already have been posted on Google Reader and there it will stay. I can't do anything about it now. But in future it means I will make very sure I've taken time for second thought.

Councillor Wilson is not my friend. I have no illusion about his intentions towards me. But I indulged my worst instincts in that post and I'm sorry I did that.

I've commented before about the intoxicating freedom of the Blog. Obviously it's like every other liberty. There needs to be a line drawn. But I kept pushing it to the limit and I've discovered the line.

Do I Have a Bug-Bear About Heritage

A respondent thinks that for someone who "loves the old days"I seem to have a" bug-bear about Heritage."

You are partly right. For one thing, "the old days" for me are yesterday.

I do appreciate heritage. But one learns to be selective. If there are people of sufficient means willing to put hands into their own pockets and produce $100.thousand to restore a rotting old shed that has no historical significance, I say good luck to them.

For five years, we tried to find someone to accept it. The developer was committed to moving it wherever we pointed. No-one came forward. No great devotee of Aurora's heritage has considered the project of sufficient merit to invest their own resources.

I don't either.

I think those who made their home in the Petch house over the years would be amazed to know that modest little structure , even now rotting where it sits.would be considered by anyone to be worthy of preservation for all eternity.

I have visited Upper Canada Village and Black Creek Pioneer Village. I think they are charming and delightful and serve a very useful educational function. I 've wandered in pioneer cemeteries, and small churchyards all over Ontario. They serve to remind us of the hardships of life in Ontario a hundred and fifty years ago and how people struggled and endured to survive. They were undersized, malnourished refugees from European slums and famines. A farmer might lose more than one wife in childbirth before his family was raised.They were of my grandparent's and great-grandparent's generation.

I've often stayed in B&Bs in farmhouses in Empire Loyalist country and enjoyed my short stay while recognising the hardship that forces a farm family to take strangers in to their homes to augment fluctuating farm income.

I was asked once by a developer if I thought an old Ontario farmhouse had any significant value. I thought for a minute before answering. If it did, it would undoubtedly be recognised by the old Ontario farmers, who seemed instead to vacate them as soon as they had resources to build a modern bungalow close to the road.

In Aurora, many lovely old homes have been sensitively restored by new owners . I've been glad to support a change in use to permit the buildings a continued function We should all appreciate the efforts made by their owners to maintain their usefulness and charm. . It's entirely possible many of those houses are lovelier today than they were a hundred years ago.
The town also places a value in preserving heritage rather than encouraging redevelopment for multiple unit buildings. It means we do not realize the maximum return for our investment in infrastructure and servicing.

In regards to the Petch house, as an elected representative, I have more concern for family needs of the here and now. I worry about the size of mortgages. If the homes will ever be paid . I worry about young children in day care from early morning until the middle of the evening because both parents need to work to provide the family shelter.

I worry about people living in basement apartments spending anything between a third and half their income for rent for inadequate housing.

And I worry about seniors whose home is their only asset and at the end of a life of hard work and paying taxes and providing everything for their children's generation, being forced to contemplate giving up their homes because property taxes are beyond their means.

$100. thousand being taken out of taxpayers pockets , to restore a rotting old building which has served its purpose many times over is, in my judgement, senseless and irresponsible use of someone else's money.It doesn't mean I have no respect for heritage. It means sensible choices need to be made.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

How The Word Got About

Let me count the ways. Council met in a handsome large room at the back of a former bank building in the middle of the main block on the east side of Yonge Street.

The door to the Town Offices was two steps up from the sidewalk. The clerk-treasurer's office was to the left of the door. People dropped in to pay taxes and have a chat. Dorothy Wardle was treasury clerk. Colleen Gowan was municipal clerk. They all had a proprietary interest in what went on and never hesitated to offer and share what they knew of the town's affairs. They were the Town's Administration.

Ray's Cafe (Moon Gardens) was a place for leisurely exchange of news and views.There were booths with red vinyl benches and Formica tables around the outside edge of the room
.
Mail was not delivered in town. Everyone had to go to the post office to pick it up, That meant standing in line for ten or fifteen minutes every day. .People chatted.
.

There were three banks. Cheques had to be cashed , bills paid , money deposited. Tellers behind wickets served the customers .Around pay day, line ups formed and there would be an
exchange of light conversation about things in general. or in particular.

We waited for prescriptions in the two drug stores. Caruso's Fruit Store was a happening place. Doctors and dentists had waiting rooms. People waited.
and chatted.

There were owner-operated gas stations. Service was provided. There was always time for a chat while gas was being pumped.

Bert Frankom, at the corner of Ransom Street was a friendly man. .People were not just interested in knowing about your affairs, they were happy to talk about their own.

On one occasion Bob Buchanan, the Banner editor, and Dick Illingworth the Mayor decided to launch a rumour and see how long it took and how it would change by the time it returned.


Bill Langman,Chief of Police, locked his office door (a room above a barber shop) every afternoon and strolled with slow and measured steps to the north end of Town and back again. He stopped to chat with anyone who sought his attention. A couple of cruisers travelled the town in leisurely fashion. On hot summer nights, they engaged the teen-agers in chat. The police force (thirteen) was an abundant source of town gossip.

The Fire Hall was on Victoria Street. The Volunteers had their club house behind .It was open most days, all day. There were twebty-four of them. They had friends. They had a bar.

Councillor Walt Davis told me once how the town used to be crowded on a Friday night and so many groups gathered on the sidewalk, a person would have to step into the road to get anywhere
That was before the Davis Drive Shopping Centre, Hillcrest Mall and Upper Canada Mall.

It was before the curves on Highway Eleven were straightened and the hills levelled and Yonge Street Aurora stooped being a small town main street. .

Farmers and their families came in to shop, see the lawyer, the doctor or the dentist, go to the bank and ....catch up on the gossip. Farm families were as much part of the community as anyone. else. On Friday, Aurora was a happening place.

There were two newspapers, The Aurora Banner and The Newmarket Era. Not much happened in the Town that didn't circulate in a very short time.

The newspapers published once a week on the same day. The two publisher were fellow journalists from Toronto, who were also good drinking buddies. But the competition between them for news was ferocious and it never lagged.

People didn't pass on the street without acknowledging each other. I recall walking down the hill
on Yonge Street with a baby in the pram and another seated at the other end and maybe one walking beside. . A gentleman coming toward me stepped aside, raised his hat and wished us Good-day ,

Most new homeowners commuted to Toronto. Many of us were recent immigrants... refugees from war-torn Europe. But many of the multiple generation Aurora fa miles were from the same place so there was already an affinity. The newcomers joined the Aurora Legion. Pretty soon The Legion moved from a small frame building on Yonge Street to the beautiful club house on Industry Street. There was always plenty of action at The Legion.

If this sounds like a nostalgic tour..down memory lane...... it is..

We Are Saving

….a rotting structure. The Petch House, has been perched on cement blocks on the east side of Leslie just south of Wellington for five years or more. It is to be saved. It has no historical significance. It was moved to its present location by a developer at the town's request. They will move it again for us at their expense when we find a place for it. The cost for that of course will be tacked on to the price of a property somewhere.

Money doesn't grow on trees.

We have not been able to find anyone with a use for the four hundred and fifty square feet shack. and not for the want of trying. We offered it to The Arboretum a couple of years ago but they opted to buy a prefabricated tool shed with $50 thousand smackeroos of the money we gave them to plant an Arboretum. That money came out of the interest from the Hydro fund.


So there the shack has sat, sad and dilapidated with rain pouring in the roof for five years or more. It lost its torn insulbrick cladding at some point. The rot is plainly visible in the corners and the bottom edges. But nothing daunted, if it can be moved without cutting down trees, the Simcoe Conservation Authority will allow it to be situated in Sheppard's Bush. It will make a matched pair with the shack we moved from McMahon Park a couple of decades ago. I'm not sure they ever found a sensible use for that one either.
We have $100,000 in the Capital budget to "restore" building to use when it finds a new home. All 450 square feet of it.

We are saving another $12,000 in the capital budget as well.

The meeting rooms at the library are heavily used for town programs of all kinds. Summer playground kids cavort in there. They tend to be messy. Yoga classes are held there too. Practitioners do their thing on the floor. They pay a fee to do that. They complain about the bad smell. The carpets can no longer be cleaned properly and they are coming apart at the seams.

Staff recommends replacing the stained and smelly floor covering with carpet tile squares. It's long-lasting and easy to lay. It can be replaced in squares if necessary. There are areas in every carpet that bear heavier traffic than others. Using tiles means the flooring in a whole room doesn't have to be replaced at one time.

Estimated cost for the two rooms - $12,000. But we are not going to spend it. Oh Dearie Me No. We must find places to save, don't you know - so that we can spend $100,000 on a rotting crumbling shack with no historical significance.

It is a "unique" structure, don't you know. I don't know how they know that. I doubt there are many municipalities in Ontario who can afford the luxury of a heritage expert on the payroll. I think there could be dozens maybe hundreds of gems of uniqueness slumbering undiscovered all over Ontario under layers of tar paper and Insulbrick and maybe even underbrush. In small places where they may not even have a library, let alone rooms for Playgroups and yoga classes that need clean carpets.

Bless their hearts, they are probably completely unaware of their unique wealth, in comparison to places like Markham, Oakville and Aurora.


.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Whoosh Bang

There was a spontaneous, predictable and explosive three-word anonymous response to "Chickens Come Home To Roost". It was crude and vulgar so I wont publish it. But it made me laugh out loud. Politics is rough and tumble. It's always wise to know one's enemy.

I am inclined to be critical
Inclined to be blunt.
I don't have to be poked to incite me to fight.
Keep calling me names
And question my intellect
I'll be obliged to give as good as I get.

A politician is a performer on the public stage. Everything done or said is in the public domain. Even though there 's no audience most of the time,that doesn't mean infamous actions are safe from public exposure. Gratuitous attacks against a veteran politician are perilous at best.

None of us are so pure, we can afford to take those chances.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Chickens Come Home To Roost.

A playground for Seston Park was deleted from 2007 budget. Before the budget was struck, Council received a delegation from neighbouring residents.

They had read of beautiful things happening in other parts of the town and wondered why their neighbourhood was being overlooked.

When the item had been discussed during budget deliberations, Councillor MacEachern informed Council the park was in her neighbourhood. If the Town spent $75 thousand there, her neighbours would think we were crazy.. The item was deleted from the budget.

The night the residents came to Council, the Councillor, quick and sharp as a whip, turned to the Director of Leisure Services accusingly,

"You said it was safe," she said.

"I told you it was not dangerous," he said. “Dangerous equipment is removed, or blocked off, so the kids can't use it. There's not much left now. That's why we recommend replacing it.”

The Playground never made it back into the 2007 budget.

It was included in 2008. The parents were invited to participate in the choice of equipment. On completion they came back and expressed profound gratitude to the Mayor and Council for our "generosity".

Apparently, the only people in the room who were unaware of how they had been handled, were the residents themselves.

Councillor Wilson regularly reminds me in less than a civil tone of how things have changed over the years. I think that's funny since I'm the one who has made the trek.

Seston Park neighbours must surely appreciate their new playground. Having to wait for it will not seem so bad now that it's there. .

They may not have noticed and might even dismiss it as of no consequence, yet everyone else at that table, staff and council , were witness to how responsibility for deleting the item from the budget was laid on staff; by the Councillor who said her neighbours would not want tax money spent on their playground.

The event, in my view did nothing to elevate the tone of this Council .

If it's the change Councillor Wilson refers to, I remain unimpressed, It's not new and it's not clever.It's low, primitive and sleazy.

The Policy Statement at the beginning of The Code of Conduct states the following:

This Code of Conduct is a public declaration of the principles of good conduct and ethics that members of the Council of the Town of Aurora have decided its stakeholders could reasonably expect from the Members of Council to demonstrate in the performance and responsibilities of elected representatives.

Attaining an elected position within the community is a privilege which carries significant responsibilities and obligations. Members of Council are held to a high standard as leaders in the community and they are expected to become well-informed on all aspects of municipal governance,administration, planning and operations.

I think that statement is a load of self-righteous claptrap and it is bound to trip up even the most sanctimonious of politicians.

And there's always the possibility someone with a blog will decide a particular account of politics in action is worth recounting.

Friday, 6 February 2009

A Diamond ? or Pie in The Sky?

The proposed baseball diamond has been part of the Master Recreation plan of the Town for several years.It's cost has formed part of the annual five year capital forecast for as long. Development charges have been collected on the basis of forecast recreational needs. The stated purpose of the Strategic Plan is to provide adequately for the recreational needs of residents.

Staff prepare budgets on the basis of Strategic plans and Capital Forecasts. Both of which are pre-approved by council. Staff do not dream up schemes and imaginery wish lists.

Development charges are calculated on the basis of needs documented as a result of growth. A charge is paid for every permit issued by the Town. Before the house is built its new owner has paid for whatever facilities the town claims are needed to accommodate the growth...

The development levy is paid up front by developers. It is included with a myriad of other taxes in the price of a house. Assessment is based on the price. The new owner pays taxes on taxes evermore. Town revenues are derived from taxes on property.

Despite the fact funds have been collected to finance the building of sports facilities, this council has repeatedly rejected staff advice that a diamond is a priority.

Last year, the Baseball Association came to Council on the eve of budget approval to express their concern and disappointment that for the third time, the diamond was being eliminated from the budget.

They outlined the urgency.

On April 22, 2008 a resolution was passed by council;


Item 10 - LS08-024 Development of One Senior Baseball Facility

Moved by Councillor MacEachern - Seconded by Councillor Granger



That Council receive this report as information and direct staff to complete detailed design and servicing plan and specifications process in 2008, at a cost of $40,000 and present the item in the 2009 Capital Budget for Council's consideration;



and

That, given that other recreation facilities will also be constructed on the Burnett lands, consideration be given to the full function of the property to ensure that the lands are efficiently utilized.


The front page story in The Auroran asks the question; how does a $600,000 baseball field balloon to nearly 2 million dollars?

By following council's direction,that's how. One had to be in the chamber to hear the Mayor's comments and see her arm flourish in the direction of the Leisure Services Director.

"Do it" she said "start on it to-morrow."

The baseball members laughed in relief, applauded in excitement and left the council chamber convinced council had understood their problems.

In the past two years budget deliberations have taken close to eight months. Each year was halfway over before projects approved could be started.

This year, the capital budget deliberation didn't even start until January 30th. It is still not finished The Operating budget cannot begin until the capital is finished. .

The Town's Chief Financial Officer's leaves on April 15th.

The Chief Administrative Officer has been on the job four weeks .

The Director of Corporate Services has had two months with the Town.

The Director of Public Works has prepared his first budget.

There is no Town Solicitor in place . ..Hasn't been for a year.

By any standard, the Town's Business is teetering.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

About Audits

A recent comment asked:

"You're the council member with most experience ( I didn't say oldest), when did the audits start?What year? Have they ever found anything?"

______________________________________________

As far as I know, there have always been annual audits. When elections were held every year, the financial statement for the previous year was distributed on nomination night. The meetings were held in the auditorium of Wells Street School. It was filled to overflowing. Statement copies were placed on each seat.

In my first year, Former Mayor Clarence Davies announced the town's budget had passed the million dollar mark for the first time.

I have never heard of anything untoward in the audit. In 2004, there was a concern about lack of control in the handling of recreational revenues. There were not enough staff in treasury to do the job that needed to be done. There was no indication of anything amiss. The staff shortage was corrected. It meant the department's budget had to be increased........ Of course.

I recall a situation years ago when figures didn't add up. There was a police investigation and a person quietly departed. It wasn't a secret in the town but it wasn't broadcast by the town.If a citizen asked the question ,they would receive an answer. And that was an end of it.

Municipalities have insurance to take care of such matters. Discreet handling may have something to do with keeping premiums within reason and staying out of court and the hands of lawyers.

I'm not sure how or if the audit represents such a thing.

This year's audit would be one to scrutinise. Public statements were made in 2008 that town funds were improperly expended. I did not and do not agree. I will look to see if that item is noted in the audit.

Unapproved expenditures for windrow clearing in the last two weeks of December would be minimal. Will they show up in the audit? If not...why not?

Funds expended for legal costs will be of interest. We shall have been without a solicitor on staff for a year. What will the audit reveal about that?

Provincial law requires publication . Look for the Town's Audited Financial Statement in the Notice Board and the web site shortly. Once all 2008 invoices were in and paid , the books were closed.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Fair Sir Robert....

Robert the Bruce said...

You certainly have more information at your diposal than the average citizen. However, your interpretation may not be entirely without bias. Without an organization chart and specific details, I cannot agree that the person seconded to shovel snow is/was a crucial piece to the water distribution organization of this town.

Having said that, to speculate that Aurora has water quality issues because a Works Department employee has been assigned to snow shovelling is just wrong and I will repeat, fear-mongering in order to get a response.

The issues that contributed to the problems in Walkerton were negligence on top of poor farm drainage. Of course, left leaning people in the province blamed it on Mike Harris, but that is getting old.

I am in complete agreement that the way this "service" has been handled is less than "kosher". My beef with your original comment was to take offence that you tried to breed fear that water quality is being compromised.

Do you have any proof that within the last month or so that windrows have been cleared, that water quality has declined?

You are quite correct to raise the issue of using human resources for some thing that they are not supposed to do, but to equate it to Walkerton is grandstanding.

Fuimus

February 3, 2009 3:20 PM

_____________________________________________________________________

Thank you for your response. You are right. I do have access to more information than you do and so I should as an elected representative. Yes that puts you at a disadvantage in the argument. And yes, my judgment will not likely be entirely without bias. I don't think politicians should have the luxury of being ambiguous but isn't that an eccentric notion? I am the politician I would like others to be but since I control only my own conduct, I have to be content with that.

I did not speculate our water quality declined because of windrow clearing. There are two men short in a six-man crew in the water department. It's my contention, if six men on shifts are needed to carry out a particular function, that is the number you should have. To be doing it with a third cut in manpower is asking for trouble.

The Director of Public Works reported in writing to council that he did not have the manpower to undertake the extra task prior to the decision to provide the service.

I do not swallow holus-bolus everything a Director might tell me. If it's a matter of common sense ,then mine is as good as his. If it's his professional advice there is insufficient manpower to handle additional responsibility, I am going to accept that without argument.

My real concern was how Council's direction was set aside. There is protocol on how an expenditure unapproved in a budget must be authorized by council. Provincial regulations dictate governance in dealing with public money. We have internal auditors and an annual audit required by law. We have everything in place to ensure your money is handled with absolute integrity.


An expenditure was made without proper authority. How did it happen? It's my job to ask. If the answer is not forthcoming, it is also my job to draw attention to the fact. It is reasonable for the public to wonder why.