The results of the municipal election are in, and so is a mostly new Council. I am very grateful for your support and trust and I will work hard to try to live up to your expectations.
I want to thank my husband, Mike Maydan, and those who contributed to my campaign and worked visiting door-to-door with me. I received warm advice and support from so many former council members and residents, including but not limited to, the large PRATAC family led by Brian Gallagher and Gerry Belisle. The experience taught me about all of Mississippi Mills. I admire the courage of those who stepped up and those who supported them. Thanks to those residents who invited me into their homes – and sometimes families – who walked their neighbourhoods with me and educated me on their histories and concerns.
On August 1, Mike and I met two members of Canada’s Socchi Olympic Gold Medal Team: Ryan and E.J. Harnden. We have long been curling fans, especially of Team Jacobs.
I asked if I could take a picture with them, saying that I thought it might be lucky as I was running for Council in my little town. E.J. grinned and agreed, saying “You’d better hold this then,” handing me his heavy gold medal. I was awestruck.
I feel just that way to the power of ten today. Thank you.
Investigation into Illegal Closed Council Meetings
Under the Municipal Act, council meetings may only be closed under certain conditions:
The security of property of the municipality or local board;
Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including employees;
A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land;
Labour relations or employee negotiations;
Litigation or potential litigation
Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege;
A matter authorized by another provincial statute;
If Council is the “Head” and the subject matter relates to a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; or
The meeting is held for educating and training and no member discusses or deals with a matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council or local board.”
Much research has already been posted, particularly the history of the attempts to sell Don Maynard Park.
The recent investigation of complaints of illegal closed council meetings engaged several layers of bureaucracy. They are delegated from the provincial Ombudman’s Office, to “LAS” (Local Authority Services), a service for Ontario municipal governments which was assigned the closed council investigations for Mississippi Mills. Then LAS delegated the investigation to a private firm called Amberley Gavel Ltd. Thus four levels of bureaucracy were involved in this “to save money.”Council meetings, closed or public, must be advertised in advance to the public.
The provincial laws need more teeth: note that although the expensive investigation found a number of illegal closed meetings (and only investigated those that received complaints), not a thing changed and no sanctions were imposed. At the meeting where the results of the investigation were – briefly – aired, Councillor McCubbin asked the Clerk, Shawna Stone, if any decisions would therefore be changed as a result, and the Clerk replied that they would not. The November 1, 2016 meeting in particular concerned Don Maynard Park: not a single elected Almonte councillor took part in that decision. Not a single Almonte councillor took responsibility or tried to save it.
When the bike lanes were installed in May 2017 against the protest of most affected residents, it seemed that they were very rarely used. Some motorists liked them because they could drive faster down Ottawa Street.
Any contrary information at the so-called public meeting was not allowed to be heard. For example, the Ministry of Transportation strongly urged communities to spend a lot of time “selling” such lanes in cities, and getting buy-in and reciprocal benefits from affected homeowners. That was not the way things unfolded in Almonte. Residents were not allowed to present any argument against them. The decision was made by a group called the “Active Transportation Committee” that are, in practice, the “Bicycle Committee:” most members are also avid cycling hobbyists.
Residents along affected streets were never consulted.
I decided that once school came back in, I would run a study to see how many cyclists actually use the lanes. We set up a camera to capture how many cyclists there were, and whether they used the lanes properly or not. I thought I’d compare the number to the number of people walking along the cracked and spray-painted narrow sidewalks, to get an idea whether this Council had its priorities straight.
I am not against cycling. I believe that there should be a posted safe cycling route instead; I have spoken with avid cyclists who agree. However, I would never dream of imposing it without consultation with affected residents. It is a very serious matter to take away parking from residents without their agreement. You do not build bridges in your community that way.
My study took place over about 3 weeks in September and October of 2017. It is the only data that I have seen on the subject in a year; the municipality and active transportation committee published nothing.
The maximum number of cyclists recorded in a day was 6. The maximum number of pedestrians was 109.
There have been conflicts of interest related to the Heritage Conservation District that were discovered by PRATAC’s investigation: some members of Council voted on decisions affecting property that they or a family member owned in the area, potentially receiving enhanced benefits as a result.
One attempt at the suppression of free speech in the public interest is something called a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” This Council made a decision to fund one in a closed council meeting. Since the lawsuit was a private action by two individuals on the Council, why did this Council agree to fund them? Given that the two who launched the personal suit could not vote on it, at least 5 of the remaining 9 council had to have agreed to use your money to help them. Did the closed council meeting in meet the criteria listed above? Remember, this was not a lawsuit brought against the council or one that the municipality started under its authority. Justice Pedlar ruled that municipalities cannot sue for defamation Montague (Township) v. Page, 2006 CanLII 2192 (ON SC)
There are other concerns, too many to list here. The most worrying to me have been the attacks on democracy: appointing a councillor instead of selecting the next person elected; attempts to suppress free speech, public comment, the press and association. Did you know that the new Procedural Bylaw does not permit even the media to record a PUBLIC council meeting for the record? Journalist Ashley Kulp commented on the issues of the past few years and was hopeful that the communications consultant report would provide solutions: Communication is Key Ashley Kulp Aug 3 2017
Mississippi Mills does not have an Integrity Commissioner, but will for 2019.
Without a history of regular financial reports to Council from the municipal administration and departments, it is hard to say how taxes will go. The debt is currently about $4 million more than the $18 million that the soon-to-be-ex-mayor claimed it would be at the end of 2018.
Council said that the reserves would be built up so much by 2018 that we could borrow from ourselves. The mayor wrote “…if Public Works needs $300,000 for a new piece of heavy equipment, the money comes from reserves.” However, at the last regular meeting, this Council voted to borrow nearly another million dollars to buy a grader, a fire truck and other equipment. When asked by a councillor if reserves could fund it instead, the staff response was no. Reserves have dropped below what they were supposed to have been at this point.
Where did things go wrong? Well, mismanaged projects and programs headed and directed by council have cost far more than expected; in the worst case, the library renovation project alone was approximately 100% over its budget (final figures have not been reported). On some projects, milestone and cost updates were so late that potential corrections could not help.
Most big-ticket projects were headed by small groups of councillors who made the spending decisions; the ill-fated library renovation and Gemmill Park projects are examples. Meanwhile, no investment of time in real public consultation was made in the Official Plan review and ill-fated park sales proposals. How much time and money were spent on ideas like the paving the recreational trail for the imaginary hundreds who “commute” (when no funds were allocated – or likely – for upkeep)? Development charges earmarked for Almonte growth were spent elsewhere. The downtown infrastructure replacement project seems to have been dropped after spending thousands in consulting fees. The result of the lack of public consultation and poor decision-making is that the Municipality has incurred far too much in legal costs. Was there a contingent liability fund to pay for these mistakes? Or have they cost us some basic services?
The Long Term Financial Plan apparently did not account for things like the ever-rising costs of energy, interest rates, salaries, benefits and shaky management. Residential property taxes and sky-high development charges can no longer remain the only sources of revenue.
I would like to see taxes as low as possible. With so little fiscal information in the face of some obvious misadventures, it will be a challenge. I think that a fiscally prudent back-to-basics approach will be required.
When speaking with citizens of Almonte, one theme was stressed to me over and over: public consultation.
When was the last time your councillor sent you an email or phoned to say “Hey, I’ll be at (old town hall/local restaurant/library/Legion/other) on Saturday morning if you have concerns about that proposed (Official Plan/park sale/OVRT/zoning change)?” Or, “send me an email about (snow-clearing/traffic speed/crosswalk/water overcharge)”?
There may have been troubles with the bandwidth at the Municipal office a year ago when the cabling went in, but what has been holding your councillor back lately?
Informal consultation can be frequent; formal communication needs to be regular.
The problem I heard with public consultation was not just that it was infrequent and amounted to lip service; it was that few on Council listened. At the August 9, 2016 meeting where staff and Council proposed selling Don Maynard Park, only one Councillor waded into the crowd outside and spoke to people, and that was Councillor Paul Watters, who represented Ramsay. The Almonte councillors didn’t: apparently, they knew better than more than thirteen hundred of their own citizens.
You can expect me to ask you for your advice and your preferences in a number of ways. Let me know what kind of contact you prefer.
We are thankful for our many blessings and are thinking especially of those who have been recently bereaved.
Thank you for your support: for your efforts cleaning up the river, for sharing our town with newcomers and visitors, for farming to feed us all, for being the “Friendly Town” in one of the most generous and helpful rural municipalities, and for respecting the dignity of your neighbours.
We are grateful for:
our local health care in Almonte, Carleton Place and Arnprior
our farms stretching from Carleton Place to Arnprior
our recreational wonderland with something for everyone, in any season
the businesses that employ us and sponsor our charities and events so generously
the governments at all levels who serve us
our schools and service groups who educate and help us
our neighbours who become our friends
our children and grandchildren and those we love as if they were our own
the domestic animals and wild life with which we share the country
the artists who beautify what we see and hear
the people who put their considerable skills to use building, repairing, energizing and servicing our homes, properties, bodies, relationships and vehicles, motorized or not
the people who feed and delight us away from our homes
The safety of children on their way to school has been raised by many people in Tait McKenzie, Holy Name of Mary and Naismith schools neighbourhoods. Several people there have told me that traffic is more congested in front of the schools because some parents, whose children are within walking distance of the school, drive the kids to avoid an unsafe street crossing.
In some cities and towns, school routes are patrolled by the “school patrol,” older students who have been trained to help younger ones cross intersections safely. Their training is provided as a joint project by the province and the Canadian Automobile Association, in cooperation with schools. Paid or volunteer adult crossing guards are used on major streets. Parents are more willing to let their children use active transportation to school (walking or cycling or scooting) if there are crossing guards and school patrols.
Some people say that the municipal paid crossing guard program in Almonte was discontinued because it was thought too expensive. Some say no one wanted to do it. Some say the schools should look after it. There are suggestions that the high school students might do it for their volunteer experience. There are kindly retirees in Almonte who might volunteer, too. I think that we can all work together on this.
There are 40 school weeks. In Almonte, a crossing guard is most needed on busy Ottawa Street at Paterson, for elementary school children. To pay one crossing guard $15 per hour, for two hours a day, 5 days a week, for 40 weeks would cost $6,000. Two guards would cost $12,000. Additional insurance might be required. School patrols, who are older students who do not control traffic but rather ensure that children cross safely, could be stationed at other intersections on the routes. They are usually let out of school a bit early, given high-visibility vests and flags and work with a volunteer staff person or parent. People have suggested that high school students perform this function as part of their volunteer hours.
I could not find information online about a similar program here, although the Canadian Automobile Association does help with it where it exists.
I would definitely vote to fund such a service in Almonte and Pakenham. The schools and boards would need to be involved. What do you think?
“Why do they say they will listen but they don’t?”
“It was a hard decision to hurt you, but…”
“This hurts me as much as it hurts you.”
“Why don’t you believe me? You’re not perfect!”
“It’s for the greater good. Trust me.”
From 1997 to 2010, I worked on the Indian Residential School abuse cases; I was selected mainly because I had experience working with victims of sexual assaults and on reserves. Criminal trials finding several perpetrators guilty had started most of the claims. It turned out that thousands of children had been abused in residential schools nationally. The first ones were opened by the Jesuits in the 1700s, and the last one closed in 1996.
As one of the first program managers, I had few mentors or manuals to guide me as I represented the federal government in mediation, court and negotiation with churches. I ended up modeling the role for new staff and lawyers, trying to explain the need to maintain a relationship to people who argued for a living. The indigenous, church and government parties to the eventual Settlement Agreement ended up changing the limitations laws in most provinces and how bureaucracies treat people.
How do you reconcile? Is an apology good enough? What needs to be done? Does this mean you have to “turn the other cheek”? Suffer insults and abuse gladly or silently? Do you have to forgive? No.
For victims, speaking out is the first and hardest step. A victim might only accept and understand what happened and know they were not at fault. Because some offenders are unrepentant, real forgiveness is elusive or impossible. For those offenders who want to continue a relationship, a challenging self-examination is vital.
I am sharing a speech that I prepared in 2009. The principles have a very broad application: to nations, groups, families, couples and individuals. I hope you find it useful.
I prepared a document that lists how the current council voted on a number of issues over the past term.
On some matters, the votes teetered back and forth, although the same group seemed to vote as a block on certain things.
Significant flips include:
Council at first were all leaning to remove the 7B Bridge as recommended by staff, but then ultimately voted to save it and widen it to 7 metres, after hearing from farmers. Only Councillor McCubbin held out against it.
Councillor Torrance consistently voted against the sale of Don Maynard Park in Mississippi Mills, but changed her mind and voted to dispose of it at County.
Councillor Lowry voted for questionable Almonte ATV by-passes for the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail, but voted against the final one through the intersection of Martin and Ottawa Streets that was suggested in June 2018.
Few can imagine enduring a relentless attack on their home by a cold and merciless bureaucracy twice in the space of the home’s existence, let alone a lifetime in this country, but that is exactly what the Leonard family faced in Mississippi Mills since 2000.
The Leonards and their neighbours have fought twice since 2000 to save the neighbourhood park they were promised when their homes were built. One family actually had their front entrance built so that it faces the park. Since 2016, they have faced a barrage of municipal decisions based on erroneous information and pretzel logic, inflexible ideology and several seriously questionable acts launched by members of the municipal council and a few of their supporters.
Unfortunately Mrs Gloria Leonard has not survived this latest struggle, and she passed away unexpectedly on August 19, 2018. Local mourners overflowed the church and funeral home. I only knew Gloria since 2016 but we spent a lot of time together, working and having fun, too. The stress she suffered in the last few years related to this was tragic and unnecessary.
To Gloria, the Leonard and Van Dusen families: thank you for enriching my family and neighbourhood with your own.
I have prepared a factual timeline of events with relevant links. I hope this helps explain it: