Research and Investigations

 

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.

Read the investigation here: Amberley Gavel Closed Council Investigation Report

Bike Lanes Research

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.

Bike lane and spray-painted sidewalk.

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 weather was warm, as you will see; I kept a record of the temperatures on most days. I also have photographic evidence to back up my counts. See my table of numbers here: Bicycle Lane Use Ottawa Street Sept-Oct 2017

The maximum number of cyclists recorded in a day was 6. The maximum number of pedestrians was 109.

Other

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)

In this Council misadventure, Mr Justice Patrick Hurley dismissed the action as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, quoting Justice Pedlar. The facts are set out here: MCLAUGHLIN and EDWARDS v. MAYNARD, 2017 ONSC 6820 (CanLII)

The total charged to your account is unknown.

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.

Change

Am I the change you want? I want to:

Improve the Democratic Process in Mississippi Mills:

  • more public input into council and committee meetings
  • elections, not appointments, to be used for Council vacancies
  • see that residents’ fundamental freedoms and democratic rights under the Bill of Rights 1960 and Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1981 are supported
  • improve accountability through recording of all public and closed meetings (including committee meetings) as recommended by the provincial Ombudsman
  • amend municipal bylaws and policies to be consistent with public rights and freedoms under provincial and federal acts; remove any provisions that attempt to suppress them
  • implement a redress mechanism used by other municipalities that empowers citizens between elections

Improve the Service Experience in Mississippi Mills:

  • codes of conduct that deal with service to the public by Council and employees and a user-friendly recourse process
  • institute a hierarchy of response by elected representatives so that queries no longer fall through the cracks
  • promote problem-solving, time management, quality control, accessibility services and resolving issues to staff and train if necessary

Improve Roads and Public Works

  • seek input from residents on the future of sidewalks and roads
  • seek a heavy vehicle and dangerous good transport route through consultation with the public, commercial users, the province and federal government
  • pay attention to public needs, such as placing municipal trash receptacles in areas where people need them, not just downtown

Deal with Conflicts of Interest:

  • require annual declarations by council, public board and committee members, and employees of their pecuniary  interests and those of their family/conjugal relationships that may cause actual or perceived conflict
  • corrective actions for violations
  • support the new Integrity Commissioner and seek her/his suggestions

Improve Communication and Critical Information

  • ensure public access to recordings of Council and Committee sessions (except those closed under exceptions in the Municipal Act, which will be recorded for the purpose of potential investigation)
  • improve web services
  • meet with residents regularly
  • digitize and organize by-laws, policies and financial reports
  • allow public message access to non-profit community organizations

Improve the Business Environment

  • seek advice and vision from all businesses in Almonte and consult with our neighbours in Ramsay and Pakenham: what works? What doesn’t?
  • If expanding the settlement areas, where does business fit in? Is there a better place for more industrial-type use (instead of over the groundwater protection area)?

Improve the Fairness and Management of Heritage Buildings

  • allow opt-outs
  • establish priorities through municipality-wide consultation on support from public funds (such as community-owned, service organizations, commercial, residential)
  • encourage arms-length management and distribution of any financial heritage support and resources chiefly through owners, with municipal support as available and needed

Respect Parks and Recreation

  • no parks will be sold for residential or commercial development without public support
  • make park access, maintenance and development equitable
  • establish consistent and reliable information for residents on scheduled events and servicing

Utilize Volunteers

  • recognize and train volunteers who help the community by providing services and sitting on boards
  • seek advice from volunteer groups, including firefighters
  • Mentor young people in civic government through volunteering and shadowing

Enhance a Variety of Tourism

Tourism investment and support of festivals and the arts will be available and equitable to all in Almonte and Mississippi Mills.

Give You a Voice in Planning

  • As recommended by the Planning Department, over the next two years, look at expanding the settlement boundaries of Almonte.
  • Collect input from residents on what changes to the Community Official Plan they envision, and what requires clarity and certainty for their own future planning.
  • Discuss youth projections and needs with schools, parents and planners
  • Consider moving commercial and industrial business away from the groundwater protection area.
  • Explore transportation to Ottawa with neighbouring communities
  • Consult more formally with residents on senior services needed in future

Other
A community conversation needs to happen around drug hazards, addictions, policing and the effects of marijuana legalization in Mississippi Mills: what do we want from provincial services?