I am sharing a few photos from walks around Almonte lately. It is nice to see the support for all our grads and front line workers in health care, government and businesses, food and essential services.
The parks have opened up and our municipal staff have been working hard. Not all municipal staff are back to work yet, so your patience is appreciated.
I went to see the new picnic table in Don Maynard Park. Calvin Murphy, our Recreation Coordinator, told me that Ken Fisher, the Facilities Manager, saw these picnic tables in a park elsewhere. Calvin ordered the solid frames last year and Ken and staff worked to attach the wood. I was called by a delighted resident asking who was responsible for it. Thank you, Parks and Recreation!
Residents of the Gale Subdivision have been tending Gloria’s Garden as well. Beautiful.
corrected late penalties on water bills; reduced by 8.75%, from 10% to 1.25%
reduced tax increases from 7% a year to 2.5% this year
established more opportunities for public participation in your municipal government including new advisory committees with more expert and representative membership, no conflicts of interest and a new petition policy
more communication, more often
established regular in-person availability of Almonte councillors (at the Library on the first Saturday of each month except July)
helped with flood mitigation and volunteer efforts (particularly Councillor Dalgity who personally sandbagged every day and established a volunteer coordinator)
recognized our youth several times (and their achievements are ongoing and outstanding in sports and academics)
hired a new Chief Administrative Officer, Mr Ken Kelly, with a wealth of professional experience in management, accounting and public works
Works in progress
improving audio-visual records of council and committee meetings
improving the Procedural Bylaw
new parks and recreation
working with the County to promote the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail and reporting any any negative impacts on residents of improper use to both the County and the Police Services Board
downtown Almonte parking study underway
commencing work on the asset management plan (a multi-year project)
refocusing Public Works on essentials
ensuring more accountable processes and reporting
pursuing new growth and economic opportunities
improving strategic, asset and fiscal planning to deal with past debt and future needs
building new partnerships with other municipalities and organization
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. The Ombudsman’s authority to investigate is delegated 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. Four levels of bureaucracy (Ombudsman, LAS, Amberley Gavel and the Municipality) 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 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 “working group” meeting in particular concerned Don Maynard Park: not a single elected Almonte councillor took part in that decision.
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 like 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.
An example of 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 were 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 Procedural Bylaw of the 2014-2018 council 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.
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.
Things I Achieved in Mississippi Mills So Far, Before Running
Canadian Cancer Society: I helped at the Office in Perth, and I replaced Lorna Hooper as the treatment drives co-ordinator for Mississippi Mills. I became a volunteer driver myself, taking residents from all over the area for treatment. I coordinated the fund-raising in Almonte for a couple of years.
PRATAC: I was a director of the Pakenham Ramsay and Almonte Taxpayers Advocacy Coalition (PRATAC), took leave from the Executive during my candidacy and resigned upon my election. I was a researcher, writer, and volunteer trainer. I spoke at public meetings on topics such as the anti-SLAPP legislation (SLAPP: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, designed to intimidate citizens), correctly predicting the failed outcome of the publicly-funded personal lawsuits of Mayor McLaughlin and Councillor Edwards against Steve Maynard. I shared information on how to identify “fake news” and what questions to ask yourself about it. I donated funds for various events and prizes for Family Fun Day. Using my own equipment, I was at the computer search table at the PRATAC Community Official Plan meetings in Pakenham, Clayton and Almonte, helping people to locate their own properties to see if and how they were affected by changes proposed. Once people could foresee the effects, they demanded changes.
Don Maynard Park: I went door-to-door in our neighbourhood to circulate the petition against the sale, worked on park clean-up and replanting, uncovered facts such as the Park was never just Block 40, but actually included Block 42; the two formed Don Maynard Park in its entirety. I documented the history of it as well as the two efforts to arrange its sale, in 2000 and 2015/2016. I researched and presented fact-based objections at both the municipal and county levels, and prepared PRATAC’s submission to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Heritage Conservation District: In 2016, I researched the facts showing that some members of Council were in conflicts of interest by moving and voting on the HCD, without declaring their pecuniary interests within the heritage conservation district, thus benefiting by way of 25% rebates on the municipal portions of their property taxes and grants necessitating a subsequent quadrupling of the heritage assistance budget. No residents outside the proposed Heritage Conservation District were ever consulted about it, only those within the chosen area, but we must all subsidize it. I think everyone needs to be involved in decision making on this, not just the beneficiaries.
Code of Conduct for Building Officials: I am personally responsible for the Municipality’s Code of Conduct for Building Officials and requiring them to post it publicly for residents, as required by the Building Code. It was approved in October of 2014, and I was consulted on it.
There have been a number of very serious issues raised over the term of this Council.
1. DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
The last session of Council was marked by inappropriate secrecy, as disclosed by the investigation into illegal closed meetings, the appointment rather than the election of a Councillor, a new Procedural by-law affecting the rights of citizens and media, abuse of our courts with a publicly-funded but personal strategic lawsuit against public participation and attacks on residents, critics, media and the democratic process itself.
We deserve better.
2. MUNICIPAL TAXES AND FEES and FINANCIAL REPORTING
Our spending and debt concern people. Financial reporting to the public needs to be clearer and regular. I have reviewed the practices of other, similarly-sized municipalities and many do monthly detailed statements that are easily accessed by the public. The public would appreciate quarterly reports and updated budget forecasts.
3. COMMUNITY OFFICIAL PLAN REVIEW
The intrusive revised plan, costing more than $50,000 in consultants in 2018 alone (in process since at least 2015), would have been quietly passed had residents not noticed, taken action, and voiced objections. Council made only superficial changes and the plan needs revision. Our Planner tells us we need to look at the settlement boundaries within the next two years.
4. OTTAWA VALLEY RECREATIONAL TRAIL
Almonte could be a jewel in the OVRT Crown, instead of a tool that was used to divide residents.
5. PARK SALES
Selling building lots off Don Maynard Park was vigorously opposed by the community and rammed through anyway, with no credible logic. The decision is being appealed to the Municipal Board. The incumbents on this Council have repeatedly failed to listen to residents.
6. ROADS AND PUBLIC WORKS
Good roads, sidewalks, sewer, water and other shared services are the basics of why we have government to begin with. Let’s get these back in shape. It is not the staff letting things go – it has been driven by decisions of your Council who neglect basics for their pet wish-lists. Spray-paint for gaping sidewalk cracks is penny-wise and pound foolish.
7. UTILITIES and DEVELOPMENT SHARING
The revenue generated from Almonte’s power, water and development charges are shared with the rest of the Municipality and some of the costs are as well. Other communities in Mississippi Mills are frustrated and unable to develop, while this Council promotes inner-city type infill in Almonte. We need to talk.
If your water, sewer, sidewalk, streets and parks are neglected, even the most exotic, elaborately-staged and expensive tourist event will not help the people who pay the majority of the freight in this town: you. These are the basic “hygienes” of everyday life, without which the “nice-to-haves” don’t matter.