Citizen petition called immoral by Councillor Kerr and motion to revoke LAS deferred

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

As I predicted in my previous post, “To revoke LAS, or not to revoke LAS, that is the question?“, the motion to revoke LAS was deferred. This prompted Mr. Joe Burrell to inform Brighton Council that a petition had been started by concerned Brighton taxpayers. Click here to listen to the responses from Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn, Councillor Rittwage and Councillor Kerr.

Councillor John Martinello sent me the following comments regarding the petition and the motion to revoke LAS.

During question period at the Apr 22 council mtg, Brighton taxpayer Mr. Joe Burrell presented the following petition to council.

“PETITION TO BRIGHTON MUNICIPAL COUNCIL TO REVOKE LOCAL AUTHORITY SERVICES (LAS) AS THE DESIGNATED CLOSED MEETING INVESTIGATOR

 

Whereas the corporation LAS has been contracted by the Municipality of Brighton to perform closed meeting investigation services at a cost of $225/hr;

 

Whereas the Ontario Ombudsman can provide professional and independent closed meeting investigation services at NO COST to the Municipality;

 

Whereas at least four members of Council are required to support revocation of LAS and currently only there members of Council have indicated their support for revocation of LAS; and

 

Whereas currently Deputy Mayor Mike Vandertoorn, Councillors Craig Kerr, Thomas Rittwage and Emily Rowley have not yet indicated their support for the revocation of LAS.

 

In the interests of transparency and fiscal responsibility, We the undersigned hereby petition members of Brighton Municipal Council to revoke LAS as the designated closed meeting investigator for Brighton.

 

Furthermore, let it be known that, We the undersigned will not be casting a vote for any municipal candidate in the October 27, 2014 municipal election that does not support the revocation of LAS.”

In direct response to Mr Burrell, Councillor Kerr made the following statement.

“What the person is really saying is forget your obligation to the municipality and act in your own self-interest. Do what is gonna benefit you as a councillor to get re-elected & not what is in the best interests of the municipality. And that frankly, I find immoral.” – Councillor Kerr

My jaw dropped when I heard Kerr describe a petition as “immoral.” Subsequent to the meeting, a number of Brighton taxpayers also expressed disbelief that Kerr would describe a petition as “immoral.” So I consulted the Oxford Canadian Dictionary to determine the meaning of immoral. Following is the definition of immoral.

not conforming to accepted standards of morality … morally wrong, esp in sexual matters … depraved, dissolute.

I fully accept & agree with the facts presented in the petition. Also, I believe that:

(a) in a democracy, any person or group of persons has a right to circulate a petition;
(b) people who circulate a petition should not be degraded & demeaned by use of terms such as “immoral“;
(c) there can be no good reason for Brighton taxpayers to pay for services that can be acquired at no cost. Especially when the no-cost services have the good reputation that the Ontario Ombudsman has;
(d) paying for services that can be acquired at no cost is, at best, inconsistent with section 224(e) of the Ontario Municipal Act which states, “It is the role of council to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality“;
(e) I am an employee of the taxpayers of Brighton &, as an employee, it is my job to represent the interests of Brighton taxpayers; and
(f) it is WRONG to describe a petition, & the persons associated with that petition, as “immoral”.

At the April 22 council meeting, council considered the following motion that was moved by myself & seconded by Mayor Walas.

“Whereas, the Ombudsman of Ontario provides independent & impartial closed meeting investigation services; and

 

Whereas, the Ombudsman of Ontario can provide these closed meeting investigation services at no billable cost to Brighton taxpayers,

 

That Council immediately serve notice to LAS that the contract for closed meeting investigation services will be terminated.”

Councillors Rittwage & Kerr put forward a motion to defer the preceding motion. Because the majority supported (in a vote recorded as follows) this motion of deferral, there was no debate or vote on the motion to terminate the LAS contract.

AGAINST DEFERRAL: Councillors Martinello & Tadman; Mayor Walas
FOR DEFERRAL: Councillors Rowley, Vandertoorn, Rittwage & Kerr

______________________________

If you would like to sign the petition and collect other signatures, please click here to download a copy of the petition. Please send an email to arrange for the signature form collection.

 

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To revoke LAS, or not to revoke LAS, that is the question?

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The next meeting of Brighton Council is this evening April 22, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. and there are four motions that will be discussed relating to Ontario Ombudsman.

The first two motions propose to invite the Ontario Ombudsman, Mr. André Marin to attend a meeting of Brighton Council to answer questions on the services that his office provides to the citizens of Ontario.

The first motion, was put forward by Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn and Councillor Rittwage, which was good to see as they were reluctant to do so before and they didn’t accept Mr. Marin’s offer at the end of last year to attend a meeting of Council.

Motion 1. That Council invites Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin to speak to Council as a delegation about the services offered to Municipalities by his office.

Also, during the debate of the motion to renew the service agreement with Local Authority Services (LAS) and during the discussion to approve the by-law to renew the service agreement with LAS, Councillor Rittwage questioned the timeliness and quality of the services provided by the Ombudsman. Additionally, Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn stated “I have never really been clear to understand that the Ombudsman does follow the true meaning of the Municipal Act as far as what constitutes a closed meeting… not convinced that he really understands his role of what a closed meeting investigation is”.

I am sure that they will want to clarify these and other items if Mr. Marin receives an invitation to attend a meeting of Brighton Council.

The second motion, inviting Mr. Marin was put forward by Councillors Tadman and Martinello and since the two invitations combined seem to have support from four Brighton Councillors, I can only assume that at least one of the motions will pass and Mr. Marin will be receiving an invitation to visit Brighton.

Motion 2. That Council invites Mr Andre Marin, Ontario Ombudsman (OO), to the earliest possible council meeting for which he is available, for the purposes of (i) explaining the roles of the OO; (ii) explaining the services the OO can provide to Brighton; (iii) explaining the implications of Bill 179, Public Sector Accountability and Transparency Act; and (iv) answering questions from the public and members of Council.

The third motion, stems from a notice of motion first read in Council Chambers on March 17, 2014 and the actual motion was read on April 7, 2014. The motion was deferred to the April 22, 2014 Council meeting as Councillor Kerr had not “had the opportunity to look at this in any detail whatsoever and so I have no concept of what’s in it“. Since it is now over a month since this notice of motion was read, I would hope that all members of Council have now had the opportunity to review Bill 179 “Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014” and Council will show support for this important piece of legislation.

Motion 3. Whereas, on March 6, 2014, it was announced that a bill – to expand the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman of Ontario to include oversight over municipalities, schools and universities – will be introduced to the Ontario Legislature,

 

This Notice of Motion recommends that Council direct correspondence, indicating this Council’s full support for the proposed legislation, to The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario; Mr Tim Hudak, Leader of the Official Opposition; and Ms Andrea Horwath, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Ontario.

 

That Council direct the Mayor to put forward a similar Notice of Motion for consideration by Northumberland County Council.

The fourth motion, deals with revoking the closed meeting investigation services provided by LAS, so that the Ontario Ombudsman can provide these services at NO COST to the Municipality. This is an important move that will clearly indicate to Brighton taxpayers, that Brighton Council is committed to improving transparency and demonstrating fiscal responsibility.

Motion 4. Whereas, the Ombudsman of Ontario provides independent & impartial closed meeting investigation services; and Whereas, the Ombudsman of Ontario can provide these closed meeting investigation services at no billable cost to Brighton taxpayers, That Council immediately serve notice to LAS that the contract for closed meeting investigation services will be terminated.

I wrote about LAS in some detail back in December 2013, Brighton Council prefers to pay for services they can get for free. Why?

I would also like to remind Brighton taxpayers that Brighton Council spent $209,073.33 on legal fees in two and a half years!

In her recent announcement that she is running for re-election, Councillor Rowley stated that she “will encourage an environment of accountability and open communication”. Voting to revoke LAS would be a perfect way for her to demonstrate that she believes action speaks louder than words.

Unfortunately, my prediction is that Deputy Mayor Mike Vandertoorn, Councillors Craig Kerr, Thomas Rittwage and Emily Rowley will vote to defer the motion to a later date. They will probably say that it is better for them to wait until they have questions answered by the Ombudsman. This, despite the fact that they have had months to do their homework.

It is my understanding that neither Deputy Mayor Mike Vandertoorn, nor Councillors Craig Kerr, Thomas Rittwage and Emily Rowley have spoken with the Ontario Ombudsman regarding questions they may have since I first raised the possibility of revoking LAS back in September 2013. So, if they do defer or defeat this motion, I think that it would be highly disingenuous to suggest that it is because they are waiting for additional information. If they really wanted to educate and inform themselves there is a huge amount of material available online. It is my experience that the Mr. Marin is very accessible; he has always responded to all my questions in a very thoughtful, detailed and timely manner. This is in stark contrast to my experience with Mr. Nigel Bellchamber of Amberley Gavel Ltd., Brighton’s Integrity Commissioner. I mention this because, although the contract for closed meeting investigation services is between the Municipality of Brighton and LAS, the work would actually be performed by their service provider, which is Amberley Gavel Ltd.

So, we can either have courteous, professional services provided by the Ontario Ombudsman at NO COST, or we can pay $225/hr to have the kind of service I wrote about in the post, “If the Brighton Integrity Commissioner is not answerable to citizens, then who?“. To me it’s a no-brainer, but for some members of Brighton Council it appears to still require some thought.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the motion to revoke LAS will pass and I will be the first to congratulate the members of Council that vote in favour of the motion. If not, concerned Brighton taxpayers have indicated to me that they will petition Council and only vote for candidates that represent their views on this issue.

 

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If you are going to enforce the rules, you need to follow the rules!

Posted by on Apr 17, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

At the last meeting of Brighton Council on April 7th, 2014, there was a report delivered by Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn and Councillor Rowley resulting from a committee meeting that took place on March 24th, 2014. However, the minutes from the committee meeting were not included together with the report. Some members of Council and Staff did not see an issue with this and saw greater benefit in having the report delivered rather than upholding their procedural and reporting obligations under the Municipal Act and the Procedural By-law.

This seems to be quite ironic, as the missing minutes are from a committee meeting dealing with alleged Code of Conduct and Procedural By-law violations. Also, later in the meeting Councillor Rittwage explained to Council in some detail the importance of following rules.

When the minutes are prepared, I hope that they will reflect what was actually discussed at the committee meeting and not just reflect what is in the report.

If you are going to take the high road that’s great, but you can’t only chose to take it when the sun is shining.

 

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If the Brighton Integrity Commissioner is not answerable to citizens, then who?

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

At the end of my last post I wondered “If legal action were to be taken against the Integrity Commissioner as a result of a report supplied to the Municipality of Brighton, would the Integrity Commissioner be liable for the legal expenses incurred in defending such an action, or would the liability of the fees reside with the taxpayers of Brighton?

As directed by CAO Frost and Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn, on March 25th, I sent an email to Mr. Nigel Bellchamber, of Amberley Gavel Ltd., Brighton’s Integrity Commissioner. All of Brighton Council and CAO Frost were copied on all of the following email messages.

Sent: March-25-14 2:44 PM
To: ‘Nigel Bellchamber’;
Subject: Liability for Integrity Commissioner Reports for Brighton

 

Dear Mr. Bellchamber,

 

With regards to reports produced by the Brighton Integrity Commissioner on behalf of the Municipality of Brighton. If legal action was taken against the Integrity Commissioner as a result of a report supplied to the Municipality of Brighton, would the Integrity Commissioner be liable for the legal expenses incurred in defending such an action, or would the liability of the fees reside with the taxpayers of Brighton?

 

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Adrian Ellis

I did not hear back from Mr. Bellchamber, so I sent the following email as a follow-up.

Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 12:13 PM
To: ‘Nigel Bellchamber’;
Subject: RE: Liability for Integrity Commissioner Reports for Brighton

 

Dear Mr. Bellchamber,

 

I am just following up with my earlier this week as I have not heard back. I am sure that you extremely busy, but considering the number of municipalities that you provide Integrity Commissioner services to, you should have a clear understanding of my question and it should only require a moment to respond.

 

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Adrian Ellis

Shortly after sending the follow-up email, I received the following from Mr. Bellchamber

From: Nigel Bellchamber
Sent: March-28-14 12:57 PM
Subject: Re: Liability for Integrity Commissioner Reports for Brighton

 

Very simply stated, we are not able to answer a general question like the one you posed. ‎I don’t believe anyone could.

 

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Bell network.

I found this response to be totally inappropriate and as such I responded with the following email to Mr. Bellchamber.

Sent: March-28-14 9:23 PM
To: ‘Nigel Bellchamber’;
Subject: RE: Liability for Integrity Commissioner Reports for Brighton

 

Mr. Bellchamber,

 

I understand that you are not a Brighton taxpayer and as such perhaps from this perspective you don’t understand my concern. However, I have politely asked a legitimate question and I would appreciate if you can show the same courtesy by at least addressing me by name when corresponding with me and also provide a more considerate response than you have in your previous reply.

 

You never replied to my questions in December of last year, even after repeated follow-up requests and now you reply in this manner. I find this arrogant, demeaning and totally unacceptable. Your cheques may come from “The Corporation of the Municipality of Brighton” but you are being paid by the taxpayers’ of our community. Please do not lose sight of that fact.

 

You state “we are not able to answer a general question like the one you posed. I don’t believe anyone could.” Perhaps not “anyone”, but I believe that since you are the service provider, you should be able to answer this question and I find your response to the contrary to be, at best, disingenuous.

 

Surely you are not suggesting that you have not given any prior thought to a situation where you could face legal action as a result of your reporting as an Integrity Commissioner? The taxpayers of Brighton have a right to know where their liability lies. Therefore, I request that you please provide a definitive answer to my question without further delay.

 

Adrian Ellis

Mr. Bellchamber has not responded to this email, or to my subsequent follow-up below.

Sent: April-03-14 4:04 PM
To: ‘Nigel Bellchamber’;
Subject: RE: Liability for Integrity Commissioner Reports for Brighton

 

Dear Mr. Bellchamber,

 

I am following up with my email from last week as I have not heard back from you. I am disappointed at the lack of professionalism that you demonstrated so far and I do not understand why you are not replying in a timely and constructive manner.

 

Adrian Ellis

Without a response from the Integrity Commissioner, I then emailed the following questions to each member of Brighton Council for feedback and to see if they would be interested in helping one of their constituents.

We (Brighton residents) are paying this company tens of thousands of dollars and they are not capable of answering a simple question in a polite and constructive manner. There is either something wrong with this company, or the process that allows this sort of arrogance and demeaning behaviour without any accountability to the citizens that foot the bill.

 

I still have not had a reply to Mr. Bellchamber and I would like to know if this lack of professionalism from a service provider is a concern for you? If so what can be done in this situation?

 

Please let me know your thoughts.

The specific replies are detailed below, but in summary, only Mayor Walas, Councillor Martinello and Councillor Tadman shared my concerns.

Mayor Walas – “This behaviour is certainly of great concern, from a firm that preaches accountability, transparency, integrity, and ethical behaviour, it is completely unacceptable for your questions not to be addressed

Councillor Tadman – “The lack of professionalism is definitely a concern to me also. I most certainly support Council addressing your concerns

Councillor Martinello emailed the following to CAO Frost on April 5th (10 days ago) and he has not received a response at this time. “Mr Ellis raises important issue that could impact Brighton taxpayers. I believe Mr Ellis has been very patient in waiting for an answer to his question. Could you please tell me what actions can be taken to ensure that Mr Nigel Bellchamber of Amberly Gavel Ltd answers Mr Ellis’ question?

Councillor Kerr replied, but he chose not to answer my questions. To my knowledge, no contractor, whether they supply infrastructure services or administrative services and engaged by the Municipality of Brighton, is required to be answerable to individual citizens. I do not intend to comment further on your communications with Amberley Gavel.

So Councillor Kerr doesn’t think that the Integrity Commissioner is answerable to citizens and yet I was referred to Mr. Bellchamber by Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn and CAO Frost. I find this to be an interesting disconnect.

Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn replied via telephone that he does not have the same concerns as I do, as he has not encountered similar unprofessional attitudes during his dealings with the Integrity Commissioner. He did mention that CAO Frost informed him that Amberley Gavel Ltd. has insurance, although he could not provide details of this coverage and this has not be verified by Mr. Bellchamber.

Disappointingly, Councillors Rittwage and Rowley did not even reply to my email.

So there we have it. Brighton has an Integrity Commissioner that taxpayers have paid tens of thousands of dollars to, that may, or may not be answerable to citizens. Additionally, the majority of Council (4 of 7) does not seem interested in providing answers to legitimate taxpayer questions. Why are the four Councillors so opposed to accountability and transparency? Why should taxpayers have to expend so much time and energy to have one simple question answered?

At the April 7th meeting of Brighton Council, Councillor Martinello moved the following motion “That Council directs Mr Bellchamber of Amberly Gavel to appear before this Council in order that members of Council & the public can better understand the application of the Municipal Code of Conduct & that he appear at no cost to the taxpayers of Brighton.

Considering the amount of money that Brighton taxpayers have paid to Amberley Gavel Ltd., I can only assume that from a customer service point of view, Mr. Bellchamber would be more than willing to attend a meeting of Council to answer questions. Only time will tell if Mr. Bellchamber actually shows respect for the taxpayers of Brighton and affords us this courtesy.

Based on this level of service and the issues surrounding the investigative services and the reporting that I have mentioned in my previous posts, you are probably wondering how Brighton Council ended up selecting Amberley Gavel Ltd. to be Brighton’s Integrity Commissioner. I don’t think that you will be surprised when I say that the answer in itself raises questions. As such, I will cover this in a separate post.

 

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