It is the role of council to ensure the accountability & transparency of the operations of the municipality

Posted by on Aug 30, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The news article, “Brighton expanding industrial park” from June 07, 2012 raises many questions regarding costs and delays in completing the Brighton Industrial Park expansion project. Considering this article and the current situation in the Brighton Industrial Park, it is imperative that in the interests of transparency and accountability there should be a full and detailed report regarding the expansion project costs and timelines.

Councillors Martinello and Tadman have put forward the following motion for debate at the September 2, 2014 meeting of Brighton Council asking for such reports.

Whereas the law of Ontario, & particularly section 224 (d.1) of the Ontario Municipal Act states,

 

It is the role of council to ensure the accountability & transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality;” and

 

Whereas there have been a number of high-value & high profile projects & issues that seem to drag on & on without reasonable explanation;

 

It is recommended that Council direct staff to present a written report, at every council meeting starting with first meeting in September 2014, on the following projects/issues:

 

a) court case against Brighton for Ontario Water Resources Act infractions at the Brighton sewage plant;
b) reconstruction of Terry Fox Drive;
c) construction of Brighton Industrial Park; and
d) installation of LED streetlighting throughout Brighton.

 

It is further recommended that reports described at preceding contain, as a minimum, the following information.

 

a) estimated date of project completion;
b) work completed during the reporting period;
c) problems encountered during reporting period & actions taken to remedy these problems; and
d) percentage & amount of budgeted money spent to date of report.

Not only do I believe that the requests in the preceding motion are appropriate, I believe that Brighton Council has moral and legal obligation to ensure that this information is provided to the taxpayers of Brighton.

As I wrote in an earlier post, “In the interest of Transparency and Accountability“, Councillors Martinello and Tadman asked for similar reports in November 2013 for the Sewage Treatment Plant and the Industrial Park (Phase 1) expansion. That motion was defeated by Deputy Mayor Craig Kerr and Councillors Tom Rittwage, Emily Rowley and Mike Vandertoorn.

In the interim, the Ministry of the Environment has taken legal action against the Municipality of Brighton for non-compliance . Yes, “we” (you and I) are being sued by the Provincial Government and “we” are paying to defend the court action. Tell me, how does it feel to be sued? Do you think that it will affect your reputation as well as your pocket book?

Instead of using our tax dollars to ensure that we have an efficient, environmentally sound sewage treatment system that is compliant with Provincial standards, these four Councillors would seem to prefer spending our tax dollars defending lawsuits.

Also since the defeat of the November 2013 motion, the Industrial Park expansion has been further delayed. Delays always cost money, whether they are incurred now or down the line!

It doesn’t take an idiot (or maybe it does) to notice that although the road in the Industrial Park expansion has been paved with asphalt, there are still services that have not been completed to make the lots “investment ready“.

Why are we led to believe that it is inappropriate to ask questions of Council and that we are not entitled to know how, when and why our tax dollars are being spent? As I recently commented to a local resident, “accountability takes many forms and does not necessarily mean that someone has to be fired (but it can). Accountability helps ensure that the taxpayer receives the best result at the best price

There is a significant trust deficit between the Municipality and the taxpayers of Brighton. Comprehensive and transparent reporting on this and other such projects will help to bridge that deficit.

As I have said before and I will say it again, “Brighton is facing huge infrastructure challenges and we need a new approach to address these challenges that is both, transparent AND accountable to the taxpayers of Brighton. The current status quo is not acceptable and must change!

 

Related articles:

If your strategy is “build it and they will come”, you had better get it built
Brighton Industrial Park expansion project concerns
The muddy waters of transparency at Brighton Council became a little clearer

 Adrian Ellis - Smiling Idiot - Municipality of Brighton Politics

 

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Concerned residents establish the Brighton Citizen Group

Posted by on Aug 28, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The following news release clearly demonstrates that it is no longer just one “idiot” in Brighton that has concerns about important issues that affect residents individually and as a community. I hope that Brighton Council will take this opportunity to work in an open and collaborative manner with the Brighton Citizens Group to help build a better, more inclusive and prosperous community that we are all proud to call home.

Brighton, Ontario, August 25, 2014 – A number of Brighton residents, has joined together to form the Brighton Citizen Group in an effort to positively affect Brighton’s municipal government on wide-reaching decisions that include the general population – and to support the ongoing efforts of other concerned individuals.

 

Based on public input and first-hand observation, the advocacy group has identified several areas of concern. These include questionable procedures within the municipal administration; lack of attention to failing infrastructure; over-reliance on outside consultants and services, dubious asset management decisions, rising taxes along with approvals of un-budgeted projects; a dysfunctional council and, with a few exceptions, minimal council outreach and communication.

 

Speaking on behalf of the group, member Dale Carter says, “Initially, it is our intention to bring closer scrutiny to several initiatives undertaken by our current council and to question whether all of these are in the best interest of the community or the best use of taxpayers’ money. The apparent lack of transparency in several council initiatives and a number of management decisions affecting municipal projects has a surprising number of residents frustrated not just about how their tax dollars are being spent but also how these projects are being fulfilled.”

 

The group has identified an increasing number of ratepayers who share genuine concern in these areas, and are challenged by lack of a clear protocol for communicating concerns to council. It claims that written communication to council and senior staff are either ignored or simply “accepted” by council with little further action. Formal written inquiries often go unanswered, contrary to the approved procedure detailed in the municipality’s’ formal communications policy.

 

Part of the groups’ mandate will be to provide an option for residents looking to draw the attention of council, staff and council members to the issues and challenges they feel are important. Members feel a united group is in a better position to communicate the depth of concern than a single voice.

 

It is the group’s intention to engage the public in hopes of mending some evident breakdowns in communication and encourage individual participation while helping to restore in council a sense of accountability, transparency and respect for those residents it serves.

 

With the upcoming election imminent, the group is planning to play a part in vetting first-time candidates and directing attention to the four-year record and beyond of incumbents.

 

Those interested in finding out more about the group or supporting its efforts are invited to send inquiries to brightoncgroup@gmail.com

 

For information on this content, contact: Dale Carter at 613-475-2347 or dalecarter@sympatico.ca

 

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School Zone Safety in Brighton misunderstood by Council and overlooked by Staff

Posted by on Aug 23, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

On July 15, 2014, I wrote to Brighton Council regarding School Zone Safety – Speed Limits and Signage and my correspondence was added to the July 21, 2014 Council meeting agenda. At that Council meeting the following motion was passed, “That Council receives the correspondence from Adrian Ellis and refers to staff for consideration of Community Safety Zones at all schools in the Municipality“.

It is puzzling why this motion was put forward by Councillor Craig Kerr, as nowhere in my correspondence did I mention “Community Safety Zones“. Regardless, at the subsequent Council meeting on August 11, 2014, Andrzej Drzewiecki, Director of Public Works & Development concluded the following in his report to Council,

“Staff is not aware of traffic hazards or past history of accidents that would justify designation of community safety zones adjacent to Brighton schools at this time. Staff will consider, in coordination with the Northumberland County, temporary installations of speed monitors to determine the degree of adherence to the currently posted speed limits”

From this statement I draw the following conclusions:

  • the Director of Public Works can only justify addressing safety issues after there has been an accident.
  • the Director does not see any safety issues in the four Brighton School Zones.
  • the Director did not see any deficiencies with School Zone signage.
  • the Director feels that School Zone signage is consistent throughout the Municipality.
  • the Director feels that the current speed limit is appropriate.

Also, from his report, it is not clear to me if the Director evaluated all four schools in the Municipality. If he did, why would he state that there was no justification for Community Safety Zones adjacent to Brighton schools when Spring Valley Public School has already been designated a Community Safety Zone?

As you approach the Spring Valley School Zone you will see the following warning signs:

  1. School Ahead” warning sign.
  2. Community Safety Zone” warning sign.
  3. SCHOOL AHEAD” warning painted on the road.
  4. School Zone” warning sign.

I find it strange that this type of signage and Community Safety Zone designation is deemed necessary at one local school but not necessary at others. Sure there are some differences between the locations, as County Road 26 has a higher speed limit, but Elizabeth St. has a significantly higher volume of traffic. Also, all Spring Valley Students are driven to School or take the bus, so there is not the foot traffic that you have from ENSS/BPS. The locations are different, but the safety concerns are the same.

Fortunately, Councillors Tadman and Rittwage challenged the Director’s report and asked the Director to reconsider the requests in my original correspondence to Council. Hopefully at the next meeting of Council on September 2, 2014, we will have a report from the Director of Public Works detailing what will be done to improve the safety within our School Zones. Of course this will be too late to implement for the start of the school year, but better late than never when it comes to safety.

In addition to the safety issues that I raised in my letter to Council, I asked the following question, “I know that there was talk some time ago of installing a sidewalk on the North side of Elizabeth St. in front of Brighton Public School. Please can you confirm if this was included in this year’s budget? If not, would you please add it next year’s budget draft for consideration and let me know accordingly“. My question has gone unanswered.

The Municipality of Brighton Communications Policy states that “Formal written responses will be sent to all communications listed on a Council agenda“. I have written several letters to Brighton Council that were added to the Council meeting agenda and to date, I have received ZERO formal written responses!

If a resident takes the time to write to Council, then Council should have the decency to reply. Lacking that, they still have an obligation to do so under their own communications policy. This is yet another example that demonstrates a lack of respect for the citizens of Brighton and another example of Council not ensuring that directives of Council are followed. What do you think are the chances that I will receive a reply to my last correspondence?

*******

Not related to the aforementioned correspondence, but still related to School Zone Safety, is the ongoing re-construction of Terry Fox Drive. This is a project that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and after almost a year it is still not complete. There have been many safety issues identified during this time and in spite of the significant project cost, once the project has been completed, there will still be safety issues remaining that could have easily and cost effectively been addressed during the current re-construction.

So the good news is that the sod was ordered and it has been laid, but what about the asphalt? Weeks of no construction activity and the road is still closed. Is this a problem with the contractor or the Municipality? Either way, where is the accountability?

The following photo of a sidewalk to nowhere, shows a clear example of where the safety of our students and other pedestrians have been unnecessarily compromised.

Terry Fox Drive Brighton Smiling Idiot

Sidewalk to nowhere – Terry Fox Drive, Brighton

I am not a civil engineer, so there could be a technical reason why the Public Works Department terminated the sidewalk at the corner of Terry Fox Drive and Elizabeth Street, instead of extending it to the ENSS parking lot. To me, it seems ridiculous to expect ENSS students to cross in the middle of Terry Fox drive to use the sidewalk and then cross back across the street to go to the convenience store.

We all know that a muddy track will be worn across the newly laid sod and then in the winter the students will be forced to walk on the road into oncoming traffic. The question is, does Brighton Council see that this is an accident waiting to happen and address the issue now, or wait for the photos and videos to be posted once the snow starts flying?

Good planning for safety saves money and lives. Council needs to ensure that the Public Works Dept. has a clear understanding of Council’s expectations in this regard. At the moment it seems that Council has either not done this, or its expectations have been set so low that we end up with results like this.

 

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Brighton Industrial Park expansion project concerns

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

Millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on the Brighton Industrial Park expansion project and some Brighton Councillors are not concerned by overruns and delays! The project, as advertised on the Municipal website was supposed to be completed months ago and yet the “launch event” will not happen until September 18, 2014. It is still not clear if all services (e.g. electrical service) will be will be available at that time.

Brighton_Industrial_Park_Spring_2014

The following report was prepared for the Municipality by Millier, Dickinson, Blais Inc in 2007. The report is comprehensive, but I don’t see where there is a justification to proceed with a multi-million dollar park expansion.

Employment Lands Study, 2007

Regardless, Brighton Council decided to proceed with the project and purchased the land for the expansion.

The following report was prepared for the Municipality by Millier, Dickinson, Blais Inc. in 2010. This to me appears to be a business plan written to make the most out of a bad situation.

Business Plan for the Brighton Business Park, 2010

These reports raise so many questions, but a few off the top are:

1. What was the justification to proceed with the park expansion?
2. What is Brighton’s competitive advantage? Why would a business choose Brighton over any of the other industrial parks located along the 401 corridor?
3. What is the cost per lot to the taxpayer? A rough estimate would be at least $100,000
4. What are the lots being sold for? The report suggests $35,000, so how long will it take to recoup the difference in business tax?
5. How long (how many years) does the Municipality anticipate that it will take to sell all available lots?
5. Where is the prospectus for businesses inquiring about the park?
6. Will we be told why there were significant delays in the execution of this project?
7. Will taxpayers be provided with a detailed cost break down for the entire project?

This is a multi-million dollar investment and although the project has been actively marketed for over a year, there are still no formal offers to purchase land in the new park expansion. Some Councillors and candidates are touting this project as Brighton’s saviour in reducing the residential tax burden. REALLY??

 

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Councillor Kerr’s negotiations with CBM cause dissension at Codrington

Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The following is an email that I received from Councillor John Martinello. The email provides background information on an issue raised by Mrs. McCann at the July 21, 2014 meeting of Brighton Council.

Councillor Martinello’s email raises some serious questions regarding how “Municipal business” is being conducted in Brighton. It would appear that Councillor Kerr was operating beyond his authority as a councillor when he negotiated an agreement between CBM and the Municipality. Councillor Kerr was not given the authority by Brighton Council to negotiate with CBM on its behalf.

We recently had a report from the Brighton Integrity Commissioner titled, “The Powers of a Municipality Shall be Exercised by its Council” and in this report, Mr. Bellchamber explains that only Council as a whole has the authority to act on behalf of the Municipality and not individual councillors. In 2013 there was a similar situation when Councillor Kerr, instructed the Integrity Commissioner to delay an investigation without direction from Council to do so. Does Councillor Kerr feel that it is appropriate for an individual councillor to operate this way?

1. This Update describes a troubling & important discussion that occurred at the July 21, 2014 council mtg.

 

2. Included in the agenda for the July 21 mtg was a report, prepared by Mrs Gayle J Frost, titled RFP#REC 2014-04 Codrington Shelter Request for Proposals Report (@ page 248 of 347 of http://brighton.ca/photos/custom/20140721 2nd Agenda Package July 21, 2014.pdf). This report recommended that the Codrington shelter be constructed and funded as follows, “Sum total of Ontario Trillium Fund Grant of $92,500, CCA donation of $25,000, Jeff McCann Memorial Fund donation of $3,000. A donation from Embridge (sp) for $5,000 and a donation from St Mary’s Cement for the sum of $15,000.” Having reviewed this report before the mtg, I was fully prepared to support it. It was a no-brainer.

 

3. At the start of the mtg – for reasons I did not fully understand at the time – the report was pulled from the agenda. I thought nothing more of it until Cathy McCann – a resident of Codrington for the past 54 years, who together with her husband Howard McCann, has put her heart & soul into making Codrington a better place for all people to live – asked the following question during Citizen Comment period. Cathy McCann’s entire statement during Citizen Comment is @ http://www.smilingidiot.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2014-07-21_mcann_CC.m4a. I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety.

 

Cathy McCann: “When is it OK for one member of council to negotiate with CBM for a donation or negotiate funding of the overflow parking area without prior approval of council and without prior approval of Codrington Community Association? However well meaning, this negotiation has put into jeopardy five years of lobbying efforts that have CBM pave the entire parking area at the Community Centre. Furthermore, this decision has caused dissension at Codrington ….” (underlining my own)

 

4. Cathy McCann raised very good points. Councillor Craig Kerr was the “one member of council“; Councillor Kerr is the Brighton council rep to the Codrington Community Association (CCA). So what has happened since the July 21 council mtg?? Liana Palmer has resigned from her position as CCA Vice President, Howard & Cathy McCann have scaled back their volunteer activities @ the CCA, CBM has put a hold on grants to the CCA & Ruth Kerr has resigned as CCA President.

 

5. As I understand it, the background to this issue is as described in this paragraph & the following paragraph 6. In early July 2104, Councillor Kerr sent an e-mail to Codrington Shelter Committee members (including the McCanns) announcing that the shelter project funding shortfall of $15,000 had been resolved. St Marys Cement/CBM Aggregate Division (ie, CBM) would be contributing the $15,000 & would be presenting a cheque at an upcoming CCA breakfast. When members of the Shelter Committee raised concerns that funding of the shelter might jeopardize funding for paving of the main (vs the overflow) parking lot at the Codrington Community Centre – a project that the CCA had long supported and waited for for many years – CCA President Ruth Kerr sent out a notice of a special mtg of the CCA to consider the shelter project. At this point, questions – about the status of CBM parking lot funding negotiations – were asked of staff & Councillor Kerr. When no answers were forthcoming, CBM was asked the same questions. The CBM rep was made aware of Shelter Committee members’ concerns about jeopardizing the parking lot paving funding. The CBM rep indicated that Councillor Kerr had been talking to her about the situation, that CBM wanted to be a community supporter & that CBM was prepared to donate $15,000 to pave the overflow parking area – if these funds could be matched.

 

6. At the July 15 special mtg of the CCA, Councillor Kerr confirmed that CBM had offered to donate $15,000 for the shelter project funding shortfall & $15,000 for overflow parking lot paving – if the paving funds were equally matched from other sources. As a way of matching the paving donation, Councillor Kerr further stated that he had spoken to senior staff & could arrange for $5,000 from the Codrington Solar Project fund & $5,000 from a municipal special parks fund if the CCA would put in the remaining $5,000. It was made clear that CCA needed to support these proposals because they would need to be passed at the July 21 council mtg to get to CBM in time. A motion to postpone a response to CBM’s offer was defeated with CCA President, Ruth Kerr, & Brighton Council CCA rep, Councillor Kerr, both explaining very forcefully that CCA could not afford to postpone a decision or the shelter project would not be funded and, basically the shelter project would be lost. A second motion to accept CBM’s offer, with CCA contributing the necessary $5,000 to complete the overflow parking, was passed.

 

7. There are a number of disturbing issues raised in the preceding paras 5 & 6. Particularly disturbing is the information (see underlining in para 6) that Councillor Kerr committed $10,000 of Brighton taxpayers’ money ($5,000 from a special parks reserves & $5,000 from the Codrington Solar Project fund) without the approval of all of council & without even informing all of council. This information is particularly disturbing because:

 

(a) it is the role of all of council, not just one member of council, to make commitments to spend Brighton taxpayers’ money;

(b) it is against the letter & intent of the Ontario Municipal Act to keep the expenditure of taxpayers’ money hidden from public view & all of councils view; and

(c) had Councillor Kerr done what he is supposed to do & ensured all of councils` approval before making funding commitments to the CCA, all of the dissension & disruption at the CCA could,very possibly, have been prevented.

 

8. Just after midnight of 22 Jul (& 5 1/2 hrs into the council mtg) Cathy McCann once again rose to ask questions @ Question Period. The complete audio record of the ensuing exchange is @ http://www.smilingidiot.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2014-07-21_mcann_QP.m4a. I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. One purpose of Cathy McCann’s questioning seemed to be to attempt to determine who had had the shelter project funding report removed from the agenda. After a lengthy exchange between Mrs Gayle J Frost & Cathy McCann, Mrs Frost responded to Cathy McCann as follows, “Members. The chair of the committee, the CCA committee.” Mrs Frost subsequently confirmed that Ruth Kerr is the chair of the CCA committee.

 

9. Throughout the first 5 minutes (approx) of Cathy McCann’s question, Councillor Kerr – the person paid by Brighton taxpayers as the Brighton council CCA rep – sat silent in his chair as Mrs Frost responded to Cathy McCann’s questions. Councillor Kerr’s silence was broken after the following exchange between Councillor Kerr & I.

 

Martinello: “Can I ask a question? Is Councillor Kerr the rep on the CCA committee or the council rep to the CCA?” …
Kerr: “Yes I am.
Martinello: “Then can you speak to the issue. I mean” (Kerr cuts Martinello off)
Kerr: “YES! …

 

10. I believe:

(a) all that Cathy McCann said at the July 21, 2014 council meeting; and

(b) that Councillor Craig Kerr owes the McCanns, Brighton council & every Brighton taxpayer a full & public accounting of all of his actions as related to this issue.

 

11. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about the preceding, or any other, issue.

 

12. There is nothing confidential in this e-mail. Please feel free to distribute it as you see fit.

 

John Martinello
613 475 5120

 

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