The following letter from Brighton resident, Mr. Frank Amstutz was published in the Brighton Independent on February 12, 2015. Re-published here with permission.
Personally I think that this is an excellent letter that discusses “business development and the development of the Esso property” in a thoughtful and balanced manner.
re: business development and the development of the Esso property.
I feel very strongly that everyone has a right to voice their opinion and be able to disagree with decisions made by their government, and I applaud those who actually take an issue that they feel strongly about (like those citizens who are forming a group to oppose the development of the Esso gas station property), and see it to a conclusion.
Dave Cutler and David Green feel that council neither understands the interests of the business community nor have the insight for future development of Brighton. They might be right. However, what they do not take in to account is the possibility that a majority of the council actually do understand what has been presented to them, but just don’t agree. Brighton Council did vote to not spend more time and money on the cultural trade centre as it was proposed, but they did say clearly that if the business community brought forward a more cohesive, costed plan, they would be willing to reconsider the issue. As a local business person, who is also a taxpayer, I think that is an appropriate response to any initiative.
I would prefer that a gas station not be built on the empty ESSO lot, but I do not object to having the station there either, as historically there had been a gas station on the site for decades, and any other new development on that site will also have traffic issues. There will be people for and against any development of that site and council has the right to decide on behalf of its citizens what they would like.
I have had to endure many municipal, provincial, and federal governments whose philosophy and actions I did not agree with, but I would never state, as has Mr. Green, (who clearly disagrees with much of what Brighton Council is doing), that it is “an affront to the democratic process . “ What both Mr. Green and Mr. Cutler miss, is that this council was elected only four months ago by a majority of the citizens of Brighton who gave it a clear mandate for change. The fact that the council are not behaving in the manner, or voting in favour of what they feel to be important, does not make the process less democratic.
Newly elected municipal governments, like their provincial and federal counterparts, are not bound to the policy of the previous government. Mike Harris did not follow Bob Rae’s plans just because they were already in place. John Tory is not obliged to go the path of Rob Ford now that he is mayor of Toronto. Even though there is a development plan in place for Brighton, this newly elected council is not bound to carry on with it, if a majority of council feel otherwise.
A last comment would be to criticize the Brighton Independent who have used inflammatory headlines like ‘Downtown Brighton Under Attack’ and ‘Brighton citizens fight back’ along with biased reporting of these events. Starting a story with “Residents in Brighton are tired of council not listening to them and are planning to fight back” when not used as a quote, becomes a statement by the reporter, Joyce Cassin (herself a failed council candidate). How citizens could be tired of a council four months old that is “not listening” seems absurd. I attended a meeting while council sat and listened to more than 14 people in a row speaking on behalf of the proposed centre, the fact that they didn’t vote to move forward on this endeavor does not mean that they didn’t listen.
I would assert that the majority of citizens in Brighton have not yet formed an opinion good or bad about this council in such a short time. Inflammatory comments and headlines by the paper help to create ill feeling toward government generally. Now that is something that does not serve democracy.
Ombudsman’s Message – Winds of Change, Clearer Days Ahead
Read the Ombudsman’s third annual report on the work of the Ontario Ombudsman’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET), which is solely devoted to upholding Ontario’s municipal open meeting law, also known as the Sunshine Law.
I want to thank everyone for attending today, in person, by phone and via our live webcast.
As I release this report today, I can’t help but think back to January 2008, when Ontario first implemented its “Sunshine Law,” allowing members of the public to complain when they were shut out of local council meetings.
Municipalities were afraid there would be a flood of complaints. Elected officials were worried that they wouldn’t be allowed to attend social gatherings together. And I was concerned that the law would be a weak patchwork because it allowed municipalities to handpick their own investigators and opt out of Ombudsman oversight.
Seven years later, we have seen some progress. Many municipalities have reformed their practices and embraced the open meeting rules. There has not been a flood of complaints – in fact, after steady increases in the past few years, we saw a drop this past year.
And that’s a good thing – it shows that in most cases, municipalities are following the rules. Elected officials and the public are more educated about the Sunshine Law, and I like to think that seven years of reporting and outreach by our office has helped with that.
Of course, some councils are still breaking the law, whether through ignorance or intent. We had fewer complaints, but they were more likely to be justified. We were able to concentrate on the serious cases and dismiss those that seemed frivolous or sparked by ulterior motives.
A few municipalities illegally twisted the rules – like those that stretched the exception for discussions about “personal matters” to apply to almost any meeting involving a person. And some ignored the rules altogether, doing business outside of council chambers with third parties. But all of our recommendations were accepted, and several councils took our advice to start digitally recording all their meetings.
However, my main concerns about the Sunshine Law haven’t changed: There are no consequences for breaking it, and municipalities can still choose any investigator they like. This year, we saw the public and politicians complain about the spotty and inconsistent investigations by hired investigators. This undermines the law – the same standards should be applied provincewide.
The good news is, local government accountability rose to the forefront of the political agenda this year. The province passed Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, last month, giving my office full oversight of municipalities, as well as school boards and universities. Once it is proclaimed in force, we will finally be able to help people with virtually any problem with their local government, not just narrow questions about the open meeting rules.
We are already seeing a spike in complaints about municipal issues, especially since Bill 8 passed. Many candidates in October’s municipal elections were enthusiastic about Bill 8, and a lot of the old guard who violated the Sunshine Law and resisted our investigations in the past were tossed out by the voters.
A few of the newly elected councils have chosen to drop their hired investigators and come back to us, including Sudbury and Leeds and the Thousand Islands, both of which opted out in the past after we issued critical reports.
We’re now at an historic turning point in municipal accountability. I’m optimistic that the elections and Bill 8 have ushered in a new era where oversight and openness at the municipal level will be taken seriously.
– André Marin, Ontario Ombudsman
“in July 2014, residents of the Town of Brighton packed a community centre to hear me speak about the Sunshine Law, and soon after, their council dropped LAS as their investigator (reverting to my Office by default), and resolved to electronically record all closed sessions.” – André Marin, Ontario Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Legislature who investigates complaints from the public about Ontario government services. André Marin has been the Ombudsman since 2005 and his investigations have sparked numerous government reforms.