It appeared to be a long agenda… and for the most part it was. There were a few “saves” on items that looked like they might turn into marathon debates, so the majority of business, except the closed session was finished well ahead of the 11th hour.
Here’s are the Cole’s Notes (or Cliff’s Notes if you hold a US passport) rundown of the meeting:
Heritage Committee Endorsement Package
Councillor Dunstall asked to lift for separate consideration the two items of the package, the nomination of the Chair/Vice-Chair of the Committee and Recommendations for properties to be included in the Municipal Heritage Register.
The nominations item was carried without discussion.
On the Heritage Register, Councillor Kadwell asked for an explanation on the register process to give the public a better understanding. He also inquired if being on the register would affect future sales on commercial property. Director Minichillo stated nothing is registered on property and it only affects if someone intends to demolish their building.
Councillor Bothwell asked for clarification on the notification process and it was indicated by staff that letters would go out shortly. Councillor Bothwell also advocated further public education about heritage processes. Councillor Ritchie asked if any houses had been added then removed then added again. There were apparently none to the knowledge of the Director.
The recommendation of properties to be included on the Municipal Heritage Register was carried.
Integrity Commissioner Investigation Report IC-11924-1120 and IC12209-1220 and IC-12212-1220
The investigator for the Integrity Commissioner, Michael Maynard, joined the meeting to discuss three overlapping complaints against Councillor Freake filed by Councillor Dunstall, and two members of the public, one which withdrew their complaint after filing. The basic question before the investigator is whether Councillor Freake was in conflict in voting on the Heritage Cultural District as he lives in the area. The findings of the investigator said there was no conflict in this matter.
Councillor Vaine asked questions of Mr. Maynard about his investigative process and whether he was an Integrity Commissioner.
Councillor Bothwell confirmed with Mr. Maynard that one of the factors in determining conflict is whether the general community or an area of general electors is affected by a decision.
Many councillors commended Mr. Maynard on the thoroughness of his report.
Standalone Whistleblower Policy
Interim HR Manager Rummo gave a presentation as to options for a standalone whistleblower policy as initiated by Council in early 2020. Anonymous and/or third-party reporting were downplayed as not being suitable due to cost and they “suggest a low-level of trust in the internal process”. The recommended option was to use an internal reporting mechanism exclusively.
Councillor Vardy raised concerns with the recommended option if there is problems with the CAO. Mr. Rummo stated that if there was such issue, the Town Clerk would receive the complaint and take it to Council. She further postulated that “having to bring a complaint forward to Council against your boss puts you (an employee) in an unenviable position, one that might be so unenviable that they may try to avoid it”. She went on to state that a “without a third-party option you can run into those problems”.
Councillor Kadwell stated what he read in the report was in line with what he learned from other people in “high-level organizations” and said he would support the second option (internal reporting only).
Councillor Freake commented on the comparison lacking scope, only comparing Niagara municipalities rather than any of the other 440 municipalities in Ontario. He further stated that employees should “have the choice” of how they want to report allegations of wrongdoing. He said to “guarantee confidentiality in a small environment is very difficult” and that unless there is the option for third-party reporting they are “failing at what we are trying to do here”.
Councillor Vaine said his biggest concern is “bad faith complaints”. He stated there is other options such as police, going to a lawyer, human rights commission or labour board. He advocated option two (internal reporting only).
Councillor Bothwell stated “we could do better” and that a number of municipalities have been overlooked by only examining Niagara municipalities. Numerous other municipalities have third-party and anonymous reporting to “serve their employees… to make them feel safe, secure and listened to when they had a complaint”.
Councillor Ritchie echoed Councillor Vaine’s comments and stated “I don’t think that more options have been available” and that there is multiple options available for employees to report with.
The Clerk conducted a “straw-poll” on which option would be discussed further. While not a resolution, the following was the result:
Option One (Third-Party and/or Anonymous Reporting)
Bothwell, Freake, Vardy Jordan
Option Two (Internal Reporting Only)
Dunstall, Kadwell, Ritchie, Sharpe, Vaine
Discussion proceeded on Option Two.
Councillor Vardy asked Mr. Rummo if “all staff been consulted on these options”. Mr. Rummo stated that “we have consulted with the CLT team, we have shared it among ourselves, we have shared with our experts, of course, legal, the working team to bring it forward at this time”. Upon further questioning, he indicated that it had not been shared with all staff.
She further stated that “I don’t think this is really valid to come forward to us, I don’t really think this has had a fulsome staff input, which it should have, because I got concerns and I suspect that staff would have concerns as well”.
Councillor Bothwell put forth a motion to refer the matter back to staff to “consult with employees, to have a staff meeting to discuss it and get their feedback and provide that back to Council”.
Councillor Ritchie asked Mr. Rummo “how much time have you spent putting this whistleblower policy together?”. Mr. Rummo stated “it’s been a few weeks of gathering benchmark information, doing due diligence and coming back and making sure we have it right”. It is important to note that the Council sent this matter to Town Staff on February 3, 2020.
The motion for all stuff input was carried, votes opposed came from Councillors Dunstall, Ritchie and Vaine.
Open Air Fires By-Law
Fire Chief Thompson and FPO Mottershead were on-hand to discuss the results of public engagement, review of the current Open Air Burning By-Law and a recommended By-Law to allow certain open air burning. This appears to be a very collaborative effort across many Town departments.
Councillors asked questions about the permitting process, cost, sensitivity and complaints. Some clarification on fire pits requiring screening and the definitions of adjacent property vs. property line was sought.
The new By-Law was passed unanimously, it is expected that permits will be available in early April. Online permits will enjoy a discount over obtaining them at Town Hall.
Flood Plain / Stormwater Management
Councillor Sharpe discussed his communication with the NPCA and that they opined that flooding was a result of the Town’s infrastructure, namely storm sewer mains. He advocated going ahead with a report to examine the issue in more detail.
Councillor Bothwell asked if recent NPCA information and the aquifer report will be considered as part of the Public Works report. Director Wartman indicated this would form part of the report.
The mover of the motion, Councillor Freake spoke to the rationale for bringing this motion forward. He noted some of the effects of development and relayed a statistic that a medium-sized tree intercepts about 2,380 gallons of water per year and that deforestation and development contribute to changing water flows.
Councillor Ritchie noted the long-standing issues of flooding around Arrowhead Park and Tomahawk and asked the issues being caused by the new development at the former Koornneef property also be considered.
The motion to commission the report was carried.
Before ratifying the Committee of the Whole Minutes of March 1, the matter of the Sign By-Law that was defeated at that meeting were lifted for the separate consideration of Council. Further in the agenda was a letter from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association commenting on the unconstitutional nature of the existing By-Law.
The CCLA identified in their letter that despite discussion of a staff report, no motion was put forward to do this. Councillor Ritchie was the first to speak to the motion and following the cue of the CCLA put forth a motion to have the matter referred to staff for review and changes to the By-Law “if any”.
Councillor Vardy asked for a friendly amendment from Councillor Ritchie to halt any pending actions against residents who have been ticketed or otherwise been advised the Town will be taking action against them in regards to their signs. Councillor Ritchie did not accept the friendly amendment because “there was no permit purchased” by the resident.
The request then became a formal amendment with the wording that “Staff be directed to cease any enforcement at this time”. As deferrals/referrals go to immediate vote without debate, unless debate is as to the merits of the referral, the amended motion proceeded to a vote.
The amendment and main motion was carried, dissenting votes against the amended motion were cast by Councillors Ritchie and Vaine.
That is it for notes for this meeting. If reading this was not long enough, you can always watch the nearly 5 hour meeting at the following links:
Town Archive: https://vimeo.com/527488901