Last night’s council meeting was painful to sit through. This had nothing to do with Councilor Saulnier sitting in as Deputy Mayor, it perhaps was a result of there being too few topics of importance to debate and the councilors’ need to get more face time on Cogeco by nitpicking over details best left to staff. More on this below.

The body count for the meeting was 5 councilors. Mayor McGarvey and Councilor Horne were absent. Town staff numbered 7. Moose-FM, Cogeco and the North Star were present. The audience numbered 10, of which 4 left after their deputations.

There was a deputation by Sail Parry Sound that summarized their activities and plans for 2012. Sail Parry Sound does a nice job of bringing activities and people to Parry Sound that enhance our image and quality of life. The Canadian Armed Forces provided a short overview of what will be going on with respect to Parry Sound over the next week as they conduct their military maneuvers.

Interesting and Notable Agenda Items

Items 4.4, 4.3, 4.6, letters from town residents to council requesting clarification on  the proposed expansion of the Downtown Business Association (DBA) boundaries were referred to town staff for a response.

Items 9.1.1 and 9.1.2 concerned the Charitable Assistance and Municipal Assistance Programs that were discussed and approved in principle earlier this year. I was astounded to see that once again council could not get to a decision on the charitable assistance program. This has been before council at least three times and has been going on for more than 6 months. It involves a total of $5,000. What is the issue here? There is agreement at council that a problem exists and town staff has offered a solution that, while perhaps not ideal, at least provides some relief to the town’s charitable groups.

There were three points that caused me to shake my head in wonder. The first was the suggestion by one councilor that the town revisit once again whether it was possible to amend the town’s permit to allow for charitable dumping rather than approve the assistance program. This has been discussed and was felt by town staff to present a significant challenge. The councilor’s point is reasonable but why didn’t this councilor vote for the assistance program and then request staff investigate the permit revision options? In this way the charitable organizations would have been able to get some relief now – almost six months after it was agreed help was appropriate, with the possibility that an even better outcome might be possible later.

The second point was the comment by another councilor that perhaps by not approving this assistance program the charitable organizations would be forced to be more creative in managing the problem. These groups are for the most part getting rid of the ‘garbage’ that people in town and the surrounding areas are dumping on their doorstep. Perhaps that’s the same type of thinking that the federal and provincial governments are using in their continued reduction of municipal funding. They want town councils to be ‘more creative’.

The final shake my head moment was when council split 2 to 2 on approving the municipal assistance program and looked to the deputy mayor to break the tie. Following an initial ‘deer in the headlights’ look on the deputy mayor’s face he voted down the resolution.

So staff and council will spend more time and effort on this $5,000 issue. The way it has moved forward so far perhaps it can be wrapped up by year’s end with only another half dozen council discussions.

By way of disclosure I have no affiliation with any of the charitable organizations who might benefit from the municipal assistance program. I just have my own sense of what is fair and reasonable. While heading out to a meeting this evening (May 2nd) I saw a sofa on a front lawn with the sign – “Free”. Well it was raining rather hard at that point, and assuming the sofa was a decade or two old with stories it could tell of pets and kids, it’s likely it will soon end up as a ‘donation’ at the Salvation Army because it would cost $10 or $20 to dispose of at the town transfer station. But heck this is another opportunity for the Salvation Army to be creative in dealing with ‘their garbage problem’. Perhaps the creative thing to do is get a few dozen town residents to donate their dump passes and use it to clear out a year’s worth of garbage. But wait they can’t accept Salvation Army discards because of the transfer station permit. But of course they can if it involves a town resident who is lucky enough to have the assistance of a local charitable organization to provide them with the transportation to get ‘their’ garbage to the transfer station. Brilliant! But it would just be playing a game, not addressing a real problem. Let’s get this municipal assistance program issue resolved and not just pushed back meeting after meeting.

Item 9.3.2, the purchase of three new ambulances for the Land Ambulance service was approved.

Items 9.4.1, 10.4.1 and 10.4.2, a series of by-laws pertaining to property standards were passed.

Item 9.4.2, a request to extend the security realization period of the Parry Sound Travel Centre was denied. The $40,000 ‘security deposit’ will be retained by the town.

Item 9.6.1 relating to a report from the Integrity Commissioner concerning a Code of Conduct complaint against a member of council was approved. I’m comforted to know that certain members of council now understand the difference between ‘accept’ and ‘approve’. They were in the end seemingly willing to ‘accept’ the report but not ‘approve’ it. The whole discussion seemed to have overtones of passive-aggressive politicking.

That’s my take on the council meeting. It took almost two and a half hours, about an hour more than the agenda items would have seemed to warrant. The final minutes should be out in a day or two and be posted at the town’s website.