It’s time for another meeting of Council. There are a couple of things that should be of interest to the general public, and one that is a big ‘disappointment’ for me.
Let’s start with the disappointment – the new ‘rules and regulations’ for official Parry Sound committees and boards. This is an item that arose because the Integrity Commissioner’s chastised Council regarding the unilateral dismissal of the Chair of the Downtown Business Association earlier this year. If you remember the incumbent was dismissed from the position without any real discussion or opportunity for the individual to refute what ‘complaints’ underlay the dismissal. This led the Integrity Commissioner to find that the dismissal by Council was not improper because there were no rules or regulations covering committee and board volunteers. The recommendation was that these rules and regulations be developed.
Well here they are, a mash up of other municipality rules and regulations with a Parry Sound tweak. It’s interesting to note that these rules and regulations are being presented for Council approval and adoption without any community input. Typically governments offer the public the opportunity to comment on new regulations before they are finalized and approved. But apparently not in this case.
A review of the proposed rules and regulations reveal lots of words and relatively little content. The one theme that seems to pervade the document is that as a community volunteer serving on a board and committee you are privileged to be donating your time and effort. You serve at the pleasure of Council (a variation of one of my favourite expressions from the TV show, West Wing). Should you be booted off a committee you have no recourse to contest the action (as would have been valuable for the past head of the Downtown Business Association).
It sure seems like committees are expect to serve as no more than a rubberstamp for the wishes of Council. Have you ever seen a full committee report presented to Council? My experience is that Staff and Council just cherry pick what they want from any particular committee and run with it. Or not!
Why would a resident of Parry Sound ever want to be a member of any committee organized by Council? You never get the full background on situations (because they are considered confidential), you are basically gagged (according to the new guidelines) from expressing a contrary public opinion, and you are not getting compensated for your time and effort as are members of Staff and Council.
A couple of practical solutions do come to mind. The first is to set aside the proposed rules and regulations for committees and hold a public discussion/forum on the issues and see what better ideas arise. Committees are intended to provide the public with the opportunity to participate in the formulating of strategies and tactics for the better management of the town. Why not start with involving them in developing the committee rules and regulations? How many committees does the Town currently operate? Not as many as you think. For the most part they have simply disappeared because the volunteers realized that their participation was simply a sham with no real chance for implementing change.
The second solution is the formation of committees by the residents of Parry Sound that don’t involve Council and Staff. It may require a little more organization but it would not have the same range of restrictions as being proposed. And once a position or recommendations have been developed they can be delivered to Council, Staff and the public by means of a deputation. No longer are recommendations buried in committee reports that are somewhere on the Town’s website, if they even get posted. (Speaking of which, aren’t we supposed to be developing a new user friendly website of the Town? I guess that falls under the same list of priorities as the review of the public transportation system.)
Personally I prefer this second approach because it is much more likely to make something happen. The deputation, if provided in a timely manner, would be included in the Council Agenda package and available to all. Council would be obliged to respond to whatever recommendations or proposals were advanced in the deputation. They could of course refuse to accept any and all suggestions but they would be held to account for their decision.
The downside of an ex-officio committee process is that the Town wouldn’t provide any resources to the committee, primarily secretarial, and in some cases an operating budget as has been provided to the Waterfront Committee. But budget is usually not an issue for most committees; all you need is a room. And taking notes is a not so demanding activity.
Given the mass resignation of the Parry Sound Finance Committee members this seems to be an ideal area of focus for an ex-officio public committee. With the reduction in policing costs there will be more money than ever for Council and Staff to ‘play’ with. It’s worth keeping an eye on the process. Let me know if you are interested in participating (parrysounds at gmail.com). If necessary I will be a committee of one.
Let’s take a look at what else is on the agenda.
4.4, 5.3 – Letter and Deputation regarding infrastructure (sewer) issues at 33 Hillcrest Avenue. Oh boy – more sewer and storm water issues related in part to crumbling infrastructure. I can only empathize with the residents who face not only the cost, but also the challenge of dealing with these issues. I know Town Staff is actively addressing the situation but what’s to be done for those who get nailed before the upgrades/repairs are made? This is a problem that is impacting people’s ability to get home insurance. We had a similar issue from a different homeowner last month.
5.1 – Deputation regarding Council’s recent approval of a second driveway at 47 Marion Street. The individual feels they have been misled by Council and Staff with respect to the timing and process for this matter and would like to have their input properly noted prior to any final decision. Wait, Council made a final decision at the last meeting didn’t they?
5.2, 9.2.1 – Deputation and Resolution. Amendment to Site Approval Plan for Hands the Family Help Network. This was previously scheduled for the last meeting of Council and withdrawn. I sit on the Board of this not-for-profit organization helping the young and old with mental challenges so will not offer further comment.
5.4 – Deputation regarding accessible pedestrian signals at the intersection of Seguin and James Street.
9.1.1 – Resolution. Approval of a Sewers technologies Inc. quotation to flush and clean 17,000+ meters of sanitary sewer for $16,675.60. More infrastructure investment. I love the nickels and dimes of these quotes for service. “No sir/ma’am, we don’t round up or down to the next dollar”.
9.1.2 – Resolution. Council prioritize William Street from Mill Lake Road to Annie Street for potential Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund support. More potential infrastructure investment. I’m glad to see it is being addressed. Late is still better than later. Other communities are much ‘deeper in the hole’ with respect to their infrastructure needs. This is a case of when you find yourself in a ‘hole’ you should start digging.
9.5.1 – Resolution. A 2015 budget preparation schedule. It starts September 30th, with public input permitted. Thereafter it is not obvious that the public will be able to review the draft budgets. I’ll ask for clarification on what information will be made available to the public and when.
10.1.1 – By-law. Updates and revisions to the Town’s Cemetery By-Laws. I didn’t study this to any extent but among other things it seems Staff is being challenged by classifying who is and isn’t a Parry Sound resident for the purposes of determining internment fees. Arghh!
10.4.1 – By-law, Resolution and Direction. The amendment of By-law 2012-6138 to incorporate Boards and Committees. A Resolution to adopt the proposed Committee Rights and Responsibilities Policy. A Direction to forgo having the Integrity Commissioner present a governance and procedural information and education session for Council, staff, and Town board and committee members. A further Direction to have the Clerk and/or Deputy Clerk to provide the appropriate training to the new Council, boards and committees following the upcoming election. My sense is that participating on a Town Committee or Board is likely to be an exercise in futility, but I hope to be proved wrong. If you want to set up an effective committee process you should engage the community in the process of defining roles and responsibilities. Or you could just tell them ‘this is how it’s gonna be’ and accept the consequences. And still there is no process for an individual to contest their removal from a board or committee. At least we don’t have gulags to worry about.
Please be sure to check out the full Council package. There is more than I can realistically summarize, and you may think issues I’ve skipped are important. But it’s most fun to read the details of the letters and Staff Reports and Recommendations. There is always something that surprises and informs.
See you Tuesday night.
It’s like they were never gone. (Parry Sound in Black & White)