Nailing Collingwood’s Door Shut to Business

DohertyCouncillor Deb Doherty seems eager to cement this council’s already ugly but deserved reputation for being hostile to business. This week she made a motion to re-open the always-contentious sign bylaw, apparently in order to impose draconian restrictions on business signs

THAT Council direct Staff to review Sign By-law 2012-110 with respect to sign height and any other revisions or amendments as deemed appropriate by the Chief Building Official; AND FURTHER THAT the report be presented through the Development and Operations Standing Committee not later than August 31, 2015.

Sign bylaws are necessary, but always contentious to debate. Municipalities want to limit clutter. Business owners want the freedom to erect signs that attract customers, advertise their products and generate revenue. Our bylaw is already strict enough: over the years it has proven a fair balance between control and liberty. Why fix what isn’t broken?

But apparently Ms. Doherty wants to tighten the screws on businesses. And I suspect most of council – the rest of the Block Five who vote as a clump, for sure – will follow her lead.

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Reincarnation as a Consultant or a Psychic?

 

A wag met Nasrudin. In his pocket he had an egg. “Tell me, Mullah, are you any good at guessing games?”
“Not bad,” said Nasrudin.
“Very well then: tell me what I have in my pocket.”
“Give me a clue, then.”
“It is shaped like an egg, it is yellow and white inside, and it looks like an egg.”
“Some sort of cake,” said Nasrudin.*

NasrudinShould I have the chance to do my life all over again, I’m not sure which career I would prefer most: a psychic or a consultant. One takes money from people because he is scamming them. The other takes money from people thinking he is helping them. I just can’t remember which is which.

I think if I were a consultant, I’d specialize in writing strategic plans for municipalities. That way, I’d only ever have to write one report, at the start, then I could recycle it to everyone else with minimal changes.

A psychic is, well, just someone who makes stuff up and gets paid for it. Other cultures call them liars, con artists, hoaxers, investment bankers. You don’t have to be very creative at it.

A consultant, however, is really a cook who works with words and ideas. Once you have the recipe just right, you only need scale it for the audience to sell it over and over. Toss lightly with a selection of local and generic photographs, get the mayor to write an introduction, and serve warm.

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The Antis at Sunset Point

ChipperThere are always those who don’t want change. Any change upsets them. Anything that’s new, different, exciting, challenging or just unusual bothers them and want it stopped. They want a steady state, where nothing happens, nothing changes, nothing is new. Stop growth, stop development, stop change.

Some of them are the ‘last in’ crowd – the recent arrivals who don’t want any more newcomers because newcomers will change things, and they will change the reasons the ‘last-in’ group came here. They want to be the last ones to arrive and to shut the door after themselves. They want things to remain as they were when they arrived.

Some are long-time residents who think the world should have stopped in the 80s when the shipyards were still operating. They don’t like what Collingwood has become since then. They don’t like having more than one phone exchange. They don’t like homes on the waterfront. They don’t like turning lanes on First Street. They don’t like having Thai, Japanese or Indian food restaurants because they’re too ‘foreign’. They want time to freeze and things to stop changing so damned fast. If it was good enough for their grandparents, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

And some are simply antis – people who are anti-everything. Anti-anything they didn’t think of first. Everyone else’s ideas are bad and they will protest them, write petitions, send letters, complain on social media

And some of these folks live at Sunset Point, across from the park. Last term these Antis protested the upgrades to Sunset Point Park – upgrades that made it more attractive and safer. They claimed the upgrades would reduce the amount of green space (grass cover), although the landscape architect made a presentation showing the upgrades would actually increase grass cover. They didn’t like the new sidewalk aimed at reducing traffic conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians because, well just because. They didn’t want the dreary old washroom/ice cream stall building to be upgraded, cleaned up and improved. They didn’t want a restaurant there with a patio. They didn’t want to encourage outsiders to use the park.

Go to Sunset Point any warm summer weekend and it’s packed with people. Visitors love to come there for a picnic. Buses arrive. Families gather. Kids and dogs play. People swim. It’s lively, exciting, fun. Plus the new restaurant is busy and successful, with its patio packed. Visitors love it. So do a lot of residents.

Sunset Point Antis hate it. They want it to be their park, and theirs only. They don’t want anything done to the park, even safety upgrades, without their permission. They don’t like anyone else’s success. And they most certainly don’t want to encourage any more visitors to use their park. “Keep out of our park,” they moan.

So what if this is a tourist town, so what if our economy depends heavily on visitors, on people enjoying themselves, having a good time, having good experiences and good recreational and dining? The Antis just don’t want them here. Why, they ask, should outsiders have a good time, when they come here?

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It’s Official: Collingwood is Closed for Business

Close for businessAs I predicted, Collingwood Council officially closed the town to business, growth and development, last Monday night. And just for good measure, council sprinkled the ground with the salt of malice, just to further deter a particular developer from building here. Which sends a message to everyone about how this town respects and values development.

Anyone who doesn’t think this is about ideology or doesn’t know this is a personal and petty vendetta hasn’t been paying attention to local politics this past decade.

The process of closing our municipal doors to business started earlier this year when council raised our taxes and our water rates while voting themselves a pay hike – knowing full well this would hurt our businesses and seniors. But hey, they got a raise, so what do they care? And they tossed $40,000 of your money to councillor Jeffrey so she could party hearty out of town. She deserves warm camembert and caviar while cavorting around the country, doesn’t she?

Then, the development and operations standing committee voted to defer the sale of the weed-infested, near-waterfront property known as Block 9 until the end of the Age of Mammals or thereabouts. After that, all but two members of our bobblehead council agreed to the deferral.

According to the story in the Connection:

“We defer selling the property or making the decisions with regards to selling the property until the completion of the waterfront master plan and the waterfront master plan will be started in accordance with the direction from council,” said planner Nancy Farrer. “We anticipate that it will be started as soon as the strategic plan is finished.”

That strategic plan is the one Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson promised sincerely he would have in the public’s hands within the first 90 days of this term (it’s been 209 days now and counting…). The plan has nothing to do with individual property sales or micromanaging town resources. The mandate for it didn’t even mention the waterfront master plan. And don’t expect to see anything from the committee until very late 2015 at the earliest.

Since council – rather cunningly – hasn’t even raised this nebulous “waterfront master plan” as a project for 2015, it won’t even get started until mid-2016 at the soonest. If the delays in the strategic plan are any example of council’s dithering, the waterfront plan will be delayed for many more months, if not years. If it ever arrives…

There is no logical reason to assume the fabled waterfront plan will get started immediately after the strategic plan is complete. It’s far more realistic to assume any development and growth in town will be delayed until the invisible pink unicorns arrive – because council can continue to use it as an excuse to avoid making decisions and hampering growth.

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Connection Got It Wrong

Block 9The story in this weekend’s Connection about Block 9 underground parking incorrectly suggests council is doing something right when it was actually trying to do something wrong. But they tried to take credit for doing good when their efforts at malice failed.

I expect mistakes like this from the Enterprise-Bulletin because it doesn’t have anyone on staff with a history that goes back very far (aside, that is, from the generally bad, mistake-prone writing that makes it painful to read…), but not the Connection.

The story notes:

After a short in-camera session, council voted unanimously to allow the developer to build underground parking on property on Huron Street.
Assaff owns block 11 of the former Shipyard lands at the corner of Heritage Drive and Huron Street, and under the master plan for that site, underground parking is allowed.

Let’s leave aside the dubious legality of going behind closed doors over parking for a moment (which the media didn’t question…) and discuss the parking issue.

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Block Nine Revisited

Block 9

I went down to the harbour today to take a couple of photographs of the piece of town land known as “Block 9.” I wanted to show my readers just how little a piece it is and what condition it’s in now. The aerial photo above shows the property outlined in orange (the photograph is several years out of date, but the property lines remain the same).

The photograph below shows the land from the northwest corner, looking southeast. Notice the water that has collected because the land lies much lower than surrounding properties and has no drainage (no, it isn’t a swimming hole: it’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes). Also notice the hoarding along the south that extends along Huron Street in front of the private property, but only to the eastern edge of the town property:
Block 9

Here’s a photo looking southwest from the northeast corner. the building on the right is the new Bank of Montreal building. Notice the hoarding on the left does not extend across the border of the town land, so the public can see this dreary piece of untended, public property. Shouldn’t the town be forced to live up to the same property standards the rest of us have to obey?

Block 9

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Waterfront No-Brainer

No brainerTwo terms ago, the public and media often referred to council as “the gong show” – no doubt from the number of inane comments and witless questions made at the table. One wonders if that nickname should not be revisited for this term.

This week’s gong for inanity goes to Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson for his comments after a public presentation by a local developer about purchasing an unused bit of town land.

Saunderson clearly hasn’t grasped the procedure by which council members should not comment on or to delegations, and only ask questions of clarification. But why should he bother with such a subtle process when he can loudly alert his block of followers at the table how he intends to vote – in case they might stray from the party line.

Saunderson made his opinion about the delegation’s request known before council has received a staff report on it. He even voted against receiving a staff report. Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is already made up… so much for that openness we were promised.

According to the story in The Connection, Saunderson said,

“My concern is not so much around the council table, but from the public. We have our strategic planning process out there and are very much hoping we will move forward with a harborfront (sic) plan as well. My position is I don’t think that timeline is fair to the public or achievable, I wouldn’t be supporting any idea moving forward with this until we’ve done our strategic plan or waterfront plan.”

One can only shake one’s head at this muddled statement.

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Good News for the Rec Facilities

Centennial PoolA story in this week’s Collingwood Connection vindicates the decision to build the two new rec facilities last term. According to the story, usage of the two facilities – the new arena at Central Park and the renovated Centennial Pool – is soaring.

Plus as an added benefit, Centennial pool is able to host competitions all year round – and it does. Just drive by it on a swim meet weekend and you’ll see the parking lot full; dozens of families attend, many of them staying here for shopping, food or even overnight. It’s a great economic benefit, not merely recreational. And everyone who uses the pool loves it; swimmers, visitors, seniors who use the therapeutic pool, parents, teachers – they all have positive things to say.

Net operating costs for the two sites totalled $628,000 for 2014. That’s the cost to service thousands of people at both sites over the year. Consider that for many years the town operated the Contact Centre for about 40 members at a cost of $250,000 a year. These sites serve 100 times as many users for about two-and-a-half times the cost. And the Contact Centre couldn’t host events or spectators like the new facilities can.

That net operating amount will continue to be reduced as usage climbs and the town’s revenue increases. And from all indications, that usage will only continue to rise. The number of people signed up for swimming lessons alone is up by 30% over last year.

Plus we now have use of the Eddie Bush arena as a convention, event and trade show venue, which offers not only more revenue but many more spin-off opportunities for local businesses. This coming weekend will see its first use when it hosts a large federal Liberal Party convention.

As expected, the new facilities are very energy-efficient to operate. That was a prime reason for approving them, but it’s good to see that recognized in print. It has proven a wise decision.

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Openness and Transparency?

Closed door policy

Legitimacy is earned through accountability. Accountability is produced through transparency.

Those words are from an opinion piece by Ian Lee, published in the Ottawa Citizen, back in 2008. Important words; words that should be carved above our own council table in large letters.

Although it seems like he was writing about Collingwood Council, Lee was actually writing about the need for more accountability and openness in the public sector, especially about stating expenses and costs of federal government projects and initiatives. Lee wanted to “…ensure the accountability of public policy expenditures to Canadians – who pay the bills – thereby ensuring the legitimacy of our democratic system.”

Prescient words they are, given the current investigations into the Mike Duffy and the Senate entitlement, spending and expense scandals currently in the courts.

But of course, his comments have parallels here, in the local municipal sphere.

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Illegal or Just Inappropriate Meetings?

StoogesCollingwood’s three standing committees consist solely of three members of council, each.*

These committees of three each hold regular, published monthly meetings, hear public delegations, address public issues, post an agenda, receive staff reports, vote on issues, have recorded minutes, have staff to record them, and make recommendations back to council.

In other words they are treated identically to any regular council meeting.  Their recommendations are read into the council minutes and voted upon.

Yet none of these committees has a quorum (majority) of council on it.

When one person is absent, as has happened several times since they were struck, the committee consists of a mere two members of council. Three – and sometimes two – members of council can make recommendations about policy, events or issues on behalf of the town that may be approved by council.

Is this democratic? Open? Accountable? Clearly not, if two people can decide issues for the whole town.

More to the point, is it legal?

As I understand it, according to Section 237 of the Municipal Act, to be legal, a meeting requires a quorum of council: in this case, a minimum of five members, and councils cannot alter that requirement (emphasis added):

237 (2) The council of a municipality referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of subsection (1) may reduce its quorum requirement but may not reduce it to less than a majority of its members. 2001, c. 25, s. 237 (2).

According to a paper published by George H. Rust-D’Eye for the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association, November 20, 2014 (emphasis added):

Councillors are legislative decision-makers of the municipality, and, with the exception of the head, who is the chief executive officer, they have no individual executive or ministerial duties. Moreover, they have no authority to act for the corporation except in conjunction with other members constituting a quorum. As legislators, they fulfil a role similar to members of Parliament or the Provincial Legislature.

In a report to the City of London, the Ombudsman noted that,

…having a quorum means a sufficient number of members (a majority in this case) are present to legally transact business.

The corollary seems to me that not having a quorum means the committee cannot legally conduct business relating to the town. Yet each one does.

As I read the various reports and laws, an official meeting requires a quorum. Without it, it is not a legal meeting. But even if it is – what is open and transparent about two or three out of nine deciding what policies or recommendations to make to council?

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Signs – of the Apocalypse?

signCouncillor Cam Ecclestone made a comment at council earlier this month that he had been contacted by several residents concerned about the new sign on the Rexall Drug store on Huron Street, its size and colours. Coun. Doherty chimed in about it with similar comments.

Aside from the question why anyone would contact a member of council whose sluggish performance at the table would win an award for best impersonation of a somnambulist, one has to wonder who these residents are who are so concerned about a rather ordinary corporate/franchise sign.

Well, I mean aside from the handful of petty ideologues who want to blame all the evils under the sun on the developer, that is. He, of course, has nothing to do with the corporate signage of a tenant in one of his buildings.

But that’s logic, and these folks are not concerned with logic. They hate everything he does and has ever done, and will ever do, so why not blame him? Didn’t he give us that bad winter, after all? Isn’t he responsible for all those frozen pipes? So why stop hating him now?

No matter to them that the building is in neither the heritage district nor the BIA, so does not have to comply with any sign restrictions therein. Nor that the building actually passed a heritage impact assessment that said it was just fine, signs and all. Nor that the sign went through all necessary and stringent site plan agreements and was approved by town staff as conforming with our own bylaws.*

(And these approvals are entirely out of council’s hands, past and present, so councillors questioning them are in fact questioning staff’s integrity….)

No matter that the building and its tenants are located downtown, rather than outside the core where they might have been, and they will help bring more people to the area, and they and their clients will likely use local services and businesses.**

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The Not-My-Fault Dance

There’s a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection about the PUC board meeting this week. The board confirmed that council’s dumping unexpected costs on the utility will mean an unplanned increase in the cost of your water this year. One of our council representatives tried to dance around it as if he wasn’t among the causes of that increase.

This hurtful rate increase happened because council unwisely moved the budgeted cost of hydrant maintenance from the town’s fire service budget – where it had had been for years with no additional impact on taxes – and stuck it on the PUC (without consulting the PUC board), where it will cause rates to rise. That’s in part due to the unplanned $400,000 cost of repairing frozen pipes this past winter, which ate up any of the utility’s spare funds.

I wrote about that budget debacle in early April. This particular move was done to satisfy some hidden political agenda promoted by town hall, not for any real budgeting reason or at the request of the PUC. Some of those at the table did a 180-degree shift when it came back, approving what they initially opposed.

Obviously some more backroom lobbying went on to get that change.

Council still put your taxes up, so nothing was saved. But to make sure those at the table weren’t affected by the rising water costs or taxes, council voted themselves a raise. Plus they threw $40,000 of your taxes at Coun. Jeffrey’s expense account so she could wine and dine herself around the country in pursuit of her own glorious political career.

This rate increase will hurt local businesses, seniors, renters, low-income earners, industry… but not councillors. So much for accountability. L’etat c’est moi.

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