Monday, December 22, 2014

Why the Need to Protect Privacy?

As your new Pelham Council completes “orientation,” I thought I would offer a refresher about Open and Closed meetings.

More Open than Ever:
Except for some very limited and well prescribed situations, all of Council’s business must be done in public and in the open.

To help facilitate this, we publish our agendas in advance of our meetings and publish our minutes on our website after each meeting. Over the last couple of years, we have taken additional steps to be even more open and transparent by posting video recordings of our meetings on the Town’s website. TV Cogeco also records and broadcasts our meetings. And, for the last year or so, we also publish and distribute “Council Highlights” – a roundup of key elements from our Council and Committee meetings.

Ontario Ombudsman: 
While Council and I are committed to being open and transparent, occasionally, portions of Council’s meetings need to be closed to the public; we call this “in camera” – which in Latin means “in private.”

Why is that?

The Ombudsman for Ontario publishes a guide entitled “The Sunshine Law Handbook: Open Municipal Meetings in Ontario.” In that book he writes:
“Why does the legislation permit closed meetings?“While transparency of municipal governance should be maximized as far as possible, the Municipal Act, 2001 recognizes that there may be certain situations in which the privacy of an individual should be respected, or where open meetings would not serve the public interest, or the interests of the municipality.”
Generally speaking, the Ontario Municipal Act allows for Councillors to meet “in camera” regarding three things: land, legal, and labour matters. That means that when we discuss the potential purchase or sale of a specific property, the hiring of a specific individual, or receive legal advice, we can hold the discussions in private. The legislation allows this to protect the privacy of individuals and the best interests of the Town.

The Facts:
During 2014, there have been 44 Council meetings. In addition, we met as Committee of the Whole 16 times and as Policy & Priorities Committee nine times. We have also convened 25 Special Meetings; these meetings include the creative problem solving sessions we held regarding the future of Maple Acre Library, strategic planning, and new Council orientation.

Most times we include an in camera session or meeting into a Council meeting. We have had 29 closed sessions in 2014 with 48 agenda items. (Compare this to the Township of West Lincoln with 70 closed session agenda items and the Niagara Region with more than 130 items for the same period.)

Seventeen agenda items in 2014 dealt with property or leasing issues. For example, we discussed the potential Memorandum of Understanding with Wellspring during three of those meetings – and then made the agreement public and eventually approved the agreement during a regular Council meeting on April 7.

Similarly, we discussed the potential lease of the arena to the Pelham Pirates during three closed sessions in mid-July; then, after it become available publicly on July 18 and we approved an agreement on July 21.

We purchased small bits of property to help with road construction – on Port Robinson Road (from the District School Board of Niagara, at the base of Mason Drive, and on Station Street to extend Pelham Town Square; those initial reports came to Council in closed session so we could discuss their parameters. Each were also approved publicly shortly thereafter.

We also met four times in 2014 to discuss the agreement to sell 7.7 acres of East Fonthill land to the Allen Group to build a new Medical Centre and retirement home; we had to work on those matters privately so that we could get the great results we achieved for the Town.

We also discussed labour relations or employees negotiations 14 times in 2014. For example, three of those times dealt with the recruitment of a new Director of Planning. Seven of our sessions included establishing a new performance management system, a pay equity review, and the vacation policy; these too became publicly available after our discussions. During two of our sessions this past summer, we reviewed the performance of the Chief Administrative Officer.

Eight sessions dealt with routine legal matters. These included matters like legal advice about the appeal of the Town’s Official Plan at the Ontario Municipal Board, the potential for an easement on properties, and status updates on other legal and insurance matters. One session was the orientation of the new Council with all legal matters.

Finally, the Municipal Act allows for “in camera” education sessions for Councillors; we convened three sessions in 2014. Two sessions were about the Town’s insurance coverage; the other, information months in advance about Exercise Stalwart Guardian – the 5,500 soldiers that came to Niagara in August for a military training exercise.

I hope that this information helps you appreciate why meeting “in camera” helps to respect and protect the privacy of individuals and, as the Ombudsman says, the “interests of the municipality.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Refresher on Council & Committee Meetings

As your new Pelham Council goes through an “orientation,” I thought I would offer a refresher about Council and Committee meetings.

As a general rule, your Town Council meets at 6:30 PM on the first and third Mondays of each month in the Council Chambers in Town Hall. If one of our regular meetings falls on a holiday Monday (like Labour Day), we meet on the Tuesday.

Council is formal; it’s where we undertake the official business of the “Corporation of the Town of Pelham.” We advance the Town’s business through motions and a Procedural Bylaw provides order for our discussions. At Council, we make resolutions and enact bylaws – for budgeting, taxation, administration, and enforcement. We set policy, approve legal agreements, present awards, receive delegations, and act on official correspondence. We also receive minutes of the Town’s various committees and ratify the decisions of the Committee of the Whole and Policy & Priorities Committee.

COW and P&P:
Immediately following our Town Council meetings, we hold either a “Committee of the Whole” meeting (affectionately termed COW) or a “Policy & Priorities” Committee meeting (P&P).

The COW meetings are less formal and tend to be much more detailed oriented. We receive monthly updates from each of the Town’s departments – corporate services (including finance, IT, HR), public works (including roads, water/waste water, cemeteries, facilities), fire and bylaw services, planning and development services (including the building department), recreation, culture & wellness (including parks), and administration (including clerks and chief administrative officer). Councillors not only discuss the reports, but we also raise, discuss, and work on issues directly from the community or as recommended by staff.

The Ontario Municipal Act states that one of the roles of a local Council is to “to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality”; we specifically use the monthly Policy & Priorities meeting for this purpose. For example, over the last couple of years, Council has reviewed the Town’s human resources policies (including the establishment of a formal performance management system), financial policies (including a new procurement policy and bylaw), and are currently working our way through health and safety and public works policies. And, as other priorities arise, we can deal with them during this committee meeting.

Both Council and Committees require “quorum” – at least a majority (four) of seven members – to legally function and make decisions. Each member of Council, including the Mayor, gets one vote. If the majority of members at the meeting support a motion, it is “Approved” or “Carried.” If not, the motion is “Lost” or “Defeated.” In the case of a tie vote, the motion is defeated.

I hope that this information helps you to understand the workings of your Council. Next time I’ll write about Open and Closed meetings.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ending the “Old Boys Club”

Courtesy: SunMedia
A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about the upcoming vote – on Thursday, December 11 – to appoint the Regional Chair for the 2014-18 term.

The Regional Chair holds an extremely important role in Niagara. Not only does she or he set the legislative and economic agenda and preside over Regional Council, the Chair also advocates for all of Niagara with Provincial, Federal, and other Governments.

I wrote then that Niagara Region continues to elect our Chair from the 30 recently elected members of Regional Council – Niagara’s 12 Mayors and the 18 directly elected Councillors.

We use a “run-off” style election – like used in some political leadership elections – where the candidates with the least votes keep “dropping” and balloting (voting) continues until one candidate receives a majority – more than 16 votes.

While the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulated that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote.

Following their election as Chair, the person must “give up” his or her seat – creating a vacancy on Regional Council. We then accept the advice of the local City or Town Council on who to appoint – like the next candidate or a member of that local Council – or whether to hold a by-election.

Recent Chamber of Commerce Debate:
Despite these policies and precedents that prevent a direct election for Regional Chair, I believe that the process should be as open and transparent as possible.

That’s why I applaud Niagara’s eight local Chambers of Commerce, the local Sun Media newspapers, and TV Cogeco for organizing a public debate of candidates for Chair on December 3. (To view the debate, please see:

I commend the four candidates – Bruce Timms (St. Catharines), Henry D’Angela (Thorold), Bill Hodgson (Lincoln), and Gary Burroughs (Niagara-on-the-Lake) – for embracing the debate and providing their views on how they could serve in this very important leadership role.

By having the courage to answer questions from the business community and the media, they tried to end the “old boys club” approach and make the process more open and transparent.

Let’s Open-Up the Chair’s Election:
I am disappointed and concerned, however, that one or two Councillors who are actively working the “back room” chose to ignore the request of the business community and the media. In fact, I see this issue as a clear indication of the difference in leadership styles between the four open and transparent candidates and the other candidate(s).

I recently used some strong language to express this view – saying that those who chose not to debate were “acting cowardly.” While I apologized to those offended by my language, I will never apologize for promoting leadership that is open, transparent, and willing to work together with the business community and the media to advance the interests of all of Niagara.

Release of Donor Information:
In the continued spirit of opening up the process of choosing the Regional Chair, Gary Burroughs publicly released the list of individuals and business who donated to his election campaign. He also called on all Councillors seeking the Chair’s job to do the same.

Chair Burroughs wrote: “The release of donors is no longer uncommon in elections for a municipality’s highest office. In the most recent municipal election, mayoral candidates in London, Sudbury, Windsor and Toronto, all made public the names of those who donated to their campaigns before the election.

“While all this information will be made public [next March], that is far too late to help inform this decision, and I hope that all Councillors interested in the office of Regional Chair will also make public their financial supporters well ahead of the December 11th vote.”

I applaud Gary for taking a leadership role in further opening up the process!

I also believe it important that since all Councillors will be voting for candidates for Chair, we too need to publicly release our list of donors to our recent election campaigns. Not only will it make the process more transparent, it will also end the nasty rumours that some candidates for Chair and their potential supporters are connected by the same campaign donors.

I have released my donor list here. I encourage all other Regional Councillors to release their list of donors by Wednesday, December 10 and (therefore) in advance of the vote for Regional Chair.

Release the Ballots:
I wrote above that while the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulated that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote. This rule, however, can be overturned by a vote of two-thirds of the Councillors.

In a final effort to make the election of Chair as open and transparent as possible, I will make a motion immediately after the vote for the Chair to publicly release the ballots. I would hope this could be attained with unanimous support by all other Councillors.

Speak to Your Representatives:
If you agree that this vote and decision should be more open and transparent, I encourage you to contact your Mayor and Councillor(s) and ask them to release their campaign donor list and support my motion to publicly release the ballots.

If you watched the debate, and have thoughts about which of the four candidates should be elected Chair, please also contact your Mayor and Regional Councillor(s).

Let's work together now to open up the decision of who gets elected Niagara's next Regional Chair.

CORRECTION re: "Release the Ballots" -- December 10, 2014:
Following a question from another Regional Councillor, I realized that I made an error above regarding the "Releasing of the Ballots."

I assumed -- and I keep getting reminded of what happens when I assume -- that the ballots for the election of the Regional Chair would be marked with our names on them; I assumed that because when we have voted to appoint Council colleagues to committees or Boards or Commissions in the past, the ballots have had our names on them.  But, those votes must be public votes.

But, because of the rules of our procedural bylaw, this must be a "secret ballot." Even if Council were willing to change that vote to an open vote, unfortunately there is no mechanism to change it before the vote tomorrow.

I apologize for the incorrect information and for any inconvenience caused.

In the future, I will ask Council to consider reviewing this practice for any future occasions. I will also triple check my facts.

Thanks for your understanding. Yours, Dave

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Inaugural Address - 2014-18 Council Term

Mayor Dave Augustyn’s Inaugural Address
Old Pelham Town Hall
1 December 2014

Councillor Rybiak, Councillor King, Councillor Durley, Councillor Papp, Councillor Accursi, and Councillor Junkin;
Regional Councillor Baty;
Former Mayors and Members of Pelham Town Council and other Special Guests;
Members of Staff;
Ladies & Gentleman.

I am both humbled and honored to stand here, before you, again, and continue my service as your Mayor & Regional Councillor for our Town of Pelham.

First, I want to publicly congratulate each member of Council on declaring our official oath of office for our 2014-2018 term.

The community has placed considerable trust in each of us to govern our Town faithfully, impartially, and to the best of our knowledge and ability.

I look forward to serving with each of you, and to working together with you on your ideas, your passions, and your dreams for our community so that, together, we might continue to improve our Town.

Second, we gather this evening in the newly, revitalized Old Pelham Town Hall.

Constructed in the summer of 1888, she was officially opened December 15, and called “New Town Hall.” She has served the residents of our Township and our Town for 126 years.

With a breath of new life today, she stands as a living link to our forebears and as a symbol of their optimism for the future of (what was then termed) our “progressive” community. May Old Pelham Town Hall continue to serve as a community facility for public meetings, concerts, parties, and the like for many, many decades to come.

Ladies & gentlemen, our recent democratic election highlighted a huge interest in the future of our Town.

It is clear that you and your friends and neighbours are interested in workable solutions to the issues and challenges that face our community. It is also clear that you have an optimism for the future of our Town; and that you want your Council to work together with you to continue to improve our community.

As a result, your Council and I will concentrate on some key areas and will:

  • Work diligently to develop and build a new multi-faceted community centre, contingent on funding and tax-payer affordability.
    • Work with representatives from recreation user groups, youth, seniors, artists, service clubs, and the community-at-large to design a new community centre in the East Fonthill area;
    • Work to secure Federal and Provincial funding and private donations to help make the capital costs for a potential new community centre affordable for local, municipal tax-payers.
  • Work to ensure that new development fits well with the vision for a walkable community with vibrant downtowns and a small-town feel;
    • We acknowledge that many people are concerned about the potential for new growth in our Town and with the impact that that growth might have on our “Small-Town Feel”;
    • That’s why Council will work to approve design guidelines and transportation engineering standards for the East Fonthill Secondary Plan area;
    • We will also endeavor to approve such standards across all developable and re-developable areas in the Town;
    • Restart the East Fenwick Secondary Plan process to ensure that any new development integrates smoothly into existing community characteristics;
    • Develop an “active transportation” master plan – a framework for further walkable / cycle-able elements – so that bike and walking trails, and sidewalks can further link more parts of the Town.
  • Keep acting in partnership with businesses and residents to revitalize Pelham’s downtowns:
    • Work to improve events and festivals – like Summerfest, Winterfest, (Founder’s Day?) – that showcase Pelham’s downtowns;
    • Continue to promote and fund the “Community Improvement Plan” facade and residential incentives and review / improve as needed;
    • Continue to work with the Province and the Region to allow a renewal of Downtown Ridgeville.
  • Continue to facilitate the construction of new medical facilities and the recruitment and retention of family doctors;
  • Continue to ensure that our infrastructure and facilities are well managed and maintained; (Begins with completing road and other works in progress);
  • Work together with the Chamber of Commerce and the Pelham Business Association and others to better provide an environment for economic prosperity;
  • Work in partnership with the Pelham Library Board to ensure service at a renewed Maple Acre Library and that our libraries are resilient to societal and technological changes;
  • Work with Town Staff to ensure that the Town provides exceptional service to all residents and businesses;
  • Continue to work together with the hundreds of volunteers who make our community a richer, more vibrant place to live, work and grow;
  • Continue to manage your money wisely and keep you involved in how your taxes are being invested in the community.
  • Always listen to you, and work in collaboration with you and your friends and neighbours to improve our Town;
  • And, in general, we will serve you – as best we can – on each of the other issues both known and unknown that will affect you and your neighbours and friends.

Friends and neighbours, we realize this is a long list.

Rest assured, however, that Council and I are ready to act, ready to find workable solutions, and ready to serve in your best interests.

Council and I are ready to keep working together to build a better future for our Town – the Town that we each love and cherish.

We will work together to get closer to our common vision – that Pelham becomes the most vibrant, creative, and caring community in Niagara.

Thank you, Ladies & Gentleman, for your encouragement by being present here this evening and for showing your interest in the future of our Town.

Let’s get going and let’s keep working together!

Thank you.

May I now offer my thanks to:

  • James Carnegie, piper, for piping Council into the hall;
  • Branch 613 Army Cadets for acting as our colour guard;
  • Ann Mantini-Celima, for beautifully singing the National Anthem;
  • Rev. Dr. Diane Walker, for offering a wonderful and fitting Invocation;
  • David Braun, violinist, for sharing his gift of music;
  • Nancy Bozzato, Clerk, for officiating the meeting and ensuring a smooth agenda;
  • Kim Holland, Facilites Staff, for leading the beautiful renovation and revitalization of Old Pelham Town Hall;
  • Martha Toscher, EA to Mayor & CAO, for ensuring the Hall looked amazing and arranging all other aspects of the hospitality and the event!

On behalf of Council, I offer deep appreciation!