Aurora Citizen

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Please help me understand how litigation against three Aurora citizens was approved.

Posted by auroracitizen on April 13, 2011

Re: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Payment of Legal Expenses of Phyllis Morris and the defamation action of Phyllis Morris v.Johnson et al.

An Open Letter to the Aurora Town Council and the Citizens of Aurora.

I am writing this as an open letter to the current Aurora Town Council and to the citizens of Aurora as I believe others may have similar questions and concerns in relation to the defamation action of Phyllis Morris v. Johnson et al. I stand open to being corrected if anyone has any new information to be shared and I look to others for answers and clarification as I don’t believe that the current information in the public domain is sufficient to explain how this action was authorized by the Town of Aurora. It is only by sharing the following questions and subsequent answers (and any questions that other Aurora citizens may contribute) that we may all learn and come to understand how this action proceeded to its present state. A considerable amount of Aurora tax money is now authorized for payment of external legal fees for this case but more importantly to me three private citizens of Aurora are still involved as defendants in this action which may take years to resolve and which may jeopardize the financial futures of their families.

I realize that there are those that support Ms. Morris’ argument and reasoning for her defamation suit as equally there are those that support Richard Johnson, Elizabeth Bishenden and Bill Hogg (Johnson et al) and I respect their difference in opinions. I was from the start and still remain in support of Johnson et al but it is not my intention here to argue the legal aspects of their case as this is now in the hands of our judicial system and the lawyers. It is my intention to learn and better understand how this action was authorized by the Town and to understand how it was deemed to follow the proper legislative and administrative procedures.

I recognize that Mayor Dawe and some of the current councillors that ran on a platform that included stopping the Town’s involvement in the lawsuit. I commend them for following through on this promise once they were sworn into office. I also commend those councillors and mayoral candidates that also supported stopping the Town’s involvement but who were not successful in the recent election. I can appreciate that Mayor Dawe and the current Town Council has had to responsibly deal with the matters opened by the previous council and administration and were faced with the difficult decision to authorize the payment of external legal fees to December 14, 2010. I further recognize that there may still be some legal privacy issues in answering some of my questions but that does not prohibit me from asking these important questions and seeking these answers even if they may still be forthcoming in the future when this case is resolved.

In the following, I will reference the letter by George Rust-D’Eye of WeirFoulds LLP entitled EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Payment of Legal Expenses of Phyllis Morris (to be known as the “Executive Summary”). This letter was made public on March 30, 2011 as a Media Advisory by the Town of Aurora. It was authorized for release by order of the Aurora Town Council at its March 29, 2011 meeting and it can be found on the Town website at the webpage http://www.town.aurora.on.ca/aurora/index.aspx?CategoryID=27&lang=en-CA under 2011 Media Releases (March 30, 2011).

It was after reading George Rust-D’Eye’s Executive Summary that I was compelled to ask the contained questions and to seek the assistance from others to help me and the citizens of Aurora better understand how Phyllis Morris v. Johnson et al was initiated by the Town of Aurora. It is the Executive Summary that makes me question past information and/or lack of information to the public in this matter.

I am numbering my questions so that anyone responding to this letter can do so accordingly by the question number.

1. Who has the legal authority at the Town to proceed on the Town’s behalf with a lawsuit?

2. What are or in fact are there any legislative steps that must be complied with by the Town Council in order to initiate a lawsuit? What is the involvement and authority of the Mayor and the Town’s administrative staff, be it the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), the Town Solicitor or any other Town staff in initiating a lawsuit?

3. I recognize that this matter started with the Council directive from the Closed Session of the Town Council Meeting of September 14, 2010. From that point onwards what were the steps and who further authorized that this matter was to be handled directly as a lawsuit?

As stated in Question 3, this matter started with the Council directive from the Closed Session of the Town Council Meeting of September 14, 2010 (Please see 2nd attachment). The entry for this motion is as follows:

Council recessed into Closed Session at 11:33pm

Mayor Morris left the meeting at 1:10 am.

Council reconvened into Open Session at 1:11 am with Deputy Mayor McRoberts in the Chair.

Moved by Councillor MacEachern Seconded by Councillor Gaertner

THAT the Council rise and report from the Closed Session to confirm the direction from Closed Session regarding the potential defamation; and THAT the Town Solicitor be directed to retain external legal counsel and to take any and all actions to bring resolution to this matter.

CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY

The September 14th Council meeting initially had Mayor Morris and all eight Councillors in attendance. In the minutes it is noted that Councillor Collins-Mrakas left the meeting at 10:16 pm and Councillor Buck left the meeting at 11:01 pm. The Closed session would then have included Mayor Morris (who subsequently left at 1:10am just before reporting out and before the vote) and Councillors Gaertner, Gallo, Granger, MacEachern, McRoberts and Wilson. There is no indication in the minutes as to if any Town staff may have been involved in the closed session but since it involved litigation I would assume that the Town’s CAO and the Town Solicitor would be present, though I stand corrected if they were not present and/or if others were present.

From the Executive Summary (after the September 14th Council Meeting and after the Town retained Aird & Berlis LLP (“AB”) as its external legal counsel): “Then-Mayor Morris requested the Town to pay for the litigation, following the receipt of a legal opinion from AB in which it was advised that the comments were made against the Mayor, as well as the Town Solicitor and the Integrity Commissioner, in their capacity as elected officials or employees of the Town.”

4. Given the answers to the above questions 1, 2 & 3 and the statement “Then-Mayor requested the Town to pay for the litigation”, were the steps taken by the Town in accordance to the accepted procedures and in such a way that Mayor Morris could not be seen as having a conflict of interest as she had direct involvement in the case being that she would be the plaintiff, that the Town would be financing this action and that she would be the sole beneficiary of any awarded damages?

5. As I see no further reference to this action in any other subsequent Council Meeting in the above statement “who” is the Town? Was this a Town staff member with authority to authorize payment for the litigation?

6. Again, who at the Town had the authority to proceed with litigation? If it was the Mayor was it not a conflict of interest for the Mayor to request the Town to proceed? If it was the Mayor, should not another person (be it elected or Town staff) have taken the lead to this action?

7. Was there a reason why this matter was not taken back to Council be it in a closed session to authorize such litigation and the accompanying expenditures?

From the Executive Summary: “The retainer letter signed by the Mayor and the Town on October 6, 2010 leads to the conclusion that both are jointly and severally liable for paying the legal expenses incurred for the defamation action.”

8. Thus the Town and Ms. Morris were equally and separately responsible for the full amount. The Town has now authorized payment of legal fees to December 14, 2010. Should the Town not be demanding that Ms. Morris reimburse the Town now for at least ½ of the Town external legal fees instead of as recommended in the Executive Summary “that the Town give notice to Phyllis Morris of the intent by the Town to look to her for indemnity in respect of legal services paid for by the Town out of any damages or cost recovered by her in the proceedings”? The only way that the Town will be reimbursed will be if Ms. Morris is successful and the 3 Aurora citizens are not and this does not guarantee any funds to the Town as there is no signed agreement for this option.

9. Would the Mayor have proceeded or initiated such action given that she would have to pay ½ the current legal expense?

(This is now a hypothetical question and does not require an answer).

From the Executive Summary: “it appears that, at the time of the meeting of the Town Council on September 14 and 15, 2010, it was accepted by all concerned that the abuse being heaped on the Mayor and other municipal officials by third parties, was seen as an attack on the reputation of the Town itself, affecting the reputation and perceived integrity of Council and staff, and that there was an agreed-upon strategy to vindicate the Town’s name and reputation, which was seen at least as much the target as was the Mayor herself;”

10. Are we to understand that the “agreed-upon strategy” that Mr. Rust-D’Eye writes of was simply the wording in the Council Meeting Minutes of September 14, 2010 “THAT the Town Solicitor be directed to retain external legal counsel and to take any and all actions to bring resolution to this matter”? And that it was this directive that gave authorization to an open-ended mandate and a blank cheque to external counsel without further advice, consultation or authority from Council. (A separate rhetorical question but if there was not an election and a change of Council to stop payment to AB how high would the lawyer’s bill have gone?)

11. If it was an “agreed-upon strategy” then why if I recall correctly were some councillors apparently surprised when the news of the litigation came forth?

12. Were these instructions sufficient to proceed with the defamation suit? (Thus my earlier questions on legislative procedure).

13. Did the Town Solicitor or whoever instructed the external legal counsel of Aird & Berlis have the authority to proceed with litigation without further approval from Town Council?

14. Was the motion from the September 14th meeting so broadly worded that it could be ambiguous enough so that legal proceedings could commence without further authorization or approval from Council?

15. Did council discuss litigation as part of their closed session meeting? Was it understood that litigation was the only option that external legal counsel should pursue? (I realize that this may never be known as it was a closed session). If so, then they knew it could proceed to the current situation along with the financial burden to the Town. If not, then did someone at the Town over-step their authority (thus my earlier questions as to procedure in authorizing litigation)?

Please help me understand how we arrived at the current state of affairs.

It is my opinion that the council directive was far too vague and could be viewed as irresponsible as it did not provide specific direction and limitations and any need for the external legal counsel once engaged to seek further direction and authorization from council. Given the particular care that councillors take in wording their motions and given the fact that this was done at the end of term with councillors having a minimum of 4 years of experience (excluding Councillor Gallo) in their seats as opposed to being inexperienced councillors at the beginning of term it is surprising that this motion as worded was ever approved. It makes me wonder whether there is any part of this incident and/or subsequent actions that could be deemed in any way to violate the Municipal Act and/or the Town’s business and legislative procedures and if so who are we to hold accountable for their actions.

I note that Councillor Bob McRoberts disavowed his approval of the September 14th motion at the September 29, 2010 Council meeting and stated on October 14, 2010 on Rogers TV First Local News, “The arguments presented by town staff and council members didn’t match my understanding of the Municipal Act. I do not agree with the rationale provided. I do not agree that the matter is a matter for Council”.

I have to ask – what would have happened to the Town of Aurora if this past Council were to have directed other external contractors “to take any and all actions” for litigation against land developers in Aurora or for the repair to all roads or to improving Aurora’s water and sewage systems or to providing recreation facilities?

I believe that there is still much to be disclosed to the citizens of Aurora so that we can all understand how Phyllis Morris v. Johnson et al was authorized by the Town of Aurora. I should think that the answers would be simple and straight forward.

Sincerely,

Paul Sesto

Posted in Community Input, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Guest Post, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Town Council | 30 Comments »

Campaign Finances Coming

Posted by auroracitizen on February 16, 2011

The campaign financing deadline for disclosing political contributions is March 25.

Citizens will be able to evaluate what they think is appropriate and what is not?

They will also be able to see what type of financial support each candidate received and in many cases where that financial support came from. Always an interesting review.

Early in the campaign there was discussion about donations from developers and the potential role or influence they might play. At that time it was noted that both Morris and Kean had previously accepted donations, but were not planning to this term. Clowater saw no issue with accepting them and Dawe indicated he did not plan to to accept them.

In fact, Dawe went one step further, and indicated that if someone on his team did inadvertently accept a donation, he would return it and donate a matching amount personally to the Aurora Food Pantry. You can his original pledge and the comments here.

The list of reports filed thus far are available on the Town website and can be seen by clicking here.

Posted in Budget, Election 2010, Freedom of Information | 18 Comments »

Courts Continue to Support Freedom of Expression

Posted by auroracitizen on December 2, 2010

Recently the CBC reported expanded rights for journalists (and bloggers) have been supported by the courts.

The Supreme Court said it examined laws in other countries with similar legal systems, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. It found that Canadian law was strict by comparison and did not give enough weight to the value of free expression.

“This, in turn, may have a chilling effect on what is published,” said the text of one of the rulings. “Information that is reliable and in the public’s interest to know may never see the light of day.”

The Supreme Court specifically broadened the definition of “responsible communication” in order to include non-journalists, especially online bloogers, who are increasingly communicating matters of public interest.

Richard Dearden, lawyer for the Ottawa Citizen, said the ruling is a win for all types of journalists.

This is a defence that you as journalists never had before and also bloggers or anybody using Twitter — whatever.

Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said “Today’s ruling helps journalists do their jobs — bringing to light information that’s in the public interest with a better shield against a libel suit levied to block a controversial story.”

Cal Johnstone, president of RTNDA Canada, which represents radio and television news directors, called the rulings an “important victory for freedom of the press.”

Posted in Freedom of Information, Legal, Media | 2 Comments »

Intimidation Breeds Intimidation

Posted by auroracitizen on November 29, 2010

Council Watch #18 – by Richard Johnson

I had to share a posting from tvo’s website. It sure does make you think… where do we draw the line and who should decide ?

Salman Rushdie: When censorship is mislabelled respect

Posted on: 25 November 2010 by Allison Buchan-Terrell

In the fourth chapter of Salman Rushdie’s new book Luka and the Fire of Life, Luka – the main character, a young man on a quest to save his father from eternal sleep by bringing the fire of life back from the World of Magic – comes across “a strange, sad land.”

And our hero is greeted by a rather ominous sign on the O-Fence (a large barbed wire barrier) that surrounds this land, “YOU ARE AT THE FRONTIER OF THE RESPECTORATE OF I. MIND YOUR MANNERS.” It is home to very thin-skinned rats who “take Offense very sharply indeed.”

It is here in this children’s novel that adult themes emerge. Perhaps because Rushdie hopes his works, like the Harry Potter series, will appeal to adults as well. In his first children’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories — written for his eldest son Zalaf immediately after Rusdhie went into hiding after the fatwa – Haroun struggles against forces within the world of magic determined to silence storytelling, which is very clearly connected to Rushdie’s real-life battle to speak freely.

In Luka and the Fire of Life, and particularly in the passage on the Respectorate of I, takes on what he sees as a grave threat to free speech: political correctness and censorship under the moniker of respect. A bit of pet topic for Rushdie.

In a BBC interview about this chapter, Rushdie said:

I think we live in a very timid age and a part of our timidity arises from our unwillingness to offend people. And, as a result, there are whole tribes of people now who define themselves by their offendedness. You know, I mean, who are you if you are not offended by anything? Nobody, or even worse, you are a liberal. And I just think this whole business of defining yourself by anger is very problematic and the idea that we all sort of bend over backwards not to induce that anger also becomes a problem and a kind of cowardice, if you like. And I think we just need to live in a more robust society in which people say things that other people don’t like and the answer to that is not to throw a bomb at them, you know, but to say “You know, I don’t like that much,” and get on with the next business.

Rushdie is particularly concerned about a new climate of censorship emerging where people are afraid to name things and call them what they are. Something he feels is happening not just in Muslim countries, but in the secular West as well.

He sees it in a bill put forward by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and in the furor over the Danish cartoons and Random House’s (his own publisher’s) decision to cancel The Jewel of Medina, a novel about Muhammad and his child bride, Aisha, over fear of Islamic reprisals.

In 2005, Blair put forward a controversial bill that sought to combat racial and religious hatred. He argued the new law was necessary in the post-9/11 world where Muslims, as a group, have been the target of racial attacks.

But Rushdie, and a rather unlikely counterpart – Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean, helped defeat it by one vote (as Rushdie points out, Blair went home early that day and missed the vote).

Rushdie recounts how Atkinson asked, quite politely, whether a sketch that aired on his program would be considered a hate crime under the new law. The sketch includes stock footage of Muslims praying at an Iranian mosque with Atkinson saying in a voiceover, “And the search goes on for the Ayatollah Khomeini’s contact lens.”

They were defending the right to shock, outrage and offend, which they feel is a fundamental part of the right to free speech and a legitimate form of creative expression.

Also in this spirit, Rushdie signed on to a manifesto in support of the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. He, and a dozen co-signers, argued that the violent response to the cartoons signaled a new tyranny hiding in the cloak of religion and that it should be called by its true name.

The question Rushdie wants us to consider is: how do we respond to intimidation? We must be careful he says not to confuse not printing or publishing something out of fear of protest and violence with respect. The problem with giving in to intimidation, he says, is that there will be more intimidation in the future.

In a democracy, he says, there is no absolute view of right and wrong. We argue about it all the time. At one time, we believed slavery was acceptable and later, as the argument developed (and included some bloodshed), we decided slavery is wrong. The argument, Rushdie says, is freedom. The argument is the end — not winning.

Are you concerned, like Rushdie, about a growing climate of censorship? If so, what can be done to stop it? Do you agree argument is at the heart of democracy?

Posted in Community Input, Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Freedom of Information, Leadership, Legal | 20 Comments »

“Blog” and other four-letter words

Posted by auroracitizen on November 7, 2010

After reading through the latest issue of The Auroran, I couldn’t help but notice there were a few references to this funny little creature known as “blog”. It seems to have caught the attention of some folks who appear to have some reservations about the use and application of this particular tool of social media. Blogs and blogging, have for some time now, been accepted by mass media outlets and governments worldwide, both as news sources, and as a means to communicate ideas.

It would seem for a few though, the blog represents a social media challenge. And since social media outlets and tools continue to expand every day, the challenge can be met 2 ways; understand it, learn how to work with it and make it work for you, or choose to ignore or attempt control of this growing trend in global communication.  In choosing the latter however, don’t be surprised if you get left in the dust.

Nigel Kean writes in his thank you letter that he hopes the new Mayor and Council will “get the job done without any bickering and hopefully no personal blogs”. No personal blogs. Maybe we should stop writing letters and giving opinions too. After all, letters, opinions (and blogs), all promote that nasty little bugaboo known as free speech. By contrast, it would seem that folks like Mayor-Elect Geoff Dawe and Councillor Evelyn Buck are quite happy with the opinion and free discourse blogs promote.

Outgoing Mayor Phyllis Morris also waded in on the issue, but in this case, she’s contemplating the creation of her own blog. Good for you Ms. Morris. She did note however, that her blog, if created, will contain “as much integrity as humanly possible”. You go girl. You teach us. You make sure that you create a higher standard for all of us to (try to) adhere to. David Tsubouchi may not be out of a job yet – he may land the role of “Commissioner of Maintaining Highest Integrity to the Phyllis Morris Higher Ground Blog”.

Finally, Wendy Gaertner stated her thoughts regarding social media. After reading her thank you letter, in which she warned us all that she will no longer remain silent when faced with both “direct” and “indirect” (?) criticism during this term (hope she’s allocated a fair deal of time to mount her challenges), she was then quoted in the lawsuit article as saying “…out of respect for everybody in the community, we need to decide what can and cannot be allowed in the new social media. Social media is a whole new territory”.

Yikes. Ms. Gaertner, for the record, I do not require you or anyone else to decide what can and cannot be allowed in the free-speech arena of social media. Your Orwellian view of decision-making for the community leaves me cold. There are those documented cases where governments have suppressed blogs and punished those involved. These cases stem primarily from countries like China, whose communist government’s idea of free speech is whatever they damn well tell you it is. As for the “whole new territory” comment, well I suppose that depends on your interpretation of “new”. Digital communities and online threads (the early forms of blogs) became mainstream in the early 1990’s.

Blogs are here to stay. Christopher Watts’ “Temporary Sanity” blog sets the bar high for intelligent social commentary and insight, while mixing it with biting humour and smart graphics.

Blogs represent a forum for free speech, and apparently, based on the recent huge increase of visitors, commenters, and posters to this site, a forum that engages the community like never before. Cheers to the Aurora Citizen. You have my utmost respect and support. You will soon be vindicated from this disgusting litigious attack on free speech. Blog on.

Posted by Matt Maddocks.

Posted in Community Corner, Community Input, Freedom of Information, Legal | 45 Comments »

Facts About Senior Staff Exodus

Posted by auroracitizen on September 20, 2010

Guy Poppe, faithful supporter of the Morris regime, has repeatedly challenged readers of this blog for a list of senior staff who have left this term “because of the current Council”. His premise is based on the fact that unless the departing employee writes a letter to the editor stating this, the wholesale departures shouldn’t be linked to the current Council.

We say, real leaders accept responsibility for what happens on their watch. Well, this is Phyllis’s watch.

Mayor Morris has steadfastly refused to even answer the direct question of Richard Johnson, in spite of a Freedom of Information request specifically asking this very question. Wonder why? If there is a more obvious answer, why not illuminate the great unwashed.

Perhaps Mr Poppe would repeatedly ask her for this answer.

So to try to answer the question without the spin, we have simply pulled the list together as best we can based on public information. Please let us know if we have missed something.

Following is a list of senior staff positions that make up the Management Committee. These are the town staff that interact directly with Council and are responsible for all operations of the corporation.

By position we have listed the original employee at the start of this term — followed by any changes where applicable. We have left out employee names to respect their privacy.

Chief Administrative Officer
Original employee – Contract “Terminated”
Replacement in place

Clerk
Original employee - departed
1st Replacement - departed
2nd Replacement in place

Solicitor
Original employee - departed
Replacement in place

Director, Public Works
Original employee - departed
1st Replacement (acting) - departed
2nd Replacement in place

Director, Planning
Original employee - departed
Replacement in place

Director, Building Administration
Original employee in place

Director, Finance
Original employee - departed
Replacement in place

Director, Parks & Recreation
Original employee in place

Bonus Question: Integrity Commissioner
D. Nitkin – Contract “Terminated”
D. Tsubouchi

By our count, the town has lost 8 people from 6 senior management positions; we now have new faces in 6 of 8 positions with only 2 of 8 original employees still in place.

Each of the original employees had years of experience at their role providing the town with their expertise. This expertise and corporate  memory have been lost.

Now of course Mr Poppe will again demand to know which ones left “because of the actions of the current Council“.

It’s a surprising question coming from someone who claims to be a lawyer. If so, he should know that when leaving a place of employment it is not advisable to make claims like “I left because of the boss”. It reflects poorly on your character when seeking future employment and opens the door to possible legal action, something this Council has a reputation for.

Plus, departing staff had too much class to make such statements – something the current members of Council could learn from.

We simply offer the facts and invite you to draw your own conclusion.

Posted in Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Leadership, Staff Turnover | 28 Comments »

Does Phillis Morris Have Historical Issues Meeting Deadlines?

Posted by auroracitizen on September 1, 2010

After an election each candidate has a specific period of time to submit their campaign expenses for public review. Many will recall that in Vaughan this led to some issues being raised about whether campaign expenses were handled appropriately.

Candidate financial statements are public documents and available for viewing or to make copies by any person at the Town Hall during regular business hours. The deadline for submitting statements is clearly identified in the candidates handbook and is legislated as part the Municipal Elections Act.

Consequences for not submitting on time include forfeiting the office you have been elected to. Pretty serious stuff.

Historically the deadline is the last Friday in March the year after the election. This year it will be Friday March 25th, 2011 — 5 months after the election.

Last election (2006) Nigel Kean submitted his expenses March 1, 2007, Tim Jones submitted his expenses March 26, 2007. Both within the designated time limits before the end of March 2007.

Nigel spent $8,875.81 – $3,832 from donations — the balance self funded.

Tim spent $30,628.56 – $27,620 from donations.

So you are probably wondering where Phyllis Morris’ expenses are. Well, she finally submitted them Feb 14, 2008. Almost 1 year past the deadline. Apparently hitting deadlines is not a new issue with Phyllis.

Phyllis spent $24,783.55, of which $5,750 was from donations.

It’s also interesting to see who is financially supporting which candidates. Some names you might recognize from Phyllis’s contributors list;

  • Guy Poppe
  • Ken Whitehurst (in kind)
  • Suzanne Whitehurst
  • CSB Communications (Chris Ballard’s company)
  • Gary Fernandez (Susan Walmers Husband)

Just thought you would find this interesting.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Leadership | 15 Comments »

Open and Transparent? You be the judge

Posted by auroracitizen on August 6, 2010

A familiar refrain throughout the Morris Regime has been that she fosters an Open and Transparent Council environment; an Open and Transparent Council process; she’s Open and Transparent. She makes that statement at virtually every council meeting.

Similarly, we heard this throughout her campaign in 2006 as if to differentiate herself from Tim Jones and the “back room boys”.  She would open the doors to the “backroom” and bring all the council business into the open where all the public could see for themselves what goes on behind closed doors.

Well, that might be what she’s selling, but we’re not buying.

We’ve heard from many posters and many residents and many “insiders” alike that Morris et al have spent more time behind those closed doors – doing god knows what – than any other Council in recent memory.  Every single Council meeting seems to have a closed session meeting.  Everything seems to need a “secret” meeting to discuss, decide and I assume defend the decisions they are making.

Thus far though, those “allegations” as Poppe the apologist calls them, have not been based on tangible, provable, facts.  We’ve only had impressions, or thoughts, or observations of meetings and Town hall going’s on upon which to base our suppositions.  We know in our gut that all is not right but had nothing to prove it.

Until now that is.

As a by-product of an FOI request, we have been provided with a complete list of EVERY closed door session of Council from 2000 through 2009.  It includes start time and end time of each closed session.

This list is a veritable goldmine of information, not the least of which is that it is proof positive that Phyllis Morris is as transparent as a block of wood. 

Closed Door Sessions

The pie chart you see above is wholly accurate.  The 2006 – 2010 (and before anyone and argues we’ve skewed the figures by comparing a 4 year term to three year terms – we used figures from 2007 – 2009 only; so it is an accurate comparison).

Here are the stark figures folks:  Since Phyllis Morris took office, the Town of Aurora council has spent more time meeting in secret, behind closed doors,  than the last two terms of council combined and then some!!  It also shows that more than 30 percent of those meetings started at or beyond the hour of adjournment and a staggering 60 % ended well past 10:30. It begs the question, “Just what the heck are they talking about into the wee hours of the morning??”

Getting back to the numbers though, to be exact the breakdown of time spent in secret meetings is as follows:

  Term Term Term
  2000-2003 2003-2006 2006-2009
       
Total # closed sesion  meetings: 63 73 103
       
Total # meetings starting at or beyond hour of adjournment: 1 12 28
       
Total # meetings ending at or beyond hour of adjournment: 3 24 61
       
Total Time spent in closed session: 30hrs 20mins 52hrs 49mins 115hrs 21mins
       
Average length of meeting in closed session: 29 43 1hr 7mins

 

Look at those numbers — 115 hours and 21 minutes or 6921 minutes!!!!  They are simply staggering.  The difference between this term and last term is a DOUBLING of time spent in secret discussions.

How can Morris continue to claim that she is “Open and Transparent”? Is she being deliberately obtuse or are secret meetings simply how she thinks Town Business should be handled?

Look at the numbers another way.  If a Council meting is, through by-law, generally 3.5 hours long, and this Council has spent over 115 hours behind closed doors, then that means this Council has spent the equivalent of 33 full council meetings deliberating in secret.  

That’s right.  The equivalent of 33 full council meetings held in secret.

If that’s open and transparent government, then possibly you would be interested in a bridge for sale in Brooklyn …

Posted in Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Integrity, Leadership, Special Meetings, Town Council | 23 Comments »

Why Is Council Avoiding A Direct Question?

Posted by auroracitizen on July 24, 2010

Council Watch #11 – by Richard Johnson

Back in April I asked the town if the recent level of senior staff turn-over was typical of past councils or was it some kind of anomaly ?

I was then asked to file a freedom of information request, which I promptly obliged. I was reluctant to spend the total charge of $30 requested in order to get an answer to what I thought was a simple question that council itself should have been asking at no cost to me given that approximately twenty senior and mid level management staff have left the town in the past few years by choice, or otherwise.

When I opened up the town’s response (seconds after parting with my money) I realised that they had not actually answered my question.

Rather than get a specific answer with regards to senior and mid level management turn-over I received total employment numbers that suggest that staff turn-over on average appears to be in line with the previous two Council terms. At that point I decided that I could not afford to pay the money that would be expected to actually answer my question. I was prepared to cut my losses and move on to the next big municipal issue.

I have subsequently found out in a round about way that the Mayor informed a local reporter that all I had to do was ask her to answer the question and the answer would have been forthcoming at no cost to me. The Mayor’s comments also come as a surprise to me because I understand that at least two councillors have asked the same question of staff and have received no response.

At this point, through this OPEN QUESTION TO THE MAYOR, I would like to clarify if the senior and mid level staff turn over that we have witnessed during the current council term is typical of the pervious two councils or is it some kind of anomaly?

The town’s response to my FOI was also enlightening in that I found out that our town staff has grown by 20% since the last election, to a of total 192 people.

This too was typical of previous staff growth, however as a side note I had to ask myself if such an increase was in line with our town’s growth over the same period and was this staffing increase justifiable given the current economic downturn and the town’s apparent efforts to limit our tax increases ?

Some may argue that the town’s approach may be a Keynesian approach to stimulus spending, but I’m not so sure that increasing taxes year in and year out is in our collective best interest over the long term. If the Mayor wants to tackle that question as well, it would be much appreciated given that October 25th is fast approaching.

I look forward to receiving some kind of more detailed response that will hopefully come before October 25th at no further expense to me.

RJ

Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Leadership, Staff Turnover | 5 Comments »

Why Must We Pay For FOI’s From Government That Claims to be Open & Transparent

Posted by auroracitizen on June 3, 2010

Council Watch #10 – by Richard Johnson

I have a question that I would like to pose to the participants of Aurora Citizen and maybe Councillor Buck could assist me here, given that she is the only named Councillor that participates openly in our discussions.

Regular readers of this Blog will recall the following two postings:

Town Solicitor Demands Removal of Blog Comments, Posted by auroracitizen on April 25, 2010

A Monument to the Leadership of Mayor Phyllis Morris, Posted by auroracitizen on April 18, 2010

In an effort to follow-up on the underlying question raised in these postings, I asked the Town Clerk if the staff turnover we have witnessed recently is typical of past councils and after multiple e-mail attempts to get a response I was asked to pay $5 and file a Freedom Of Information request, which I promptly did. Putting aside that this is supposed to be a more open, responsive and transparent government, I am happy to receive a response near the end of the legal time limit permitted of thirty days, however I am now not sure how I should respond to the latest development.

Earlier this week I received a phone message stating that there I could pick up a response to my FOI at the Town Hall. Again, I set aside the suggestion that the cost of a postage stamp might be more than the town wants to pay in order to respond to me, so I phoned the town and ended up speaking with a very nice receptionist on the main switchboard (at this point I honestly think she should run for council, but I digress).

I am now faced with the question as to if I should pay the requested $25 in order to get an answer to my simple question. While I am thankful that this is hundreds of dollars lower than what I thought they would ask for given that the town is racking up legal charges and other costs these days, and it is thousands of dollars less than another FOI request that I once filed (and never got an answer to), at the same time I am wondering why I should be paying to receive an answer to a question that the Council itself should be asking ? Am I alone in asking myself this question ?

It occurred to me that an alternative option would be for a Councillor to ask Council to waive the charge given the importance of the question being asked and especially given that it is an election year and it is not just me that is asking if the natives are in fact wrestles. Maybe even the local media could pay the freight.

Your thoughts ?

Richard Johnson

Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Freedom of Information, Staff Turnover | 23 Comments »

 
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