Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Archive for the ‘Special Meetings’ Category

Is She Really Serious?

Posted by auroracitizen on May 9, 2012

A reader writes … Once again I am baffled by Ms. Gaertner (I refuse to call her Councillor because of the manner in which she treated Mayor Dawe when he first took office – I am sure we all remember it took her a few weeks to stop calling him Mr. Dawe  - and quite frankly I do not believe she deserves that seat she sits in).

Case in point, last night’s council meeting. Now I think  most will agree that they watch those meetings solely for the comedic behaviour that Gaertner, Ballard and Gallo provide but I specifically think  Gaertner  takes the top prize of “class clown” (for many reasons actually).

However, I am not clear on the job descriptions, or the manner in which our councillors get paid so I am looking for someone to provide me clarification, and others opinions on the following point.

Last night there was a discussion regarding a meeting for council that some thought should be open to the public and some thought it should not be. Councillor Gaertner provided her input as to why she thought it should be open to the public but then stated if it were to be a closed session she would NOT be attending (good god this woman is ridiculous)!

Can someone please tell me why if she in employed by the town, to represent our community and its best interests, that she is “allowed” to not attend a work session?  Do the taxpayers not pay her salary?

I know I am not well versed in how our councillors are compensated, but if I told my boss that I was not going to attend a work meeting because I was being a pissy little brat and wasn’t getting my way, I would have my walking papers immediately!!!!  How does she, and where does she get the nerve to not participate in something that is part of her job???

Confusing…… but I am not surprised… Can someone please help me understand this?

Posted in Community Input, Guest Post, Integrity, Leadership, Special Meetings, Town Council | 7 Comments »

Silly Is As Silly Does

Posted by auroracitizen on April 5, 2012

Tonight Councillor Gaertner again demonstrated just how silly she has become.

First, she voiced her opinion that Council was discussing an illegal motion because she felt that the motion of March 28 was contrary to the approved motion from Feb 27. Then, when the Clerk stated that his opinion was that Council was discussing a legal motion — she indicated that she couldn’t vote. She even made a point of stating twice that she hoped the press had heard her.

Yet she continued to stay in the chambers and participated fully in the debate. Then when the vote was called — she leapt from her chair and took 2 steps away — then returned to her chair to vote on the confirming by-law and adjournment. What’s was that supposed to mean?

For someone who seems to be so concerned about following the letter of the rules — surely she also knows that you can’t declare a conflict on a matter unless it is a pecuniary conflict. And furthermore, when you declare a conflict you are required to leave the room.

So what happened to her interpretation of the rules here. The was no conflict and she participated fully in the discussion and was in the chambers during the vote

Since a non vote is considered a “nay”, the Council minutes must show that Councillor Gaertner voted “nay” on the motion.

It will be interesting to see what the record shows.

Hopefully the press saw that as well.

Posted in Community Corner, Geoff Dawe, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Politics, Special Meetings, Town Council | 10 Comments »

Common Sense Returns

Posted by auroracitizen on April 5, 2012

Tonight Council revisited the decisions made in the Aurora Cultural Centre debate and brought some long overdue common sense to the table.

Tonight Council amended their earlier motion to remove politicians from the discussion and now staff will work with the Cultural Centre towards a new agreement — which will then be brought forward to Council for discussion and a decision.

This removes much of the politics from the debate and staff can now look to the Mar report for direction.

Kudos to Councillor Pirri for bringing this motion forward and to most of Council for supporting this motion. Only Councillor Gallo was not in attendance. Of interest was the silliness perpetuated by Councillor Gaertner. See next post for details.

Now let’s look forward to some productive staff-led discussion and a new agreement in place for the start of 2013.

Posted in Community Corner, Geoff Dawe, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Politics, Special Meetings, Town Council | 2 Comments »

Update: Have You Heard the News?

Posted by auroracitizen on April 5, 2012

There is a special meeting tonight (April 5) at 6PM. Because it is a special meeting, it doesn’t require  notice. We have checked the Town website and currently there is nothing indicating a meeting is taking place. Of note, the announcements were updated this morning with a notice of service disruption. But nothing yet about a special meeting.

We found out through Councillor Buck’s blog post “Further Thoughts“. Pity we didn’t find out through the Town.

Councillor Buck indicated that the problems many readers/watchers anticipated are coming true. It will be interesting to see how Council works their way through the mess that has been created.

If you have time, drop by and see the proceedings.

———————————–

Updated @ 11:41 am

The agenda is up, but still nothing on the home page. So if you don’t know there is a meeting — so we guess you will never know until it’s over and published.

According to the  agenda, the focus is to seek Council direction on “Council membership of the ad hoc negotiating working group and the provisions of the Terms of Reference relating thereto” which smells like a reconsideration.

Hopefully when they reconsider they will come up with a plan that makes sense and is not subject to the criticism we have heard thus far about inappropriate closed door and confidential meetings.

There is still time to get this situation back on track. Let’s hope it gets done tonight.

Posted in Community Corner, Geoff Dawe, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Politics, Special Meetings, Town Council | 5 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 »

Leadership By The Numbers

Posted by auroracitizen on February 4, 2010

Council Watch #4 – by Richard Johnson

Mayor Morris is paid $50,000 (plus) to attend Regional Council so let’s take a look at her attendance record:

  • Regional Council:  attended 7 out of 11 meetings (64%)
  • Finance and planning:  attended 3 out of 4 meetings (75 %)
  • Planning and Economic development:  5 meetings out of 9 (55%)  keeping in mind that 2009 was the year of Economic Development !

Out a possible 24 meetings, Phyllis attended only 15 or 62%…

In the case of the Hydro Task Force that met on a weekly to bi-weekly basis for approximately 18 months I would venture a guess that Phyllis attended under 10% of the meetings and even the special meeting that was called largely to benefit her understanding of the issues as well as to better understand her take on the situation, she showed up an hour late to an hour and a half meeting and proceeded to demonstrate an extremely poor grasp of not only the history of the issue but the identified need as well as the viable alternatives.

Then we note that in the past three years only a single motion was put forward by the Mayor at Aurora Council while Councillor MacEachern put forward 50 motions and got but one of them passed with the support of her voting block.

Numbers do have a way of painting a picture.

Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Guest Post, Leadership, Special Meetings | 20 Comments »

An Unbiased Opinion: The Globe and Mail

Posted by auroracitizen on October 18, 2009

Special to The Globe and Mail

Aurora: Toronto’s most dysfunctional suburb

Ivor Tossell: From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

An 80-year-old councillor with a robust set of lungs, Evelyn Buck has become the mayor's implacable foe.

 

An 80-year-old councillor with a robust set of lungs, Evelyn Buck has become the mayor’s implacable foe. THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The town’s mayor tried to bring decorum to her city and wound up facing rancour, resignations, and an irrepressible granny blogger

Perched on Yonge Street, about 40 kilometres north of Toronto, Aurora is perhaps best known for being home to the Stronach family, who rule over the auto-parts company Magna and whose daughter, Belinda, once represented the riding in Ottawa.

On first blush, this town of 50,000 seems decorous, right down to its gingerbready GO station. Locals have a habit of badging each other with labels like “20-year resident” or “50-year resident.” Adults sing along to Jerusalem at a concert in a local park, sometimes led by the mayor herself. In a nod to its Asian residents, the city has allowed them to remove numbers they deem unlucky from their addresses.

But behind this courtly setting is a political vortex of loathing and retribution, a sterling example of urban politics at their most dysfunctional: An integrity commissioner fired. Accusations of slander, conspiracy and harassment. Angry, anonymous ads popping up in the local newspaper. At the heart of this conflict is an 80-year-old politician, who one leading counterpart suggested should be checked for Mad Cow disease after she took to a combative form of blogging.

What on earth happened in Aurora?

The first thing to know about Aurora is that it’s not Vaughan.

Unlike that sprawling, scandal-plagued city – its image tarnished by questions over expenditures and conflicts of interest – everything in Aurora is smaller, prettier and more personal.

An election in 2006 brought changes to the clubby old ways. In a tight three-way race, Ms. Morris – then a town councillor – upset the incumbent, Tim Jones, who’d held the job for 12 years. A long-time backer of MP Stronach, Mr. Jones also had the endorsement of her auto magnate father, Frank.

Mayor Morris – Phyllis to most everyone – had made a name for herself during the campaign as an environmentalist. With a sing-song, Shropshire accent that vibrates with nervous energy, she took power with promises of decorum. “Many of us don’t see it as a blood-sport,” she says, “We see it as a public service.”

From the outside, at least, things seemed to be going well. The New York Times sent a writer up to report on Ms. Morris’s quest to legalize backyard laundry lines. (To this day, people keep sending clothes-pegs to her office.) She also brought in a code of conduct in 2007 that required councillors to “accurately and adequately communicate the attitudes and decisions of council, even if they disagree with the majority of council” and forbade them to publically disparage town staff.

Rancour ensued, the council splitting into pro- and anti-mayor groups with the mayor’s side holding a majority.

“The level of hostility and animosity has been present from the very first day,” says Alison Collins-Mrakas, one of the new councillors at odds with the mayor.

Closed-door council meetings were marked with “cursing and screaming” says Grace Marsh, another rookie councillor who found herself on the wrong side of the majority.

Some councillors also didn’t seem interested in staff advice they didn’t agree with. In one instance, they overruled the advice of their chief planner during a road-paving project, and spent tens of thousands of dollars improving the driveways of well-organized ratepayers. The town was upgrading the street from suburban to city standards, lowering the levels of the road and making for awkward access to driveways.

Bureaucrats would find their judgment being questioned in public council meetings. Ms. Marsh – herself a former town employee of 10 years – says she saw city staff being berated at closed-door meetings. Council members – though not the mayor herself – were “calling people stupid, [saying], ‘You’re an idiot, you don’t know how to do your job.’ I had staff members calling me in tears,” she says.

Since the council took office, all but two of the town’s top tier of public servants have retired, left for other municipalities or were terminated.

Ms. Morris denies the charges of discord. She says the staff turnover is on par with previous administrations.

“You can’t keep everyone forever, but you can make it [look] ugly if you want to.”

In June, 2008, Ms. Marsh resigned in disgust, and rather than have the town pay for another by-election, Ms. Morris led council to appoint a runner-up from the last election – who became a loyal ally. The decision divided council even further.

“I often feel that it’s difficult to have any constructive or rational debate,” says Ms. Collins-Mrakas, an academic by trade. “If you take a position, it’s all very personal.”

But it was the new council’s lone elder voice who really roiled the water.

Sitting on her back porch in one of Aurora’s twisty, low-slung 1950s suburbs, cradling her silver-tipped cane between her legs, Ms. Buck lets out a hoot. At 80, she’s been in politics longer than many constituents have been alive, even having been mayor herself in the mid-seventies.

“Politicians, by their nature, are congenial people. They want to be liked,” muses Ms. Buck in her thick Scottish accent, shaking her head. “This council is an aberration.”

First elected in 1967, she’s known for having encyclopedic knowledge of the town and the lungs to vent it. She’s known for being ornery, having once whacked a fellow councillor, a newspaper proprietor, over the head with a rolled-up copy of his own publication. (All was soon forgiven, though Phyllis Morris was appalled.) And more recently, she’s famous for bringing city hall into a legal morass.

From the get-go, a member of the mayor’s faction expressed dislike of Ms. Buck – her polarizing style and her cantankerous approach. One was an e-mail from a mayor’s ally sent to the council that advocated that Ms. Buck be checked for Mad Cow disease. In another email, the same councillor called Ms. Buck a “jack ass” – followed by eleven exclamation marks.

In the meantime, Ms. Buck felt she was being shut out of discussions, constantly interrupted, her motions largely ignored.

“I said,” she recalls, “if they won’t give me a role, I’ll create a new role for myself.”

So, in the spring of 2007, she started a blog.

Entitled “Our Town and Its Business,” with a picture of a smiling Ms. Buck in the margin, it was at first more opaque than incendiary, full of writing that alludes slyly to incidents and avoids naming names. (Still, she hadn’t gotten six months in before calling her own nephew “abysmally bloody ignorant.”) One of Ms. Buck’s postings in November, 2007, which attacked council for the road upgrades, especially raised hackles.

“Do I take exception to mine and my neighbours’ tax money being spent that way? Damn right, I do,” she wrote. “Had I voted for that, I would have been in breach of trust to the people who elected me. Malfeasance is the term used in the Oath of Office.”

Ms. Buck also used the old media, filling countless column-inches of local newspapers with critical commentary. (Among her many topics: How much money was the town spending on outside lawyers?) “It was always my primary role anyway to keep people informed of what the issues were and what my position was,” she says. “I don’t believe in being shy or backward about telling people what I think. A lot of people like you to tell them what they think.”

It was enough to drive the majority on the council to distraction. And it put Ms. Buck’s candour at odds with the mayor’s desire for civility.

“What is difficult is if council has made a decision, and it’s time to move on then. The vote is over. You move on,” says the mayor.

Over the past summer, a nasty dispute erupted about how some remarks a citizen made before council were recorded in the meeting minutes. This led Ms. Buck to muse online about how the minutes could be “doctored.”

Having instituted a code of conduct and hired an integrity commissioner – respected ethicist David Nitkin – Ms. Morris handed him the first and last case he’d see: a formal complaint against Ms. Buck, broadly accusing her of maligning staff in public.

Exactly what that case was remains a mystery; the full complaint has never been released, nor has exactly what Ms. Buck is said to have said. A posting on the town website accused Ms. Buck of breaching the code of conduct in several places, including “unfounded and completely unmerited public criticism of staff” on her blog. A legal opinion was attached, though exactly which blog posts were thought to be troublesome, and why, were never specified.

Mr. Nitkin was not impressed by the complaint. He declined to be interviewed for this story, citing contractual obligations, but in a report he sent back to council, he slammed the complaint as “inappropriate in that the way in which it was crafted, politicized and communicated may be, and may be seen to be, wholly political.”

The next day, the mayor’s faction of council met in camera and voted to dismiss him. The remaining three councillors, sensing trouble from the e-mails flying around, stayed away. Within days, a senior bureaucrat in charge of keeping the town in line with provincial laws – who had joined the town six months earlier – abruptly retired.

“It’s unfortunate that Aurora would find itself – with all the good that’s going on in this town – even remotely being questioned for the simple fact that we’re trying to raise the bar of decorum and accountability,” says Ms. Morris.

The dismissal of Mr. Nitkin exacerbated the tension, bringing unfavourable media attention.

An anonymous blog, called Aurora Citizen, has become a hotbed of anger. Widely suspected to be run by a former councillor, perhaps with political ambitions of his or her own, its posts attract dozens of heated, nameless comments. Ms. Morris also finds herself facing a series of increasingly hostile ads that an anonymous group, calling itself the Aurora Coalition, has been printing in a local newspaper owned by a former councillor. One of them presented a statement of the town’s legal fees, tallying up hundreds of thousands spent on legal opinions, many relating to the code of conduct and Ms. Buck’s blog.

Ms. Buck has announced her intention to sue the mayor and most of council for libel, stemming from the affair. (Ms. Marsh is helping her set up a fund, and says she’s already accumulated thousands of dollars in donations.) Still, she will likely face a new integrity commissioner, and a new attempt to censure her.

Elections, which once brought hope for change to the city, are coming in 2010. Will the mayor run again?

“I hope to retain that commitment without having that light taken away. I have to believe that it’s the right thing to do. I have to believe it. I do believe it. As long as I have that commitment burning in me, I’ll continue to put myself up for office.”

Ms. Buck also sounded determined. “Oh yeah,” she said. “Unless I’m dead.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Media, Special Meetings, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 26 Comments »

When Is An Invitation Not An Invitation?

Posted by auroracitizen on May 11, 2009

Have you ever had a party where you felt obligated to invite someone even though you didn’t want them to come? How did you manage that?

One way is to send the invitation so late that they have no opportunity to re-arrange their schedule to make the party.

Mayor Morris has invited various user groups and interested stakeholders in the senior ball diamond to a meeting scheduled for Monday May 11 (tonight).

In the email she states,

“In an effort to bring all parties together – and to get all the facts on the table – I am proposing to host ” one meeting ” rather than lots of one – on-ones on the same topic. It is hoped that as many members as possible will try to attend.”

The problem is that the email was sent last night at 5:59 PM — leaving folks with the difficult task to change their plans for tonight with very little notice.

Short notice equals poor attendance. For an issue of such importance — that has been in discussion for over 1 year — shouldn’t this meeting have been published further in advance.

What is your opinion about a Senior Ball Diamond?

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Posted in Recreation, Special Meetings, Town Council | 43 Comments »

Where have all the Town Staff gone?

Posted by auroracitizen on August 25, 2008

Senior staff at the Town Hall are leaving at an alarming rate. Since our new Council started, under the much vaunted open and transparent leadership style of Mayor Phyllis Morris, we have lost our Director of Planning, Director of Legal Services, Director of Public Works, Director of Corporate Service (leaving this year), and now the CAO. That’s 5 of the 8 person Management Team.

The years of experience lost are significant and the costs associated with recruitment, re-training and lost opportunities without these people in place is immeasurable. The termination costs will also be considerable given the CAO had over 3 years left in his contract.

Of equal concern is the abrupt manner of the recent departure of the CAO, a well-respected member of the municipal community who the previous Council hired for a 6 year contract to provide consistent leadership for the town. It has been reported he was “escorted” from the building.

What may be more telling is that two councillors were unable to participate in the decision as one was recuperating from surgery and one was on vacation. Given that Council was informed in advance that the two councillors would not be present, why did Council go forward so abruptly with a decision with such far-reaching implications without a full Council present?

Why the urgency? Why not wait until all of Council could be present and a “special meeting” be called. The mayor has called 4 “emergency” closed session meetings this summer so far, what difference would one more make? The implication is clear — a swift decision was made and executed.

The impact on staff morale should also be of great concern. One has to wonder if this is a purge or is there some staff-wide malaise that has caused all these departures.

At this point, the only members of the Senior Management team from last term still standing are Al Downey, Director of Leisure Services and John Gutteridge, Director of Finance/Treasurer. I guess we will just have to await their fate.

Maybe I’m the only one concerned about the state of affairs at town hall, let me know.

Use the links below to comment or to send this post on to other interested Aurorans.

Posted in CAO, Special Meetings, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 16 Comments »

 
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