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Judge Rules Morris Tried to Silence Her Critics–Ordered to pay $21,000 in Costs for SLAPP Litigation

Posted by auroracitizen on October 22, 2012

Oct 22, 2012 — 2 years after former Aurora Mayor Phyllis Morris sued 3 citizens for defamation — Judge Hawkins issued a judgement against the former Mayor finding that her action was indeed SLAPP litigation (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation).

With this judgement Hawkins also delivered a precedent setting ruling concerning SLAPP litigation by awarding the defendants special enhanced costs as a result of the SLAPP finding.

Judge Hawkins stated Mayor Morris wanted to hit quickly and hard in order to silence her critics sooner rather than later in the weeks leading up to the October 25, 2010 municipal election.

He ruled that in practical terms, the resolution from the town had authorized Morris to commence an action with the town paying her legal fees.

The full decision can be read online. Hawkins decision SLAPP

So we know what Morris is responsible for — but it also begs the question, what responsibility is shared by Councillors MacEachern, Gallo, Gaertner, Granger and Wilson? They voted in favour of this legal action in 2010. They sat in the closed-door meeting where this plot was hatched. They voted in public to fund this lawsuit against private citizens for daring to disagree with their leadership decisions.

Furthermore,  Councillor Ballard joined the team  this term when he — together with Councillors Gallo and Gaertner — voted against Council’s decision to discontinue funding in early 2011. A clear demonstration that even after the public ran Morris out of office with only 20% of the vote — these Councillors still supported her actions.

And where does former Councillor and failed Mayoral candidate Nigel Kean fit in this mess? Well — days after his 3rd failed attempt to become Mayor, during which he campaigned vigorously against Phyllis Morris, he sent an email to Phyllis Morris and Evelina MacEachern providing them with evidence in this matter, stating that he had kept an email from Aug 2008 as he “felt that some day I would need it. The day is now.”

Do these politicians get off scott-free? Do they not share equally in this ruling? Are they without accountability?

Could their collective support for Phyllis Morris be any clearer? Is anyone unclear that they and Morris are cut from the same cloth? Building themselves up by trying to tear others down.

Politics certainly does make strange bedfellows.

At a time when Canadians are increasingly concerned about the impact of bullying behaviours, here in Aurora we have  a judge finding against a politician for using public funds to try to bully citizens into silence — and awarding enhanced costs because of this reprehensible behaviour.

A politician who has consistently been supported in her actions by a wider group of like-minded politicians.

This is a very disturbing situation. Are these the role models we want in our community? We deserve better from all our leaders. Let’s not forget these actions if they ask for our votes again in 2014.

And thank goodness for the people who were prepared to stand up and fight for the rights of all citizens to exercise our right to free speech. It surely cost them  — but we should all be grateful for their steadfast commitment to stand for what is right.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Integrity, Leadership, Legal | 61 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 »

Dawe On Track to Win — but Every Vote Will Count

Posted by auroracitizen on October 11, 2010

Council Watch #17 – letter to the editor of the Auroran

If it was not already obvious, based on my second sign count one can only conclude that we have a very close Mayoral race on our hands.

I surveyed every quadrant of the town and took a representative sampling of signs located on private property.

Morris won four areas, Dawe won four areas and they tied in one area. You can’t get much closer than that.

I counted nearly 300 signs and the results are surprisingly consistent with the September 19th sign survey.

October 6th sign count results:

  • Geoff Dawe         –  46% – drop of 3%
  • Phyllis Morris     –  33% – drop of 3%
  • Nigel Kean         –  13% – essentially the same
  • Roger Clowater   –   8% – increase of 5%*

*Clowater’s increase can largely be attributed to the fact that I counted his home area in the October 6th count, which doubled the amount of signs he previously had on September 19th.

Winning 40% of the total votes cast on October 25th will likely win the mayoral race. If we assume 12,500 total votes cast then 4,800 is the magic number, however I also think that because Phyllis is tracking at 33% of signs counted, a slightly lower vote count could win the day.

If we extrapolate from the October 6th sign count percentages noted above, the vote count on October 25th would be as follows:

  • Geoff Dawe:        5,796  — Our next Mayor
  • Phyllis Morris:     4,152 —  This predicted result is in around where I would expect given that Phyllis won 5,208 votes last time around
  • Nigel Kean:        1,600 — This is consistent with the September 19th sign count results
  • Roger Clowater:      952 — Based on the nature of Roger’s sign distribution I suspect that he may not win as many votes as projected here.
  • Miloslav Prikryl: — No signs were counted

The next logical question is how and if the issue of “strategic voting” will enter into the minds of voters who are hoping for change at the Town Hall. This has been a topic of major discussion in the Toronto election however it does not appear to have entered into our local discussions to the extent that one might expect given the number of candidates.

We should be thankful that we have so many people who care enough about this town that they are prepared to invest so much time, effort and energy into an election campaign and quite frankly I can’t fault anyone for supporting who they feel is best suited for the job at hand, however that said, we also need to be prepared to live with the outcome of our collective reasoning for another four years.

While Phyllis Morris recently stated that Aurora has “set the gold standard of democracy” others (including me  – a former Morris supporter) have come to quite a different conclusion as a result of the senior staff turnover (6 of 8 senior staff positions have left the town’s employment), the mayor has been instructed to “cease and desist” in her comments related to an internationally regarded ethicist and expert on corporate governance who was released from his responsibilities as the town’s first Integrity Commissioner the day after his first decision was announced publicly. This was explained as a “coincidence” by the mayor which garnered negative media coverage in the Star, Globe, National Post, Sun, CBC and in the local media.

We have had one well-respected councillor quit, two (our most educated) will not run again as a result of their experience and one councillor has felt compelled to sue her fellow councillors (that doesn’t happen too often).

The town staff has continued to grow at the same rate as it has in the past ten years despite the severe economic times that have compelled governments and businesses around the world to exercise greater financial restraint.

While hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on a jazz festival, parades, a cultural center, recreation facilities, trails, trees, and legal fees no money has been directed towards the food bank or the region’s affordable housing efforts. The Mayor actually feels that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to compel one councillor to say sorry is money well spent, while at the same time she turns a blind eye to the actions of others; including herself, who I have reason to believe broke the very same section of the code of conduct as she has accused Councillor Buck of breaking.

From my perspective, anyone who is given $200 million of our tax dollars to spend over a four-year period can point to accomplishments but for me the real question to ask is if you feel that your elected officials are representing our town in the most professional and most effective manner possible ? Aurora’s politics have been characterised as dysfunctional, poisoned, poorly informed and petty for years, however it is once again up to all of us to determine what is required to set a new course.

I can only hope that those people who take the time to vote, also take the time to become well-informed in an effort to separate fact from fiction which is no small task in our municipal arena.

Good luck to all and may the best candidate win.

Richard Johnson

Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Election 2010 | 58 Comments »

Integrity Complaint to be Filed Against Phyllis Morris

Posted by auroracitizen on September 30, 2010

Council Watch #16 – by Richard Johnson

I would like to inform the public that should Mayor Morris be re-elected that I will be filing a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner along with evidence that suggests that she may have broken section three of the code of conduct in her statements made to the Toronto Star with regards to the reasons why Mr. Nitkin was released from his duties as Integrity Commissioner of the town, shortly after he released an opinion that stated the initial allegations laid against Councillor Buck were “incomplete”, “inaccurate”, “ill-informed” and possibly wholly politically motivated.

Mayor Morris’ statements as communicated to me by the reporter in question were not consistent with what Mr. Nitkin informed me were the actual facts, which may help to explain his cease and desist order against the Mayor, nor were they consistent with the official reasons given by the town for his dismissal as per a Freedom of Information response provided to me, therefore it appears on the surface that the Mayor may not have followed her own code of conduct rules. If this proves to be the case then she is guilty of the same offense that she and her fellow councillors are accusing Councillor Buck of breaching.

Richard Johnson

Posted in Code of Ethics, Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Election 2010 | 4 Comments »

Council Watch: Dawe Wins Sign War Survey Number One

Posted by auroracitizen on September 20, 2010

Council Watch #15 – by Richard Johnson

The kids and I piled into the van for a Sunday drive in Aurora and what a drive it was ! The weather is incredible and we had a chance to drive into all corners of this great little town of ours.

The purpose of our outing was to count signs on the lawns of homeowners. We plan to do the same again in a few weeks in order to see if we can determine any trends.

This was a random survey of eight areas in town. Dawe won four areas, Morris won three areas and Kean won one area.

It should be noted that Kean won one area with only two signs while Phyllis won one another area with three signs. Phyllis won a second area because we drove by her home and there were six signs there. Given that we did not drive by the homes of the other candidates as far as we are aware, this should be noted in order to be fair.

If we assume that 12,500 people will cast a vote for Mayor  (which is a safe estimate given the last election numbers)  then we can extrapolate from the more than 100 signs counted that the following results would play out if the election was held today:

  • Dawe        6,146 votes
  • Morris       4,479 votes
  • Kean         1,563 votes
  • Clowater       313 votes

Have a nice day.


Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Election 2010 | 10 Comments »

Has Mayor Morris Fulfiled Her Election Promises?

Posted by auroracitizen on September 6, 2010

Council Watch #14 – by Richard Johnson

I think that it is about time for Aurora to check this speech against delivery…”
Selections from the Inaugural Speech of Mayor Phyllis Morris, Town of Aurora, December 5, 2006
Full text is available from the Town website.

How exciting it is for me to stand here tonight addressing this inaugural gathering as your Mayor. It’s a privilege to lead this Council and our community for the next four
years. I will respect the trust you have placed in me and will always hold sacred your confidence.

Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the little girl who asks: “Mother? Do all Fairy Tales begin with ‘Once Upon A Time’?”

Her mother replies. “No darling, there’s another series of Fairy Tales that begin: ‘IF ELECTED I promise’.”

Well this promise is not a fairy tale – I will work with Council and Town Staff to make our municipal government more open, more transparent, more accountable and more

I’ll strive to ensure that your interaction with us is enjoyable, productive – and, yes, sometimes maybe even fun!

We will not forget that you – the people of Aurora – are the reason our town is such a vibrant and wonderful place to live.

So let’s not forget one thing. Aurora voters – sent a strong message that they expect us – Council, Staff and Mayor to do a better job – a better job of working together to move the business of this town forward in a positive and productive atmosphere.

The word most often used during the recent election was “teamwork.” Some say there’s a difference between being on a team and serving on Council. The only difference is the lack of uniforms – not the spirit, perspective, or ethics.

I believe an effective team requires players with a diversity of strengths and points of view.

So, yes, as Mayor, I will stress teamwork.

As Mayor, I promise to be fair and supportive – and I believe the public expects the same of all members of Council.

You’ll find that I’m a “hands on” Mayor, interested in the day-to-day operation of our town. While I will not, micro-manage The Town’s administration, council members, including
myself, must be kept fully informed, so that little problems don’t become big ones.

By now I hope you know I’m an energetic and optimistic person.

And, I want to know what you think. After all, this is your town. My door is open. You have my phone number – please feel free to stop me in the street, call me, or e-mail me.

I’m here to listen.

So was it a Fairy Tale?

Closed meetings have increased, legal action seems to be on the rise, over 20 senior and mid level management have left the town’s employment (some willingly, some not willingly), an integrity commissioner was fired resulting in widespread coverage in the Toronto Star, National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun and CBC news and the local media, one Councillor quit, two Councillors have stated they will not run given their experience on council, one Councillor is suing the mayor and a number of fellow councillors.

The media and residents have had to resort to numerous Freedom of Information requests in order to get answers to even the most simple and straight forward questions. While the Mayor supports legal action, trails, trees, a cultural center, a Jazz Festival and parades she has not made it a priority to support the food bank or the region’s affordable housing program with the apparent reasoning that “those kind of people don’t live in Aurora”.

I could go on with further examples but I think the picture is rather clear.

Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Election 2010, Integrity, Leadership, Town Council | 18 Comments »

See It For Yourself — Then Decide For Yourself

Posted by auroracitizen on July 24, 2010

Council Watch #12 – by Richard Johnson

Well council once again put on quite a show at the July 13th council meeting. There were so many issues of concern raised that one does not know where to start.

While I remain impressed with the quality of our town staff, I’m left with the feeling that we may want to change the town we are twinned with to Salem, Mass given the clear and apparent witch hunt that appears to be well underway under the leadership of our Mayor.

The meat of the accusations that have been re-issued under the code of conduct appear at 4:24:00 to 4:39:30 of the tape located at this link:

Rogers Cable LINK:

The Integrity Commissioner is paid a maximum of $5,000 per month to a maximum of $60,000 per year. He is also paid a minimum monthly retainer, even when complaints are held in abeyance from August 1 to Dec 1. He also answers questions and educates council where and when required. John Leach agreed to send me the report that was prepared by staff when the IC was hired in order that I might be able to figure out what the monthly retainer is.

The section between 3:32:00 to 3:57:00 of the above noted meeting tape deals with two issues: the cut-off date for filing complaints in around election time moratoriums as well as the fact that council seems to only be focusing on accusations raised by Clr MacEachern (which complaints are supported by Mayor Phyllis Morris, Clr Wendy Geartner & Clr Steve Granger). A complaint that was apparently filed against Clr Granger seems to have fallen off the radar for some reason and amazingly no complaint has ever been submitted against Clr MacEachern as far as I am aware, despite her less than civil e-mails to Clr Wilson and Clr Buck and her actions towards others at the council table from time to time.

At 3:48:50 Evelyn Buck speaks about the code of conduct. The IC’s contract is a twelve month contract that can be terminated with 30 days notice.

While the Integrity Commissioner may in fact be an “independent (arms length) third party” as noted by the Mayor, he can also apparently be fired if he does not rule to the Mayor’s favour, as Mr. Nitkin found out the hard way. The fate of the previous IC can’t escape the notice of the current IC who is currently responsible for inspiring the current council to new levels of integrity. The jury is out as to how successful the new IC has been and how much money is too much money when witnessing the games that we continue to see being played, which games do in fact appear to be highly politically motivated.

Clr Buck states that the previous council “extorted” money and her statement was like throwing bloody meat into a shark tank. Start the tape at  4:07:50 onwards… and onwards to 4:13:00. Buck marches out at 4:10:00

See definition of extortion:

Extortion:  “The term extortion is often used metaphorically to refer to usury or to price-gouging, though neither is legally considered extortion. It is also often used loosely to refer to everyday situations where one person feels indebted against their will, to another, in order to receive an essential service or avoid legal consequences. For example, certain lawsuits, fees for services such as banking, automobile insurance, gasoline prices, and even taxation, have all been labeled “legalized extortion” by people with various social or political beliefs. [citation needed]”

Even if I may disagree with Clr Buck on any number of issues and / or her choice of language, I still don’t think that the code of conduct and the $50,000 plus that has been spent to date in dealing with councillor Buck is money well spent when we given that not one thin dime to the food bank. This is a poisoned council and it very largely the Mayor’s doing as a result of her approach to public dialog and her clear and apparent manipulation of process.

Here is but one small example from the same meeting in question: The Mayor tried to paint a picture that only a small number of people do all the work, as per her attempt with Clr. MacEachern to get attendance records for in-camera CLOSED meetings made public (see 4:17:00 — 4:24:00) and despite the fact that the Mayor often ignores the input of at least three councillors constantly and she has thwarted their efforts to join committees and advisory groups.

I suspect that the reason that some councilors are less than fully utilised is because they have been ignored and mistreated. I trust that we don’t have to remind anyone that one Councilor (Grace Marsh) felt compelled to resign in frustration. Look at the town’s senior staff employment record for an inkling of how staff must feel under this business culture. This is a vindictive and manipulative council beyond all compare.

Apparently dealing with ethical issues with this group could well become a full-time job at our collective expense. Between the accolades that were showered on staff and committee members by the Mayor and the dealing of the above mentioned code of conduct issues, it is amazing that the above noted meeting was only four and a half hours long. If you feel that this post is far too long, I don’t blame you, but just try watching the entire council meeting.


Posted in Code of Ethics, Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Election 2010, Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | Leave a Comment »

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.


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 »

Why Take Our Word For It – Seeing is Believing

Posted by auroracitizen on May 26, 2010

Council Watch #9 – by Richard Johnson

It has been a while since I last posted a formal Council Watch comment, but that is not been as a result of lack of material!

Did anyone catch this week’s Council meeting on Rogers TV?

I’m aware that no one appeared to be sitting in the audience at the Town Chambers but I do have to wonder how many people know what is really going on at 1 Municipal Way these days! I would not blame anyone for claiming to have better things to do with their time, but sometimes I can’t help but tune in to see the latest developments at Council. For those people who may want to watch council in action, you may want to note the procedure provided below.

This week’s meeting was as good as any to give one an idea of what has been going on for some time now, at Council.

  1. Select:
  2. Choose your region – Aurora – from the pull down menu, then choose your language (You probably only have to do this on your first visit)
  3. Click on Video on Demand link located near the top right corner of the home page.
  4. Select City Council from the Shows/Events option.
  5. Select City Council – Aurora from the Sections option.
  6. Select All from the Category option.

You should see all of the council meetings there and you can choose by date for the one you wish to view.

I can’t possibly cover all of the shenanigans I witnessed, but I can assure that all is not what it appears to be at the Town Hall when one puts what is being said into some necessary perspective. It really is something to behold.

Here are some highlights as far as I am concerned.

The town is still debating the costs surrounding the diesel generator it plans to install at the Town Hall. This issue strikes me as more than a bit ironic given the town’s clear and apparent lack of understanding with regards to the power supply issues and corresponding environmental impacts that the region has been facing for years, but at least one thing became very clear last night. Despite asking developers to “consider” (Council’s words not mine) incorporating more green initiatives into their developments while passing the cost on to consumers, the town itself does not appear to be prepared to incur any extra costs associated with buying a more environmentally friendly alternative to the proposed diesel generator or to even to install solar power generation on the new recreation center (not to mention any number of other similar eco-opportunities). Council also seemed to not grasp the difference between supplying back-up power to a telecom local area network (LAN) versus providing back-up power to the whole building. Council could not grasp why a substantial change in the stated specifications contained in the request for proposal resulted in an increased cost estimate. I kid you not. Staff tried in vain to explain the basics, but to no avail, so you guessed it, another staff report is on the way.

Given Council’s track record on power supply issues it is doubtful that they have explored the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed in Tariff (FIT) program or the fact that a properly designed and more environmentally friendly bio-diesel generator could in fact allow the town to recoup most, if not all, of the associated cost for the back-up source of power. To go a step further, a gas powered generator, a gas fired combined heat and power plant, or a district energy plant could be even cleaner still, but clearly local generation is not something the council is prepared to even discuss given our experience with power supply issues over the past few years, even if local generation does make technical, economic as well as environmental sense on any number of levels.

The simple truth is that Council wants to ensure that the lights stay on at the Town Hall with diesel power no less, even if the power may go out for the rest of us. Working towards finding viable long term and comprehensive power solutions clearly is not seen as being Council’s responsibility or priority for that matter. The most difficult thing for me to accept is that the facts surrounding the viable alternatives and the resulting impacts of various power supply solutions never do seem to matter. If you ask me, the Mayor and Councillor MacEachern get what they want on the big picture issues and who cares about what the impact is on others, including other municipalities, as a direct result of their actions and inactions?

This week the Mayor even stated her intention to do what I (and others) suggested should have been done over five years ago with regards to revisiting our planning codes and objectives in order to address corresponding environmental impacts more proactively, but then again it is an election year so why not claim to be on the cutting edge ? One can always bait and switch after the fact, regardless of what the speech writers may say so effectively during any given election.

The Mayor can’t even apparently understand the development approval process as was demonstrated by her handling of the condo development proposed for Yonge and Wellington. Remember the site that the Mayor demanded should get cleaned up ASAP and the same development that she repeatedly claims has not been delayed by council for years? In a rambling statement the Mayor said that the delays caused in 2008 were not under her term in office (go figure), but in that case she must have misspoken by accident. The Mayor and council could not for the life of them figure out the approval process and they asked for yet another staff report that could delay the development approval for a further three or four months. At this rate there is a good chance that there will be no shovels in the ground for at least another twelve months in the best case scenario. It was stated that Council does not want to make any decision until the Yonge Street improvement plan (aka the Ken Whitehurst & Co Report)  is presented in September after taking over a year to prepare, so I guess we’ll all just have to wait until the election to see what the grand plans are, not to mention who gets elected as Mayor on October 25th, 2010. The grand redevelopment plan pending will no doubt be incorporated with great fanfare into the Mayor’s re-election campaign given that Ken Whitehurst will very likely once again play a significant role in crafting Phyllis’s every utterance, along with the Mayor’s newly hired speech writer. You can see where this is all going.

The other inescapable highlight of this week’s meeting was the electioneering that is clearly well under way. Don’t get me wrong, I think that I still detected the bitter undertone and some less than subtle grumbling, but thanks to a great set up by Councillor Wilson the Mayor could boast what a GREAT job staff and council have done in reducing the back-log of issues. A job well done, way to go everyone and thanks especially who paid with their jobs! Amazingly the Mayor also even lost a couple of recorded votes which seems to buck the trend and may even suggest that either “the block” is not what it once was, or someone may have wanted to make the point that at least at times the block is controlled by others. Of course some would insist that there is no block or that all of this is completely normal and to be expected from a well oiled and professional team.

Oh the web we weave in Aurora!

I suggest that you should take the time necessary to watch the Rogers video of the meeting and decide for yourself if this is good government and smart growth development in action.


Posted in Council Watch-Richard Johnson, Integrity, Media, Town Council | 14 Comments »