Aurora Citizen

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Archive for the ‘Staff Turnover’ Category

Guest Opinion: Aurora Is Worse Off Today Than When Phyllis Morris Became Mayor?

Posted by auroracitizen on March 7, 2010

Some might say Phyllis Morris and Evelina MacEachern are liars and hypocrites. Apparently obsessed with their manic egos, they have held Aurora’s Council hostage to their deranged approach to government. The vaunted Transparency and/or Accountability that were promised in their respective campaigns for office in the 2006 Municipal Elections were a complete fraud.

They co-opted four of the stupidest possible councillors to act as their surrogates in following along blindly the path laid out for them.

It appears that Morris and MacEachern embarked upon a mission to destroy the very Transparency and Accountability that marked their election campaigns. Instead we have a repugnant Code of Conduct for Council and an unnecessary Integrity Commissioner.

When the Code of Conduct faltered, the Integrity Commissioner reported on the charges laid by six members of Council against Evelyn Buck, to the effect that they had no merit and were politically motivated. His reward was his unceremonious firing.

The town recently entered into a contract with a new Integrity Commissioner, a former politician now practicing law. It is doubtful that this replacement has anywhere near the academic and professional qualifications of our first Integrity Commissioner. And up to $60,000 is allocated for this activity. Time and events will tell.

Seemingly, Morris is personally responsible for the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars, many completely wasted, in hiring a substantially larger bureaucratic staff, renaming and restructuring senior executive staff titles, positions and responsibilities. Has this streamlined our local government? No. On the contrary it has created a larger body of personnel whose sole task appears to be to do her bidding.

It is likely that all of these changes have led to staff concerns; many reports comment about the fear of staff for their jobs. It is inconceivable that the town’s employees are at a higher level of morale than they were when the Morris-MacEachern juggernaut first rolled into town. If staff morale is negatively affected it follows that the level and efficiency of their work will suffer significantly, and consequently impact upon Aurora’s residents.

Our town doles out hundreds of thousands of dollars of public purse dollars to various non-elected Committees; The Historical Society, the Arboretum, the July 1st Parade, the Farmers’ Market. These groups do what they wish with the town’s ‘generosity.’ They spend the money with no accountability to anyone. This is not the way to run a government whose promised objective was Transparency and Accountability. If a public company operated this way it would be subject to the scrutiny of the OSC in Ontario, to the SEC in the U.S., and possible prosecution by each.

Many residents feel that vast amounts of taxpayer dollars have been spent stupidly, whether in financing losing and futile OMB appeals or in needless internal investigations supported by a claque of lawyers whose sole interest is running up their legal fees. Many residents are of the opinion that these parasites care not for what is right or in the best interests of the town. And the bills are approaching $750,000, if not more.

Why do we set aside money every year to buy recreational land when it already exists? Instead we are selling off much of Aurora’s public lands, adding the proceeds to the millions of dollars already in the town’s “savings” account.

We will be cash rich and land poor and the land that we will eventually have to purchase will be twice or more as expensive as that of four or five years ago when we already had a huge cash balance in the bank.

It is felt by many that a request should to be sent to the Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to conduct a forensic audit of the books of the Town of Aurora in order to identify those areas where public money has been gratuitously squandered with no possible benefit to the town and its residents.

A similar audit should probably also be undertaken to determine just how political decision-making in Aurora occurs. Are decisions made by members of Council or by hired lawyers?

To Morris and MacEachern a Code of Conduct appears to be a license to abuse.


Posted in Code of Ethics, Community Input, Guest Post, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 4 Comments »

2010 Mayors Message

Posted by auroracitizen on January 4, 2010

Mayor Phillis Morris delivered her Mayors Message through Rogers Cable and is available on-demand.

Of special note is her assertion that “no decision” was made by the Integrity Commissioner (full comments from 7:00 – 9:45). Her position is that  Mr Nitkin did not render a decision.

Our position is that he did render a decision — and that it was that the complaint was ill-formed and political in nature. He suggested that if they wanted to re-submit a new complaint, that was fine, but a decision was made on the complaint as submitted.

The Mayor also deftly avoided answering the question (12:00 – 12:17) on whether she will run again in 2011.

When asked about the accomplishments this year/term, she seemed very long on “planning” and very short on actual accomplishments. If she does plan to run again, she will need to manage her spin better than that or her opponents will hold her feet to the fire about what she actually accomplished that made Aurora a better place than when she took the reins of power.

We have a great community — because of the people who live here. Just think how much better it could be if staff were excited about coming to work each day because of the positive work culture vs the current culture of fear.

Here’s our first new years prediction. If you think the exodus of staff was bad after the last election — just think what it will be like if Morris and her crew returns in November. All those staff hoping and waiting for a change of the guard will lose hope and move on before staying for another 4 years.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 4 Comments »

Mayor “Corrects” Councillor Buck

Posted by auroracitizen on January 1, 2010

On page 7 the December 22 edition of The Auroran, Mayor Phillis Morris, issued a correction about statements made by Councillor Buck in a previous letter to the editor — where Buck indicated that the Town’s Director of Corporate and Financial Services had been appointed without appropriate authority.

Mayor Morris stated “the information is incorrect” and that “the Town’s CAO acted in accordance with the Town Council adopted Staff Recruitment and Selection Policy and a council directive.”

However, Mayor Morris offered neither direction to the Recruitment and Selection Policy — wouldn’t you be interested in the actual wording — or to the Council directive — which would be easy to do since all minutes are accurately kept for exactly this reason.

What is most interesting is that when it would be so easy to simply direct people to the above noted information, she chose instead to make a broad claim without support.

Also interesting is the use of a letter to the editor. Is this a new trend we can expect for the new year. Time will tell.

Possible someone could direct our readers to the Council direction the Mayor indicates took place. That would put us all at ease.

Or possibly someone should submit a Freedom of Information request for this information — just so we have all the “facts” correct.

Posted in CAO, Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 8 Comments »

New Town Clerk Arrives

Posted by auroracitizen on November 30, 2009

We have a new Town Clerk to replace Lucille King, but they won’t be called a Town Clerk — according to the Nov 24th Town Press Release he is the Director of Customer & Legislative Services. We are not really sure what that means and the Press Release wasn’t very clear, but he is definitely taking on the role of Town Clerk.

You will recall Ms King’s abrupt departure with 3 weeks notice after she released, in accordance with the rules of her position, the report from Mr Nitkin to Councillor Buck without the approval of Mayor Phyllis Morris.

Well her replacement has arrived — John Leach — a 20 year veteran, mostly in Vaughan. The interesting news is that Mr Leach was dismissed from his job at Vaughan. The Toronto Star reported this in November 2007.

As an aside, it would be interesting to hear Councillor MacEachern’s thoughts on this issue since she was the key proponent of the recount a numbers of years ago when the Town initiated some electronic voting. After spending approx. $10,000, the then Town Clerk was shown to have acted completely appropriately and the votes were confirmed as correct. Another total waste of Town funds on a personal agenda.

Now this hiring could be good news, since it could mean he stood up for what is right and paid the price. Or possibly he was following direction from Council and ended up as the fall-guy for their actions. We will probably never know, so let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s evaluate his performance on its merits here in Aurora.

Hopefully, having a senior staff who has experience working with a dysfunctional Council will be to our benefit — time will tell.

Posted in Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 31 Comments »

Who Will Be The Next Treasurer

Posted by auroracitizen on November 12, 2009

The position of Treasurer for the Town of Aurora is currently occupied by Dan Elliot. Mr. Elliot was appointed to a six-month term, which is shortly coming to an end.

Has anyone seen an advertisement or posting in the paper for this position? Does that mean that Mr. Elliot is getting the position by default or will Council simply extend the contract?

Our guess is that they will use the excuse that to change Treasurers in the middle of the budget process would be irresponsible. Didn’t a former Ontario politician (and Minister of Education) famously get quoted about creating a crisis so they could implement what they wanted?

A better question might be — why wasn’t the position posted immediately upon hiring Mr Elliott so the process of finding a new Treasurer would have already been underway. That would have shown forethought and good planning.

Will there not be a competition for this significant position in our community or will this be another hand-picked appointment?

Posted in Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 41 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 »

The Press Continues To Ask Questions

Posted by auroracitizen on August 13, 2009

Another article by the Toronto Star— this time about the “coincidence” of another senior staff retiring.

We also thought the closed door of Mayor Morris when Rogers Cable came for an interview — sans lawyer for Mayor Morris — was a perfect symbol of her open door policy of openness and transparency.

A picture is indeed worth a 1,000 words.

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Posted in Integrity, Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 10 Comments »

Another One Bites The Dust

Posted by auroracitizen on August 12, 2009

Thank you to the many readers who told us about this news in their comments — but until we were able to confirm it as factual, we were not prepared to publish what was still a rumour.

Another senior staff member is no longer in the employ of the Town of Aurora. Lucille King, Director of Corporate Services, has decided to retire — after starting in November 2008. One has to wonder what led to the change in plans.

The revolving door continues. Draw your own conclusion.

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Posted in Leadership, Staff Turnover, Town Council | 7 Comments »

Town Staff Are Caught in the Middle

Posted by auroracitizen on June 21, 2009

A recent post included comments that suggested staff were happier now than in the past due to greater accountability. Follow up comments would contradict that point of view.

They serve to illustrate the difficult position staff often find themselves in.

When politicians are at loggerheads with citizens, often staff find themselves dragged into the middle and/or the target of citizens frustrations with politicians.

Politicians cycle through, but staff make careers. Staff are effectively barred from commentary for fear of reprisals, regardless of who is in power — yet they are usually the only people who can make fact based evaluations of how things are being run one term to the next.

Even the recent actions of CAO Neil Garbe are not his own. A CAO would not make demands of citizens (or blogs) without clear direction from Council (or would not last long in the job).

So the next time you feel angered towards a staff member — remember, they are just implementing the policies developed by Council.

As they say “Don’t shoot the messenger”.

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Posted in Staff Turnover, Town Council | 2 Comments »

Is anyone else concerned about how long it is taking to get budgets approved?

Posted by auroracitizen on February 12, 2009

It is already mid February and still no budget approval. What additional information does Council have today that they didn’t have 2 months ago, or 4 months ago? This process should have been started in October, not in January.

Previous Councils have managed to approved budgets early in the year when their decisions could impact the spending for the year. What is keeping this Council from doing the same? Is this a symptom of the significant staff turnover?

It’s hard to find savings when the budget is being spent before the decisions are made and new decisions are too late to impact existing commitments. Alternatively, new projects are not started or optimal pricing is not secured because we are late tendering projects. In tendering, the early projects get the most competitive bids. The later you wait, the less aggressive the tenders are.

Could you imagine doing your personal budgeting after the expenditures have been made? Those who do, usually end up in credit card debt. Hopefully Aurora is not travelling down the same path.

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Posted in Staff Turnover, Town Council | 20 Comments »