There’s A New Group In Town

Everybody’s talking about the new group in town. And it’s not all flattering.

Why is there such a kerfuffle over the creation of the Amherstburg Taxpayers Association that is, as stated on their blog, “a group of residents concerned about our taxes, and how they are managed and spent”?

A quick read of the River Town Times and social media provides some answers but raises more questions.

Was the town’s Procedural By-Law adhered to? Section 12.1 of the town’s procedural by-law, “No By-law shall be presented to Council unless the subject matter has been considered and approved by Council.” If council had first directed Administration to research the topic and bring it back to council, the confusion regarding the interpretation or applicability of any legislation or definition of lobbyist might have been avoided.

Was the town’s Accountability and Transparency Policy adhered to? “This policy applies equally to the actions or decisions to be undertaken or made by Council, Staff, Committees, Agencies, Commissions and Local Boards, so as to try to increase the accountability and transparency of the municipal decision making process.”

Is the practice of reading a by-law three times in one evening counter productive and contrary to the principles of transparency and accountability?

Why did this by-law appear before council so quickly when other items drag on for a decade – like the accessibility of the library? the town’s website? or years – like the council meeting streaming? In 2014 webcasting was deferred to the 2015 budget.

As for increased accountability and transparency, isn’t that what politicians promise?

During the 2018 campaign, CBC’s Jonathan Pinto asked candidates questions. Only those that addressed accountability and transparency are set out below in this post. Read the full article at CBC.

What is your most relevant experience for this position?

Marc Renaud
I’ve dedicated myself to understanding municipal politics and community issues. Based on my experience, I believe council can serve the needs of the community better. If elected, I plan on bringing a more responsible and accountable council to the taxpayers of Amherstburg.

Donald McArthur
I covered councils for nearly 20 years as a journalist and I’ve written editorials blasting politicians for breaking promises or meeting behind closed doors. I know how the system works and I want to put the people into politics by engaging my constituents online and in person.

What is the single biggest issue in your municipality?

Patricia Simone
Whether it’s policing, infrastructure or taxes, the residents need representation at Town Hall. This means having councillors that show up, talk to residents, know the issues and are willing to debate them. If elected I will be that councillor.

Peter Courtney
The biggest issue in our municipality in my opinion is the lack of transparency surrounding the process, planning and procedures for new business development in our town. (ie, Wendy’s, Duffy’s property, and Centennial Park).

Councillor Donald McArthur’s Response to Police Officers’ Breach of Information Question

In yesterday’s post I asked members of council if any violation of the employee code of conduct, section 15, was addressed?

Just to recap, section 15.0 Confidential Information:

The following information must not be used or disclosed, except in accordance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“MFIPPA”):

    • information which is personal

Today, McArthur’s response regarding the breach of personal and sensitive information of 40 police officers, employees and family members is:

“It is my understanding that the disclosure of personal information was inadvertent and that it is the opinion of the Clerk, the Treasurer and the Director of Corporate Services, who conducted an investigation, that the inadvertent disclosure was not a Code of Conduct violation.

It is my understanding as well that the Town advised the Information and Privacy Commissioner of this issue and notified the affected individuals. It is also my understanding that the Town took steps to help guard against similar inadvertent disclosures in the future.”

Nowhere in the Employee Code of Conduct does it state not to worry, it was an inadvertent disclosure. Carry on.

Police Officers’ Breach of Information Violation of Employee Code of Conduct?

Council members have been asked: regarding the town hall employee’s disclosure of Amherstburg police officers’ personal information, including 40 names, addresses, telephone numbers, cell phone numbers, next of kin, spouses’ cell phone numbers, start dates and birthdays, was any violation of the employee code of conduct, section 15, below, addressed?

Section 15 of the outdated 2007 CODE OF CONDUCT POLICY FOR STAFF/EMPLOYEES:

15.0 Confidential Information

The following information must not be used or disclosed, except in accordance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“MFIPPA”):

  • information which is personal,
  • information that constitutes the proprietary information of a third party, individual or group,
  • might reasonably be regarded as having been disclosed to the Employee in confidence,
  • is of a sensitive nature, or imparts to the person in possession of such information anadvantage not available to the public generally.

No Employee shall benefit, either directly or indirectly, from the use of information acquired during the course of official duties that is not generally available to the public.

Personal information controlled by the Town must be used or disclosed in compliance with the MFIPPA.

Employees must protect the following examples of information regarding the Town and others from illegal and unauthorized use:

  • client records,
  • information contained in business strategies and plans,
  • pending proposals or contracts,
  • estimates prior to tender openings,
  • unannounced services,
  • research results,
  • financial data and projections,
  • proposed acquisitions and divestitures,
  • computer programs and software,
  • professional expertise, or
  • inventions.

Amherstburg Police Officers’ Personal Information Breached

Paula Parker forwarded a request for any RFP Police Services Addenda to Bobbi Reive, Financial Planning Administrator, who disclosed all four addenda.

Addendum #2 contained Amherstburg police officers’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, cell phone numbers, next of kin, spouses’ cell phone numbers, employment start dates and birthdays.

The town advised the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario that it implemented remedial measures, including the amendment of the town’s request for information procedures to ensure that any information shall be verified, at least twice, prior to its release to the requester in order to prevent inadvertent disclosure of confidential information.

Coffee With A Cop: Windsor Police Apologize For ‘Misstep’

Windsor Police held its ‘Coffee With A Cop’ on June 27 at the Caffeine & Co., housed in an inaccessible building in Amherstburg, Ontario.

stairs a barrier to coffee with a cop in amherstburg, ontarioStairs at Caffeine & Co. = #Accessibility barrier! #AODAfail

Windsor, as a Proponent to the Amherstburg RFP Police Services, was informed in section 33, ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (AODA), that it shall ensure that all its employees receive training regarding the provision of goods and services to per sons with disabilities in accordance with the AODA.

Windsor Police should have already created Accessible Customer Service policies pursuant to provincial legislation that included training:

7.(1) Every obligated organization shall ensure that training is provided on the requirements of the accessibility standards referred to in this Regulation and on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities.

On February 24, 2011 the Windsor Police Service, Windsor Police Services Board, Ontario Human Rights Commission and Ontario Police College launched the Human Rights Project; Vision Statement:

The Windsor Police Service endeavours to be a professional, effective and accountable law enforcement organization that upholds the human rights and dignity of all people in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Windsor Police Service is committed to playing its part in making Windsor a community where everyone lives, works and visits in a safe, comfortable and inclusive environment.

The Human Rights Project Final Report 2014 noted next steps:

The inclusion of human rights themes through all WPS training and the requirement to monitor training programs to ensure that human rights issues are being addressed on an ongoing basis, will assist WPS members to provide services to the public without discrimination.

As a long time accessibility advocate, I asked Windsor Police for an explanation and received the following:

“My name is Jason Bellaire and I am the Inspector in charge of our uniform patrol officers at the Windsor Police Service (WPS). I was not at the “Coffee with a Cop” event last night (due to a prior commitment); however, I am somewhat familiar with the location where the event was held. This appears to be a regretful oversight on our part as co-organizers of the event. Please accept my apology on behalf of WPS and I assure you that better consideration regarding accessibility will be given when planning future events.

We genuinely appreciate your bringing this issue to our attention and we always welcome any critical feedback from our community members, partners and stakeholders. Once again, please accept our apologies for this misstep and always feel free to contact us with any concerns. Have a safe and happy summer.”

As much as I appreciate the apology, after the fact, I would rather this type of incident not occur in the first place.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Amherstburg Tourism Website Accessibility Issues

Amherstburg, known for its history, not accessibility?

I officially began requesting an accessible website for the Town of Amherstburg, among other accessible amenities, in September 2002 and continued into 2016. Promises were made, as were statements that issues were addressed, but problems persisted.

Amherstburg was invited to hire esolutions when the County redesigned its site to meet accessibility standards in 2014. Leamington and Essex had already hired the web design company but Amherstburg declined. According to the town’s site, esolutions redesigned Amherstburg’s site in 2016, although it still has issues.

The new visitamherstburg.ca has accessibility issues that need to comply with provincial legislation.

Let’s Talk Amherstburg’s “website has been has been built by the team at Bang the Table Pty Ltd on behalf of Town of Amherstburg.”

How many sites do we need to pay for? Who is ensuring the town of Amherstburg complies with standards of equal access?

I do remind myself it took over a decade and a human rights complaint from me for the Amherstburg Public Library to be made accessible. Was money an issue then? NO, and I would need to be convinced it is now.

Windsor Police Human Rights Complaints

Jason Viau, CBC news reported, Windsor police among forces with highest number of human rights complaints in Ontario.

According to the article, Retired constable John Boyle blames the Windsor Police Service for ongoing financial struggles and mental health issues after getting hurt on the job, claiming he was then discriminated against due to his disability.

Boyle is one of the 28 human rights complaints filed against Windsor police between 2008 to 2018. That puts Windsor among the top police forces with the highest number of complaints per capita, according to numbers obtained by CBC News through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

“It felt almost like a personal vendetta against me or that they were out to get me and push me out,” said Boyle. “I wasn’t trying to be unreasonable. I just needed some help.”

Totally relatable.

No Severance, No Sympathy

Both the Amherstburg Police Services Board and the Amherstburg Police Association agreed to the ‘poison pill’ takeover clause in the collective agreement. Although it initially referred to the OPP, the parties agreed to expand the clause to include contracting policing to ‘another police service, other than the Ontario Provincial Police’ (emphasis added).

am800 reported former officer Scott Riddell was disappointed and frustrated by the town holding payments.

“Treated very poorly through the whole process by certain members of the administration and now this, right,” says Riddell.  “We’re talking about wages.  This ain’t even about the severance.” He and others have even reached out to the Ministry of Labour looking for answers when it comes to pay that’s owed to them.

I have no sympathy.

Firstly, severance is commonly paid for loss of employment not simply for rejecting an offer of employment. Secondly, being treated very poorly, in my opinion, was when: a decision was made to withhold an officer’s benefits, contrary to law and the contract at zero cost; an officer was targeted and discriminated against for years; an officer was denied promotions and trainings; officers surreptitiously observed and reported on an officer’s family members’ activities.

The drama continued yesterday when am800 reported, “It’s very disheartening and disrespectful in my opinion we’re being treated this way,” says McCurdy.

It’s incredulous the lengths some will go to when they are personally affected and frustrated. I can imagine the ramifications if a particular officer voiced an opinion about an elected official or administration in the press.

A couple of weeks without pay for what amounts to retirement? Give me a break.

FOI Request To Amherstburg For OPP Costing Information

It is unfortunate that one has to rely on the Freedom of Information legislation to access information.

My request and the required $5.00 fee was for: Correspondence from CAO Miceli to the OPP regarding the police costing, including, but not limited to, letters, emails and notes regarding telephone calls from him and his staff.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo stated in part, in response to the Windsor Police Proposal Requires FOI Application: “The entire process, short of the operations information, was public and transparent.”

Town Clerk Paula Parker’s response was, “I hereby grant partial access to the records.” The usual s. 14(1) exemption was claimed; “A head shall refuse to disclose personal information to any person other than the individual to whom the information relates.”

An appeal has been filed.

Streaming Costs A Pittance

The cost of streaming council meetings is a pittance to pay for increased transparency and accountability.

Amherstburg decided to accept the proposed approximate $500,000. savings annually from the Windsor Police Service and opted not to pursue an OPP costing which may have resulted in a $1,000,000. annual savings.

I thought optimal savings for policing, the largest budget item, was paramount.

Then again, the town’s election process was the most expensive and the least accessible so was cost a concern?

The recent recount was considered costly, despite a surplus of monies being available.

Has money been available to outsource web design, landscaping, online surveys, benefits management? purchase real estate? hire new town employees? donate to charitable organizations?

The council chambers are very small, inaccessible to presenters with disabilities and streaming would be far less costly than building a new and more accessible town hall. Accessibility wasn’t a priority when the front entrance sidewalk into the town hall was renovated.

Accessing minutes poses a perpetual problem too: the most recent special council meeting minutes available are from September 24, 2018; the most recent regular council meeting minutes are from October 9, 2018.  

It’s time to put taxpayers’ money toward all those commitments to change and increase accountability and transparency; for real.

Regional Policing Planned – Why?

CBC reported, Windsor police merging beyond Amherstburg ‘should be coming’, says chief.

The article includes, “We were late to the party at this end of the province. In the GTA and most geographic areas around the province, the idea of regional policing has been well-entrenched and has been successful for many years,” said Frederick.

I disagree.

There are only 6 regional police services in the province; the majority of communities are policed by the OPP and even some amalgamated communities switched to OPP to realize savings.

According to a 2018 TVO article, Contracting with the Windsor police service won’t produce as great a saving as contracting with the OPP. Currently, the Amherstburg service costs each of its households $658 a year. A five-year contract with the Windsor proposal would drop that cost to just under $600 a year. (And a contract with Windsor would produce some other savings for the municipality, adds DiCarlo, such as $3 million for the Amherstburg police’s long-term benefit costs.) By way of comparison, in 2014, Lewis estimated the OPP per household cost to be $360.

In 2015 CTV reported, No tangible benefit to municipal amalgamation: report.

Another study, Amalgamation of Police Services by John Kiedrowski, Ronald-Frans Melchers, Michael Petrunik, Rick Ruddell concluded, “The majority of studies focused on economies of scale also suggest, however, that there are limited or no cost efficiencies associated with larger municipal police departments (i.e., those policing more than 50,000 inhabitants).”

I have yet to find research indicating regionalization saves money.

Edited to add: The Star’s View: Regional police no cure for costs: Regional policing should be studied, although the likelihood of Essex County’s six towns agreeing to it are extremely low – as is the likelihood of a regional force saving any money.

New Council, New Direction?

CTV News reported, “Trust, accountability and growth early focus of new-look Amherstburg council.”

I was hopeful the 2014 council would be new and improved, but the Ombudsman Reports of improper in-camera meetings continued, as did the pettiness and a lack of a strong commitment to accessibility.

My expectation for this new council is that well established practices will continue. I still have to submit FOI requests for information, struggle with the town’s website, and I imagine heritage will take precedence over accessibility, despite the human rights code having precedence over all legislation.

Want The Windsor Policing Proposal? Pay For It

Windsor Police Service has issued a fourth decision letter regarding the request for its proposal that Mayor DiCarlo advised would be made public.

The November 19 letter stated, in part, “The fee for the records requested is $26.20. This fee is in addition to the $5.00 application fee already paid and is the cost to photocopy the records (131 pages @ .20 per page).”

RECAP:

Mayor DiCarlo advised me the Windsor response would be made public.

June 6, 2018 requested Paula Parker, town clerk, provide a link to the windsor police proposal, if it’s available online, or email a copy of it.

June 6, 2018 Paula Parker advised, The Windsor Police Proposal was not posted publicly as it was submitted to the Town with a confidentiality clause attached.  If you wish to receive a copy of the proposal, you would be required to request it from Windsor Police Services directly.

Windsor Police advised I had to file an FOI request.

June 11, 2018 FOI request to Windsor Police.

July 10, 2018 Windsor Police denied access to the proposal in its entirety, citing exemptions.

July 20, 2018 Appeal submitted to Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) for two reasons: I disagreed the records are excluded from the Act and I believed more of the record should be disclosed.

August 3, 2018 Acknowledgement of Appeal from IPC.

August 29, 2018 Windsor Police revised decision letter; access is denied with added exemptions.

September 5, 2018 Notice of Mediation from the Information and Privacy Commissioner

September 12, 2018 Windsor Police; “the mediator assigned to this appeal has asked that I forward an Index of Exemptions.’ The exemptions cited corresponded with 57 pages.

November 19, 2018 Windsor Police; “during mediation of this appeal a further review of the records was conducted and partial access to the records granted.” A list of exemptions, revised November 19, was attached.

Miceli said, Pouget said

The supplementary agenda for this evening’s town council meeting includes a Final Report by Bruce Elman, Integrity Commissioner, regarding a complaint by CAO Miceli against Councillor Diane Pouget.

Elman summarized the complaint, the code of conduct, burden of proof, brief conclusion, an analysis and decision, a conclusion and finally a sanction section.

A Commentary by Councillor Pouget is attached to the Report.

Elman concluded, in part, “It is axiomatic that Council sets policy and that the Administration carries out that policy. Councillor Pouget may have legitimate questions, for example about hiring of staff, but those questions should be directed to inquiring whether the Council-determined policies have been followed.”

Shouldn’t the same logic apply when council-determined motions are carried?

Council approved motions to 1. obtain an OPP costing and 2. to work with the OPP for a costing.

An OPP costing was not obtained; who should be accountable for that?