Accounts Payable On Agenda: A Matter of Trust

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Should the focus be trust for administration or the public trust?

A long-standing practice, by a motion carried over a decade ago when transparency was the focus, was not reconsidered yet it will be reinstated as a pilot for the next ten months.

Councillor Pouget campaigned ‘to regain the loss of trust by many of our taxpayers.’ Following her motion to reinstate accounts payable on public agendas, council and administration discussed it for about fifteen minutes at the December 5 council meeting.

CAO Critchley mentioned a $1000. monthly cost to render documents accessible, noted other local municipalities no longer do this, there may be privacy concerns, and council approves a budget and it is administration’s professional responsibility to spend within that budget. The treasurer commented on KPMG findings after Councillor Pouget mentioned the report.

I rarely agree with Councillor McArthur, but I was pleasantly surprised that he supported the cost for reasons of accountability and transparency and accessibility. Councillor Allaire supported it for transparency reasons and Councillor Courtney also spoke of public trust and transparency and accountability.

Deputy Mayor Gibb dissented and spoke against the motion, using the royal ‘we.’ He thought we have a level of trust or we ought to have a level of trust for the administration we have. If we don’t have that level of trust, then we need to have a different conversation. He was not going to support spending what’s been told almost $1,000 a month to see cheques that have gone through when we approve a budget and administration is legally bound to follow that budget. He was the only one In a recorded vote to oppose.

Council represents the public, ensures the accountability and transparency of operations, and is to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality. Administration implements council’s decisions and undertakes research and provides advice. Read the full Municipal Act, 2001, or just these sections: 224, role of council, 227, role of administration and 229, discretionary CAO.

Given all the unbudgeted items that have been approved, this is money well spent if it helps to restore public trust and fulfills the obligation to represent the public interest.

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Questions For New Council Unanswered: Update

Some elected officials have now answered some of my October 26 questions, as mentioned in the November 14 post, Kudos And Questions For New Council Unanswered.

Since I did not encounter any barriers during campaigns by Councillor Diane Pouget and Councillor Peter Courtney, they were not asked to answer the three questions.

Mayor Michael Prue and Councillor Donald McArthur did not respond at the time of this post.

All answers, including typos and misspellings, are as received.

  • of the accessibility information the town provided to you for your campaign, which did you read?

    Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb: no answer

    Councillor Molly Allaire: I read all materials supplied to me during my campaign from the town. I did not want anything to jeopardize my chances of making it into council.

    Councillor Linden Crain: I read all election material provided by the Town throughout my campaign, including any information pertaining to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

  • what trainings have you participated in for accessibility legislation, for example, as an employee, volunteer, etc.?

    Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb
    : I’m proud to say that I did complete the ADOA training that was offered to all members of council and I hope to put what I learned into practice not only in my “municipal life” but also in my personal life.

Councillor Molly Allaire: I have never really had any accessibility training. I have taken a few courses in university such as “Special Populations” and “Athletics for Everyone” which basically taught us many different populations accessibility needs and how to make recreation possible for everyone. At my previous job I learnt in the field about all walking aid assistive devices and such/

Councillor Linden Crain: Both the Town of Amherstburg and the County of Essex members of Council have received training on accessibility. I have also been advised that Administration will be doing a special session on accessibility in the first quarter of 2023.

  • how will you fulfill the obligation to remove barriers?

    Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb: no answer

Councillor Molly Allaire: I am just dipping my feet into the waters here so bare with me. I plan to start applying for grants with the towns approval of course to help making our playgrounds and “heritage buildings” more accessible. I know this is not the perfect plan but starting somewhere is important. If you have any ideas or concerns specifically about the town that you would like to bring forward I will always listen and try to help. This is why I stepped up for this position.

Councillor Linden Crain:

  • Continue an open dialogue with the Town’s Accessibility Advisory Committee.
  • Follow regulations outlined in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. 
  • Always remain available to address concerns any resident faces in the Town of Amherstburg.
  • Work closely with Town Administration to establish procedures and measures that ensure those with disabilities have the opportunity to experience all our community has to offer.

Adminstrative Duties or Administrative Burdens?

Another item of concern on tonight’s agenda: Changes to Committee Structure. In an Auugust 2022 post, Concurrent Committee Members, I stated, Amherstburg’s Boards and Committees Appointment Policy, enacted September 26, 2011, could use an update but also adherence to the policy.

Will the proposed changes be counter productive to “The purpose of the Town of Amherstburg Boards and Committees Appointment Policy is to ensure a fair and equitable appointment process to Town Boards and Committees?”

What is motivating changes now?

In a November 14 Report to Council:

In order that the Administrative burdens associated with such a large committee structure are reduced, Administration will seek to recruit and train the same member to serve on the following committees:

    • Dangerous Dog Appeal Committee
    • Fence Viewers
    • Livestock Evaluators
    • Property Standards

This change would allow Administration to reduce the costs and resources required to provide these committees and the associated training in light of their being called to meet only as required, to address specific matters. Given the Town’s Board and Committee Appointment Policy requires that applicants be appointed to a maximum of two boards, Administration would request Council direction to amend the Boards and Committee Appointment Policy to reflect this change, and allow for applicants to be appointed to more than two Boards in these limited circumstances.

I believe administration are well compensated for performing their duties and whether it’s committees or freedom of information requests, how could they be viewed as burdens?

Exemption to Business Licence Ass Backward?

Mr. Richard Peddie has a new plan, along with Mr. Dan Gemus, who met with Administration, set a date for an inaugural Night Market, and now a business licence exemption is recommended, this one time, that would not be granted otherwise because why? The rationale seems to be that a review of the licensing by-law will be completed in the spring of 2023, according to the November 28 Report to Council:

“The Core” is a membership idea born by Mr. Richard Peddie and Mr. Dan Gemus to encourage participation of businesses within the downtown core of Amherstburg in activities which will attract residents and visitors to the downtown area and to enjoy “local” products. The inaugural event is the Amherstburg Night Market to be held on Saturday December 10, 2022 from 12PM – 8PM in the parking lot behind 61 Richmond Street. This Night Market event requires the entity putting on the “Trade Show” to procure a business licence under By-law 2009-044.

Why not apply for a business licence in advance? Or a Zoning By-law amendment in advance? Or better yet, seek approval for the event first and then make plans.

We all know what happens when precedents are set.

Town Council – What’s On The Agenda For December 5?

A Special Council Meeting will be held at 4 pm on December 5; the agenda includes three statutory zoning by-law amendments. Read the full agenda.

The first Regular Council meeting for the new council will then be held at 6 pm when Council will be asked to approve:

  • the proposed 2023 Budget Schedule
  • receive a report and increase the taxi rate
  • issue an RFP for a (here we go again) consultant to lead and facilitate the creation of a Community Based Strategic Plan; and APPROVE an upset limit of $70,000.00 to fund this project, which amount shall be funded from the Contingency Reserve
  • Exempt, one time, Business Licensing By-law 2009-044, Schedule A-58 (Trade Shows) for the Amherstburg Night Market on December 10, 2022 behind 61 Richmond Street
  • two events: Coldest Night and True Fest – January 28, 2023 (road closures for the latter);
  • advertise for lay member positions for the listed Local Boards and Committees
  • appointments to other Boards
  • extend the deadline to renew the current Police Services Contract with Windsor Police to March 31, 2023.
  • the usual Unfinished Business
  • and pass 4 by-laws

Read the full agenda.

New Council Sworn In, Next

New council was sworn in, or sworn at, depending on your perspective, on November 28, 2022.

How will accessibility be prioritized by this group? No masks, no physical distancing, a stage with stairs, Prue’s wish list including we need a heritage district and not a word about accessibility. Really? We need accessible buildings and barriers removed.

Training meetings held all day November 29 and November 30 at town hall should be live streamed like other municipalities. Looks like an in-depth review of all town departments.

Then two Regular meetings are scheduled for December 5 and 12 which I’m guessing will include Bill 23 and hopefully everyone does their homework.

Follow Up Questions New Council Swearing In

Valerie Critchley, CAO, answered my follow up questions:

Q. if the council members have already been sworn in, what is the purpose of the swearing in ceremony november 28 instread of a regular council meeting?

A. The purpose of the formal Inauguration Ceremony is to allow the members of Council to declare their oaths publicly for the purpose of transparency and also to allow the public to be present for this formal ceremony. I would note that this formal event was originally scheduled for December 5, 2022 which would have left only one Regular Council meeting, being December 12, 2022, until the end of the year. We revised the scheduled to have the Inauguration on November 28, 2022 and now have two Regular meetings scheduled for the month of December, on the 5th and the 12th.

Q. would you please send me a copy of the oath that was sworn to?

A. Declaration of Office

Q. would you please provide me with the dates, locations and topics for new council training sessions? thank you.

A. The Council Orientation Sessions are scheduled for November 29th and November 30th and will be held from 8:30am-4:30pm on each day and will take place in Council Chambers at Town Hall.  The Agenda will be publicly available tomorrow and will be posted to the Town’s website.

Windsor Launches Public Budget Simulator Tools

Amherstburg sometimes compares the town to others, like for wage increases, council remuneration, etc., but this would be worthwhile looking into, especially if it involves no sign ins for feedback and it increases transparency, accountability and civic engagement.

Taylor Campbell, The Windsor Star reports, “Ahead of its 2023 budget process, the City of Windsor has launched a new online tool that lets residents share their spending priorities and have a go at balancing the bottom line.”

The article includes links to a budget balancing simulator, tax receipt generator, and public feedback tool.

New Council Make Declarations

Valerie Critchley, CAO, answered my request to provide the members’ names and dates of each of their swearing in:

Mayor Prue – November 8th, 2022
Deputy Mayor Gibb – November 8th, 2022
Councillor Allaire – November 10th, 2022
Councillor Crain – November 10th, 2022
Councillor Pouget – November 10th, 2022
Councillor McArthur – November 14th, 2022
Councillor Courtney – November 15th, 2022

She added, ‘Please note that regardless of the date on which a member makes their declaration of Office the Municipal Act provides that they do not take office until the statutorily appointed date being November 15th.’

However, not all councillors believe that they were sworn in nor will they be until the November 28, 2022 ceremony at the McGregor Columbian Club at 6:00 p.m.

CBC, November 15, reports:

Leamington, Kingsville, Tecumseh and Lakeshore councils hosted inaugural council meetings last night.

The inaugural meeting for the new Essex council  is on Nov. 21.

LaSalle will host its first meeting of the new council on Nov. 22.

The first meeting for Amherstburg’s new council will be held on Nov. 28.

Amherstburg’s website lists the ceremony on November 28 and the regular council meeting on December 5, 2022.

Aiming For Accountability

The following questions were emailed to Amherstburg CAO Valerie Critchley on November 15, who answered on November 16:

i’m writing to request information that i’d like to post to the burg watch blog:

1.   requests for information from candidates and third party advertisers about town services and programs during the 2022 campaign period, without revealing the source of the request, and also responses from administration.

Please file a Freedom of Information Request for this information. The form can be found at: https://www.amherstburg.ca/en/town-hall/resources/licenses-and-forms/MFIPPA-Request-Form.pdf

2.   are completed conflict of information declaration forms available for viewing online?

The Municipality keeps a registry of this information which can be found at:https://www.amherstburg.ca/en/town-hall/declaration-of-interest-registry.aspx . The actual forms which have been completed by the Members of Council can be viewed in person at Town Hall.

3.   when was the official swearing in of new council members held?

Members of Council each swore and signed their individual oaths of office (the signed oath is actually what is required by the Municipal Act)  separately between November 8, 2022 and November 15, 2022. The ceremonial inauguration will take place on November 28, 2022.

I emailed follow up comments and questions on November 16:

  • regarding 1. i’m not requesting any personal information; just the questions asked and answered;
  • 2. wouldn’t it be more accountable and accessible to persons with disabilities for the forms to be attached to the registry for viewing online?
  • 3. would you please provide the members’ names and dates of each of their swearing in?