332,000 more reasons why switching to the OPP was the right decision:
December served up two of the more contentious issues of 2017 and let’s hope the worst is behind us. The first being, OPP versus MPS and the second, the town’s ongoing struggles navigating the Natural Heritage System policy.
We apologize in advance to the folks at Party on the Dock who will receive little ink in this report, but please know we appreciate all that you do.
Policing: As everyone is painfully aware a much needed and long overdue decision to join the OPP ranks was concluded with a 6-3 vote of Council back in September. Many of those in support of the decision continue to be personally attacked by opponents of the decision, who hide behind the anonymity of their website. At midlandcommunity.ca we will continue to investigate and communicate the facts as Midland navigates a bumpy road to the conclusion of this decision.
One of the bumps on that road was revealed at the December 18th Police Services Board meeting, with the shocking disclosure of an 11th hour legal bill to the tune of $332,000, which appeared to be a total surprise to Board members.
There was lots of red in the room (and we don’t mean Santa) as some faces lit up with discomfiture.
Immediately, member Judy Contin wanted to take the discussion into a closed session, which we believe is highly inappropriate and contrary to the rules. However, Chair Dixon chose to acquiesce and keep the peace, which is usually what happens when a board is on the verge of becoming dysfunctional.
To be clear, this outrageous bill was for legal work commissioned by Midland’s top cops to prove the misconduct of one of their previously valued uniformed Officers.
This same disciplined officer was on a paid administrative leave (suspension) for four plus years and recently settled his work place differences with leadership et al. This settlement decision cost the Midland taxpayer more money to resolve all outstanding matters with MPS and potentially the town of Midland.
So some quick math reveals that legal fees, four years of paid suspension, and settlement alone cost Midland taxpayers over $1,000,000 for this situation to be resolved. Yes we said $1,000,000!
Why is it important to talk about this?
First, it speaks to neglect on the part of leadership. Additionally, it speaks to the ineffectiveness of having a local Police Service where the oversight provided is by the Police Services Board who often lack the skills and experience to navigate through budget matters, labour relations contracts and other complex legal matters. In most other jurisdictions, the OPP manages these difficult matters so that the “Board” can concern themselves with providing the community with ‘effective and efficient policing’- a novel and wise idea we might add.
Second, it speaks to the unusual ‘balance of power’ afforded to the local Chief of the day whereby he/she can declare almost absolute independence/autonomy from his/her employer (the board) on matters, which remotely deal with operations, discipline and staffing. Effectively the Board is rendered a distant party and can only offer oversight at their peril. Chair Dixon then tabled a motion that, among other things, included a professional independent review of the bill.
So why raise this when the decision is made and the process to move to OPP is nearing completion? The reason is that there will be more to come at the next scheduled Police Board meeting on January 4th, at which time the Board will concern itself with conciliation matters in the hope of concluding the ‘open collective agreements’. Also, we can expect an update on the Chair’s motion to request an audit and full explanation as to why the $332K bill was a surprise, and why so much? Our greatest concern is that the last gasps from MPS leadership will attempt to squeeze Midland for an even sweeter deal than they already have, once again leaving ratepayers on the hook.
So enough about Police leadership and governance except to say that when we look around at community service groups and other charities who step up their efforts at this time of year, it feels a little sickening and very sad that this debacle has cost Midland the ability and the opportunity to direct monies to a more meaningful outcome – such as assisting the area’s less fortunate.
Finally, Midlandcommunity.ca remains fully motivated to make sure that during this policing transition, there are no other surprises. Rest assured we will hold all involved to account. We are aware that negotiations are underway with key management staff and the union and we intend to exercise our FOI (freedom of information) privileges to assure the people of Midland get a fair and honest result.
December also saw a meeting of the Official Plan Steering Committee, which was presented a revised Natural Heritage System (NHS) policy, no doubt in response to the many concerns presented at public meetings and the 40 follow-up individual meetings with affected landowners in November.
The revised policy includes a redrawn map of the proposed NHS area exempting 7 properties from the original map, waiving or reducing of the environmental impact study requirements at the Town’s discretion, and the grandfathering of the development rights under the current zoning bylaw for existing or vacant properties. The strong opposition from the public to the original draft has clearly got the Planning Department thinking a little differently about the words ‘fair, reasonable and intent’.
Councillor George MacDonald pressed Mr. Crown to tell people exactly who the NHS will affect and how it will impact their personal situations. We understand that a new FAQ document will be prepared and published to better describe the effects of the revised NHS policies.
A presentation to Council on the status of the Official Plan Review, which includes the latest thinking around a more balanced Natural Heritage Policy, is planned for early in the New Year.
Meanwhile, analysis of changes in the recent Provincial Growth Plan 2017, released in July, and the necessary revisions to Midland’s new draft Official Plan will continue in 2018. Further public meetings on the new draft Official Plan are tentatively planned for April 2018 before presentation to Council in May 2018. We encourage readers to remain vigilant regarding this NHS discussion, as this is a policy which will dictate the future prosperity of this community – forever.
Happy and safe holidays to all and thanks for reading.