Monday night’s Council meeting got underway with one item brought forward into the open meeting from a session that began behind closed doors. Regrettably, this item shows that our Town Council still experiences pettiness and ill will that slows progress and sacrifices our best interests.
The specific item involved legal costs incurred by Deputy Mayor Kramp in connection with a complaint lodged with the Ontario Civilian Police Commission by Midland’s Police Chief. It appears Midland’s former CAO, Ted Walker, and the Mayor authorized Mr. Kramp to incur these costs. It also appears a group of councillors objected to paying them and insisted Midland retain another lawyer at additional cost to advise whether the Town’s bylaws authorized the payment.
Monday’s meeting began with the lawyer expressing his opinion that the current bylaw has a narrow scope and would not authorize payment for costs incurred before “…an official action or other proceeding” is launched, unless Council authorizes it. In the course of dealing with this item, it also became apparent that on one occasion at least, Councillor Jeffery received legal advice funded by the Town when no action or other proceeding had been started. When all the dust settled, Council voted 5 to 4 to cover these costs and do what we consider the fair and right thing in the circumstances. Four councillors, Councillors Jeffery, Pendlebury, Atwood and Charlebois did not see it the same way.
What emerges is a rare insight into ill will and inconsistent behaviour by some of our elected representatives. What also emerges is a continued lack of transparency at the Police Services Board. Only by bringing this item from a closed meeting into the open did we ever learn about some of these costly and disruptive proceedings.
We still know nothing about the actual complaint made by the Police Chief almost a full year ago. It is revealing that the lawyer hired by the Town to clarify the matter wrote in his concluding paragraph: “As a final comment there continues to be a fair amount of secrecy with respect to the Commission’s investigation and the complaints made. This opinion therefore can only be based upon the information that has been provided to me.”
Are citizens not entitled to know the nature of the Police Chief’s complaint? Is the complaint substantial or petty? Is it worth thousands of dollars piling up on the backs of taxpayers? Is it still unresolved? Is there also a complaint launched by the Police Services Board and how much more is it costing taxpayers? Why all the secrecy? Tell us, so we can judge whether it is all trumped-up foolishness or a serious problem that warrants spending our money.
George Dixon recently made a deputation to the Police Services Board in which he expressed his view that the Board is holding meetings behind closed doors in violation of the Police Services Act. On Monday, Councillor Charlebois asked to know the total costs of the OCPC proceedings against the Deputy Mayor and indicated he will bring that motion to the February Council meeting. We support any effort to shed more light on this entire issue. One of our members has also filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for additional information that we believe should be available to the public.
On a slightly brighter note, Council approved the 2014 budget representing a 1.71% increase in the town tax levy over 2013. The budget represents a solid effort by senior staff and some councillors to keep spending increases closer to the rate of inflation despite the challenge of virtually no assessment growth.
The major stumbling block Monday night was the 3.7% estimated budget from the Police Services Board on top of last year’s 5.6% increase. The PSB almost dismissed out-of-hand Council’s request for 0% and 2% budget scenarios. All other departments complied and many delivered an actual 0% increase for 2014. Knowing that for 3 years Council has been requesting budget restraint, how can the PSB suggest that if they only had more time they might have complied with Council’s request? Midland deserves better of its Police Services Board and we maintain our view there is overall dysfunction at the Board that needs to be corrected!
Fortunately, in good times and tough times, there are still staff and councillors who step up and do the right thing.
Roy Ellis and Stewart Strathearn on behalf of Midlandcommunity.ca.