Priority Water treatment, Transparency and Engagement

A Peek Through Murky Waters

Council should provide more public information on many items it discusses behind closed doors:  this is the finding of an investigation into Council’s use of closed meetings.

In most cases Council should tell the public the general topic being discussed. This finding relates specifically to a litigation at the water treatment plant that has been ongoing for six years:  a piece of information that is now public thanks to the investigator’s report. This is a second litigation about the Sydenham water treatment plant: some may remember the case involving Tottenham Sims. Up until this point the majority of Council had chosen to inform the public only that it was in litigation.

Second, the investigation found that more information needs to be reported out to the public after a closed meeting discussion.

Third, Council, in the current case, should provide information on why there is litigation on the water plant and some of the basic facts about the situation.  There is a motion coming to the next council meeting asking staff to prepare a report on why the Township was in litigation on the water treatment plant.

The only public reason given for restricting the public’s knowledge was that the information might have caused concern.  It is arguable that situations that might cause the public concern are the most important ones to make public so that rumours can be minimized, confidence in municipal government boosted and community-based solutions found.

The investigator’s general comments were that, when in doubt, the Council should err on the side of openness and make information public.

In the last two years Council went into closed session 37 times without giving information on the general content of the discussion.  I hope that this lack of transparency and openness will now change.

Water Treatment Plant Priority

The Public Services Committee is making the Water Treatment Plant one of its priorities for action this year: a valuable decision given that is still a significant issue and one that divides the community.

Issues identified by the staff for action include: a new water bylaw, well decommissioning, system capacity, a water filing station and hooking up to the system on the sale of a house.

I have moved a motion that a program of community engagement be one of the priorities.

A community engagement plan could include more openness, public information meetings, and establishing a permanent water advisory committee that includes residents who pay into the system.  Any approach will require effort, but it is necessary for the community to move forward on water treatment.

It seems likely within the next couple of decades, if we want more vibrant communities in Harrowsmith and Inverary, both areas with bad water, there will also be a need some sort of communal water supply in these hamlets: and numerous communities might also require sewage systems.  Now is a good time to find a better way to handle these kinds of projects.

Increased Budget for Community Groups

I would like to thank all the groups who took advantage of Council’s public session on the budget to present your priorities.  It helps shape how our public money is spent.

There was unanimous agreement in the preliminary budget discussions for raising the amount of money available to support community groups and events by $20,000.  While the increase is small it is a significant recognition that supporting community organizing leverages hundreds of hours of volunteer time and thousands of dollars in community donations.

Thanks for Supporting Lakes and Wetlands

Thank you to everyone who wrote letters supporting strong regulations protecting lakes and wetlands.  This issue will be coming to the Development Services Committee on February 25 for further discussion.

The 2019 Lakes and Trails Festival

Planning has started for the 2019 Lakes and Trails Festival.  If you are interested in helping out, by volunteering or making a donation, visit the Festival’s web site, https://lakesandtrailsfestival.org/, or come to the next organizing meeting on March 18th.

I hope everyone is a enjoying the snow (before it rains again), and skating on Sydenham Lake at the boat ramp. A big thank you to everyone who is making this happen.

 

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Investigator’s Report on South Frontenac Council’s Secrecy

Last summer I made a request for “…. an investigation of the decision ….. to keep the fact that …[information on the details of the problem that are not yet public]… at Sydenham’s Municipal water facility from the public.  The matter was also discussed at a meeting on July 3 and multiple meeting prior to that date over the last few years. ”

“I wish to distinguish the discussion of the legal proceedings from the fact that here is an issue at the plant.  I understand that the legal proceedings can be protected by the closed meeting provisions [of the Municipal Act] and Council has chosen to do that.  I don’t see any rational for keeping the fact that there is a problem at the plant, the general nature of that problem, and attempts to mitigate that problem….from the public.  I would like to have the appropriateness of this decision investigated. ” [edited for clarity]

The investigation has now concluded and the full report can be read at:

southfrontenac2019

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Politeness and Politics

Happy New year to you, your family and friends.  I am looking forward to working with the new Council in 2019 for a more open, inclusive, compassionate and sustainable community.

South Frontenac Code of Conduct

With politics becoming ever more dysfunctional, South Frontenac is hoping to battle the tide with a new Code of Conduct.  A draft Code was presented to Council in December.  It stems from a provincial requirement that all municipalities have Codes of Conduct and Integrity Commissioners by March, 2019.

A Code of Conduct can be helpful if it facilitates thoughtful, respectful debate, and honesty and openness in government.  It can also stifle debate and opposition.

Overall the draft Code of Conduct’s scope and content encourages positive behaviour among your municipal politicians.  A couple of provisions raises possible concerns.

There is ambiguity in the statement “….to maintain and promote trust in the Township.”  Part of a Councillors job is to question activities of the Township that they think are not in the public interest.  Some would argue that this questioning could undermine public trust in the Township.

For instance, public trust is built by the Township by having proper oversight of finances.  If a Councillor suspected that there was poor oversight, it would be reasonable, if not expected, that they would raise this concern. Calling the Township to account should not be restricted by a possible complaint under the Code of Conduct that questioning the Township’s practices is undermining trust in the Township.

Similarly, the clause “respect council’s decision-making process” has the potential to stifle legitimate actions of Councillors.  For instance, would this preclude a Councillor from supporting a legal challenge to a decision of Council? Or, preclude a Councillor from advocating to overturn a decision of Council.

Finally, the section on conflict of interest and gifts is too permissive.  For instance, it seems to allow a contractor or caterer to supply “volunteer” services to a Councillor when that contractor or caterer could be bidding for Township contracts.

Similarly, Councillors are allowed to receive gifts valued at up to $300.  Even though these gifts would have to be disclosed, that is not sufficient, if they are from a party doing business or potentially benefiting from a Councillor’s vote.

It is important to avoid real and the appearance of improper influence. The debate on Code of Conduct will continue this month.

Development Review and Lake Protection

The Province is undertaking a “fundamental review” of all aspects of the development review process with the intention of removing some of the restrictions and red tape around development.

Many in South Frontenac want properly controlled development that protects our lakes, wetlands and the rural character of the Township.

The approval process for the Johnson’s Point development highlighted the limitations of current regulations.

These regulations allowed 18 units of housing to be developed in the midst of a provincially significant wetland and a candidate area of natural and scientific interest, and on a lake that is already well-developed.

The Environmental Commissioner’s 2018 report  found that the approval process did not give adequate attention to resident’s concerns, nor does it adequately protect wetlands:

“For example, a subdivision that is built adjacent to a wetland may not cause immediate negative impacts, but eventually, the cumulative impacts from this expansion, such as road salting, fertilizer runoff, leaking fuels, wildlife predation from domestic cats and recreation overuse (e.g., from off-road vehicles and mountain bikes), can severely degrade wetland functions”. (page 25)

The legislative mandate of the Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided, at best, marginal protection for the environment and species-at-risk on Johnson’s Point.

On January 8, Council will be considering a motion to inform the Province about the limitations in the current process and ask for better protection of our lakes and wetlands.

Volunteer Openings with The Township

South Frontenac thrives on the work of volunteers.  They are the back bone of many services and activities vital to the community, including; the Fire and Rescue services, South Frontenac Community Services, New Leaf Link, Perth Road Crafters, the Lions Club and the many community Festivals.  You can also help by being a volunteer member of one of Township Council’s many Committees.

For a full listing of committee volunteer opportunities follow this link to the South Frontenac web-page .  Applications need to be in by January 16.

Upcoming Meetings

Monday, January 14, Township Hall, 7pm – first organizing meeting of the 2019 Lakes and Trails Festival, all welcome.

Tuesday, January 15 – Public Deputations on the 2019 Township Budget.  Comments on how your tax dollars should be spent are welcome.

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Is South Frontenac Giving Improper Notification for Closed Meetings?

There is often a perception that governments in general and our Council specifically have too many discussions behind closed doors and without proper public consultation and involvement.

Analysis of the reasons given for closed meetings in the last two years shows the limited public information. The concern is that Council is not meeting the minimum requirement for pubic notification.

The Court of Appeal, in a case involving the city of Kingston, ruled that: “the resolution to go into closed session should provide a general description of the issue to be discussed in a way that maximizes the information available to the public while not undermining the reason for excluding the public.” Emphasis added.

Basically a motion needs two parts, the legal exemption that allows a subject the considered in closed session and some information on that subject.

During the two years 2017 and 2018 Council moved into closed session to deal with 43 issues. In 37 of these instances only the exemption justifying the closing of the session was given.

For the closed meetings with only the exemption given:
• Litigation was used 11 times;
• Identifiable individual 14 times;
• Client solicitor privilege 3 times;
• Land acquisition 8 times; and,
• Labour relations 1 time.

Potential litigation was also used as an exemption for one closed meeting. I am not sure if this classifies as an exemption or not.

The six meetings with stated subject areas were:
• Litigation – unpaid legal Fees of Developer – Verbal report
• Land Acquisition – senior Housing – Verbal update
• Litigation – verbal Report from Solicitor re: Johnston Point
• Advice from Solicitor re: Hartington Community Association’s Request
• Litigation – Hartington OMB – solicitor to be present for part of the meeting
• Litigation – Hartington Development

Based on this information I have asked for an investigation of how South Frontenac’s Council informs the pubic on discussions in closed sessions.

The following are copy and past sections from the meetings public agendas in the last two years where Council met in closed session.

2018
Committee of the Whole December 11
4. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Litigation
(b) Matters concerning an Identifiable Individual
(c) Matters subject to Client Solicitor
(d) Matters concerning an Identifiable Individual

Council October 2
4. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution
b) Kurt Pearson – Litigation – Verbal

c) Litigation – Unpaid Legal Fees of Developer – Verbal Report
d) Land Acquisition – Seniors Housing – Verbal Update

Council August 4
4. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Minutes of July 3, 2018 Closed Session meeting
b) Minutes from June 5, 2018 Closed Session with Solicitor (for information)
c) Matters about an identifiable individual
d) Property Acquisition

Council July 3

4. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution – Move into Closed Session
b) Litigation – Solicitor to be present
c) Minutes of previous Closed Session
d) Property Acquisition
e) Resolution – Move out of Closed Session

Council June 19
4. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Closed Session Items – Litigation, Property Acquisition and Approval of Minutes
b) Minutes of June 5, 2018 Closed Session
c) Litigation – Solicitor to be present
d) Property Acquisition

Council June 5
5. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Litigation, Property Acquisition and approval of previous closed session minutes
b) Previous Closed Session Minutes – February 20, 2018
c) Litigation – Verbal Report from Solicitor re: Johnston Point
d) Property Acquisition

Council February 20
4. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution – Move to Closed Session
b) Minutes of previous Closed Sessions
c) Litigation

Council January 16
4. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution
b) Minutes of Previous Closed Sessions
c) Personal Matters about an Identifiable Individual

2017

Council December 5
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Approval of Minutes from Closed Meetings
b) Personal matters about an Identifiable individual – Verbal report from CAO
c) Advice that is subject to solicitor client privilege

Committee of the Whole November 14
3. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Litigation – Verbal Report from the CAO
(b) Matters about an Identifiable Individual as requested by Councillor Schjerning

Council November 7
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Approval of Minutes of previous Closed Sessions
b) Matters concerning Identifiable Individuals

Committee of the Whole October 24
3. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Potential Litigation
(b) Matters about an identifiable individual

Council September 5
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution – Move into Closed Session
b) Approval of minutes from previous closed session meetings
c) Labour Relations and Employee Relations
d) Property Acquisition
e) Personnel – matters about an identifiable individual

Council August 1
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution – closed session to discuss litigation (four files) and approve July 11, 2017 closed session minutes (Lawyer to be present)
b) Minutes of July 11, 2017 Closed Session
c) Litigation

Council July 11
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Resolution – Move into Closed Session – To approve closed minutes from May 2 and 30 and for Advice from Solicitor re: Hartington Community Association’s Request
b) Approval of minutes from previous Closed Session meetings
c) Advice from Solicitor
d) Resolution – Return to Open Session

Council May 30
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Litigation – Hartington OMB – Solicitor to be present for part of meeting.
Committee of the Whole May 9
3. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Matters about an Identifiable Individual – Verbal Report

Council May 2
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Minutes of previous Closed Sessions
b) Personal Matters about an Identifiable Individual – Verbal report from the CAO

Committee of the Whole May 11
3. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Litigation

Committee of the whole March 28
3. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Litigation – Hartington Development
(b) Verbal Report – Matters about an Identifiable Individual

Council February 14
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Matters about an Identifiable Individual, to be raised by Councillor Schjerning
b) Property Acquisition

Council January 17
3. Scheduled Closed Session
a) Approval of Previous Closed Session Minutes and Property Acquisition
b) Approval of Closed Session Minutes
c) Property Acquisition

January 10 committee of the whole
3. Scheduled Closed Session
(a) Property Acquisition

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Endings and Beginnings

As the new Council starts its work, two long anticipated decisions on important developments in the South Frontenac, Johnson’s Point and the Hartington Subdivision, were released.

Johnson’s Point

The Johnson’s Point subdivision is a 15-house development next to a provincially significant wetland (PSW) on Loughborough Lake. It was approved two years ago with a requirement that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MNRF) undertake an assessment of species-at-risk on the point and make orders to protect them, a process called granting a benefit permit.

A general summary of the benefit permit orders was released to the public last month. Despite a broad community interest in a healthy environment and a strong local interest in this development the detailed permit is only released to the developer. This raises questions on how the implementation of the benefit provisions is to be monitored and how they are to be incorporated into the Condominium agreement.

The benefit permit summary suggests that one of these conditions may weaken provisions protecting the shoreline that were already agreed to by the Developer, the Township, the County and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). This concern may just be an artifact of the general nature of the summary information and is being investigated. The rest of the conditions continue a long tradition of the MNRF’s Benefit Permit system providing, at best, marginal protection for the environment and species-at-risk.

One early sign that there might not be adequate protection for the area’s environment was when the developer’s environmental assessment did not identify any species-at-risk on the point. Subsequent reports found Grey Rat snakes and Blanding’s Turtles. Surveys commissioned by local residents also identified Myotis Bats and Whippoorwills.

A second red flag was when the OMB did not give adequate attention to the resident’s concerns, a fact identified in the 2019 Ontario’s Environmental Commissioners report (page 55).

The report also identified shortcomings in the ‘no negative impacts’ restriction on developments close to Provincially Significant Wetlands:

“For example, a subdivision that is built adjacent to a wetland may not cause immediate negative impacts, but eventually, the cumulative impacts from this expansion, such as road salting, fertilizer runoff, leaking fuels, wildlife predation from domestic cats and recreation overuse (e.g., from off road vehicles and mountain bikes), can severely degrade wetland functions”. (page 25)

Shortly after this report was released the provincial government introduced legislation to eliminate the office of the Environmental Commissioner.

The take home message is that legislated protections for the environment, while occasionally helpful, are weak. It is also important to note that, while far from perfect, there were important gains made in the conditions of approval for the Johnson’s Point condominium, protections made because of local pressure. It is now up to the MNRF, the County and the Township to enforce these.

The Hartington Subdivision

After waiting for the better part of two years the OMB supported the Hartington subdivision, a controversial proposal to develop 13 housing units off of Boyce Road near the K+P trail.

The decision came down to a couple of points. First the development was in Hartington which is identified as an area for growth in South Frontenac’s Official Plan. Second, it was ruled that the controls in the Conditions of Approval were sufficient to protect the community’s ground water and control storm water run-off.

The take home messages from this decision include, be careful what you put in your official plan. If we don’t want development in certain areas, this needs to be said. The Official Plan should identify where and what kind of development we want in our Township. Second, South Frontenac has many areas of questionable water quality and quantity and there is nothing in the Official plan to address these concerns. Third, the importance of enforcement is again highlighted.

Upcoming Issues

Cannabis

Council needs to make a decision by January 22, 2019, on whether to allow retail cannabis stores in South Frontenac.

Please comment: Do you think that Cannabis retail stores should be allowed in the Township?

2019 Budget

The Township’s 2019 draft budget will be released on January 15 and the public is welcome to comment on January 22 though deputation to full Council, or directly to your Councillors.

New Official Plan?

It is likely that sufficient funds will be included in this year’s budget to start a full community-based review of the Official Plan. This is long over due: the last one was done in 2000. The discussions around Johnson’ Point, the 30-meter lake protection bylaw, and the Hartington subdivision indicate that our current Official Plan may not reflect the current views of what want in our Township.

Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends, happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends and happy holidays with our family and friends to all of us.

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Council Secrecy and Lake Protection

Thank you very much for the continued support.  Over the last few months I enjoyed visiting most homes in the district and talking about the future of the Township.  I hope that your feedback, both positive and negative, and your involvement on important issues will continue over the next four years.

During the election campaign two issues, council secrecy and lake protection, both election issues, were also issues happening in the decision-making world.

The Public’s Right to Know

The Municipal Act says that Councillors have an obligation to make Councils open and accountable.  The Act also gives six, soon to be nine, specific circumstances when a Council can keep information from the public.  Even in those circumstances Council has the option of debating some or all of the issue in public: unfortunately, an option rarely chosen.

A few times in the last year an item has appeared on the Council’s closed session agendas which simply reads something like: “Kurt Pearson – lawyer – verbal.” (October 2, 2018 Council Agenda)

The law is clear that when dealing with legal advice Council can discuss this information in private. While this makes sense in terms of legal advice and tactics. It is also important that the pubic know, at least in general, the topic of litigation.  Without this basic knowledge there is no ability to question the appropriateness of keeping information from the public.  In the case(s) being discussed it seems that there was never a public report on a potential problem: so total secrecy.

New accountability rules require all municipalities to have an investigation procedure for possible misuse of the permitted secrecy provisions. South Frontenac chose to use an “Investigator” connected with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

In this instance I see no reason to deny the public access to the basic facts of the(se) situation(s).  I have asked for a formal investigation of whether South Frontenac Council has abused the secrecy provisions by keeping the topics of litigation private.

The investigation is ongoing and when the report is issued I will report the findings.  This is the first time an investigation of this kind has been undertaken in the Township.  It is a learning curve for all concerned and it will give some indication of how much the law protects the public’s right to know.

5 Feet, 30 Meters and 20 Years

Last July, a property owner with an old one-story cottage, five feet from the shore on a highly sensitive lake-trout lake, applied to the Committee of Adjustment, and was granted, permission to double the size of the cottage, moving it from a seasonal cottage to a possible year-round residence.  I was one of two votes against.

The permission to build a two-story cottage five feet from the lake was related to the OMB decision on replacing an existing building within 30 meters of a lake-shore. Every resident has the right to apply for a variance from the rules of development.  When the rule was no development within 30 meters, variances were for how close to the lake a house or renovation could be. After discussion with the owners, most requests were granted with concessions to protect the lake.

With the OMB ruling the conversation has changed from how close to the lake to how big beside the lake.  The Committee of Adjustment is meant to grant approvals for variances that are minor and in keeping with the intention of the Official Plan and other planning documents.

All property owners also have the right to appeal any Committee of Adjustment ruling.  The results of these appeals will help set the parameters on how big development can be that is close to the lake, but there will be bigger development closer to lakes.

If it happens a few times a year, in 20 years our lakes will look different and the health our shorelines will be more compromised. Instead of slowly improving our lakes we will see a slow decline.

Most people in South Frontenac want healthy lakes. They want natural shorelines, clean water, and abundant wildlife and fish.  A common phrase used by residents is that “we don’t want to be like Muskoka”.  The timeline we need on lake protection policies is 20 to 30 years. A significant question in the Official Plan review is how do we protect our lakes and shorelines?

 

 

 

 

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Hard Topping Gravel Roads

At the Perth Road all-candidates meeting there were numerous questions on a schedule for hard topping gravel roads.  There is no specific schedule.  The intention of this Council, and previous ones, is that over time, most, if not all, roads would be hard topped.  The priority roads would be primarily determined by traffic counts and budget considerations.

Last fall the Public Works department presented to Council a list of all the Township’s gravel roads and their traffic counts. The traffic counts in this table are a little uneven and they do not take into consideration the many traffic counts that were taken this past summer.   The table does not have any traffic Counts for Leland Road at the west end where the hard topping ends, which are important to get and will be higher than at North Shore Road.  An updated list will hopefully be presented by December, before the start of next year’s budget deliberations.

Use this link for the table of gravel roads and traffic counts: Attachment B -Traffic Counts Summary 2010-2017. 

In my December 2017 newsletter I made the following comments on gravel roads and the choices for hard topping:

Last summer Public Services suggested a halt to resurfacing gravel roads for five years due to the cost of Road 38 repairs.  After some discussion Council requested a list of gravel roads and their priority for hard topping.  Instead, the Public Services Committee recommended hard-topping Carrying Place Road and Deyo’s/Bunker Hill Roads.

Despite repeated requests, there was no rational presented to support this recommendation. Traffic counts were submitted late in the budget process which supported hard topping Massassagua Road and Burridge Road South.  Carrying Place and Deyo’s/ Bunkers Hill Roads have the third and fourth highest traffic counts.

Early in the process Councillor Sleeth had argued that Carrying Place Road would have significantly increased traffic due to a new approved subdivision. This makes sense but it has still not been provided as a formal rational.

Deyo’s/Bunker Hill Roads do not have the same defense. If the idea is to create another main north south route in the middle of the Township – hard topping will do that – it is not clear that it is a good idea.  It certainly is not one that has been debated and decided.    In 2018, a master traffic plan will be done that should provide an answer to questions like that.  To hard top this lower priority road before we have that advice and decided on its recommendations seems premature.

There is another alternative that may work better for more people. Rather than targeting two roads for the full treatment, Council could increase ditching, drainage, quality of gravel and grading on the many gravel roads that become difficult to drive after heavy rains, which are happening more often.

This key recommendation on roads looks a bit like the backroom politics of old days, rather than the open and accountable government that our strategic plan says we should be working towards and that residents want. What ever policies we support, including in the budget, need to be adequately rationalized to Council and the public and decided through open, informed debate.

 

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