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?

 

 

 

 

About Ross Sutherland

nurse, researcher, public health care activist, councillor South Frontenac Township
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1 Response to Council Secrecy and Lake Protection

  1. Steve says:

    I agree with you on protecting our lakes. We need the water to live. People keep bending the rules to the determent of the environment. We do need to allow development but not at the cost of our lakes.

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