|Posted on May 22, 2013 at 5:25 PM|
On October 17th, 2011 Newmarket Council voted in favour of hiring a consultant to review the Marianneville application, known as the Glenway development. The estimated cost at that time was $65,000.
And the reason the CAO recommended hiring this consultant, even though we currently have professional planners on staff - to paraphrase Mayor Van Bynen - was because this “application was extraordinary and staff didn’t have time to complete it."
Here’s a recording of that meeting: http://www.rogerstv.com/page.aspx?lid=237&rid=70&sid=3183&gid=85943 and my blog on it: http://maddiedimuccio.webs.com/apps/blog/show/9620484-why-i-voted-against-a-glenway-consultant-
I was the only councillor to speak out and vote against that decision. My position – to protect the best interests of Newmarket residents as a whole, and not as an old boys club, took the usual personal and childish hits, such as Regional Councillor Taylor suggesting “I had no business sticking my nose into something that doesn’t involve ward 6.”
I might guess why John Taylor, who has the majority of alliances on council, was uncomfortable. You see, the consultant council hired was also the same company that donated to his election campaign, sealing it up with a letter of personal endorsement that the Regional Councillor displays on his website.
In fact the company, iPlan, who no doubt did some great work for Newmarket in the past, came back through staff a few months later and asked for more cash. It seemed apparent 65K wasn’t enough.
I voted against that too.
There were a few closed door meetings on the issue – but I can’t speak about them.
What I do know today is that iPlan suddenly handed the reins of the consulting work to another individual, Ruth Victor. That piece of information was something that wasn’t offered to council. I had to seek it from staff after a member of the public brought it to my attention.
Yesterday in Council, staff reported that the Glenway Developers filed an application to the OMB due to “the failure of the Town of Newmarket to make a decision on the applications in accordance with Sections 22(subsection 7), 34 (subsection 11), and 51 (subsection 34) of the Planning Act.”
It is now clear that council’s strategy to hire a consultant at a $100,000+ tab to taxpayers to extend staff did not come in on budget and it did not come in on time. That means there is a lot of explaining required. When an employee fails to meet budgeted time and money, we have the ability to address that failure. The reason I opposed the consultant is because I suspected this was going to happen and that no one would be held accountable.
My question to the CAO yesterday: “how did we benefit with over 100K in consulting fees for a Glenway consultant when we can't even file the application on time?"
His answer: the “consultant ‘extended staff’ and that they are "excellent senior planners with experience."
I’ll leave that for the public to decide.
My concern is how the money was spent on consulting fees when “extending staff” failed to meet a pivotal milestone on a very important, and quoting the Mayor, “extraordinary" project.
Perhaps one day the public will be provided a list of benefits that Council feels they achieved by using this particular consultant.
Back in late 2011, a month before Council decided that hiring a consultant for Glenway would save us money (it didn’t – it actually cost us more as per an OMB filing), I put forward a resolution on behalf of residents who approached me for help. My motion was to create a task force to be comprised of members of the public and members of Council for the purpose of community oversight on the Glenway application. As a new councillor, I felt this action might quell the rumours of secrecy. I believe members of the public should be included in the discussions we have where your best interests are concerned.
Unfortunately, my colleagues didn’t agree. They all voted against my idea, with Councillor Emanuel predictably being the most vocal opponent: http://maddiedimuccio.webs.com/apps/blog/show/8999505-my-resolution-for-transparency-on-the-newmarket-glenway-issue-lost
And so it was beyond rich yesterday in chambers, with an OMB report in front of us, when Councillor Emanuel expressed his disappointment to staff. He said “resident(s) (needed) access to discussions on the application"; and "residents need to be part of those discussions."
Councillor Emanuel didn’t feel that way in September 2011. He was fully confident that a consultant could do the job with respect to the application without having the bother of residents peering in.
My guess is he isn’t too happy with the way things are moving along.
He didn’t miss a heartbeat in yesterday’s council committee meeting when I repeated his own words and voting record on the issue. Before I uttered my first sentence, the highly sensitive councillor bellowed out “point of privilege!” thereby preventing me from speaking. (This is a common habit in chambers).
But by now Mayor Van Bynen has illustrated in council meetings through arrogant behaviour his fear of any kind of opposition, transparency and truth to residents when his radar senses a threat, and so it was of no surprise when he eagerly succumbed to the poor lamb.
The fear of public scrutiny was illustrated further yesterday when he and other members of council insisted that a new and important report that had no business being confidential on the Glenway development should be kept that way.
Yes: an 8-1 vote against transparency.
Glenway residents deserve better.
|Posted on May 9, 2013 at 4:50 PM|
Since being elected into office, I’ve voted against every single tax increase to residents not because it was easy to oppose an unpopular position, but because my colleagues share a very different view of how they see fit spending your money.
Ideas I’ve presented on decreased spending have been downright rejected and even challenged.
Since I’ve been elected to Council and before that, I’ve seen an administration that’s decided it’s better to have your money in their bank account instead of having your money in your bank account.
The latest exercise in tax increases comes courtesy of Councillor Hempen, who insisted last week that finding money to provide extra funding for the ‘Asset Replacement Fund’ (ARF) was something he campaigned on.
He lived up to that promise, because his motion to whip up an extra .8% tax increase on top of any other budget increases for 2013 was supported in last night’s recorded vote 6-3.
I’m not sure it’s politically astute to campaign on a tax increase, but he certainly was offended in last night’s council meeting when I alluded to it, citing “personal privilege” (a motion used by politicians whose feelings are easily hurt) in order to get me to shut up.
First, some background on the Asset Replacement Fund (ARF)
ARF is a reserve that many municipalities initiate. As the name implies, the tax dollars sitting in this fund are meant to be utilized for maintenance and upkeep of our assets – parks, recreation complexes, equipment, etc. While it’s not mandated to have such a fund it’s a good idea to create one. Newmarket created the reserve in 1998.
Today the fund sits at approximately $12.8 million. Last week our treasurer explained this number was “middle of the road” in comparison to other municipalities across Ontario.
Earlier this term a Council motion directed staff to hire a consultant (cost: $185,395) to come up with a 3 phase report to figure out how we can increase revenue for the fund.
The Hemson Report presented part of their Phase 2 study this week to council: one suggestion being that a yearly 3.2% levy to taxpayers would solve the issue and bring us back up to speed.
Obviously, no politician worth their salt is going to suggest an unpopular tax increase of 3.2% in addition to their regular yearly tax increases. But what concerns me most is how certain politicians who currently sit on council have used the ARF in the past.
In 2009, after being in breach of a tendering process with Maystar General Contractors, the town was ordered to pay out costs to the company: http://www.cccl.org/featured%20article%20-%20January%202010.htm Astoundingly, Council chose to appeal it (they lost) and taxpayers ended up being on the hook for over $2 million in payouts and legal costs. With no such money in our coffers, the Council of the day (currently Sponga, Vegh, Kerwin, Emanuel, Taylor and Mayor Van Bynen) decided to dip into our Asset Replacement Fund to pay for their bad judgement. Their decision depleted $2.5 million out of a $9 million fund that’s meant to pay for maintaining our assets.
It was a whopping political mistake, with no one held accountable.
It was also the same term they voted on and passed a salary hike for themselves.
Yesterday, five of these same men supported increasing the fund by charging you more tax to fix their mistake.
I share the concerns of many residents with how some members believe that an asset replacement fund should be used to budget vanity projects, such as the Old Town Hall. In the prior term the Mayor and Council saw fit to dip into this reserve – despite federal and provincial grants in the millions – to revive the building which had become dilapidated and unusable through neglect and turn it into a theatre by justifying that it was an existing asset.
Was this replacing an asset or was this creating a political legacy?
I too see a future need to increase a fund that Newmarket will rely on more as our assets depreciate over the years. But I can’t help look towards examples such as the Old Fire Hall (an asset that actually was in full use and now being sold), or the slow, steady neglect of Hollingsworth Arena (remember the downtown arena?) as an indication of where this council’s priorities are where existing assets are concerned.
Councillor Hempen wanted you to know that his tax levy was for your own good and that heck, it was the price of a cup of coffee a day. (You’ll remember in the last budget they refused to give up their own tax funded cup of coffee, literally: http://maddiedimuccio.webs.com/apps/blog/show/19980215-newmarket-budget-2013-and-where-we-stand
Councillor Vegh summed it up by suggesting his own kids would thank him and that yours might too.
The councillors who voted in favour of the tax levy insisted that while they were sorry, they felt they knew best and that they were being responsible.
The same way they were being responsible when they drained this important reserve to fund their political mistakes of the past.
That’s not responsible. That’s outright unaccountable, especially when the costly Hemson report is in mid progress and yet to come up with additional revenue tools.
They’re also the same councillors who refused to eliminate their 1/3 income tax perk, eliminate a personal environmental slush fund, put a cap on their personal budgets, or support any type of decrease on operational costs and vote for a salary increase instead.
Councils’ .8% tax levy will provide for an additional $360,000 contribution to the ARF. That’s roughly the same amount of savings they refused to implement when I recommended simple operational cost cuts on personal staff programs last year that weren’t being fully utilized.
As with all tax increases, we make it a practice to consult with the public for the benefit of feedback.
Remember that last night the council members who voted in favour of increasing your taxes did so quietly and without any interest in hearing from you.
It’s all too predictable when those campaigning for office commit to keeping taxes low, run business efficiently, and employ common sense when making decisions on behalf of taxpayers. On the other hand, it’s becoming increasingly clear that these priorities change once they comfortably take their seats.
Last night I saw elected officials pat each other on the back for spending yet more of your money and justifying it by saying they were behaving responsibly.
I’m still in awe of that.
For more information on the Hemson Report see here: http://www.newmarket.ca/en/townhall/otherreports.asp
|Posted on May 9, 2013 at 4:05 PM|
Community advocates play an essential role in shaping the direction of our communities and how elected officials are tasked with governing. Last week, a community advocacy group called ‘Fair Hospital Parking Charges’ presented a deputation to our Council asking us to support a resolution that other neighboring municipalities such as Markham and East Gwillimbury already have. The resolution was to request Premier of Ontario the Honorable Kathleen Wynne for a review on hospital parking charges and initiate a fair rate across Ontario.
They weren’t asking to eliminate the practice; they were simply requesting a reasonable fee.
I support this direction.
This is an important public issue that’s received lots of attention thanks to advocates such as Mr. Paul Allen, who presented to Council last week. Charging high rates to those most vulnerable visiting loved ones who are ill is not a policy I support.
Mr. Allen, a kindly older gent speaking on behalf of the group, didn’t receive support from Newmarket Council on his request for fair charges.
Instead, Councillor Emanuel motioned last week he wanted to see what the Southlake Regional Health Centre had to say about it. I asked the deputant if Southlake had already taken a position on the issue, but Mayor Van Bynen, who sits on the hospital’s board, refused to allow Mr. Allen to answer the question.
And so I wasn’t surprised when Mr. Allen called me the next day and provided me an answer through an email he sent. The email included an attachment letter from Southlake Regional Centre on behalf of the hospital Chair sent to MPP Frank Klees. Three months ago, MPP Klees enquired about the hospital’s parking rates to patients and visitors on behalf of Mr. Allen’s group. He was provided a detailed answer outlining the hospital justifying their current practice and rates with no intention of changing it (see letter above).
The letter – which was sent to all members – should have essentially voided Council’s request via a motion for the hospital’s feedback – a request which was merely just a delay tactic on avoiding an uncomfortable political issue.
It was humorous to see the backtracking of certain Council members last night when I reminded them of the new information I was denied at the last council meeting. They clarified they needed yet “more” information from the hospital than what was already provided to MPP Klees. They chose to ignore it, spin and mislead the public. Councillors Emanuel, Twinney and Regional Councillor Taylor used words like “collaboration”, “working together”, “partners”, “solutions” ad nauseam all while apparently sympathizing with the public over high parking costs. Councillor Twinney stated she didn’t know what “reasonable” rates were – a troubling statement from any politician regarding the use of public money.
Southlake Board member Mayor Van Bynen indicated that “reducing parking rates would have a substantial and adverse impact on our hospital.” He went on to say that it would be “totally unfair and inappropriate to ask the hospital to reduce the rates.”
So we know where he stands on the issue.
Last night every single one of my colleagues refused to second my motion to support the advocacy group’s resolution for exploring fair hospital parking charges on behalf of every member of our community.
And while Southlake is undoubtedly one of the best functioning hospitals in Ontario with funding achieving that goal, I don’t think it’s remotely unsavory to advocate for implementing reasonable parking rates for patients and visitors at their most difficult times.
Like politicians, our hospitals work for our communities; not the other way around. It’s the community that should be consulted. If residents believe the current practice of charging high fees isn’t good enough, then it’s up to us – on behalf of you – to advocate for the community to change the way our hospitals are doing things.
Instead, on the same evening my colleagues implemented a second tax to Newmarket residents (see my next blog), they defended high hospital parking charges to those most vulnerable.
|Posted on April 8, 2013 at 9:05 AM|
This morning I was saddened at the news of former prime minister of the UK Lady Margaret Thatcher passing away at the age of 87.
For many females in politics, Lady Thatcher served as both an inspiration and role model by showing the world that women truly have an equal voice. She certainly had a large influence on myself personally - as a woman, mother, and politician.
Recently I spoke at the Manning Conference in Ottawa on women and their challenges in politics and followed up with that with an interview on Byline with Brian Lilley (see here): http://blogs.canoe.ca/lilleyspad/general/video-do-women-need-protection-in-politics/
Liberal Party pundit Lisa Kirbie subsequently wrote a rebuttal on my take. I was going to ignore this but in honour of Lady Thatcher's contribution to females in politics, I decided to respond to Ms. Kirbie's anachronistic view.
I appreciate Lisa Kirbie's rebuttal to my comments on Byline.
I am afraid that she missed the point of what I was saying. If we want women in elected office, then women must win those nomination battles fair and square. In many ridings, the nomination battle is more important than the general election. The Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP all have "safe seats" that women should be competing for.
As someone who believes in the equality of the genders, I cannot abide the idea of giving any woman a free ride. Being appointed as a candidate actually hinders the chances of a female politician in the general election campaign. Any nomination battle requires that a candidate must seek alliances and establish ties with various community groups. She must be skilled at getting her supporters to purchase memberships and come out to vote at a nomination meeting. When an appointment occurs, these neccessary connections are not in place and there isn't enough time during a short general election campaign to catch up.
As a strong, confident woman, I did not wait around for some man to give me permission to seek public office. I believe in my principles and my qualifications so I took the inititative and asked the voters to support me. The other male candidates may have been better connected, better financed and certainly better supported by the "old boys" network. However, I worked harder, had better ideas, and was able to motivate my supporters to vote.
That is how elections are won: at the ballot box - not in the back rooms.
There is no doubt that Lisa Kirbie wants to be a MP based on her previous blog where she admitted to be interested in running. She turned down a nomination appointment because she felt she had no chance of winning. My advice for Ms. Kirbie is not to sit by the phone waiting for a "safe seat" to open hoping that Justin Trudeau will appoint her instead of running an open nomination. If she wants to run I encourage her to work for the nomination. Show some initiative. To imply that women cannot win a nomination battle because it's too tough is offensive. You are of no help to legitimate female politicians by complaining that the process is too hard for you.
I found it ironic that Ms. Kirbie, under the auspices of Equal Voice and promoting women in politics, refers to me as "female town councillor".
Memo to Lisa Kirbie: I have a name. I am qualified. In addition to having been elected to office, I am also a Toronto Sun Columnist, the Vice President of the Society for Quality Education and heavily involved in my community. Equal Voice is supposed to be non-partisan; but certainly the claws were out when Ms. Kirbie refused to acknowledge me and my point of view (as the woman actually being interviewed) and instead directed her rebuttal at the male who was asking me the questions.
|Posted on April 2, 2013 at 9:40 AM|
Recently I became involved in an exchange on Twitter with some individuals who challenged my views on public transportation. These views were not anything different than what I’ve always held. In fact, I wrote about them here during my 2010 election campaign: http://maddiedimuccio.webs.com/apps/blog/show/5030164-moving-york-one-person-at-a-time
But what concerned me was my fellow Councillor Jane Twinney who couldn’t help herself but address some of my Twitter comments. As an aside, Councillor Twinney blocked me on Twitter long ago, but I assume she’s an avid reader of my tweets based on her exchanges.
In a recent one last week for example, she challenged me on my public transportation views with regards to Metrolinx (a $50 billion plan using your money to create public transportation), insinuating that I cared little for those who used the bus service to go shopping. She was completely wrong of course, but I felt compelled to write about our actual records and views on accessibility since she was publically challenging my own.
Early in 2011, Newmarket Council voted in favour of purchasing the old flea market on Davis (close to the hospital) and work out a deal with the hospital on using this as a parking lot for their staff workers. I was floored, since millions were spent on digging up Davis Drive, expropriating properties, and creating a bus lane that went from the Eagle Street bus depot to the hospital; primarily for hospital employees, courtesy of your tax dollars.
When I challenged Council on this I was mostly met with quiet – having only the Regional Councillor speak up finally, expressing that “changing people’s philosophies and views on taking public transportation comes with time” (apparently he still drives however – so it may be a long while yet).
Accessibility means giving people the opportunity to walk safely to their destinations. This is something I support. Newmarket Council’s record shows otherwise. When some residents in Councillor Jane Twinney’s ward were upset over a proposed sidewalk staff recommended in order to provide children, the disabled, and families safe access, Councillor Twinney (successfully) lobbied some members of council in order to nix those plans. She stated that “those” residents should be able to keep the extra space and land that others don’t have (this extra space and land actually belongs to taxpayers, via the town).
Just recently, I was the only councillor to vote against yet another deferral on sidewalk installation. You see, this council has a history of pandering to anyone who shows up in Chambers and demands a halt on public accessibility via sidewalks in favour of keeping extra land for themselves.
And so, when it comes to accessibility via travel for citizens, I can tell you that it’s our records that speak volumes over Twitter spin.
In other words, I support residents being able to walk on sidewalks – not on busy streets - in order to actually get to the bus stops that Councillor Twinney so advocates you use.
|Posted on March 23, 2013 at 5:35 PM|
I believe that one of my key responsibilities as a town councillor is to provide residents with an opinion of current events. One of the things I object to is when a politician fails to update residents about key issues or decisions that affect ratepayers. For example, I voted against Councillor Emanuel being subsidized by Newmarket taxpayers to attend FCM conferences because he has never come back to Council and reported on what new information he has learned by attending. For all I know, he had a lovely time in Halifax, Saskatchewan, or British Columbia (paid for by the taxpayers) but the trip had zero benefit to the Town of Newmarket or our residents.
This past week, local MPP Frank Klees decided to set aside the recommendation of Newmarket Council regarding OMB reforms tabled and supported unanimously a few weeks ago, and instead introduce a private members bill in the Ontario Legislature.
Councillor Jane Twinney tweeted how she attended Queens Park to hear the bill reading. Regional Councillor John Taylor then tweeted that he attended Frank Klees’ subsequent news conference. All of this is well and good, but I want to know what they think of the proposed legislation.
I tabled the resolution in Council calling on reforming the OMB and it was supported by my colleagues. My resolution followed what Halton Region and neighboring municipalities have recently adopted as well. It calls upon the province to foot the expensive legal bill for when towns and cities are required to defend their official plans at the OMB. This often happens when a development is being appealed caused by the provinces’ Places to Grow Act. A copy of the resolution was sent to Mr. Klees’ office and I am not aware of any reason why he does not support our Council’s resolution. I continue to support the idea that the province should foot the bill, not the residents of Newmarket.
MPP Klees’s bill wants to eliminate appeals to the OMB whenever a town decides to reject a development that is deemed contrary to the municipality’s official plan. I don’t entirely support Mr. Klees’ position for a number of reasons:
1) Some municipal councils are prone to pandering to special interests (including NIMBYism, pro-developers, and others) without considering the larger picture. In York Region, we have already paid substantial infrastructure costs in preparation for growth and have/continue to incur substantial public debt ($4.3 Billion). This debt is supposed to be paid via development charges from that new growth. If it doesn’t happen, it’s residents who will be impacted with higher taxes and cuts to services.
2) In my experience, I have sat through discussions witnessing some on Newmarket Council unable to make any decisions – including the right ones - about something as simple as sidewalks or putting a plaque on sports field. I think the OMB appeal process is a necessary one because it allows for due process and fairness without politicians pandering for votes.
3) If we remove the OMB from the picture, we invite very expensive challenges to the courts. I don’t think taxpayers benefit if this happens.
I believe that the Places to Grow Act is truly the crux of our problems in Ontario. This legislation – which is faulty and lacks a deep understanding of the complications of heavy growth – is key to understanding why some development can’t work.
I’m more than willing to defend the Town of Newmarket’s official plan – but I don’t think taxpayers should foot the bill because some developer disagrees with it. It’s this tactic that I believe MPP Klees should have pursued. There are deeper implications not considered that may affect good developments by the bill proposed. As I understand it, Council was not consulted.
I appreciate Mr. Klees’ interest in municipal politics, and although he wrote to council asking us to embrace his bill the evening before he introduced it, it goes without saying that I am taken aback he would ask for our support despite not responding to or commenting on Council’s own ideas for reforming the OMB.
|Posted on March 19, 2013 at 6:05 PM|
Traffic Safety Audit in Ward Six:
I want to bring the Savage/Sawmill/Yonge Street area of ward six up to date with a recent traffic study conducted that I asked for last year. Since Yonge Street falls under the York Regional Government, the study was done in conjunction with them.
The main issue on these intersections was twofold: safety of pedestrians and congestion.
Recently town staff came back with a report stating that the first step in addressing the problem was to change timing on the streetlights aligning along Sawmill/Savage and Yonge Street. This request will be sent to the Region and the implementation should take place shortly.
Staff will assess any changes in patterns over the months and we’ll review any success – or lack thereof – in the coming weeks. I will keep residents posted.
In the meantime I would appreciate any feedback on this intersection in the future.
Council approved the zoning permit late last year for York Region’s project called ‘Belinda’s Place’, a shelter for women in housing transitions to be built on the south-east corner of Yonge and Sawmill. There was no appeal from the community. The project is slated to be completed by the fall of 2014. I’m pleased with the communication, support, and open conversation amongst ward six residents on this project. The Region has created an on-going community group for this development that will remain well after the home is built. I am on this committee and I encourage all voices to join us and be part of the discussion. Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested.
Sidewalk Construction in Ward Six
I worked with staff on an important and long overdue issue in ward six: the construction of a sidewalk along Savage and Yonge Street, thereby connecting walkers with the trails along Foxridge. Many ward six residents enjoy these trails, but safety was an issue when walking along Yonge Street. I’m pleased to report this project was adopted by council and construction will commence this year.
A sprinkler pad was something that I campaigned for, and I was disappointed when Council decided to remove this from the 2013 budget.
Last month however staff found a way to bring the project back by using the asset replacement fund to reconstruct Rogers wading pool and change it into a sprinkler pad.
Construction is currently being planned.
Transparency and Accountability
We’ve had many challenges highlighted this term in regards to transparency. I lobbied to make sure these issues were part of our official “2010-2014 Term of Strategic Priorities”, but they are not without challenges.
During this term I put forth motions for posting all voting records and recording our committee meetings. Despite the challenges, I’m very pleased to report that these items will finally be implemented over the next few months. It’s unfortunate that an important and relatively simple direction that was adopted over two years ago took so long to put in place, but my hope is that residents can fully engage in their local government.
Another important motion I put forward was in adopting a council expense guideline. Although my colleagues initially voted against it, I’m pleased to see public pressure play a role (see here) http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/06/01/council_expenses_cities_open_a_window_on_politician_spending.html in the issue and am happy to write that Council has asked staff to report back on best practices and guidelines. Council is currently engaged in the discussion.
My Resolution for Newmarket Council to Endorse the Resolution of the Regional Municipality of Halton entitled: ‘Request to the Province to Cover All Appeal Costs to the Ontario Municipal Board for Growth Plan Conformity Exercises’
Earlier this year Council passed my resolution on the above. No doubt that this may be a mouthful for many to digest, so here’s the issue in a nutshell:
As many know (with Council’s recent approval of Slessor Square), development is highlighted this term. And as we’ve seen, it’s very common for communities to oppose new development. The ‘Places to Grow Act’ was implemented by the Liberal government of Ontario ordering GTA communities to develop and grow in population (Newmarket notwithstanding).
This has proved to be big headache for many councils across Ontario, as they have very little power for direction in growth. In Newmarket, with very little space left to develop, we are facing challenges to the province’s Act, and as a result community groups have opposed proposed developments. I wrote about the issue in my Toronto Sun column a while back: http://www.torontosun.com/2013/01/18/a-growing-planning-headache-for-municipalities
In a situation like this, the town is forced to defend the very growth stipulated by the province via expensive legal bills at the Ontario Municipal Board (a board that mediates development disputes). These bills are paid for by Newmarket taxpayers.
By encouraging the province through a resolution (similar to Halton’s resolution) to absorb appeal costs at the OMB, it wouldn’t be unfairly pinned on the backs of our own residents.
As we near the end of winter I encourage residents to get outside and enjoy the warm weather, stay safe, and take care of each other. As always, I am available to discuss any issues or concerns important to you.
|Posted on February 23, 2013 at 10:45 PM|
A follow up to my column in today's Sunday Sun:
On May 7th, 2011, I was approached by the Newmarket Redbirds Lacrosse Association on behalf of their hundreds of members for a very simple request. That request was to change the books on the name of a recreation field to that of a young child who died on it while playing lacrosse. The league asked for Newmarket to install a small plaque with his name on it. The message on the plaque was to inspire children to play sports fully with their hearts by showing fairness and kindness to others. The boy was a hero to thousands of people here in Newmarket and across Ontario. In his death, he saved the lives of eight individuals by donating his organs. His parents set up a charity in his name and every year this charity raises thousands of dollars for children’s causes.
I had a conversation with the (then) Director of Recreation (and now Commissioner) for the Town of Newmarket, who assured me that my resolution was very do-able – and that all I needed was one thing: the support of all Council members. He assured me that the Town had many instances of naming taxpayer owned assets, such as parks, that deviated from our regular policy.
If a member of the public would like to see Council decisions made on park and/or street naming decisions that deviated from regular criteria, I will provide you with a copy that I asked for from the Clerk’s office.
My very simple request was originally presented in May 2012, but after what can only be seen as a gong show of events surrounding what originally was to be a kind gesture for the community and in time to celebrate the plaque on Mother’s Day (in order to honour the child’s mother), months went by before Council could make their minds up. What should have been a simple decision turned into what one Newmarket resident called in the local paper an exercise in “punishing Ms. Di Muccio - and yes, as all of (Council) have pointed out to me, her husband, since he is the Redbirds president - (was) more important than honouring a young man…”
At that May 7th Council publically recorded meeting (see here) http://www.rogerstv.com/page.aspx?lid=237&rid=70&sid=3183&gid=96660 my resolution came up and was almost immediately quashed by Councillor Chris Emanuel, who insisted that Council had to follow “process” and take this idea in camera (meaning secret, away from the public). I was adamantly opposed and argued I felt it was inappropriate to take the discussion in camera because it was previously and formally discussed publically in Council and was presented by the Clerk’s Office - who is bound by policy - that evening as an open, public item.
Yet it wasn’t good enough for Council to take the resolution in camera right then and there and make the simple decision to adopt it (as they clearly promised, in front of a television camera) that night. No – Council decided it should be put on the back burner for at least four months.
By doing so they disappointed hundreds of Newmarket residents. I was the only Councillor to vote against this decision.
If you watch the video, you’ll see all sorts of ridiculous, different defenses being used by various Council members as they insist the discussion needs to be secret; everything from “not having the time to read the resolution” to “process” to “the sensitive issue to naming an individual.” It’s important to note the boys’ parents were entirely comfortable that the discussion be a public one, as it had been when Toronto Council named a park after the same individual years before.
One thing however, that these Councillors made did make clear that evening, was that they would fully and wholeheartedly support the motion when it came back to us “in secret.”
In fact, in the following days, these same Councillors assured dozens of angry residents, who sent in emails questioning the wisdom of their most bizarre decision, by insisting they would support the proposed resolution “wholeheartedly” and that it was a simple misunderstanding.
To an outsider not familiar with municipal legislation, their hyperbole seemed legitimate. But in fact what these 8 members of Council did was manipulate in-camera legislation in order to fulfil a very political and personal grudge at the expense of a boy, by holding what I believe to be a completely inappropriate in camera meeting that even Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin questioned the authenticity of.
In August Council reconvened to once again bring the discussion back to the table, only this time, away from public scrutiny. Sadly, it was arranged that my original resolution no longer stood and Council no longer supported honouring the child as was originally requested.
By keeping the entire discussion in camera (with no record of it whatsoever other than a simple minute that it took place), the public would never know what was said or why they didn’t support the idea. I was outraged at the thought that members of elected office could easily take a discussion in camera in order to hide and make decisions away from public scrutiny.
In fact it was recently discovered that Newmarket Council has inappropriately conducted in camera meeting rules by not bringing the item and their votes back to the public adoption – this has since been fixed.
I made a decision that evening to use the privilege I had to write for a major newspaper in order to expose what I believed (and still believe) to be a gross abuse of office by Council members and Mayor.
I wrote this guest column the next day in the Toronto Sun http://www.torontosun.com/2012/08/31/newmarket-council-votes-against-honouring-boy ,fully admitting I may get into trouble. After my column was published, I received hundreds of messages of support from the public.
My Council colleagues, however, didn’t.
In their desire for revenge, they didn’t waste any time hiring Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig from Vaughan Council, who was given a paycheck on behalf of Town of Newmarket residents to find me predictably guilty - even though I had admitted to it in my column - by coming up with a sixteen page report (the second one that exists on my record for being outspoken and transparent with the public. The first one was in March 2011, when I was ordered by the Library Board to censure my blog explaining why I felt a CUPE wage increase was not a good idea for Newmarket taxpayers. At that time, Council decided to punish me by hiring expensive lawyers to write out reports that accomplished absolutely nothing save their desire for blood).
Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig was directed by staff and Council to strictly keep her scope to the business at hand. I am somewhat surprised at Ms. Craig’s report, which I felt illustrated some inconsistencies and failed to acknowledge some extremely important details.
1) Ms. Craig insisted I never spoke out against having an in camera discussion on my resolution when it came back a second time in August. She states that I never had an issue with it when Council unanimously voted to go in camera. 2:31 on this public video in May 2012 http://www.rogerstv.com/page.aspx?lid=237&rid=70&sid=3183&gid=96660 clearly shows that during the Council discussion not only was I adamately opposed to an in-camera meeting, but that I was cut off by Mayor Tony Van Bynen when I spoke on my reasons explaining why. He rudely interjects, “Councillor Di Muccio, I am ruling you out of order and ending this discussion.” When Council reconvened a second time to make a final decision on the resolution in August it was at a Council Committee meeting. There are no votes or specific discussion on record when Newmarket Council has Committee meetings because there is no camera or audio recording (this is about to change after the motion I made over two years ago to record our committee meetings – but has yet to be implemented - was adopted). Yet Ms. Craig concludes those she spoke to somehow recollected I was fully supportive of going into an in camera meeting. I don’t recall her asking me about it and I can't imagine how she would so easily accept the memory of certain others who apparently "remembered."
2) I’m not able to find anywhere in the Municipal Act defining what constitutes as “very sensitive” regarding named individuals (who, by the way, are deceased). Ms. Craig nonetheless felt the resolution was a “sensitive” one that constituted a need for in-camera rules despite having been provided with multiple emails from the family insisting they were comfortable with the discussion being held in public.
3) Ms. Craig incorrectly refers in her report that the resolution was the naming of a park. In fact, it was the naming of a field (one of a series) that has no public sign associated with it.
4) The Integrity Commissioner did not comment on the manner in which the Corporation of the Town of Newmarket failed to properly inform the public of the nature of the in camera meeting appropriately when they published the agenda.
5) The Integrity Commissioner does not comment there were “victims” to my breach. No one profited financially nor did any private individual suffer embarrassment or loss of reputation. None of the stakeholders complained (she has e-mails stating this very specifically). The only people embarrassed by my breach were the members of Council who failed to vote as they had publicly pledged.
6) In September of 2012, on behalf of hundreds of lacrosse members, the President of the Newmarket Lacrosse Club was asked by them to send out an email to staff and Council stating their collective disappointment with Council’s in-camera decision (thereby illustrating awareness of in-camera details). Although Ms. Craig stops short of accusing me of being the person who shared this information (“it would be unfair”, she writes) she mildly implies it, while completely ignoring the newspaper articles she was provided with and that were published immediately after that in camera meeting:
You will see that the local media somehow received information about this in camera meeting and attributed the details of them to Regional Councillor John Taylor.
7) The Integrity Commissioner falls short of naming my husband in her report (it would be a violation if she did), but states, “the President of the Lacrosse Club” and refers to the individual as (my) "spouse”– which I believe to be a blatant disregard for respecting my family’s privacy. It’s obvious that by identifying his title she is making his identity publically accessible. I’m not sure why Ms. Craig feels the need to protect the name of a deceased individual whose own family insists they have no issue with being identified, but doesn’t seem to grant that same respect for my own family member;
During my two meetings with Ms. Craig I re-iterated my oath to those I represent always precedes any legislation that is grossly manipulated as an opportunity to be deceitful to taxpayers. Our laws are meant to protect you, the people – not politicians. There is nothing in the Integrity Commissioner’s report to provide the public that what I specifically wrote was in contravention of in camera meeting details. Although I can’t fully agree with Ms. Craig’s finding that I violated my oath, I am aware that she is bound by the interpretation of the Municipal Act regarding in camera meetings (which most know to be extremely flawed) and limited by the scope of her investigation.
In fact, she mentions several times in her report that she cannot comment on the documents I shared with her illustrating alarming inconsistencies and concerns because she wasn’t given that mandate.
And I assume because of that she ended her report by admitting “I believe that there are mitigating circumstances surrounding Councillor Di Muccio’s actions sufficient to not warrant a full application of the penalties available under the Code, by recommending both a formal reprimand and that in-camera rules should be applied consistently to all Members of Council.”
This upcoming Monday the report will be brought before Council in our scheduled Committee meeting.
I’d like to thank you for all the phone calls, e-mails and private messages of support.
Now let’s discuss “mitigating circumstances” and what Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig wasn’t allowed to report on.
Are any of us surprised that there are double standards any longer? Don’t we come to simply expect that rules apply to some people but not others?
If you or I did just half the things that certain bad boy/girl celebrities have done, for example the crimes that people like Charlie Sheen, or Lindsay Lohan have been convicted of, we would be whiling away our days as involuntary guests of prison.
None of us feel good about double standards but that doesn’t mean that we should simply accept that our government promotes double standards to the point where it’s become a "standard."
It is because of double standards that Newmarket will never know details about Councillor Chris Emanuel’s evening representing our town during the Pickle Barrel Restaurant VIP Cocktail Party in 2011. We know he attended in his capacity as a Newmarket Councillor as this video shows (http://www.snapnewmarket.com/index.php?option=com_sngevents&id%5B%5D=290959) and we know he was later arrested that evening and subsequently pleaded guilty to his charges (as reported here: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1430232-emanuel-guilty-of-impaired-driving/).
We also know that our Town's Code of Conduct clearly defines this behaviour is a violation. But several emails I sent to the Mayor and Council that went back and forth in 2011 showed an unacceptable refusal to allow this particular discussion in Council Chambers, thereby letting the Councillor off the hook.
In fact, my colleagues were quoted as saying the following about Councillor Emanuel's conduct:
Councillor David Kerwin: “He (Emanuel) has earned my respect. I can’t support the resolution due to my relationship…”
Councillor Jane Twinney: “We’re not the judge and jury. This incident didn’t cause death or injury.”
Councillor Joe Sponga: “We’re a family, a community…we must ensure we build around (Emanuel)…”
Regional Councillor John Taylor: “Residents of Glenway issue important; we need Chris.”
Councillor Tom Vegh: “Emanuel has been made a scapegoat in the media. Maddie is the Charlie Sheen of Newmarket.”
Mayor Tony Van Bynen: “He works hard for the community and is a good representative for his constituents. It is a hard lesson for a young councillor to learn.
Is the failure to investigate Councillor Emanuel’s indiscretions the only instance of double standards that I’ve experienced? Not by a longshot.
Only a few weeks on the job, the Library Board decided to (illegally) kick me off because they simply didn’t like my blog explaining why I voted against a CUPE wage increase. They accused me of all sorts of outrageous and inaccurate allegations. When the media started to shine a very bright spotlight on these folks, Council, hungry for blood, adopted an illegal Resolution to censure me for writing to my constituents about the recent labour dispute between the Newmarket Public Library and its union that was reported on in the media.
How dare I disagree with these folks?
There was no investigation, as hired Town Solicitor George Rust D’Eye had advised should be done before Council implied I did anything wrong. In fact Regional Councillor John Taylor called in a radio show I was a guest on, insisting to Newstalk 1010’s Jerry Agar that “Council is the final arbiter” in his opinion and that apparently they didn’t need to know any details before rushing to censure me.
At that time, Councillors Hempen and Vegh sent out a media release, signatures attached, blatantly discussing the details of the Library Board in camera meeting I was kicked out of. As I understood the Municipal Act, this conduct was illegal, and so I immediately advised the Corporation of the Town of Newmarket via an email and demanded an investigation.
Not only was it not investigated, it was never acted upon. But a year later, these two men were among the rest who demanded Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig to investigate me for the exact same and alleged breach.
When Regional Councillor John Taylor’s motion to haul me before an Integrity Commissioner after I wrote my Toronto Sun article was adopted unanimously by Council (I refrained from voting), these two articles suddenly appeared in the Newmarket Era: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1456246-newmarket-delays-field-naming-decision/
Did you catch them? Regional Councillor John Taylor was twice attributed to discussing in camera items with the media. I certainly brought these items to the attention of the Corporation of the Town of Newmarket but the Regional Councillor was never subject to any Integrity Commissioner’s investigation as a result. Nor was any mention of these two newspaper items included within the Integrity Commissioner’s final report about me.
Recently it was brought to my attention that Regional Councillor John Taylor and an employee of the Corporation of the Town of Newmarket were running a charity from his office, a blatant disregard for the Code of Conduct which forbids Town property and employee working hours to be used for any private purpose. Section 4(a) states "No Member shall...use Town property or Town employees for personal gain or for any private purpose.”
There has not been any motion by Council to my knowledge that has been adopted to waive this code or to grant permission to the Regional Councillor to run his charity from his office.
I had a private meeting with the Mayor about it. He ignored it.
I went to the Town. It took over a week to get any answers on this via email. (Keep in mind that both times I apparently violated any Codes of Conducts, lawyers were immediately hired and special meetings arranged almost the next day).
When I finally did get a response, I got three very different and inconsistent ones.
-I could not make this complaint because the “Council to Council” complaints part of our Code had been scrapped in 2011;
-the Code of Conduct doesn’t apply during an “election” year;
-running a private charity apparently isn’t looked at as a “personal” enterprise.
By the way, if any of this seems surprising to you, I should remind you that it was Regional Councillor John Taylor who joked during a Newmarket Council meeting about ex-Mayor Rob Ford after a judge found him guilty of using elected office for charity purposes.
I demonstrate here beyond any doubt that there have been allegations of other breaches of confidentiality relating to in camera meetings and that these allegations have been swept under the rug by the Corporation of the Town of Newmarket.
I demonstrate beyond any doubt that another Councillor member’s behaviour by drinking himself to inebriation while representing the town of Newmarket was in full violation of the Town’s Code of Conduct.
I demonstrate beyond any doubt that Regional Councillor John Taylor – by running a personal charity out of his office and using staff and resources – is in violation of the Town’s Code of Conduct.
And there is no question that I have demonstrated that when it comes to me and the Old Boys, there is clearly, unapologetically, unequivocally, two very different sets of rules.
This should be enough to disturb anyone who holds any shred of integrity to public duty and office.
Newmarket is facing a challenging future. Development, growth, and new residents to accommodate are big issues as we define what the next 20 years will look like. These are the jobs we, as municipal councillors, are tasked with and required to focus on. Yet if some members of Council can't hold themselves to account how on earth is the public going to have faith in anything they do?
If anything is to be taken from this experience, it's that public scrutiny has forced the Town of Newmarket to change the way in camera meetings are held and ensure our process is far more transparent today prior than it was in September 2012.
Here is a link to the Ombudsman of Ontario’s web page for those who are interested in legitimate reasons to take a meeting closed to the public: http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Files/sitemedia/Documents/Resources/sunshinelaw-en.pdf . Refer to page 23 and 24.
|Posted on February 5, 2013 at 12:25 AM|
By now all of you will have received my 2012 end of year newsletter in Sunday's January 27th Era Banner newspaper highlighting the accomplishments made on Council. I'm very pleased with the effort that I give credit to many of you; I've said before that agendas are accomplished by the people. You've made your voices loud and clear and for that I thank you.
Among some of the highlights:
-a Ward 6 sidewalk construction project that will take place this year along Yonge Street and Savage Road that will connect trails and provide safety for residents;
-Increased Transparency in politics: posting Council members expenses, recording Newmarket Council Committee meetings; and ensuring York Region Gov't does same by introducing resolutions;
-Ongoing meetings with York Region Police and local residents on street safety concerns.
I also invite you to read about municipal and provincial issues I've been invited to write about in the Toronto Sun paper on Sundays, bi-weekly.
Newmarket is focused on it's future. Development applications are highlighted this term and something I explained was pivotal to leadership during the 2010 campaign. The future of this great town includes the potential for new ideas and opportunities that highlight common sense, good governance, and how our own residents can benefit from them.
I continue to stay focused on these priorities and encourage you all to be a part of the discussion. Engagement makes for good government.
I invite you to contact me if you would like to share concerns and thoughts.
2012 End-Of-Year Newsletter:
|Posted on December 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM|
During our budget discussions in Newmarket Council, which started months ago, Regional Councillor John Taylor put forward a motion ordering a “2% or less” cap on your taxes. He even went as far as sending out a postcard to every single resident in Newmarket gloating about it, even though he – and six other members of Council who voted in favour of his motion - never bothered to keep their word to you.
During the past months, I went door to door to talk to residents about our budget and presented them with a survey to fill out and mail back to me. In the survey, I presented my own opinion, and asked for theirs. I was pleased residents took the time to send these surveys back to me. I brought forth many of their concerns and ideas to Council.
All of them were ultimately rejected.
Last night, Newmarket Council adopted a 3.74% increase in the Town’s budget. I stood against that, as I have in the past with other budgets, and I will continue to do so until I see a true willingness to meet the very demands certain members of this Council are telling the public they’re in pursuit of.
Despite the chest thumping, outrage of increase in taxes, and general rhetoric, what I witnessed during this entire process was a bizarre mix of confusing back and forth (for example, I put a motion forward to cap our personal Council budget; it’s outvoted; and then Councillor Twinney puts forward the exact motion weeks later after rejecting my own). I saw continuous referrals back to staff over the same, re-hashed issues. I saw personal grudges once again trump what’s best for our residents as colleagues refused to even second my motions and ideas for discussion.
And despite the hours of time and resources that staff put into each individual member of Council by diligently explaining line by line budget items, this Council proved once again that politics and spin trump over real governing.
What I saw, essentially, were some members of Council who could barely make a decision - let alone have any confidence in them.
It was suggested by Councillor Emanuel, who made his speech more about myself than the actual budget last night, that it was easy for me to be in a position of “opposition” and to vote against something. He should know, because he was one of the Councillors unwilling to table any ideas of his own, yet he found it so easy to vote against mine.
The reality is that I sincerely worked to achieve a 2% or less goal – in fact I went beyond that. I proposed eliminating programs that were not widely accessed. I tabled reducing Council budgets, which are clearly used more as campaign ones. I suggested making cuts to staff programs that simply didn’t make any sense. Despite these proposals (see here): http://maddiedimuccio.webs.com/apps/blog/show/19980215-newmarket-budget-2013-and-where-we-stand, I received scant support from the very same Council members who were gung ho on a 2% cap.
An important meeting with Central York Fire on the day they passed their budget wasn’t attended by a member of Council here, changing a pivotal outcome that may have lessened the tax burden. One less vote because someone didn’t bother to show up. These are important meetings. We are obligated to represent our taxpayers.
Instead, this Council relies on the age old spin that “forces are out of their control.” That’s how they justify their increases to you.
When voters decide on elections, they’re voting for someone who is in control.
I voted against both the operational and capital budget, but I made sure I supported certain capital projects regarding safety – specifically a sidewalk along Yonge and Savage that I fought for– in a separate vote.
Like many things, in an enormous budget, there are some good with the bad.
At the end of the day, I believe it’s not possible to set a target without having a full understanding of the drivers of any budget.
What I saw last night was a stunning disregard for taxpayer money being used more as a “plaything” than being put to the best use for every member of the public.
For example, spending endless supplies of money on losing OMB battles and handling certain Councillors with kid gloves using our cash comes without batting an eyelash, but when over 100 parents ask for a paltry few thousand for a school crossing guard in a danger zone, they’re denied.
You see, spin, propaganda and pandering don’t come cheap. And personal grudges cost thousands.
Tough choice of words for my colleagues? You bet. I don’t take spending decisions lightly.