Closed Meeting Investigations in Middlesex Centre

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It recently came to my attention, after reviewing the Ontario Ombudsman’s website, that Middlesex Centre was not using the Ombudsman, or even the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s Local Authority Services, to provide closed meeting investigation services. Instead, based on the Ombudsman’s list, this service was contracted out to a gentlemen named John Maddox. I don’t know Mr. Maddox, but I wanted to find out more details around the service he provided and how much he had been paid to do so.

I went to Middlesex Centre’s website to try and gather this information, only to find that there were not any itemized budget lines referencing Mr. Maddox or closed meeting investigations. So I found what I thought to be the names of the best people to contact and sent off an email!

January 9, 2014

Hello Ms. Smibert and Mr. Watterton,

I’m contacting you as a resident of Kilworth in regards to Middlesex Centre’s agreement with John Maddox. It is my understanding that Mr. Maddox is Middlesex Centre’s closed-meeting investigator, and perhaps provides other services as well since Middlesex Centre has opted out of using the Ontario Ombudsman for this service.

What I would like to know is:

  • How long has the contract been in place with Mr. Maddox?
  • How large is the retainer paid to Mr. Maddox each year, if applicable?
  • How many hours of service has Mr. Maddox billed Middlesex Centre for since he was awarded the contract?
  • Overall, how much money has been paid to Mr. Maddox from Middlesex Centre, and over what time period?

I’m very eager to hear the answers to the questions above, and expect full disclosure as a citizen and taxpayer of the municipality.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Derek E. Silva

January 9, 2014

Good morning Mr. Silva

In response to your email regarding Mr. John Maddox, I can provide the following information:

We have had an agreement for Closed Meeting Investigator Services with JGM Consulting (John Maddox) since January 1, 2012.

The municipality pays a yearly retainer of $ 1000.00 to JGM Consulting. The Municipality has not required the services of JGM Consulting; therefore nothing has been paid to him with the exception of the yearly retainer.

JGM Consulting has been paid $ 2000.00 for the period from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013.

I trust this information is helpful. All the best for the new year.

Stephanie Troyer-Boyd
Clerk

January 9, 2014

Hello Councillor DeViet and Mayor Edmondson,

Based on the dates provided by Ms. Troyer-Boyd, it would appear as though this contract was awarded to JGM Consulting while both of you were in office. I would like to know the following:

  • Why did Middlesex Centre award this contract to JGM Consulting?
  • Why is Middlesex Centre not taking advantage of the services currently provided by the Ombudsman?
  • What rationale was used to pay for a separate closed-meeting investigator in favour of the Ombudsman, which would not cost the municipality anything?

Given that every dollar spent has an impact on property taxes, and Councillor DeViet’s recent revelation that our Public Works Dept. has put off purchasing a new truck for two years now (at least partially) for this very reason, I would like to think the municipality would be looking to cut what costs it can, especially one that doesn’t impact services provided to the citizens of Middlesex Centre. For this reason I’m asking the questions above, and would like to see the municipality ultimately opt back in to using the Ombudsman to provide closed-meeting investigation services.

Thank you, and I look forward to your responses!

Derek E. Silva

January 15, 2014

Hi Derek…It took a little investigating to get all the facts around your questions.

First …the main reason that both the County of Middlesex and Middlesex Centre chose not to go with the Ombudsman at that time was perhaps the fear of having the Province do an investigation if one was required. One has to remember that this was a new initiative at the time, and one that probably had the effect on making Councils more aware of the legislation around the rules and regulations around closed meetings in the Municipal Act, and the implications of not following them. That being said, the Government permitted other options beyond the offer of the Ombudsman who seemed to be overkill for a small municipality. Thus both the County and Middlesex centre along with many other communities chose an alternative.

Second… you received the information as to the choice we made and the cost from our clerk. The County, on the other hand, chose to go with a lawyer who was also engaged by several other municipalities. Although I can not speak for everyone, from my perspective it seemed more practical to deal with someone closer to the community than to have to travel back and forth to Toronto, knowing that the rules that we have to follow are the same, and I always have a suspicion that free is not always free if it precipitates legal fees that would not normally be required. It should be pointed out that all three people are quite well qualified to do the job.

Finally…Now that we are more aware of what the experience has been across the province, we can, as you have suggested, take a look at other more cost effective options, and that will be looked at in the very near future.

Thanks very much for both the questions and the suggestion. If you wish to speak further on the matter please don’t hesitate to call.

Al

I finally got around to sending a thank you note to Mayor Edmondson (who is running for re-election) and Councillor DeViet earlier this morning! I’m looking forward to what happens next on this issue.

January 27, 2014

Good morning Mayor Edmondson and Councillor DeViet,

Thank you very much for responding to my questions. I appreciate the time you took to get the background information and send it to me. I will, however, disagree with you on the premise that “free is not always free” in this situation. As we have seen spelled out with the recent trouble in London, the Ombudsman has no authority to impose fines or sanctions on elected officials except in cases where they were found to be lying. The City of London Councillors currently embroiled in a war of words with the Ombudsman are, in my opinion, willingly blind to the poor decisions they have made two years in a row now regarding closed meetings.

Regardless, I’m happy to hear Middlesex Centre will look at other options soon. Given that the Ombudsman’s office investigates 20,000 complaints a year (and the majority are resolved within two weeks), I’m sure it is more than capable of taking on a municipality that hasn’t had any complaints (that I know of) in the last two years.

Thanks again,

Derek E. Silva

Though I searched Middlesex Centre’s website for “closed meetings” and “John Maddox” a few weeks ago and didn’t spot anything, I finally found this page today which provides links to the procedure and complaint forms in case you ever need it.

LED Roadway Lights in London

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On October 30, 2013 I inquired with the City of London’s Roadway Lighting & Traffic Control division regarding recent, and upcoming, implementation of LED roadway lights around the City. I’m absolutely for LED lights thanks to the lower operating costs, and initiatives elsewhere involving the mass replacement of older roadway light technology in Los Angeles, CA and New York City, NY. 

October 30, 2013

Hi there,

I see here that the City has already begun deploying LED street lights in some areas. I have a few questions:

  • What is the capital cost of an HPS street light vs. an LED street light?
  • What are the lifetime costs of an HPS street light vs. an LED street light?
  • Are there plans to do a complete switchover to LED street lights like Los Angeles is doing, and New York City is about to embark on?
    • If so, what sorts of cost savings does the City expect once the transformation is complete? And how much will the switchover cost initially?
    • If not, why not?

I had yet to receive a response on Monday, so I reached out again. I received a response tout suite!

January 6, 2014

Mr. Silva,

First let me apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail. I thought I responded but obviously that was not the case.

The capital cost of HPS vs. LED varies depending on the product and other factors. These are some LED products that appear to be relatively cheap; however, based on a review of the product the long term cost would be very high. The LED street light projects that we have accepted for use on City streets are approximately 3 times the cost of HPS fixtures. We are currently reviewing some new products that claim to offer the same lighting levels but at a better price; however, we have not completed our review. Even though LED products have been around for a long time their use in street lights is still relatively new and as this market matures the cost and reliability of LED street lights will improve.

A recent review of a LED street light retrofit program calculated the payback in energy savings and maintenance savings would be approximately 13 year. This is one of the reasons why we have not entered into a retrofit program yet. That being said, we are in discussion with LED street light vendors which may lower the retrofit cost to a level that would be financially feasible. I know other municipalities, such as Los Angeles, have undertaken a retrofit program but their hydro costs and federal funding opportunities are very different from London which makes these projects more viable.

Shane Maguire, P. Eng.
Division Manager
Roadway Lighting & Traffic Control

So, no definite costs, but some answers regardless. It would be nice to see some initiatives from OPG to reduce the need for power generation, and therefore decreasing operating costs overall. Los Angeles is looking save $7M a year on electricity costs alone after switching to LED. Hopefully the City’s discussions with LED street light vendors yield some positive results and make a wholesale switch more feasible soon.

Recent Discussion with Councillor DeViet

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I live in Middlesex Centre’s Ward 4, represented by Councillor Aina DeViet. She and I have been discussing various issues lately, especially once the snow started to fly. Below is an email I sent to her following the PPM on the upcoming subdivision and a few phone calls; an attempt to put my thoughts into words instead of just discussing things on the fly. She recently responded regarding snow removal, which is also below.

Given the upcoming municipal election, I would really like to hear from other citizens in Ward 4 (Komoka and Kilworth) regarding the issues below so that we can try and find some common ground leading up to October. These are purely my thoughts and do not reflect those of the Kilworth Ratepayers Association, though I am a participant. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel it’s important to ask questions.

December 6, 2013

Hi Aina,

Thank you for calling me today! And I’m sorry this email is coming so late. I’ll do my best to be brief, and also offer some potential ideas/solutions for the issues I’m raising.

Snow Removal
You and I discussed this at length. My issues here are twofold:

  1. The quality of snow removal being performed.
  2. The lack of sidewalks being plowed.

The level of snow removal performed it, frankly, atrocious. Several cm of snow is routinely left on the road, causing almost as much trouble to drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike as if the snow were never plowed at all. I’m attaching two photos I took November 29, which is several days after a plow last came through Kilworth. I think you’ll instantly see what I’m referring to.

I know you’re looking into raising the issue once more to at least find out what it would cost to have sidewalks plowed. That’s great! And on that note, I would recommend that staff bring that report back and divide each road into primary, secondary, and tertiary roads. The reason for that is that it would probably be much easier to get sidewalks on primary roads (e.g. Jefferies Rd) and secondary roads (e.g. Stephen Moore Dr, Westbrook Dr) plowed, rather than all of them.

An extra hour or two and the sidewalk plow/snowblower that was out here could have had some secondary roads plowed, which also carry a decent amount of traffic each day. Just a thought.

Police
I know we talked about this today, but I wanted to put my thoughts a bit more succinctly.

I was rather mystified when I spotted 4 police officers all, seemingly, inspecting the roof of a home on Stephen Moore Dr in late August (I think it was August). Based on their demeanour, the home belonged to one of the officers present. This was late, probably around 10:30pm. What else could they have been doing instead of socializing?

Just a few weeks ago I came across something similar on Baron Cr. I was walking my dog, going north on Earlscourt Terrace in the afternoon when I saw 3 or 4 police cruisers parked in the driveway and on the road, with multiple police officers milling about fraternizing. It didn’t appear that they were responding to a call, but merely socializing.

Which brings me to my point: Does the OPP have too many officers for this area? I’m sure they have a formula of some kind that says they don’t, but the results appear to suggest otherwise. When I see several employees of any kind, at any organization, simply milling about in the middle of the day, the first thought that comes to my mind is, “Too many employees. Need to optimize that.” I know emergency services should be looked at differently, but in light of the recent negotiations, I think it’s time the OPP take a hard look at their own internal procedures and staffing ratios given the demographics of Middlesex Centre (and surrounding areas they serve).

Roads
Our roads are, for lack of a better word, unsafe. Referencing this Ontario Road Safety report from 2006, and then the most recent from 2009, a cursory glance will show you that Middlesex County experiences a large number of collisions every year, in no small part thanks to a fairly large and increasing number of them occurring in Middlesex Centre. I think much of those, anecdotally, can be tracked to a few causes:

  • Lack of lighting on major roads like Gideon Dr, Glendon Dr, Vanneck Rd, Coldstream Rd, etc.
  • Speed
  • Weather

Two of those we have little direct control over, especially weather (unless we plow the roads better than we do now). I would not, however, propose putting up streetlights down our major artery roads due to the costs involved. I will make a different suggestion though: mid-road reflectors.

I’ve driven down several 400-series highways that have small reflectors dug into the road every 10 dashes (the painted lane dashes) or so. I find these are extremely helpful at helping drivers understand where they are relative to their lane (as they are embedded between lanes), and at alerting drivers to turns/bends coming up in the road. I don’t know how much they cost, but I have to imagine they are far more cost effective than erecting streetlights, especially given that the reflectors aren’t powered.

I’d also like to suggest staff look at lowering speed limits within the villages by 10km/h pretty much across the board. As I said on the phone earlier, I find no reason people should be driving more than 50km/h in Kilworth, Komoka, Ilderton, etc. And when we’re still experiencing an influx of city drivers, I think it’s important to help imbue that village-feel in every way we can.

I don’t have them off-hand now, but I have read the results of several studies that show a speed limit decrease helps improve safety, and does not cause a huge effect in travel times (especially when you consider drivers are mostly making their way to a major artery, with an 80km/h speed limit, anyway).

There is simply too much at stake with elderly people, young children, and some intersections with very poor sight lines to allow for people to think they can drive almost 70km/h down Jefferies Rd. More annual safety reports here.

I will continue to keep tabs on council meetings and public notices, and will continue to send you my thoughts on these matters when I feel I have something to add. I’ll also be putting this letter online so that others in the area will, hopefully, feel emboldened to express their opinions to their Councillors too.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you or hear from you again soon!

Response from Councillor DeViet.

January 4, 2014

Re snow removal – see agenda items for General Committee for the coming meeting on January 8th. The status report indicates the current contract will be put out to tender next summer and Council will have a full discussion on this once we have have all the information; however, given the number of kilometers currently plowed versus the total the cost is expected to double.

I will be asking what the overall impact on taxes will be given we will be looking at a figure that may run between $56-92K once we hear results of the RFQ.

All for now,
Aina

Aina DeViet
Councillor Ward 4 Komoka-Kilworth
Municipality of Middlesex Centre
Tel: 519-657-3093
E-mail: deviet@middlesexcentre.on.ca

Kilworth PPM re: New Subdivision

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Last night about 30 members of the public and press arrived at the Coldstream Community Centre for the public participation meeting (PPM) about Kilworth’s new subdivision. This new subdivision is going to be built on farm land that’s owned by Don Black Investments, to the west of the existing settlement.

Kilworth's new subdivision

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Tom Albrecht was at the meeting representing Don Black Investments (or “the ownership group,” as Mr. Albrecht put it). Also attending was a group of four gentlemen from Stantec who were there to talk about the engineering, planning, and traffic aspects of the proposed site plan and rezoning.

kilworth-new-subdivision-site-plan

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The Stantec presentation is summed up as so:

  • Stantec believes the proposal matches provincial policies, the municipal master plan, and secondary Komoka-Kilworth plan
  • The proposed site plan has 391 single detached lots, two blocks for medium residential, and two blocks for village commercial
  • Minimum lot area is 577 m2 (or 5,200 ft2)
  • The Village Commercial portion exists to align with the secondary plan, as requested by council
  • The Master Plan calls for the possibility of a school in the area in the future, so the land has been set aside to allow for that
  • At this time neither school board has indicated they’re interested in purchasing that land
  • The walkways proposed, running right through the middle of the subdivision are about 14m wide (WOW!!), providing a massive trail for the municipality to do a myriad of things
  • Desired phases start from NW to SW, then SE to NE.
  • There is a small hump near the middle of subdivision that would allow for grading and some different house designs in that area, including walkouts and such
  • A new sewage pumping station would be built to the south on an adjoining piece of land
  • Stantec did “quick traffic review,” which reveals that most traffic would be coming from either Glendon Dr, Doan Dr, or Willard Cr
  • “Community desires” at previous consultations have indicated they would prefer less traffic flowing from the existing settlement, therefore Stantec cut off Daventry Way even though they can “think of much better things to do there instead of a cul-de-sac”

At this point municipal staff began reading written submissions into the record. Several issues were raised through the written submissions regarding the land to the south, especially by the current owners of that land. Unfortunately the staffer was speaking fairly quickly as the full written submissions will be included in the minutes — I’ll link to those once they’re up.

One person’s submission indicated they have no problem with cul-de-sac cutting off Daventry Way as long as services can still be extended through that area.

This is when things were opened up to the rest of the public and Council for questions.

Susan, who was sitting beside me, wanted to know how the new subdivision would affect the existing sewage treatment plant. Stantec’s response was that a new sewage treatment plant and stormwater pond would be built to the south of the subdivision, and therefore the new subdivision would have no impact at all on the existing facilities.

I made a comment regarding the cul-de-sac that would cut off Daventry Way, and thanking Stantec for mentioning it earlier. I stated that that road should be opened up as the portion of Kilworth I live in is already heavily segmented from the Willard Cr area, and further segmenting it is completely at odds with current urban planning/design trends promoting walkability and multi-modal transportation. The current site plan diverts traffic through Willard Cr and Doan Dr, while the odds of opening up Daventry Way greatly increasing traffic through the current “core” of Kilworth seems highly unlikely.

The owner of Garden Patch, a garden centre on Glendon Dr, wanted to find out how the new trails around the Wellness Centre would be connected to the new subdivision, especially given the amount of traffic on Glendon Dr. The response from Council was that we don’t know yet, but that Council is currently working with the County on that.

A woman wanted to know what sorts of traffic measures would be taken to ensure traffic got on/off Glendon Dr easily. A Stantec staff member said that initially they see auxiliary turning lanes being put in, and that down the line there will probably be a need for at least one set of lights in the area.

Frank Berze, Councillor for Ward 5 of Middlesex Centre, wanted to know more about the possibility of low-rise apartments on the northeast corner of the property. The response from Stantec was that the zoning change for that corner would allow for buildings up to 20m tall, meaning a building of up to 5 or 6 floors. The same zoning change would also allow for attached townhomes, condominiums, etc. much like those that currently exist on Enterprise Dr.

Ultimately market demand will likely dictate what gets built there, of course, assuming the zoning change is allowed.

A Councillor and member of the public wanted to know what might go up in the Village Commmercial zone. The answer was that Stantec had no idea, but that the zoning bylaw allows for just about any kind of business you can think of — restaurant, drive thru, club, stores, ground floor commercial with up to two floors of residential on top, gas bar, offices, etc.

This is when things got testy.

A gentleman that lives on Pheasant Trail objects to the idea of apartments being located in Kilworth because “they’ll eventually look terrible after a few years.” He said that his taxes have gone up 22% purely to pay for servicing new land, which Mayor Edmondson indicated is not true.

And it isn’t true. Development charges pay for servicing new land.

Anyway, this gentleman wanted to know what kind of assurances we would have that any apartment building that goes up won’t look horrible after a few years. After going on a small tirade at a Stantec staffer for “pursing his lips,” and then on about water/sewer charges and some other things, Mayor Edmonson got things back in check and told the man he would be happy to speak after the PPM.

Someone asked when construction will start. Mr. Albrecht said that everything still has to be approved, that Don Black Investments will have to address the concerns of various agencies, etc. So construction won’t start for at least a few years, maybe longer.

I had the last comment of the night after blanking earlier. :) I raised an issue about the proposed construction phases, stating that I think existing citizens would like to see any disruption to the existing settlement happen earlier – get it over and done with on the east end, and then they can move west after that. The Mayor and several Councillors nodded their heads in agreement, with the Mayor saying, “I hear where you’re coming from.”

After that, there were no more questions, and the meeting was adjourned!

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to leave a comment below. The bottom line is that this new subdivision will go through and be built at some point. Whether the site plan stays as is or not, and when construction will start, is all still up in the air at some point. The family that owns the plot of land to the south has some big issues that need to be addressed, so it could still be, for all we know, another five years (or more!) before this gets moving.

Pints & Politics – August 2013 Edition

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First off, an apology: I walked in wearing sunglasses last night, and kept them on for a good part of the event. While I recognize this is a douchey thing to do, they are prescription sunglasses. My normal prescription glasses are broken at the moment, hence the need for wearing my sunglasses indoors.

Yesterday’s Pints & Politics was a great affair. While, clearly, there was no consensus made about how to “pull together,” a good discussion got started and, at the very least, we identified some barriers that cause people not to get involved, among them:

  • Political parties themselves
  • How the most engaged members, and even elected leaders, representing political parties behave
  • A lack of understanding about civics among the populace
  • A lack of accountability for most elected positions
  • Facing the wrath of your party should you vote against party policy

These are the types of things preventing people from getting engaged in the first place. It’s not that the party faithful are necessarily part of the problem, but their fervent belief in everything their party does certainly turns many people off. Which leads to what, for me, is one of the biggest problems preventing people from working together: ideology. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go on and on about it again. Simply put: if you go into an argument believing what you believe, and going in “for the win,” you’ve already lost.

All that said, I came of PnP with a few ideas that would help make it easier for citizens to feel like they can, and should get involved, which I feel is the first step to solving the problem. Among them:

  • Ban negative advertising
    • Yes, ban it. No more. It’s not necessary, and it doesn’t answer the questions the electorate has. Not to mention that the majority of it borders on slander.
  • Stop grouping MPs/MPPs/MLAs along party lines in chamber.
    • This is a symbolic gesture, but it could help dialogue among those in power.
  • Bring in the ability to have a recall.
    • We have seen this play out in California several times, notably in the election that brought in Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor. We can make the barrier high enough so that the privilege isn’t abused, but it brings in a measure of accountability.
  • Proportional representation.
  • Better education for citizens about how government works.
    • Plain and simple. There are some local initiatives working on this now, but it really needs to be part of schooling. Kids must be taught how government works, how it got that way, how to get and stay involved, etc. at an early age.
  • Ban corporate and union donations.
    • I know a lot of people will be up in arms about this one, but corporate and union donations imply that everyone who works for a corporation, or is represented by a union, believes that X Party represents their best interests. That’s rarely true, so we need to let citizens decide for themselves who to donate to, if they choose to donate at all.

Those are some ideas I’ve had before, and were reinforced last night. What do you think? What types of things should be changed so that the average person feels they can get involved in politics, even if it just means increasing the number of people that vote?