What to Expect in 2017 from Middlesex Centre

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Well, in a highly unexpected twist of circumstances (1, 2, 3), I was appointed Ward 4 Councillor in Middlesex Centre on November 30, 2016. You can see the municipality’s press release here.

During the months of November and December, I had the opportunity to hear from many residents already on a number of issues. Some I am supportive of, others I’m not. That is the nature of discourse, and perfectly reasonable. I wanted to highlight a few key measures I voted on during my first few meetings, and what to expect from the Municipality of Middlesex Centre (MXC) and me during 2017.

  • There was a vote to ask a consultant, Nigel Bellchamber, to participate in the interview process for the new Fire Chief. I don’t have any against Mr. Bellchamber, but it seemed there were already too many people involved, and Mr. Bellchamber had already provided a great report on what our firefighters and District Chiefs would like to see in a Chief. I voted no on spending additional money to hire Mr. Bellchamber, but the vote passed to ask him to join the hiring process.
  • Council voted to approve spending $30,000 from the Delaware Hydro Reserve Fund (no impact to taxes whatsoever) to help pay for a new floor at the Delaware Community Centre. We’re hoping that will be ready before Canada Day.
  • Rob Clarke Auto’s expansion was approved, and they have already started building two additional bays. It’s very nice to see a local business, located in Kilworth, grow!
  • Council voted to freeze water and wastewater rates for 2017. No, they aren’t going down, but the cost cutting measures taken in 2016 have enabled us to freeze the rates for this year. It’s a welcome reprieve from multiple years of increases.
  • Staff produced a report on whether fees for paper bills should be enacted. They found no evidence of other municipalities charging a fee for residents to receive paper utility bills, and therefore recommended MXC not being doing so. Council approved the recommendation, but it’s worth noting that water/wastewater bills will be sent out monthly going forward.
    • Yes, moving to a monthly bill increases mail costs a bit, but will also help families manage their budgets more easily. The more families that move to receiving their water/wastewater electronically, whether through Canada Post ePost or email directly from the Municipality, the lower our costs will be overall. You’re welcome to call the municipal office and get signed up for email bills, or use your online banking site to sign up for ePost.
  • We had a very contentious issue over online/phone voting for the 2018 municipal election. I was happy we used this system for voting in 2014, however the extensive research I have done on online voting, the discussions I have had with web development professionals, and even my attempts to design (on paper) a truly secure system that provides all the benefits of a paper ballot have all led me to have a very specific set of thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, questions I asked like whether or not InteliVote’s code had been audited independently, could not be answered during the debate on December 14, 2016. The vote to continue using InteliVote passed, with me voting no only because I wanted answers to my questions first.
    • It’s worth noting that, at this time, MXC has not voted to introduce other voting systems, like ranked balloting. Given the dearth of contests in the 2014 election, I don’t think it would have benefited us. Hopefully there’s more competition in 2018!
  • I have fielded multiple, valid complaints from residents on the quality of snow maintenance so far this winter. The up/down temperature cycles haven’t helped, but you can easily see inconsistencies in how sand or salt has been laid down, how close (or far) to the curb the plows are getting, and so on. I’ve been actively engaging with staff to ensure your concerns are addressed, and so far it does appear things have gotten better during the last plow. I absolutely want to hear from you, and so does staff, if you have concerns regarding snow maintenance.
  • Lastly, I voted no to continue using our own closed meeting investigator. I wanted to opt for the Ombudsman instead, however I was not able to convince the rest of Council that this was, in my opinion, the right thing to do. I have heard from residents that choosing our own closed meeting investigator makes it look like we’re seeking preferential treatment, and that such a person can be dismissed at a whim if we don’t like what they say, like the integrity commissioner that was recently dismissed (which ultimately started the chain reaction that led to me ending up on Council). If you feel similarly, I implore you to speak with the Mayor and your Councillor and ask them to stop spending $1,000 a year on a service we have not used.

What to Expect in 2017

  • I’m going to be asking staff to do some homework later this year to see if we can lower the minimum water and wastewater usage rates, and what implications that will have.
  • I will help staff to find, and make suggestions on new measures, to continue to cut costs. I’m not out to slash and burn, but always looking at things critically to determine whether products/services we purchase, or services we provide, can be done at a lower cost.
  • I’m going to hold multiple sit-downs at local restaurants where you can come and sit down, enjoy a drink, and speak with me face-to-face. Expect the first one to happen before the end of March.
  • I’m confident that Edgewater Estates will be approved to move forward, and the construction of the new sewer line to Komoka will finally begin. Once that’s done and in service, the Kilworth Treatment Plant will be decommissioned, relieving many residents of awful smells throughout the year.
  • I have two residents, in particular, who are seeking relief from various bylaws. One, I am assisting to allow them to plead their case; the other is in clear violation of the Infrastructure Design Standards, and not allowing the developer of their subdivision to hand over control to MXC, but doesn’t seem to care. You can’t please everyone.
  • The new Ilderton Skating Park will begin construction.
  • MXC is replacing existing vehicles with three fully electric vehicles. I’m really excited about this! They will be shared by two departments, Public Works & Engineering and By-Law Enforcement & Building Inspections.
    • January 11, 2017: I previously stated we were buying two vehicles. This was incorrect.
  • We will receive a report from staff on the result of the off-leash dog park pilot program.
  • Finally, the website is undergoing a bit of a restructuring to make things easier to find. I’ve offered my assistance, providing advice where I can, given my role at a web development firm in London and experience building my own websites over the past 15 years.

Overall, you can expect to get regular updates like these from me, at least monthly. I want everyone to be in the loop on decisions being made that impact Ward 4, and the rest of MXC. If you have any questions at all you can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, email, or phone 226-448-6774 (please leave a message if I don’t answer). My contact information is also on the municipal website.

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.