2020 YEAR IN REVIEW | Gary Accursi, Former Town Councillor

A few thoughts at year’s end

The Town of Pelham continues to be a great place to live, work and play, and despite the growth and changes to our community it remains and will remain a small Town filled with caring, concerned citizens. Change is inevitable and necessary for a community to remain vital. Growth and intensification is necessary to afford the costs of maintaining what we have. Managing these changes demands an informed and educated council—one free of personal biases, one steeped in the knowledge of governing legislation, and one willing to make the tough decisions because they are the right ones and not because they are the most popular or because they meet personal whims.

I have been dismayed by the current council’s behaviour, and have expressed this several times in these pages, hoping that a light would go off and they would begin to act as educated adults charged with the important mission of running the community. Alas, it appears that this is not about to happen.

Let’s consider a few of the “interesting decisions” that they have made.

Throughout the year this council— which pledged to be frugal and money savvy—has spent money relentlessly, budgeted-for or not. Off-budget spending included hiring a shared in-house lawyer, a policy planner, and heavy funding of the Cannabis Control Committee. Poor, uninformed decisions in the planning area have resulted in numerous LPAT appeals, for which the Town had to hire an outside law firm and planner—all because council ignored Town planning staff. All these appeals will be for nought and I predict that the Town will lose them all. On the cannabis front, instead of engaging with the industry, this council chose to form a committee which excluded them. The result is expensive legal challenges, currently estimated to cost in excess of $300,000. My guess is that this is a low number if the industry decides to take this all the way.

Council decided to punish the Mayor for a minor impropriety identified by the Ombudsman. They voted against the recommendations of the Ombudsman and decided to make the “punishment” more severe. The Mayor, instead of discussing the matter, left in a huff and the Acting Mayor read a statement from Councillor Ron Kore, who had declared a conflict. Mature? Not! Gong show? Yes! Communication and an apology on both sides could have avoided the Ombudsman altogether. That’s what adults do.

What about land sales. Several sales have transpired, however, some with “interesting” twists. In one proposal for townhouses south of the community centre, the developer offered up a free pathway across their land as a continuation of the pathway which runs through the East Fonthill development. Several councillors held up this development over this generous offer until the developer dropped the idea. He was amazed at the Town’s response. In another significant sale, the land was sold substantially below market (my opinion based on previous and current sales) to a developer who had held the Town hostage— only to subsequently win the right to buy the land which was in dispute. Council also dithered over the sale of the old arena lands and subsequently sold the lands some $500,000 below previous offers.

I am constantly amazed by this council’s lack of regard for the recommendations of their professional staff. It seems that several (read Haun, Hildebrand and Kore) think their personal opinion trumps all—including those of the professional staff and those regulations encased in upper-tier legislation. The recent discussion about hiring a consultant to review our emergency management plan at a cost of $20,0000 dollars, when the existing plan clearly was effective over the last year, is a classic example. I could list many such examples but space does not permit and I am sure you get my drift.

I am constantly amazed by this council’s lack of regard for the recommendations of their professional staff

The absence of Councillor Kore certainly affected council’s functionality during the past three months. This council seems to be evenly divided (depending on Marianne Stewart’s mood at the time), and, as evidenced in the recent budget meetings, motions are easily defeated by a tie vote. Important decisions failed because of a split council and an absent councillor.

Kore returned Monday and it was apparent that his attitude toward the Mayor has not changed. The triumvirate of Kore, Haun and Hildebrandt is alive and well, as evidenced by an exchange between the Mayor and Haun over a lack of transparency by Haun—and I might add staff—with respect to the successful application by the airport commission to have its property taxes to Pelham reduced by some $10,000, based on a provincial decision that designated part of the airport as agricultural land.

When the Mayor raised the issue, the buddy system kicked in and Kore and Hildebrandt came to Haun’s defense. Honestly, a little communication would have gone along way. A monthly report by Haun with respect to the functioning of the airport commission would have cleared up this mess, and would have avoided the rather embarrassing confrontation between parties in front of a visiting delegation.

In fact, much of what was discussed with the delegation from the commission could have been dealt with by the local appointee—read Haun—well before the delegation appeared. It should become mandatory that councillors sitting on various boards and commissions file a report, if not monthly then at least bimonthly, to keep everyone on the same page. Knowledge is power. Communication is king!

2020 will undoubtedly go down as an historically difficult year for all, but like the dawn of a new day we can see a brightness emerging with the approval of the Pfizer vaccine, and with several others in the offing. Keep the faith, stay strong, continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, and we will all emerge from these dark days. Wishing all a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year. Stay safe!