Pelham Town Council was forced into a closed session during its Feb. 22 virtual meeting over Councillor Ron Kore’s motion that could have barred the municipality from allowing the Voice and other media democratic access, or doing business with this or other news organizations.
In council’s previous regular meeting, on Feb. 7, Kore had given notice of a coming motion to have council endorse a St. Catharines City Council measure condemning the harassment of politicians, citing criminal incidents targeting that city’s mayor and a councillor by anti-Covid-mandate activists.
However, in the motion Kore presented to council last Tuesday, the councillor included verbiage that stated, “the Town of Pelham will not support or conduct business with individuals, organizations, companies, news media, or tabloid outlets that discriminate, spread misinformation, spread hate through the community, [and] bully individuals.”
The Voice has learned that senior Town staff repeatedly advised Kore ahead of time that including this language in his motion would be problematic. Councillors, however, have the ultimate say as to what does or does not appear in their motions.
Inclusion of the news media in the motion could easily be construed as an attempt to cut off press access to Town Hall, while also banning the municipality from providing communications messaging to, or advertising with, media outlets.
In council’s previous session, on Feb. 7, Kore lamented “the bullies with the pen who target certain councillors and belittle them on a regular basis.” The Ward 2 councillor did not reply to repeated Voice requests to elaborate further. (Kore has not acknowledged any request for comment from the newspaper since June 2020.)
During last Monday’s meeting, Councillor John Wink moved an alternative measure to support the text of St. Catharines’ original motion, while at the same time requesting council meet in closed session to receive legal advice. Ward 1’s Wayne Olson was the only member to vote against turning the cameras off and removing the debate from public view.
When council emerged from the closed session, members unanimously voted to back Wink’s motion. At the end of the meeting, a visibly chastened Kore officially withdrew his motion.
“Disappointed and disgusted”
In another matter, Kore received the precise costs of a pair of recent Integrity Commissioner reports, information he had earlier requested. According to CAO David Cribbs, the two investigations spurred by unnamed citizen complaints cost the Town $16,977. No finding of fault was made, and so the details of the complaints remain sealed, as is required by law.
“That means the residents of our community will never know who filed these Integrity Commissioner reports?” Kore asked the CAO.
“That is correct,” Cribbs replied.
“And why?” Kore retorted.
“That is our system,” Cribbs said, referring to the Municipal Act. “It is imperfect, but it does comply with the statutory requirements of the Province of Ontario.”
Kore then asked aloud how much $16,000 would buy in flowers for the “Year of the Garden.”
When Mayor Marvin Junkin asked members for final remarks on the matter, Kore said he was “disappointed and disgusted” with the integrity investigation price tag. In 2020, Kore filed two complaints—one with the Ombudsman of Ontario, the other with the Integrity Commissioner—regarding Mayor Junkin acting as a fundraiser for the all-volunteer Fonthill Bandshell Committee. Those investigations cost the Town $18,430.
Cribbs told members he met with Niagara Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji prior to the council meeting, and passed along his opinion that mandatory municipal employee vaccination policies may be around for a while.
“In [Hirji’s] view, corporate vaccination policies, first they need to be maintained,” said Cribbs, “and secondly are likely to be needed for some number of years to come. What we’re going to have to watch is where the health trends go … essentially his advice is that to go from a pandemic to an endemic is not an on-off switch.”
While the Omicron wave appears to be subsiding, a new variant has arisen in northern Europe and elsewhere, and Hong Kong reported its highest daily case count ever over the weekend. Canada had reported some 36,000 deaths from Covid-19 as of Feb. 24, just short of two years into the pandemic. Almost 80 percent of the total population of the country was vaccinated with two doses as of the same date.
Pelham-Lincoln Library merger set
Council unanimously voted to pave the way for the merger of the Pelham and Lincoln Public Libraries. In a presentation including representatives from both bodies, it was stated that financial savings will come about from the elimination of one of the CEO positions, with that money reinvested in staff and operations.
“You’ve laid some excellent groundwork,” Junkin told the presenters, calling it an “historic event.”
Odds and ends
Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens announced that she expected to have the Town’s long-awaited parking study in her hands this Monday, March 1. During discussion about the need for more parking at the MCC, Councillor Marianne Stewart pointed out that even adding 200 new spaces at the community centre will still leave it short of the average parking allotment of comparable facilities.
The Pelham Fire Department will be donating a decommissioned fire truck to the volunteer brigade in the tiny coastal hamlet of Little Burnt Bay, Newfoundland.