Pelham Town Council had another doozy of a meeting last week. It would be nice to report that the councillors worked harmoniously, that staff reports were reviewed and discussed, and that wise decisions were ultimately made for the community’s greater good. Sadly—but by now not surprisingly—this didn’t happen.

Where to start. Shooting down a sensible, cost-free climate change measure? Crippling senior staff’s ability to fully function in the event of a Lame Duck council? Not enough room. Let’s jump to salaries.

Council once again decided not to increase their own pay. On the surface, this seems to be a good thing—no increased taxes, and to pay politicians more, of all things.

But hold on. As it stands, the only people who can afford to serve on Pelham Town Council are retirees, or those who run their own businesses. That’s not our town. Yes, we are home to many older residents, but they are not the majority. The average age in Pelham is 46. That’s a lot of families with kids, as can be seen daily on any public playground and at the MCC.

The odds of a working parent, 30-50 years old, being willing to spend hundreds of hours per year on council matters—eating into family time, and sometimes into their day jobs—for a grand total of $16,000 and a spiffy bomber jacket, are pretty slim.

As the staff report made clear, increasing councillor pay by even a few thousand dollars would help make seeking a council seat a viable proposition for younger people. Only one member of Pelham’s current council, Lisa Haun, is young enough to still work for a living (as a self-employed consultant). All the other councillors are either retired or sufficiently well off that they could be. So to hear certain of them loftily opine about how they aren’t in it for the money, and how any payment is simply a bonus, is really to hear elderly, well-heeled persons (predominantly male) boast about their privilege, and watch them perpetuate a system in which people like themselves continue to maintain their grip on the reins of power.

Then we come to the evening’s humdinger, the pièce de résistance of irresponsible governance, possibly a new low in four years of deep dips. First a little backstory.

Before Covid, councillors and staff convened to determine council’s goals for their term of office—what they wanted to accomplish, wanted to prioritize. Prominent on the final list was an overhaul of the Town’s outdated Procedural Bylaw. This is the set of rules that governs how Town Council functions. The text is drier than a saltine in the Sahara sun, but it’s vital to the efficient functioning of council—meaning it saves the Town (and taxpayers) time and money.

The final report was the result of combined efforts of the Clerk’s office and the office of the CAO. In total, four staff contributed to the preparation of the report over the course of three months, involving hundreds of work-hours, and likely tens of thousands of dollars in lost opportunity cost.

Several days before last Tuesday’s meeting all councillors had been provided the new 32-page bylaw, plus a six-page executive summary covering its 22 significant updates and changes.

Enter the Gang of Four, stage (far) right. When the vote came to approve the new bylaw, the Mayor opened the floor to discussion. Nary a peep from our Gang members—meaning they had no objections, nothing to quibble about, right? Oh, but by now we know that a silent Gang of Four is no less dangerous. The new bylaw failed 4-3, with not a single word of explanation from the dissenters. All that work, down the drain.

The new bylaw failed 4-3, with not a single word of explanation from the dissenters. All that work, down the drain.

Staff were clearly caught flat-footed. The Mayor, Councillor Wink and the CAO reminded Councillors Haun, Hildebrandt, Stewart, and Kore that agenda items need to be publicly debated on their merits, and that no item should be defeated without an explanation, particularly so that staff can receive guidance and do better next time. This of course fell on deaf ears.

Then the Mayor and Councillor Wink essentially pleaded with the four to reconsider—offering to go through the report line-by-line, so that the good changes need not be thrown out with whatever it was that bothered them.

Again, no movement, other than smug grins from each of the Gang. But why? Why smugly reject a document that council itself had asked for? Was there not at least one of the 22 updates that was supportable? Or was this simply the latest in a series of perverse demonstrations of power. The mind boggles.

This was not the first time that the Gang of Four has killed an item of business in a coordinated way, without public discussion. No one, apart from them, knows why. None of the four councillors acknowledged a Voice request for comment on their vote.

To a reasonable eye, Councillors Haun, Hildebrandt, Stewart and Kore give every appearance of seeming to communicate with each other outside of the council chamber, without so much as a single syllable of reasoning. At best this violates the spirit of Ontario’s open meeting law.

Such brazenly anti-democratic behaviour is unconscionable. It is the polar opposite of the transparency that every member of the Gang of Four claimed to champion in their 2018 campaigns. It frankly deserves rejection at the ballot box for whichever Gang member has the effrontery to run again. It’s non-negotiable: We should always know why our elected leaders make the decisions they do.

The real problem is that the Gang of Four displays a paranoid fixation on staff trustworthiness, even with the CAO, whom they themselves hired. We can only imagine how demoralizing it must be to work for elected officials who doubt your ethics, your basic competence, day in and day out.

Finally, on a night that transparency was trampled, it is ironic that one of the items discussed behind closed doors related to an investigation by the Provincial Ombudsman. While we don’t yet know what the exact focus of the investigation is, we do know that the Ombudsman is the Town’s closed meeting investigator. We also know that the Ombudsman only goes into closed session with council members to review his draft report, prior to its public release, and only when that report makes a negative finding—a guilty verdict—regarding one or more councillors.

This means that sometime over the next two or three weeks the caca is set to hit the fan. We’ll know which councillor did what, and when, and what consequences may follow. Betting that it’s one or more of the Gang of Four who have been called out is a no-brainer.

Stay tuned.

 

Updated April 30 2022 to clarify that while Councillors Haun, Hildebrandt, Kore, and Stewart give the appearance of coordinating votes outside council chamber, the newspaper is not in possession of definitive evidence proving this to be the case.

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. We already know what Gary Accursi and Ron Leavens thought of these clowns while they were alive. Thank God they aren’t around to witness this total s***show. All four deserve to get their rears kicked hard in October.

  2. At least the old bunch, when they (allegedly) decided ahead of time how they were going to vote still went through the motions of debating an issue before reaching their (allegedly) pre-determined outcome. These idiots can’t even get the (alleged) violation of the open meetings laws right! That is what you get when you elect anti-government amateurs to office. Stupidity and chaos.

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