VOICE PHOTO

On range of issues, agreement is elusive

With no substantive explanation, the political bloc of Councillors Lisa Haun, Bob Hildebrandt, Ron Kore, and Marianne Stewart killed a motion to update the Town of Pelham’s council procedural bylaw at their April 19 virtual meeting.

The updated bylaw, prepared by staff over several months, included nearly two dozen items, such as moving council meetings from Mondays to Tuesdays, and extending meeting curfews from 9 PM to 9:30 PM.

In most cases, when councillors intend to vote for or against an item, they speak on the matter first. This time, the item went straight to tally, with only Mayor Marvin Junkin, Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson and Ward 2 Councillor John Wink voting in favour.

A visibly dismayed CAO David Cribbs pointedly reminded councillors that the contents of the bylaw revision had been created at their own behest.

“This was an action item in the strategic plan. You ordered us to bring this to you,” the CAO said. “There were specific items that you also voted on and ordered us deferred to the spring of 2022. This report satisfied four or five motions.”

Wink wondered aloud if more discussion was needed, with each section divided. “To flat-out ‘no’ this, without discussion, doesn’t sit right,” he said.

Cribbs asked for specifics on why the members who voted against it did so.

“We need to hear what you’re unhappy with [in order] to be able to serve you better,” the CAO said. “I walk away not knowing if it was the proposed move to Tuesday nights? Which part was fatal to it? I don’t think any of us know why this was just defeated.”

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Haun said it simply wasn’t her problem.

“We’ve only got, what, five or six months left or something like that, so this would be decisions I think the next council would make,” the Ward 3 councillor said, referring to the October municipal election. “Why would we determine what the next council would want?”

Wink replied that it was in fact intended to be of service to the next council.

“Think of all of this council when [we] first started out,” Wink said. “[We] didn’t have a clue on any of this, so what we’re trying to do is set it up and make things a little easier for next council.”

[We] didn’t have a clue on any of this, so what we’re trying to do is set it up and make things a little easier for next council

Town Clerk Holly Willford told council that in order to reconsider the motion, a councillor would have to make a motion to do so at that night’s meeting, or it would be disposed of— unless a two-thirds majority were able to bring it back in the future. Confused over whether this reconsideration motion needed to come from someone who originally voted against adopting the new bylaw, Kore shouted for a point of order.

“Are we debating? What are we debating?” Kore exclaimed. “The vote was no and you’re asking for someone to step up … are we supposed to be debating?”

Willford said it was her understanding that Wink was attempting to make a motion to reconsider, which he then confirmed. However, no other councillor seconded Wink’s motion (under procedural rules, the Mayor was unable to second), and the item died a final death. Neither Kore, Hildebrandt nor Stewart provided a reason as to why they voted against it. None of the four responded to a later Voice request for comment on their motivations, and to what extent they had coordinated their vote beforehand, outside of public view, in a way that “materially advances the business or decision-making” of council, an activity which, depending on how it is undertaken, is illegal under the Municipal Act.

Mayor Marvin Junkin told the Voice that prior to the meeting there was no sign of trouble.

“I had spoken in advance with our Clerk, Ms. Willford, and she had not heard any negative comments from any council members, so she was optimistic that after some debate, and perhaps one or two amendments, the report would pass. When I asked council for comments or questions on the report and received none, I remember thinking to myself how happy the Clerk would be that council was going to accept the report as is. [But] in an extremely rare act, without any comments whatsoever, the report was defeated 4-3.”

Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson told the Voice that he finds staff accommodating and that they try to find ways “to make things work.”

“As a practice,” said Olson, “I will call the writer of the reports and let them know of any questions or concerns that will improve the work. If the matter has to do with scheduling [meetings], I have found that council is quite responsive and flexible. In my short term on council, I am not aware of any scheduling issues that were not accommodated.”

Councillor John Wink responded, “You have seen the video of the council meeting and may draw your own conclusions. Note that no one on council seconded my motion to reconsider,” and declined further comment.

(The Municipal Act requires all councillors to present a united front after a vote, even one that didn’t go their way, and direct criticism of councillors or their votes is a violation of Pelham’s Code of Conduct.)

Pelham Town Council meets virtually on April 19. YOU TUBE/PELHAM

Lame Duck safety measure deferred

Related to lame ducks, the bloc of Haun, Hildebrandt, Kore, and Stewart —along with Wink —also voted to defer delegation of authority that is standard in election years. According to the Municipal Act, a council is in “lame duck” status between nomination day and election day— which is Aug. 19 and Oct. 24 respectively this year—if a majority of councillors opt not to run for re-election.

“This is a routine practice in the municipal world,” Cribbs said.

Among other caveats, the delegation of authority gives financial signing clearance for expenditures over $50,000 to the CAO and Treasurer during that period, still subject to council checks and balances. Expenses up to $50,000 remain under council’s direct authority.

The Voice can confirm that all municipalities in Niagara passed such a bylaw prior to the last election. In fact, the Township of Wainfleet passed their equivalent bylaw for the coming election at the same time last Tuesday night.

Wink said the last council authorized their own signing clearance to a maximum of $100,000 during their lame duck period, and suggested a similar cap be instituted this year.

“If something of that nature was going to make this more palatable to this council,” Cribbs said jokingly, “pick a higher number than that because I can buy a nice pickup truck for $100,000 in this world.”

The humour seemed to be lost on Kore, who was seen shaking his head on his video feed.

Junkin said he had no issue approving the motion as presented.

“We’ve had dealings with the CAO for the last two years, he’s been in business in the municipal world for over 20 [years], I don’t believe he has any convictions of fraud,” the Mayor said as Cribbs hand-gestured a zero on his feed. “I do not think it’s a big leap of faith to just pass this as it is. It’s going to be under council scrutiny, it’s just he would be the one to sign the checks.”

Haun recommended the successful deferral motion.

“Is it imperative it’s done now?” she said.

Pay raise defeated

The bloc also defeated a motion to give councillors and the Mayor a pay raise that would bring their compensation into the range of the Ontario minimum wage. While perhaps an optically fraught issue during an election year, Cribbs had been pushing for raises for elected officials since last fall, saying that the current pay rate reflects poorly on Pelham, which ranks in the 50th percentile of similar Ontario municipalities.

“If you were paid hourly, we’d be breaking the law,” Cribbs said.

The report recommended raising councillor pay $4,700 per year from its current salary of $16,306, while bumping the Mayor’s pay by $13,000 to around $48,000 per year.

Resistance immediately came from the bloc, with Hildebrandt stating “I’d do this job for free,” and Stewart saying, “This is community service with some pocket money.”

This is community service with some pocket money

Like the failed procedural bylaw matter, Cribbs said the pay raise was meant to benefit the next council, not this one.

“This motion is not you giving yourselves a raise, no one is guaranteed any of these dollars—that’s why it’s appropriate now,” he said. “Not one of you has indicated a desire for personal enrichment, I’d be happy to testify to that fact.”

Wink then sought a compromise that would see councillors get approximately a $2,500 raise and the mayor a $10,000 raise.

“We’ve raised taxes, water rates, I don’t think it will be well-received,” Haun responded.

Both the amendment and main motion failed on the familiar 4-3 voting line.

With inflation currently running at a three-decade high of nearly seven percent, the decision potentially puts the next council in the politically uncomfortable position of considering a pay raise early in their mandate.

Hildebrandt not in a party mood

Council passed a noise bylaw exemption for a planned May 22 birthday party on College Street in Fonthill, a matter that had been deferred from the previous meeting to allow the applicant to adequately notify neighbours.

“This is not by any means going to be a rock concert, it’s well within our timelines, 2 to 8 PM,” Fire Chief and Chief Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner said, adding that problems are rare with events for which planners request permission from the Town.

However, Hildebrandt said a nearby resident told him that a “heavy rock band” was set to play, and suggested the applicant move their party to “Peace Park or MCC.”

The Ward 3 councillor was the only no-vote on the matter.

Odds and ends

> Council approved a $103,000 increase to the Park Lane water main replacement, which includes servicing the planned splash pad in Marlene Stewart Streit Park. During digging for the project, old materials such as abandoned septic tanks were unearthed. The increase puts the budget for the project over $300,000.

> A motion by Councillor Olson to support and endorse Waterloo Region’s request of the province to establish an updated model Building Code was defeated, once again along 4-3 lines. The code would be province-wide and aimed at ensuring new builds are created to net-zero greenhouse emission standards.

> Chief Bob Lymburner reported that Pelham had 127 known cases of Covid-19 in the 28 days ending April 19. The real number is widely believed to be higher. The deaths of 530 Niagara residents have been directly attributed to the coronavirus over the last two years. The number of indirect deaths is unknown.

With files by Dave Burket.