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Council Follow-up, week of September 11, 2023

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

The first week back from summer vacation – and the revelation of a distinct lack of transparency and accountability at City Hall.

  • Note the correspondence from the Township of Matachewan, calling on the province to introduce legislation to strengthen municipal Codes of Conduct and compliance with them.

Affordability Committee

Minutes: not yet available

This meeting was primarily a Public Meeting held for a Zoning Bylaw Amendment application for 582 Essa Road in Ward 7.

The surprise came with what seemed to be fairly benign Advisory Committee Reports, when Councillor Morales (who is not a member of the Affordability Committee) took issue with Heritage Barrie's June establishment of a subcommittee of volunteers that had been put together to investigate Heritage Conservation Districts, and report back to the Committee on their findings. His objection painted a picture of Heritage Barrie of somehow "going rogue" and going against Council direction with this. As "Guest Clerk" Dawn McAlpine pointed out, they had not been directed against this. And as Mayor Nuttall pointed out, Committees are free to do research into matters (a similar subcommittee, the Heritage Veterans Tree Subcommittee, had been put together in the May 23 report but this was not commented on at all) , and Council shouldn't be preventing volunteers from public engagement or censoring people (all volunteers) on committees. Councillor Riepma (the Chair of Heritage Barrie) explained that, after the previous report on the issue, the committee wanted to look at it further, and a number of committee members volunteered to do the research. Nuttall then reiterated that he didn't wish to prevent the research, and that if the Committee didn't like what they came back with, they could deal with it then.

Morales proposed that this item be referred to the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force (of which Morales is Chair), because he felt it didn't align with Council's Strategic Priorities. And responded to Riepma & Nuttall's comments by saying he objected to one of the members of the subcommittee being also a member of City Staff. Director Banfield confirmed it was quite usual for a staff member to be involved to help guide the research, rather than have to come in at the end and clean things up.

At that point, Morales claimed Nuttall had "given me my mandate", and insisted that the item be referred to the Task Force. Nuttall conceded, and moved that this item be referred to the Task Force. (In all the confusion, neither of the Heritage Barrie minutes from May or June were received.)

So... this is where our accountability eyebrows started raising... From the way Councillor Morales was speaking, the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force would have the right to "veto" a decision made by a City Committee, or prevent them from even looking into an issue that fell under their purview.

Which made us curious about what the Task Force's decision-making process is, and what exactly the mandate and Terms of Reference are for the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force. When we went to look, however, unlike the other City Committees and Task Forces, the Terms of Reference for the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force are not published on the City website. Neither is it possible to access the Minutes or Agenda for any meetings of this Task Force, or even see when meetings have taken place. There is no way to know when this Task Force has met, what decisions have been made, or what other ideas have, potentially, been similarly terminated.

And so it appears we have a Task Force with veto power over other City Committees' decisions, but which is not subject to any public scrutiny or accountability. We do not know how many meetings they have had, or what other decisions have been vetoed by this Task Force, which is formed of less than half of Council (i.e., without quorum).

According to the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force page on the City's website, its directions include "TRANSPARENT [emphasis ours] alignment of the subject matter within committees with the approved 2022-2026 Strategic Plan." Yet without minutes or details of the meetings, there is absolutely no transparency involved.

Further, the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan this Task Force is meant to align with specifically details "Responsible Governance" as one of its five pillars, under which "ensure accountability and transparency" is a key sub-point.

How can the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force possibly ensure accountability and transparency when it is able to hold closed-session meetings outside of the public eye, allowing only 5 members of an 11-member Council to veto the decisions of City Committees, without making their own decisions public, or being accountable for those decisions?

Without minutes or other forms of accountability for the Mayor's Priority and Planning Task Force, and this Task Force not reporting to General Committee or Council, the public is no longer privy to the fate of an initiative publicly made by a City Committee. Less than half of Council is able to terminate a City Committee's initiative, without being accountable or transparent to the public.

A closed meeting of five Councillors can prevent a City Committee from even doing research, and the public would have never known about it if Councillor Morales hadn't referred this item to the Task Force during the Affordability Committee. What other City work has been prevented without the public even knowing about it?

This flies in the face of accountability, transparency, and responsible governance, and appears to be a complete undermining of the democratic process.

General Committee

This meeting included staff reports and recommendations for Zoning Bylaw Amendments for two developments on Yonge Street, held by Ward Councillor Harris, whose constituents are still unhappy with the proposals. This item received almost an hour of discussion. The debate went considerably off the rails for a moment, as Councillor Morales got personal and started questioning Councillor Riepma and his votes on selected motions from the previous term, instead of discussing the staff report and recommendations on the table. Councillor Kungl raised a point of order to get the conversation back on track. Morales seems to have been in violation of Section 5.3 of the Code of Conduct ("focus on issues rather than personalities"), as well as Section 5.1 c) of the Procedural Bylaw ("No member shall speak on any subject other than the subject in debate").

The other item held was the extension to the temporary use bylaw for 15 Harvie Road – allowing the landowner to continue using the property for agricultural purposes (thereby receiving a significant tax break). The appetite for this seems to have disappeared, with all voting against the motion except Councillor Kungl, who was concerned about the investment of the people farming the land – she requested that information about the agricultural activities be brought to Council next week, to ensure that no farmers' spring crops are lost as a result of this decision.

The Zoning Bylaw Amendment for 101-119 Bay Lane and invitation to the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre to present to Council were approved on consent. Also approved on consent was giving the Barrie Colts AAA U18 hockey team semi-exclusive rights to use space at the Peggy Hill Team Community Centre (Holly) as a dressing room – disappointing that there was no discussion about giving a private enterprise semi-exclusive rights to a public community centre.


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