December 25, 2013

Smaller Re-Use Centre pitched for office area

As published in The Erin Advocate

The idea of a store for donated re-usable goods at the old Hydro building on Shamrock Road has been pitched again to Town Council, but this time requesting to use only the office space that is currently unrented.

“It’s not going to cost the Town any money, and on top of that we’re going to give money back to the community,” said Nyola Holliday, on behalf of a citizen committee that has been looking for a way to set up a Re-Use Centre.

They are asking that since the Town has not been successful in renting out that space (previously used by ARC Industries), that they be allowed to use it rent-free for nine months to see if the volunteer-based venture will work.

The previous proposal for a Re-Use Centre there involved use of the whole building, including large bay areas used by the Water Department. The new proposal would not require the water operations to move, and store inventory would be limited to items small enough to fit through a regular door.

“We want to run this on a shoestring,” said Holliday. She said it will be a valuable service for Town residents, but very inexpensive compared to various Town recreation and culture investments.

In addition to the rent, she also asked that the Town cover their liability insurance. They are hoping to get approval early in 2014. Councillor Jose Wintersinger asked them to come back with a more detailed business plan, and an indication of how many volunteers are willing to be involved.

Both the County (which has responsibility for waste) and the Town had previously offered approval in principle.

Patrick Suessmuth, who started the Erin Freecycle website, spoke in favour of the initiative. Freecycle is a network of 5,119 groups enabling goods to be offered and taken for free, through They have 6.7 million members worldwide, and almost 700 locally.

“It shows a tremendous amount of interest in recycling,” he said.

The new store would take donations, but then raise money by selling the items, similar to the much larger Wastewise operation in Georgetown. Wellington County offers a different type of Re-use Centre at its Belwood Waste Transfer Station, where people pay a small fee to drop off goods, but they can be taken for free.

The Erin plan is to use sales revenues to start paying rent after nine months, but also to allow local non-profit groups to apply for grants to support their work. East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) has been involved in helping with this project, but the grants would be available to any group.

The store would not sell clothing or books, to avoid competing directly with stores operated by EWCS.

Council gives CAO vote of confidence

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town Council has given Chief Administrative Officer Kathryn Ironmonger a vote of confidence, and attempted to set the record straight about events that led to announcement of her promotion last June.

The CAO had requested the support after months of conflict between herself and Mayor Lou Maieron. At the December 17 council meeting, the public waited for three hours while the politicians and staff met privately with the Town lawyer.

They hammered out a motion, as well as a statement that the mayor was obliged to read out in public, even though he disagreed with sections of it. This is in the wake of the recent report by an Integrity Commissioner, who found that the mayor had violated the Code of Ethics, saying he had bullied staff.

Council previously accepted the recommendation that Maieron’s salary be forfeited for one month, and has now agreed with his request that the money be donated to the Food Bank.

At the December 3 meeting, the mayor offered a vigorous defense of his positions,  rejecting all the allegations. Some of the controversy swirls about the June 25 meeting, at which Ironmonger was appointed. The mayor had wanted other candidates considered before hiring internally.

He walked out in protest from that meeting, arguing that it was improperly held under council rules. His request that the process for hiring a CAO should be discussed publicly at that meeting was placed at the end of the agenda, after the hiring. Ironmonger said she followed proper protocol in preparing the agenda, since the mayor’s initiative was a reconsideration of something that had already been decided in closed session.

Here is part of the December 17 statement, with details that were previously confidential:

“Council offered the CAO/Town Manager position to the Acting CAO on June 4th, which was accepted. Mrs. Ironmonger requested a written employment agreement be signed before her appointment was publicly announced. Council was prepared to ratify the agreement at the June 18th meeting, however, Council agreed to defer the item at the request of the Mayor to the June 25th meeting with the understanding that it would be ratified during that meeting.”

On June 25, Councillor Barb Tocher said to Maieron, “you're pretending you don't know what's going on and you do – you are part of it." Maieron replied that he did know what was going on, but that he was acting to make the process “open, transparent and accountable”. Councillors had legal advice that they were not obliged to discuss the process in public.

Here is Councillor Tocher’s motion that was approved December 17:

“Council hereby passes a ‘Vote of Confidence’ that the CAO/Town Manager is fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of the position to the satisfaction of Council; and that Council further confirms that they have confidence in their staff as a whole.

“Council adopts a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ in an attempt to take all reasonable steps to ensure that staff has a safe work environment from harassment and bullying; and that Council will not tolerate unacceptable conduct; and that Council agrees to implement the recommended solutions outlined in the Closed Session Report presented by the Joint Health and Safety Committee to address the hazard.”

No details of that report were made public.

Regarding the legality of the June 25 meeting, council asserted in the new statement that the meeting was properly scheduled, with normal notice provided. The agenda was emailed to the media and posted on the Town website.

“Council directed staff to add additional items to the scheduled meeting in order to have items addressed in a timely manner because only one meeting was scheduled for the following month,” the statement said.

“Council has the authority to add items, approve and/or amend the agenda, which is something Council does on a regular basis.”

Town committees need new citizen members

As published in The Erin Advocate

If one of your resolutions for the New Year is to get more involved in community activities, the Town of Erin has committees with interesting mandates, and some are actively looking for new volunteer members.

If you want to promote quick or dramatic changes to Town policies, then committee work will not be your cup of tea. Municipal business usually proceeds slowly and cautiously. You would be better off joining a more activist group, writing Letters to the Editor or picking up a nomination kit for next October’s election.

But if you are the type of person who would enjoy getting together with people of similar interests to work on projects of value to the Town, building a base of expertise that helps keep politicians and staff in touch with taxpayers, then the effort could be quite satisfying.

“It’s better when they are given projects by council to target and work towards,” said Chief Administrative Officer Kathryn Ironmonger.

Details about the guiding principles and operations of the 14 groups is available on the Town website,, with contact persons who can provide more information.

There is the Recreation and Culture Committee, which organizes an annual sign-up fair for local sports and cultural groups, helped develop the skateboard park and is committed to enhancing the quality of life for all residents.

The Trails Committee is developing a network of formal trails and greenspaces, in addition to the many informal ones, linking urban areas to nearby natural features.

The Heritage Committee advises council on properties affected by the Ontario Heritage Act, promotes conservation of local heritage, maintains a list of sites of interest, provides advice to property owners and comments on new development or demolitions.

Fence-Viewers arbitrate fence disagreements between neighbours, while Livestock Evaluators, investigate claims for compensation for losses due to attacks by wolves, coyotes or dogs.

There is the Property Standards Committee, the Committee of Adjustment (a paid position), Let’s Get Hillsburgh Growing, Community-Oriented Policing and the Accessibility Committee.

“Pick your interest and go for it – you have a chance to influence council,” said Bob Wilson, Chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee, which is dedicated to sustainability, and the protection and enjoyment of Erin’s natural heritage.

“There is lots of latitude. We make a work plan and are open to ideas. We need someone to champion them and do some research.”

The committee has been involved in the Idling Control Bylaw for vehicles, efforts to improve the efficiency of Town buildings, a potential bylaw to avoid excessive outdoor lighting, submitting articles to The Advocate and organizing the annual Clean-Up Day on the first weekend of May.

Committee work is somewhat structured, including minutes being recorded, but is overall quite informal. Membership is normally for a three-year term. There is a chairperson, as well as a member of Town Council on each committee.

Unlike in some municipalities, Erin’s committees are advisory only. They have no authority in the actual decision-making process. They are sometimes allocated funding for specific purposes.

Economic Development is perhaps the committee with the most challenging mandate, since it involves issues of how the community attracts, and most importantly, retains businesses. This affects residential taxes, shopping habits, opportunities for local jobs and Erin’s small-town charm.

The committee is not operating right now. It was temporarily disbanded in 2012 after members felt they were not getting clear directions from Town Council.

There is some support for hiring an Economic Development Officer to organize the Town’s efforts in this area, but that decision has not been made. In any case, there are new terms of reference and the committee will soon be reformed, so now is a good time to investigate the possibility of volunteering.

Some members of the previous committee have been active on an offshoot project, the Erin Equine Task Force, which has just delivered a report to council on the opportunities for expanding the local horse-related economy.

December 18, 2013

Province denies funding for bridge replacement

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin’s bid for a $2 million grant to help rebuild the dam and bridge on Station Street in Hillsburgh has been denied by the provincial government, citing high property values and average incomes in this area.

A denial letter received last week says more than 350 applications were received from Ontario municipalities under the Small, Rural and Northern Municipal Infrastructure Fund Capital Program.

“Other applicants with highly critical projects had more challenging economic conditions (as measured by property assessments and incomes),” said the letter from the Ministry of Rural Affairs.

Finance Director Sharon Marshall said other municipalities in Wellington County, some with property assessments lower than Erin’s, got similar denials. The exception was an application from the Town of Minto, which was allowed to proceed to the next phase of the grant process.

Work on the Station Street dam, bridge and road is expected to cost more than $2 million, regardless of whether the dam is preserved. The Town thought it had a good chance for funding, since the project affects public safety and is extremely expensive in comparison to other Town projects.

Council has made no decision on the project, but is facing a provincial deadline of next June to complete an environmental assessment and a plan to rehabilitate that infrastructure.

Mayor says he is a victim of ‘witch hunt’

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has accused Integrity Commissioner John Craig of bias in his investigation of Code of Conduct complaints, suggesting there is the perception of collusion against him.

In the commentary published with the December 3 agenda, the mayor implies a connection between CAO Kathryn Ironmonger and Craig, since they are former clerks, acquainted by previously being active in the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario. Ironmonger also presented him to council as the only candidate for the job.

Maieron wrote to Craig during the investigation: “even if a direct conflict of interest does not exist, the perception of a conflict existing, given your draft conclusions in this matter and how these conclusions have been discredited on the evidence I have provided, all seem to lead to the conclusion that this is a well organized witch hunt to discredit the Mayor and make sure he is un-electable next term.”

At the December 3 meeting, council voted 3-2 to accept Craig’s report and recommendations, including a one-month pay suspension for the mayor, funding a leadership training course for him and hiring a facilitator to improve Town working relationships.

After that meeting, Craig said while he may have met Ironmonger as part of his work, the mayor’s allegation is not valid.

“He is really grasping at straws. If there was anything that would be a conflict, I would not have taken the job,” said Craig.

“The allegation that I have a personal connection with Mr. Craig is simply speculative and unfounded,” said Ironmonger. She said Craig was recommended by another municipality at a time when the Town of Erin had a deadline to get an investigation done quickly.

Normally, the Town would have a regular Integrity Commissioner, who would be obliged by the Code to investigate a complaint and report to Town Council within 90 days.

Council has now hired Robert Williams as the regular commissioner, but at the time of the complaint against the mayor, the first since the Code was adopted in March, there was no commissioner.

The complaint was made July 4, and Craig was not hired until late that month, initially leaving only two months for the investigation. The deadline was later extended, primarily to allow the mayor to prepare his defense, so the process eventually spanned 5 months.

Integrity Commissioners have broad powers through the Code of Ethics to “exercise the powers of a commission” under the Public Inquiries Act. While not judges, they have authority to gather evidence and weigh its value.

Proposed Bell tower shocks neighbour

As published in The Erin Advocate

A farmer operating a vacation business that relies on the beauty of the Erin countryside is quite alarmed at the prospect of a new Bell Mobility tower nearby.

Keith Lamont of Thistlestone Farm, on the Fourth Line south of County Road 50, learned last April about an agreement to erect a 61 metre (200 foot) tower right next to his property. He voiced his objections at a public information meeting December 3 in the Erin council chambers.

“I am stunned – they never approached me,” said Lamont. “It is quite ludicrous. Communities have needs too.”

Joel Swagerman of the consulting firm Fontur, working for Bell Mobility, said notifications for consultation can only be sent out after an agreement has been worked out with the owner of a selected location. Landowners can earn substantial revenue by allowing a tower on their property.

Anyone with concerns about this tower must send in their comments to Bell Mobility by December 23, and they will include them with their submission to Industry Canada. While the information meeting took place in the presence of Erin town councillors prior to their regular meeting, they have no authority regarding communications towers and made no comments.

“This has become a stressful experience,” said Lamont, who believes the visual impact of the tower puts his vacation business in jeopardy. “No one concerned has even visited us.”

With his website,, he promotes not only his family’s sheep farm operation, but encourages Farm Stay Vacations. The property has various ponds, trails and boardwalks.

“We have renovated two homes to attract visitors from the Bruce Trail, international ag visitors, naturalists, birders and livestock seminars sanctioned by OMAFRA etc. All these visitors will be staying in accommodation under the shadow of a multi-legged tower.”

Swagerman said several sites were considered in the area, and this is considered the best, providing coverage while meeting the required distance away from wetlands. The Grand River Conservation Authority has issued Bell a permit to use the land for a tower.

“It meets the environmental criteria – we understand that this area is quite sensitive,” he said. “There are concerns that Industry Canada does not necessarily agree are relevant to the proposal – these would be health concerns and property values – that’s just the way they work.”

“All I can counter with is the visual distraction,” said Lamont. “All I can hope for is that someone will agree that we are impacted.”

He asked if there is any possibility of screening the view of the tower to reduce its impact. Swagerman said the planting of trees could be considered, and noted that relocation of the tower within the chosen property could still be considered by Bell Mobility and the landowner in the coming months.

One of Lamont’s supporters said: “This is going to be a substantial aesthetic and financial loss, because his property will be devalued because of that tower. Why should he have the burden of all this, if the other guy gets the financial benefits?”

Community objections to new towers have become frequent news. Last month, loud protesters at a Stewarttown information meeting prevented a Rogers representative from making a presentation on a new cell tower. Complaints there included health fears due to the tower signal, reduced property values, visual distraction and lack of public notification.

Swagerman said the Erin tower is part of a program to expand broadband wireless services (internet data and voice) to underserviced areas. Bell Mobility was issued the area by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission CRTC, and asked to find an appropriate location for a tower within an 800 metre radius.

“The goal of the program is to even it out so the rural areas get improved service, on an equal basis to the urban areas,” he said, noting that residents within a three to five kilometre radius would be able to receive a wireless internet signal.

Town needs extra revenue for infrastructure

As published in The Erin Advocate

To build up a war chest of capital funding for roads, bridges, culverts and other facilities, the Town of Erin will need a dedicated stream of revenue for the next 20 years, councillors were told at a special meeting last week.

The money would be equal to an extra 2.5% in local tax revenue every year, above and beyond increases needed to cover other operating costs and inflation. This Capital Levy Increase would be reduced by whatever project grants might be provided by the provincial and federal governments.

As well, to meet the targets, the Town would need to borrow an average of $824,000 each year for the next ten years, according to the Asset Management Plan prepared by Watson & Associates Economists. It is for existing assets only, not new ones that might be needed due to growth.

Council voted to adopt the Plan, which identifies the condition and replacement cost of each major Town asset (not including vehicles), and its level of priority. Such a plan is now required by the province for grant applications.

Ontario currently has the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative (MIII), allocating $98 million in funding to projects throughout the province over three years.

The Plan does not actually bind Town Council to any particular tax increases or borrowing – it is only a recommended strategy. Councillor Josie Wintersinger and Mayor Lou Maieron were not at the meeting, but the Plan was endorsed by Councillors Brennan, Tocher and Callaghan.

“You are approving the concept, but decisions on increases will be made in annual budget deliberations,” said Dan Wilson, Associate Director at Watson’s. “The Plan is very modest in its expectations. If you want more, you’ll have to change the 2.5% dramatically.”

Every municipality has similar issues, with some needing Capital Levy Increases of 1.5% to 6% annually. Wilson warned that debt is just a way of spreading cost over time, and that the Town should not use up its full legal debt capacity.

The levy will accumulate significant funds as each increase becomes part of the base taxation. Marshall said 2.5% of Erin’s tax revenue may amount to $117,500. That is within a 2013 capital budget of $3.35 million, to which local taxpayers contributed $665,000.

The Town has already been using the accumulating levy strategy, collecting an extra $200,000 in taxes in 2012. That tax revenue stayed in the budget, and the Town collected another extra $200,000 in 2013 (total extra of $400,000 for 2013). Marshall is proposing an additional $214,000 next year, effectively bringing the 2014 total to over $600,000 and the three-year total to over $1.2 million.

That is still far less than the optimal funding required to build up reserves and keep capital assets in good condition. Erin taxpayers are only investing about $1 million per year, rather than the $5 million needed, said Wilson. The Asset Management Plan would eliminate this infrastructure funding gap gradually over 20 years.

The Town’s existing assets cost a total of $52 million to build over the last 100 years, but they’ve depreciated about 46% to a net value of $28 million. The total replacement cost in 2013 dollars is $177 million, according to the Plan.

The Capital Levy Increase will be a percentage of progressively larger budgets over the years due to factors such as inflation. The projections are based on base budget growth estimated at 2% annually, and on an estimate that the cost of building infrastructure will rise about 3% annually.

Marshall said closing the gap in 20 years is good compared to some larger municipalities which expect the process to take 40 years.

“This document must be kept up to date to be useful,” said Wilson, noting that revision is already needed since the town failed to get an expected $2 million grant for rebuilding the Station Street dam, bridge and roadway.

Possible construction of a sewer system is not included in the plan. Such a system would be funded primarily by development charges for new subdivisions and by a surcharge on existing urban homes that get the service, as opposed to taxpayers at large. As soon as sewers are built, the Town would be expected to start setting aside money for their repair or replacement many decades in the future.

Similarly, water infrastructure is financed by its urban users, and it is expensive because the number of users is relatively low. Erin’s water system is about ten years ahead of the Town at large when it comes to upgrading its assets, said Wilson.

It’s not too late for respect at council

As published in The Erin Advocate

The public needs to demand that elected officials employ good judgement, even during bitter disagreements.

In the current controversy surrounding the Code of Ethics, Mayor Lou Maieron is tearing down confidence in the Town administration and council. His behaviour appears destructive and out of proportion to the problems at hand.

He may have legitimate concerns, but he is going too far, spinning endless arguments and alienating the very people whose cooperation he needs. His reputation has been damaged by the findings of the Integrity Commissioner. He believes himself to be a hero of democracy and the victim of a conspiracy, and he has promised to escalate the battle.

The Commissioner described his recommended penalties as “corrective action”, but they do not seem to be having any effect. Maieron has not apologized for harm he has caused to individuals, or to the reputation and functioning of the Town.

No council member can be removed from office for violating the Code of Ethics.

Three councillors poured some gasoline on the fire recently by voting to deny the mayor a payment related to his trip to China. They may have had some justification, if he did not communicate to them adequately about his potential travel plans, but it seems a bit vindictive, considering how little he normally spends.

Perhaps a Christmas truce is in order, followed by a renewed effort by the mayor, fellow councillors and senior staff to improve their working relationships. Councillor John Brennan said reconciliation is needed to avoid a “mini-war” for the rest of the term, but that will require a sincere commitment from individuals to restore respect and make concessions.

It is a lot to ask, but it would be in the public interest, and it is not too late.

A majority of council has agreed with Integrity Commissioner John Craig’s recommendation to hire a facilitator to help set a “path to a more co-operative working relationship”. Maybe our new Integrity Commissioner Robert Williams would be up to that task.

While I have been critical of the mayor, I do agree with some of his criticisms of the Code of Conduct concept and this investigation in particular.

The Code provides for an initial informal phase, to try to resolve the complaint, and informal resolution is encouraged even in the formal phase. This may not have been practical, but there is no indication it was attempted.

I understand the need for confidentiality in the early stages of an investigation, so that frivolous complaints cannot be used to damage a councillor’s reputation. But once the commissioner rules that it is legitimate, I think the complaint, with the names of the accuser and defendant, should be made public. This would make it easier for the commissioner to obtain relevant evidence.

In this investigation, the mayor was given very short time frames to produce evidence in response to the allegations, until he insisted on his right to more time. Also, the commissioner was unnecessarily harsh in painting a portrait of the mayor. He should have avoided personality analysis and stuck closer to the evidence as he saw it.

The Code is not understood and respected by the public. Defendants do not have the rights they would have in a court case, regarding disclosure of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses. This harms the perception of fairness.

Instead of establishing of a Code of Conduct for all municipalities, and funding its enforcement, the provincial government has shifted that optional responsibility to the local level. It means a commissioner may be hired by a councillor’s political adversaries.

That’s not to say the conclusions of this commissioner were wrong, but it would be better to have a system in which that person’s independence is far beyond any possible question.

December 11, 2013

Mayor loses month's pay for Ethics Code breach

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron was slapped with a one-month suspension of pay by Town Council last week, as they voted 3-2 to accept the results of an investigation into his behaviour under Erin’s Code of Ethics.

Integrity Commissioner John Craig investigated five allegations made by Councillor Josie Wintersinger and found Maieron in violation on three of them.

He also recommended the Town pay for a leadership training course for the mayor, and that they hire a facilitator to help council and staff “set a path to a more cooperative working relationship”.

Councillor Barb Tocher made the motion to accept Craig’s recommendations. It was seconded by Councillor Deb Callaghan and supported by Councillor Josie Wintersinger, who had made the allegations against the mayor on July 4. They offered no comments before casting their votes.

Councillor John Brennan asked the mayor if he wanted to step aside from chairing that section of the meeting, but he declined. Maieron said later that he had consulted his lawyer and was confident that he had the right to speak in a debate that concerned his pay.

Brennan voted against the motion, saying it would be an ineffective act of retribution.

“Trying to force the mayor to undergo training, that’s a waste his time and of taxpayers’ money. Suspending remuneration for a month, is that going make the situation better, or is that going to just pour gasoline on the fire?” he said.

“I think it effectively means that for the rest of this term of council there’s going to be a mini-war going on. I don’t see any way of reconciling if we do that. The hope of reconciliation is slim, but I would rather try and get that reconciliation because I think that’s in the best interests of the people of Erin.”

On the allegation that the mayor revealed confidential information by discussing the firing of former CAO Frank Miele, Craig said he “technically” breached the Code, but that it was “not a significant transgression”. On an allegation that he accepted an improper gift on his China trip, Craig ruled he had not done so.

He was cleared of providing false information to the public on the process for recruiting a new CAO. But on an allegation that he improperly left the council meeting at which former Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger was appointed CAO, as a protest of procedures, Craig found he violated the Code by failing to provide leadership.

“I did try to provide leadership, and enforce the policies and rules of this council, and council just couldn’t defer it for one week,” said Maieron.

It was alleged that statements and emails by the mayor were intimidating, demeaning and harmful to the reputation of staff and others. Craig said while the offenses could be “considered somewhat low on the range of misconduct, the Mayor's behaviour repeatedly crossed the line into forbidden territory.”

Maieron rejects the recommendations and said he was “standing up for democracy”. He said the investigation was “one-sided, with the integrity commissioner holding all the cards”, and that the complaints from Councillor Wintersinger were “frivolous, vexatious and made in bad faith”.

He says some Town staff have been hostile to him. Craig reported that the mayor rarely uses his Town office except when the public is present, “for fear that anything he does or says may lead to an accusation of Code of Ethics violations.”

Craig called this “a ridiculous assertion – unbecoming of a person in a leadership position, yet consistent with his self-portrayal as the victim.” Maieron said at the council meeting, “I don’t attend the office, because I don’t feel safe here.”

Members of the public were given permission to ask questions at the meeting, and some were surprised to learn that Craig had been hired by council for this one investigation at a cost of $175 per hour plus expenses. Although the total bill has not been compiled, Craig estimated it could be $12,000 to $15,000.

“It is a disgrace,” said one resident. After the meeting, Craig said that his rate is “cheap” compared to others doing similar work, and that the bill would have been considerably lower if the mayor had not sent him so many emails and documents.

Maieron accused him of exceeding his authority, but Craig said he has broad power under the Public Inquiries Act to seek out supporting evidence beyond that which was originally submitted.

Maieron argued that the penalty he was given is too harsh, since it is his “first offence”. The maximum is a three-month pay suspension.

He asked that his one month of Town pay, about $1,900, be donated to the local Food Bank, but councillors did not want to make that decision immediately. He will continue to receive his pay for serving on County Council.

“I’m rough around the edges, but I know my job, to look after the taxpayers,” he said, claiming the report is a “defamatory” and a “character assassination”.

He said the email that got him into trouble was about a safety issue raised several times by a resident which took 17 months to resolve.

He offered no apology, saying that there was “collusion to diminish my role as mayor” and that “the public can decide” on his conduct in next October’s municipal election.

“I will not be muzzled,” said the mayor. Within a few minutes of the vote on the integrity report, as the meeting continued with other business, Maieron publicly chastised a senior staff member, including a personal comment. This sparked a loud and bitter protest from Councillor Tocher.

After the meeting, Councillor Wintersinger said she made the Code complaints for the benefit of Town staff and Town Council.

“He has made a mockery of the whole process, twisting everything around,” she said. “You can’t talk to the man. It’s just one argument after another. We are moving backwards.”

Erin Radio to pay Town debt with air time

The Town has agreed that MIX 88.1 (CHES FM - Erin Radio) can pay rent for using the water tower, as well as pay off a $7,000 debt, with radio air time that the Town could use to promote economic development or other initiatives.

 Station officials Vic Folliott and Scott Jensen came as a delegation to Town Council on December 4, the day before the station increased its transmission power from 250 watts to 1,250 watts.

“The station has struggled to maintain service,” said Folliott. The Town had provided a $10,000 grant, plus a $10,000 loan to help the station upgrade service in 2010, and $3,000 has been repaid.

Councillor Barb Tocher said that since it appears the station will not be able to repay the loan in a regular manner in the near future, the Town should take the opportunity to get something of value.

Mayor Lou Maieron had reservations about the “contra” trade, saying it may not be in the best interests of taxpayers, especially since there is no plan on how to use the air time. He also asked how many people are listening, but that is not known, since it would be very expensive to hire a firm to do that research.

Council approved the deal, subject to a report on options for air time use that staff will prepare. They also accepted a $1,872 air time package to cover rental of space on the Erin water tower, where the radio transmitter and antenna are located.

The Town could use radio time to get information to the public quickly in emergencies such as power failures, road closures or disruption of services.

The Town’s combined bank of 30-second commercials would total 86 per week, or 4,472 over a whole year. They could donate the slots to community groups or advertise Town events.

The main interest is in promoting economic growth, but the use of the air time for that will not be determined until there is an economic development committee or a staff person is hired to lead the initiative.

Council denies money for mayor's China trip

As published in The Erin Advocate

Council voted 3-2 last week to deny “per diem” payments of $130 per day to Mayor Lou Maieron for his 10-day trip to China in May.

The trade tour of various cities to meet government officials and business people was done with several other Ontario mayors, organized by the Canada China Investment Association.

While he had been chosen for the trip early last spring, he did not actually decide to go until May 1, since taking 10 days off from his farm business at the busiest time of the year was a serious concern. When he announced to council that he was going, neither he or other councillors mentioned per diems.

Officially, Town policy says members must get advance approval from council for per diems, but Maieron said this policy has never been enforced on any councillor this term, and asked why the remuneration policy “only applies to me and this conference?”

Councillors are allowed to attend two conferences per year, with no need to ask permission, and the costs plus per diems are normally processed through expense reports without a council vote.

There is a traditional verbal understanding that they not be out-of-province events, said Councillor John Brennan, the only one to vote with the mayor on this matter. Councillor Barb Tocher said this is part of the personnel policy, and she opposed the payment for that reason, though the mayor said that applies only to staff.

“To me, it is the County that goes outside of the province,” she said.

Councillor Deb Callaghan said she was opposed because of the short notice the mayor provided to them. Councillor Josie Wintersinger said she was opposed because she felt the mayor gave them the impression the trip would cost the Town nothing, though the mayor denies this.

“I think you are right and you are entitled,” said Brennan, but his motion to make the $1,300 payment and review the policy on out-of-province events was defeated.

Maieron said the Municipal Act gives him the mandate as Erin’s chief executive officer to “promote the municipality locally, nationally and internationally”.

He had an assurance from previous CAO Frank Miele, who helped arrange the trip, that per diems would apply. Current CAO Kathryn Ironmonger said she had been uncertain about this, since it is not part of her normal duties, but said she never said they would apply.

Finance Director Sharon Marshall said no CAO has the authority to approve per diems, and she assured Maieron, “We are not picking on you – any unusual items are brought to council.”

The mayor said he only had $317 in Town expenses last year, compared to $2,800 to $5,289 for other councillors. He has attended two conferences in three years, including the China trip. Wellington County covered his costs for both, including flight and visa expenses for China (after some debate). Local Chinese governments paid for accommodations and meals.

The mayor presented a half-hour slide show on the trip at a recent meeting.

“My belief was that I did a good trip on behalf of the municipality,” he said in a letter included with the council agenda. “I have already had the president of the Bank of China (Canadian division) visit Erin and took him and others for a tour of the Town.

“I am working with the Chinese Consul General office in Toronto to arrange in the spring of 2014 an agricultural tour of Erin, Wellington County and the University of Guelph as this could really promote our region’s agriculture products in China - Ontario's 2nd largest trading partner. So I am trying to get good value from this trade conference trip.”

Community Services has expansion plans

As published in The Erin Advocate

East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) is hoping to expand its help for people in need next year, including an educational program on ways to eat better on a tight budget.
The agency launched its annual Christmas appeal on December 4 – the Give a Gift of Community Support campaign – at Erin United Church, with the goal of raising $25,000. This would support not only the Food Bank, but the wide range of services now in place for seniors and children.
Helping with the EWCS ribbon cutting are (left to right) Manager of Community and Volunteer Services Erika Westcott, Executive Director Kari Simpson, Erin Mayor Lou Maieron, EWCS President Allan Alls, Erin Radio host Erin Montgomery, Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White, Erin Councillor Josie Wintersinger and Guelph-Eramosa Councillor John Scott.

Some services get partial government funding, but fundraising gives EWCS the flexibility to allocate money to respond to community needs, said Erika Westcott, Manager of Community and Volunteer Services.
The campaign was launched at the Evening of Dickens event organized by Transition Erin, with Erin Mayor Lou Maieron and Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White, who is also the County Warden, on hand to show their support.
The evening started with a soup and bread supper prepared by local chefs, carried on with the reading of A Christmas Carol by Town Crier Andrew Welch and wrapped up with the singing of Christmas carols.
Transition Erin is a natural supporter of EWCS, since its members are focused on wise use of resources and community-based initiatives.
“We are committed to enhancing the quality of life for the people of Erin,” said Welch.
Cathy Hansen of Transition Erin, an organic farmer and chef, is one of the people helping EWCS explore the idea of a Community Kitchen program.
It would be an educational effort provided at low cost, for anyone wanting to learn about efficient methods of preparing locally-grown food in larger batches, and preserving it. This could engage some seniors who are able to share their traditional skills.
“It would help people be more self-sufficient and independent, and build up confidence and self-esteem,” said Westcott.
EWCS is also hoping to expand its programs for active seniors (55+), with a plan to hold community meetings to see what activities are in demand.
“We want to be responding with things that are needed,” she said.
Food bank use continues to hover at record levels according to HungerCount 2013, a national study released in November by Food Banks Canada. In a typical month, they now provide food to 833,000 individuals, 40% of them children.
“Far too many people are looking into an empty fridge and wondering how they're going to feed themselves and their kids,” said Katharine Schmidt, Executive Director of Food Banks Canada, which coordinated the national study involving more than 4,000 food programs.
HungerCount 2013 found that each month, 80,000 Canadians are forced to ask for help from a food bank for the first time. Nearly 40,000 of those helped each month are low-income seniors. One in six households assisted by food banks has employment income, yet still can’t make ends meet.
“While we live in a prosperous community, there is still a shockingly high number of people that are turning to the food bank to ease the burden of having to choose food over another basic necessity,” said Westcott. “These statistics are such a sad reality, considering the prosperity of Canada as a nation.”
EWCS has seen a 13% increase in need for the food bank program, with many being seniors with a fixed income that is not enough to cover their expenses or young families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. 
“With so many needing this program, it makes it a challenge to make sure we have enough food on our shelves to help provide the support they need, along with supporting them through the Christmas season, so that they are not excluded from celebrating the holiday because of their circumstance,” said Westcott.
“We are so thankful to our community for the many food drive and fundraising events to help us continue to provide the food support to those who need it the most.”
The HungerCount 2013 report recommends increased access to affordable housing, so that Canadians are not forced to choose between paying rent or buying food, and increased investment in education and training for those at risk of failing in the job market.
They also advocate reform of social assistance programs, to help people build self-sufficiency instead of being trapped in poverty.
For more information on the EWCS food bank program or the Adopt-A-Family Christmas Hamper program and how you can get involved, contact EWCS at 519-833-9696 in Erin or 519-856-2113 in Rockwood, or go to For Transition Erin, go to

December 04, 2013

Commissioner says mayor broke Code of Ethics

As published in The Erin Advocate

An Integrity Commissioner hired by the Town of Erin says Mayor Lou Maieron is a “bully” who repeatedly violated the Town’s Code of Ethics.

John Craig recommends that Town Council suspend Maieron without pay for one month as a sanction for various breaches of the Code, the most serious of which involve the abuse of Town staff.

“I judge the pattern of his transgressions to be harmful on a personal, corporate and community level demanding immediate corrective action,” said Craig.

Maieron strongly denies this conclusion, saying in a published commentary that it is “very disturbing and destructive without any basis in fact.”

Craig investigated five allegations made by Councillor Josie Wintersinger and found Maieron in violation of the Code on three of them.

He also suggests that the Town pay for a leadership training course for the mayor, and that they hire a facilitator to help council and staff “set a path to a more cooperative working relationship”.

The mayor rejects all of the complaints as “frivolous, vexatious and a waste of everyone’s time”. He said the Commissioner, by identifying which provisions of the Code had allegedly been broken, became the “accuser as well as judge, jury and executioner”.

The investigation under the Code was informal, with no public hearings or examination of witnesses as would happen in a court case. Details including the name of the complainant were secret until now. Authority rests with Town Council regarding penalties or other actions.

Craig’s report and Maieron’s commentary form a section of the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, held after this issue of The Advocate went to press. The agenda and the Code itself are available on the Town website,

It was alleged that statements and emails by the mayor were intimidating, demeaning and harmful to the reputation of staff and others. Craig said while the offenses could be “considered somewhat low on the range of misconduct, the Mayor's behaviour repeatedly crossed the line into forbidden territory.”

He cited several instances of criticizing staff in public, questioning their integrity, suggesting they be replaced or excluding those who disagree with him from discussions of Town business. Some staff have feared for their jobs after communicating with him, while some others said he was “simply annoying”.

“Mayor Maieron's contrarian and argumentative style in his email messages and personal interactions is relentless,” said Craig. “It has been reported to me by multiple independent sources that he can be condescending (particularly towards females) and sometimes intimidating. Evidence supports the fact that much of the poor behaviour displayed by the Mayor has been ongoing for quite some time and continues.”

Craig acknowledged that some communications to the mayor have been “disrespectful and inappropriate”. While it is not in his mandate to judge the behaviour of others, he said, “There is plenty of ill will to go around at Town Hall ... evidence reveals a serious and persistent level of tension and grinding frustration in the workplace (including at the council table).

“It is probable that information is not being fully and properly shared with the Mayor because of the anguish caused by anticipation of another potentially relentless round of contrarian argument and criticism. Consequently, it is highly likely that informed public debate on important matters is being suppressed.”

On an allegation that the mayor revealed confidential information to the public on June 25 by discussing the firing of former CAO Frank Miele, Craig said he “technically” breached the Code. “It was not a significant transgression and most likely due to an error in judgment,” he said noting that the term “confidential” is not properly defined in the Code.

On an allegation that the mayor accepted an improper payment as a gift relating to the costs of a trip to China, Craig ruled that he had not done so, since local governments in China paid for the meals and accommodations, as permitted in the Code.

He recommended that council “review its expense policy to clarify the definition of the term ‘conference’, and consider requiring members to seek council permission for extraordinary expenses.”

On an allegation that the mayor improperly left the June 25 council meeting in progress, after a dispute over procedures, Craig ruled that he violated the Code. The mayor argued that his action was legal under the Municipal Act and did not violate council’s procedure bylaw.

“Just because doing something is legal does not mean that it is therefore the right thing to do,” said Craig, ruling that the mayor failed to meet the Code requirement to “provide leadership, build consensus, avoid discouraging and destructive conflict, and conduct himself with decorum.”

On an allegation that the mayor knowingly provided false information to the public on the process for recruiting a new CAO, Craig ruled that while he almost broke the Code, he did not actually do so.
Maieron allegedly said the selection process, which resulted in the hiring of Kathryn Ironmonger as CAO, had not been discussed, when in fact it had been discussed at a closed meeting. Craig agreed that the mayor had simply said the process had not been discussed at an open meeting.

“This is a well organized witch hunt to discredit the Mayor and make sure he is un-electable next term,” said Maieron, who sent Craig more than 65 emails and about 200 pages of of material in response to a draft report sent to him.

“There were attempts to intimidate with insulting accusations about my independence and integrity, citing completely fictitious personal and outrageous references,” said Craig in his report.

“In fact, of the nearly two hundred pages of his responses to the allegations and my findings, only several paragraphs were actually relevant to the allegations. Most of the evidence in his defence came from elsewhere.

“When called to account for his behaviour, he immediately becomes argumentative, aggressively denying everything, then counter-attacks with distorted or fabricated criticisms and allegations; if this is insufficient, he quickly feigns victimhood to evade accountability by trying to manipulate others through the use of guilt.

“It is clear that he does not care in the least to examine his own behaviour, even as it may be seen by others. To me, his responses indicate an overbearing belief in his qualities of leadership but he seems unable to distinguish between the true qualities of leadership (maturity, decisiveness, assertiveness, trust and integrity) and traits of a bully (immaturity, impulsiveness, aggression, distrust and deceitfulness).”

Craig was hired for this case only. He is charging $175 per hour, plus expenses. The Town has since hired Robert Williams, a retired political science professor, as its regular Integrity Commissioner. Maieron has sent a copy of the accusations and evidence in this case to yet another Integrity Commissioner to get a second opinion.

Craig noted that the mayor feels he has been treated in a “condescending and demeaning way” by staff and “described his frequent frustration with the responsiveness to citizen complaints”. Maieron said in his commentary that while the Town does have “some good staff”, in general he has been “unwanted, unwelcome, and disrespected” since he was elected in 2010.

“I will not cover up for Staff inadequacies any longer, nor keep all the secrets from the public,” he said. “This has been on-going for more than 10 years but public scrutiny is finally coming to bear. So now we need to shoot the messenger, the Mayor. Nice try.”

Maieron had submitted 12 resident letters to Craig, similar to character references, which the mayor said, “Identify a very dysfunctional council, but they don't blame the Mayor for this dysfunctionality. These resident letters also point to a power struggle between a former Mayor and the currently elected Mayor and a sense of entitled behaviour that exists in the municipal offices.”

Maieron complained that the original plan to have the Integrity Commissioner provide training and advice for councillors was not carried out. Craig recommended that with the permanent commissioner, “Council and senior staff be provided training on the application of the Code of Ethics.”

The bylaw to adopt a Code of Ethics was passed in March this year by a vote of 4-1, with only Maieron voting against, arguing that council's procedural bylaw and existing laws on conflict of interest, elections and privacy are sufficient to protect the public interest.

He said the code "could become a container full of sticks" that fractious councillors might use against each other, and argued that it was unfair to impose new rules during a council term.

Town to set limit on community grants

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town Council plans to set a firm limit on the amount of grant money it will provide to local community organizations each year.

After a review of the grant policy by Finance Director Sharon Marshall, council voted to set a limit at its first budget meeting next year, but the amount has not been determined.

A committee, which could be the whole council, will also study ideas for grant criteria and categories, but this would not take effect until 2015 since applications are already coming in based on the current criteria.

Grants to local groups totaled $50,325 in 2013, while grants to Town committees were $53,012. Compared to total Town expenditures of $12,538,196 this year, the two types of grants together represent less than one per cent of the budget (0.824%).

Currently council considers each application on its merits and allocates various amounts with an approximate target total. Current eligibility requires that applicants be a non-profit, charitable or youth group, with a formal structure, providing benefits to Town residents. Town committees are considered separately and are not covered by the Financial Assistance Policy.

Future criteria could include more on the nature of the community programs and services. Supported events could be required to be within the Town. There could be categories with different criteria, and there could be different limits for start-up grants versus on-going support.

Organizations that have been funded for many years could be given priority as a core group. Council could also set a dollar limit on how much could be granted through waiving user fees for Town facilities.

The list of 2013 allocations shows how much was requested and how much was granted. For example, Community Living requested $23,000 for its new ARC Industries building, and was given that amount. The Orton Community Association requested $75,000 for a new park, but was given $2,000.

Examples of other grants include $1,000 for Big Brothers - Big Sisters, $1,000 for the Erin Agricultural Society, $500 for the Lions’ Santa Claus Parade, $15,675 for the East Wellington Community Services seniors room, $500 for Transition Erin and $2,300 for snow clearing at the Hillsburgh Medical Centre.

Town committees: The Erin Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Let’s Get Hillsburgh Growing group each got $6,500. Others include the Ballinafad Community Centre - $23,437, the Equine Task Force - $8,000, the Heritage Committee - $2,000, the Environment Committee - $2,000 and the COPS Committee - $2,000.

Armstrong helps deliver carbon message to MPs

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin environmental activist Liz Armstrong has taken up a new strategy in her ongoing effort to make a difference in the greenhouse gas debate, travelling to Ottawa to meet with MPs as part of the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL).

Concerned about the effects of oil sands development and the risks of associated pipelines, the group is promoting government incentives for a transition to a clean energy economy. They say existing incentives for fossil fuel initiatives should be cancelled, and that consumers should gradually pay more of the true cost of oil.
So we’re back to the debate over a carbon tax, an idea that sparked hostility from voters when the Liberals pitched it back in 2008. The new twist is to make it more palatable by giving all the revenue back to consumers.

CCL is calling it a Carbon Fee and Dividend, in which a tax would be placed on carbon-based fuels at their source (well, mine or port of entry). Companies would pass these costs to customers, resulting in higher fuel prices.

The tax would increase annually so that within 10 years, clean energy would be cheaper than fossil fuels. All of the money collected would be returned equally to all Canadians through tax rebates or “dividends”. Those who use a lot of energy would pay more overall, but CCL estimates that 66% of households would break even or end up with more money.

On November 18, a group of 36 citizen lobbyists went to Parliament Hill and had personal meetings with 25 MPs from various parties. Local MP Michael Chong, who is part of the All-Party Climate Caucus, was not able to meet with them.

Armstrong said people should not be afraid to contact their elected politicians when they have concerns or questions.

“It’s healing the break between people and government. There is a chasm, miles wide. People are cynical. I’ve come to believe that we really do need to engage much more often and in a positive way with politicians. They are the people that we’ve elected to represent us and to do our bidding.”

Consumers need to do much more than buy energy-efficient light bulbs and hybrid cars if they want to make a dent in the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, she said, just as they need to do more than just vote to be an active member of a democracy.

“Climate change is such a huge issue – it seems overwhelming, because the issue has not really turned any corners. The climate has kept going down – we’re on the same path as we were back in 1989, with probably more greenhouse gases than ever.”

She said Canada is “in a pickle” because of pulling out of the Kyoto climate change agreement, and while the federal government may promise to meet certain targets, it is an “outright prevarication” when the changes are not implemented to make it possible.

“I look for positive things that are happening, but on a very deep level it’s terribly disturbing. When I realized what we’ve set loose in terms of unfettered capitalism that allowed pollution to get out of hand, I thought, western industrialism is driving this whole mess.

“What’s missing is how to engage, especially with politicians, how to sustain the effort and how to maintain your sanity and have fun,” she said.

“More and more people in the world are realizing, that with all these carbon finds, and there have been so many of them with exploration, fracking, and getting to the extreme oil and gas, that we have way more carbon that we could let loose, than the atmosphere can ever take,” she said. “We have to get off fossil fuels. Before they run out, they’ll cook us.”

Anyone who would like more information about the Citizens Climate Lobby is welcome to email:

SSMP payment released, costs approach $1 million

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin has released a payment to its Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) consultant that it had previously held back.

Payment of the $34,943 invoice from BM Ross earlier this year was approved by council on November 26. It was withheld last May after it was found that some aspects of the study had not been completed according to the Terms of Reference.

“BM Ross is now committed to complete the SSMP and all the requirements,” said Finance Director Sharon Marshall, saying release of the payment would demonstrate “good faith”.

Council had already approved projected costs for next year – an additional $54,000 for BM Ross to deal with new river data from Credit Valley Conservation, to host and attend a series of meetings to discuss the growth allowed by the Assimilative Capacity Study, and to re-write the final draft of the SSMP report.

Marshall reported that the total Town costs for the SSMP since 2006, including a projection of $118,000 for 2014, is now $542,594. That includes BM Ross, Triton Engineering (Project Manager Dale Murray), hydrogeology by Ray Blackport, economic analysis by Watson Associates and Town expenses for legal advice, advertising and public meetings.

That figure does not include CVC expenditures on the SSMP over the years, estimated last spring at $380,000. So the current estimate of public expenditures on the SSMP (including the 2014 projections, but not including recent work by CVC) is $922,594.

15 Sideroad to be renamed

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town will proceed with a bylaw to rename 15 Sideroad as Dundas Street East, out to Winston Churchill  Boulevard, with no objections raised by residents at a public meeting on November 26.

The change will make the name consistent starting at Main Street. The route was called Dundas Street within the former Village of Erin, but 15 Sideroad in the former Township of Erin. Those names were retained at amalgamation and the urban boundary was later adjusted, but the change-over point in the road name was not clearly marked.

Residents will keep their current address numbers, and the name change will take effect early next year. Urban residents normally have one to three digit numbers, while four-digit numbers usually indicate to the Fire Department that it is a rural address without fire hydrants.

The issue arose after a 15 Sideroad family had delays in getting ambulance service because of confusion over their location in the 911 database.

“When I call 911, I want a quick response,” said Janet Collis. “That’s the only issue – I don’t care about the name or the number.”

Former Township Reeve Duncan Armstrong also attended the meeting, and spoke in favour of the name change. About 25 notices of the meeting were sent out to area residents.

There was also inconsistency in the name of the road west of Main Street, including a section with no homes retaining the name 15 Sideroad. That entire road out to the Eighth Line will now be called Dundas Street West.

All incoming mail being opened by Town staff

As published in The Erin Advocate

Anyone wanting to send personal or confidential material to Town of Erin councillors should not have it delivered to the Town office, unless they are willing to have it opened by the Chief Administrative Officer.

By a vote of three to one, councillors decided last week to maintain the existing verbal procedure of opening and date-stamping virtually all mail before it is directed to the intended recipient. This will now be the written procedure.

Councillors Barb Tocher, Deb Callaghan and Jose Wintersinger supported the motion, while John Brennan opposed it. Mayor Lou Maieron was ill and could not attend the meeting.

“Once mail is in the building, it needs to be opened and directed,” said Tocher, who brought in the policy when she was mayor, noting that Town documents are subject to public scrutiny. She said since councillors are part-time and may not be in the office for extended periods, important matters in an unopened letter may go unattended.

“I think this whole question of the mail has gotten a little blown out of proportion. All of the councillors’ addresses are on the website, if someone wants to send you something personal.”

Brennan said that when someone decides to mark something Personal and Confidential, “they have an expectation, and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation, that that envelope is going to opened by the person to whom it is addressed. If there’s something that comes in personal for me, the staff here can pick up the phone and call me, and I can come and get it.”

He noted that councillors have taken an oath not to do things such as removing documents that are relevant to Town business. “If you’re in this position, there should be a measure of trust,” he said.

Most letters and packages are processed in the reception area. Any addressed to a specific council member, or marked as Private and Confidential, are given unopened to Chief Administrative Officer Kathryn Ironmonger, who opens, stamps and directs them.

The same applies to mail identified as related to human resources, insurance, banking and pension matters. Only competitive bid packages, such as tenders and requests for proposal, are left sealed and delivered to the appropriate department.

The issue has generated controversy because Mayor Lou Maieron felt it was not proper for staff to open mail clearly marked as private. Council had deferred the issue at the previous meeting, pending a legal opinion.

“I have talked to other Mayors, MPP Arnott and MP Chong regarding private mail, and in their offices only they open mail marked private and confidential,” said Maieron, who provided his comments in an email to fellow councillors.

The procedure lists as a cross-reference a federal legislation document entitled, Mail Management in Government Departments and Agencies. The Mayor pointed out a section of that document that says certain types of mail should be delivered unopened, including that which is “Personally addressed to an individual; and personal mail.”

He has received a number of supporting emails, saying that the opening procedure is an invasion of privacy.

He requested that the written legal opinion be provided to councillors. The CAO said that while this is not normally done, she could provide it.

“The solicitor found no issue with the procedure and further he felt that it was particularly important that the municipality have a proper record of mail that is received, so it can be appropriately tracked and responded to as necessary,” said a report by Customer Service Representative Trish Crawford. Other municipalities were consulted during preparation of the report.

“Mail sent to the organization is assumed to be the property of the organization,” she said. “This policy would streamline our mail handling process and ensure a clear understanding of internal procedure.”

November 27, 2013

MNR looking at ways to fight Round Goby

As published in The Erin Advocate

Arrival of the invasive Round Goby fish species in Hillsburgh has the Ministry of Natural Resources scrambling to control it, and trying to decide whether to attempt eradication with poison.

“This species is spreading throughout Ontario even faster than Zebra Mussels,” said Art Timmerman of MNR in a delegation on November 19 to update Erin Town Council on the situation.

“There is a lot of concern about what this species can do to native fish communities, in competition with them, eating their eggs and displacing them.”

The short-term response includes containment, with screens placed at dams, and shutting a bypass channel to stop fish from moving downstream.

MNR staff are working on a long term solution, which will require environmental assessment, extensive public consultation and funding by the ministry. Control measures could include frequent removal through netting, trapping and electrofishing (temporary shocking).

They could use pheromone baited traps, and combine a winter draw-down of pond levels with electrofishing, or with application of piscicide, a chemical poisonous to fish.

“This will kill anything that breathes with gills,” said Timmerman. “The effect goes until it is diluted.”

The procedure would likely include capture with electrofishing of many other local fish, which would be stored safely and re-introduced later to re-populate the affected area of the Credit River.

“Limiting the population and limiting where they can go might be your better bet, because I don’t think you’ll achieve totally eradication,” said Mayor Lou Maieron, suggesting introduction of a cold-water species like speckled trout to control gobies during the winter.

The Round Gobies are native to Eastern Europe, and were first found in Ontario in the St. Clair River in 1990, probably transported in the ballast water of ships. They are known to live in Lake Ontario and the lower sections of rivers, but their discovery in Hillsburgh last August was unusual. A dumped bait bucket is the likely source. They have also been found in Belwood Lake, part of the Grand River watershed.

They have been caught or spotted in the privately-owned ponds north of the Elora-Cataract Trailway, but surveys have shown no evidence that they have spread downstream. The species prefers the relatively warm water of ponds, which also have small mouth bass and sunfish, to the cooler flowing water favoured by trout.

“In trying to control or eradicate these animals, we’re depending completely on the good will of land owners to make that happen,” said Timmerman.

Mill Pond Committee wants to save mill pond

As published in The Erin Advocate

The citizen committee studying the Hillsburgh mill pond issue has presented council with a recommendation to save the pond and repair the existing roadway and bridge at the Station Street dam.

The committee reviewed various pro and cons for each of several possibilities, and supported preservation of “existing aesthetics, social, recreational and tourism uses” as well as maintaining current heritage value, wildlife habitat and wetlands.

Preserving the pond would avoid changes to the water table, maintain flood control and respect the rights of area landowners while improving public safety, the committee said.

They acknowledged the plan would cost more than removing the dam and draining the pond, that warm pond water is not ideal for downstream habitat, that there is increased liability in owning a dam and that having the control structure on private property is a problem.

They recommended that the Town not buy the pond and control structure and not relocate the roadway to the Elora-Cataract Trailway. They also rejected the idea of doing nothing, since it would increase the chances of dam failure and violate a provincial order to find a solution.

They said the Town should seek legal advice on issues they had discussed in closed session regarding landowner water rights.

Mayor Lou Maieron suggested that the committee do further study of the issues, but council received the recommendations without asking for more work by the committee. Council will debate the issues once again when they attempt to make a decision on the issue.

No Town job ads if internal candidates qualified

As published in The Erin Advocate

A proposal to require external advertising of all Town job openings was voted down at the November 19 council meeting.

Mayor Lou Maieron said advertising both internally and externally would open up an opportunity for people with suitable qualifications to compete with existing staff for available positions.

“There are concerns from the public that we are hiring from within generally, and as a corporation, we should be an equal opportunity employer,” said Maieron.

“The internal candidate will only be given preference when their qualifications, experience and other relevant factors are deemed equal to those of the external candidate,” he said.

John Brennan supported the motion, noting that the evaluation of qualifications would be made by Chief Administrative Officer Kathryn Ironmonger.

“It’s a good practice to look everywhere,” said Brennan. “You need a healthy mix.”

The motion was defeated by Councillors Callaghan, Wintersinger and Tocher, who referred to the extensive effort put into training existing staff to take on additional responsibility through succession planning.

“I firmly believe that it is a solid business practice,” said Tocher, supporting the existing policy of advertising externally only when there is not a qualified internal candidate.

She said it is important to build loyalty in the workforce, and that often in the past new employees have come to Erin to get some experience, then moved on quickly to larger municipalities.

Maieron is not opposed to the hiring of internal candidates, but said, “The Town has to do the best by its residents, and new blood is not a bad thing. It brings in some vigour and new ideas.” Bringing in new people can also produce a cost saving, he said.

The Town has recently advertised externally for a Compliance Administrator for the Water Department and for an Equipment Operator for the Roads Department.

Fill bylaw revisions won’t help enforce it

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin has a new Citizen Guide for fill concerns and is working to improve its bylaw, but lack of enforcement remains the biggest problem surrounding the issue.

Planner Sally Stull reported to councillors on November 19 with a Citizen’s Guide that no longer has requirements for people to get information from people suspected of illegal fill dumping.

“The real issue is that the Town does not have the resources to monitor these applications,” she said. “It’s been very clear, dating back through our problems with site alteration, that enforcement is a difficult part of what we do.”

The group Citizens Against Fill Dumping plans to make a presentation at the December 3 Council meeting. A public education meeting on the issue will be held in the council chamber on Monday, December 9, at 7 pm.

Compounding the problem is the fact that many people who place fill on their property do not apply for permits – there were no Town applications this year, and only one last year. Other people apply to the conservation authorities, which manage about half of Erin’s land area.

Others get permission for fill through a building permit, which is not covered by the site alteration bylaw, while cases related to aggregate pits or suspected waste dumping are under provincial authority. Sites with less than 20 truckloads of fill are not covered by the Town bylaw. The Town normally has one part-time bylaw enforcement officer, but that position is now vacant.

“The proposed changes to the site alteration bylaw will have no effect in regard to any complaints received or investigated, as no applications are being made and are generally not in the Town’s jurisdiction,” said Stull.

She also pointed out that fill operations are not prohibited in the neighbouring municipality of Halton Hills, where 70,000 truckloads have been allowed through a case by case approval process.

Council has approved a simple form that residents concerned about fill operations will now be able to download from the Town website. It mainly requires the location of the suspected problem and the name of the complainant (which will remain confidential). Contact phone numbers are provided for other regulators.

Council deferred approval of proposed changes to the bylaw, which include removing the right of staff to approve projects up to 200 loads. All applications would now need council approval, after notification of neighbours and those on the haul route.

The exemption that allowed excavation and backfilling within 10 metres of a building permit site would be removed. Applicants would have to make a security deposit to cover possible damage to Town or County roads.

Fill has also become an issue at the County level, with some other municipalities having concerns.

“As a result of the anxiety over the fill operations in the Town of Erin this summer and the beginning of construction activities on WR50, a request for a speed limit reduction on the gravel portion of Wellington Road 50 was received,” County Engineer Gordon Ough told the Roads Committee this month.

He is recommending that the speed limit be reduced to 70 kph from the Third Line to the Fifth Line.

At the same meeting, Warden Chris White and Erin Councillor Ken Chapman put forward a request that the County and local municipalities review truck traffic impact from fill operations and make recommendations to the Roads Committee on potential solutions.

Proposed rural distillery will need zoning change

As published in The Erin Advocate

A plan to distill whiskey and rum on the Third Line near Hillsburgh, including a tasting bar and bottle shop, has run into a roadblock with Town Council.

Last Straw Distillery had hoped the proposal to produce 15,000 bottles of spirits per year could be deemed an agricultural use, since they would be growing grain for their products.

Planner Sally Stull said that distilling is a High Hazard Industrial use under the Building Code, and cannot be permitted without an amendment to the zoning bylaw. She said the need to age the whiskey a minimum of three years would result in “significant volatile product storage”.

“There would be minimal environmental impact, and hopefully a strong and lasting economic impact,” said company representative Michael Hook in a delegation to council on November 5.

He had taken some encouragement a mention of “vineyards” as an agricultural use in the bylaw, and from a letter written by Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins, who said, “The County does support value added uses related to agriculture, and your proposed use seems to generally fit that category.”

But Cousins did warn that rezoning is normally needed and that it is a Town issue. Town Council agreed with Stull, who also noted that there could be issues on this gravel road, requiring a safety and maintenance study, due to increased truck and weekend visitor traffic.

Even the retail shop would not be currently permitted in the agricultural zone.

Stull said a distillery would be a restricted use, since it is a “combustible product”. The firm would need licensing under the federal Excise Act to produce alcohol, as well as provincial approval to sell alcohol.

No revisions for now to staff Code of Ethics

As published in The Erin Advocate

A push by Mayor Lou Maieron to make the Town’s Employee Code of Ethics match the Council Code did not get any traction at the November 19 council meeting.

The mayor went “fishing” for seconder, but did not get one, for his motion to hire a consultant “to review and revise the Staff Code of Ethics to bring it into conformity, where applicable, to the Councillor Code of Ethics, and that the Staff Code of Ethics consider including a standard of public service component.”

Councillor John Brennan said he has a problem with that idea, since he is not aware of which differences between the Codes are at issue.

“Before we go spending any money to hire a consultant to come in and look at this thing, I would like to see what are the areas of concern,” he said. “Maybe it’s simple enough that we don’t need a consultant.”

“I just want to do a comparison,” said Maieron. “It’s much more onerous on the council ... I don’t think we should be held to a higher standard than the staff. There’s certain things that only belong to councillors, but the general policy should apply across the board.”

The mayor is currently the object of a July 4 complaint under the Council Code, the nature of which has not been made public. Normally, complaints are to be investigated and council given a report within 90 days. Integrity Commissioner John Craig had been granted a one-month extension of that deadline, to November 4, but as of November 15, no report had been received.

The Employee Code is a section of the Town Personnel Policy. Unlike councillors, staff can be fired for serious violations. The Code guards against conflicts of interest, ensures that personal and Town interests are kept separate, limits the value of hospitality gifts to $100, and prohibits the use of a position, Town property or confidential information for the benefit (or perceived benefit) of an employee or their family members.

Since a general review of the Personnel Policy is currently being done, councillors felt it was better to allow that process to be completed before discussing the Employee Code.

November 20, 2013

Development decisions ‘defensible’ says CAO

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town has admitted to some “discontinuity” in its management of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), but long delays in the process will not put Council at risk of having its decisions overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), says CAO Kathryn Ironmonger.

Her comments are in a letter to Shelley Foord and Liz Armstrong of Transition Erin, after questions were raised about the SSMP process at a recent Council meeting. Councillors referred the questions to their lawyer and Project Manager Dale Murray of Triton Engineering.

The Town expects to complete the study by next June, and “does not anticipate that the Town's position in any future Ontario Municipal Board process relating to any development applications will be compromised,” said Ironmonger.

“Council is entitled to make decisions for the municipality regarding when, where and whether or not to implement any particular servicing options for the Town and the Ontario Municipal Board does not have the authority to change or overrule the Town's decisions about such servicing issues.”

Foord said the Town’s letter was “not adequate”, since it “danced around” the issues and ignored some of the questions Transition Erin had raised. For example, Foord had asked whether the action plan suggested last May by Water Superintendent Frank Smedley would be pursued, but this was not mentioned in the letter. The group is working on a more detailed response.

Ironmonger said the Town appreciates the public’s involvement in the SSMP process and expects that Transition Erin and the Concerned Erin Citizens group will provide “important perspectives” through their membership on the Liaison Committee.

Foord had asked who has been in charge of supervising the SSMP process over recent years. Ironmonger said while Council has ultimate responsibility, the CAO manages oversight and may seek the advice of Murray, who has been the Town’s Project Manager “throughout this project”. There is also a Core Management Group, including Town and Provincial representatives, Murray and Matt Pearson of BM Ross, but it has rarely met.

“Unfortunately, due to the retirement of the former Town Manager [Lisa Hass] and the hiring of a new CAO [Frank Miele], there was some discontinuity in the Town's oversight management of the study process,” said Ironmonger. “The new Town CAO apparently believed that the draft report was much closer to being complete than it was in fact and expectations were raised at the public meeting that the report was close to completion. It was soon realized by Council that those expectations were not realistic.

“It is not unusual that studies of this scope and magnitude take longer to complete than originally anticipated and it is not unusual that unanticipated costs result in the need to modify the original budget for such studies.”

Murray has told council that during much of the work done by the consultant, he was not instructed to be involved. He has been active this year, advising Council of deficiencies and working with BM Ross to plan completion of the study.

Both Murray and Pearson have urged Council to decide soon about where housing development will occur, but Ironmonger said the current draft of the SSMP report contains insufficient information to make such decisions.

“If Town Council determines that there is capacity to service new development and obtains the necessary approvals for one or more sewage treatment options, the location of such new development would be the subject of the planning process under the Planning Act,” she said.

“Those decisions would be made by Council at the appropriate stage in the process and be subject to provincial plans and policies and to the public participation process requirements. I expect that Council will make decisions on any development applications in a reasonable and defensible fashion.

“This report will be making recommendations for the future of the Town relating to sanitary servicing, water supply and transportation issues. The question of how much assimilative capacity is potentially available in the West Credit River will also be comprehensively addressed.

“Perhaps the most fundamental decision facing Council will be whether or not to pursue an Environmental Assessment approval process for one or more servicing options. Other issues that may require Council decisions include questions such as how servicing capacity should be shared between Hillsburgh and Erin Village; how much capacity is required for servicing existing rather than future development; what costs would be associated with different options; and whether those costs will be funded by existing development or new development.

“These are important decisions for the future of the municipality that require full and complete information and public consultation before Council can reasonably decide them. It would be premature for Council to make such decisions on the basis of the existing information available.

“BM Ross will be providing analyses of different servicing options in the final report based on certain assumptions and development scenarios. The consultant has been seeking some guidance from Council about the scenarios that should be analysed to ensure that they cover the full range of reasonable options.

“The decision on whether to pursue any particular servicing option and the decision on where development will ultimately be located will be made by Council, after considering all relevant input. There will be no predetermination of these issues in the SSMP study.”

Private money for bridges could be tempting

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin should be wary of allowing a private firm to finance and maintain its bridges and other infrastructure. Eventually, however, it may be forced to go that route.

Municipalities have responsibility for bridges, but often cannot afford to repair and replace them. They must go begging for grants, which are subject to political whims and the occasional need to stimulate the economy.

A report released last month from the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) and the Residential and Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) studied the bridges and culverts of Wellington County.

It estimates that over the next seven years, the county and its local municipalities will have to spend about $132 million for upgrades and replacements. That is $19 million per year, in 2011 dollars, not accounting for inflation. The annual cost should drop to about $11 million after 2020, but only after the massive current backlog of bridge work is done.

There are 635 bridges and culverts in Wellington, with the county owning 194 and local municipalities responsible for the rest. Erin has 48, including 9 bridges and 8 culverts that should be completely replaced by 2015, the report says, with an estimated life cycle cost of $8 million. The Town still has six bridges that were built between 1910 and 1920.

Sticking close to provincial policy, the report encourages the use of Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP), also known as Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs or P3s).

“The recent positive AFP experience in Ontario should inspire partnerships to be developed with the private sector, the Ontario government, and neighbouring municipalities,” says the report, which will be reviewed by the Town.

“The AFP model brings together private and public-sector expertise in a unique structure that reduces the risk of project cost increases and improves project delivery schedule when compared with traditional project delivery methods.”

Not all AFP experiences have been positive, most famously the Brampton Civic Hospital about 10 years ago, when P3s were new. The auditor general later found that $200 million could have been saved if it had been a public project.

More checks and balances are in place now, but AFP’s still have two major financial drains. Private firms have to pay higher interest rates than governments to raise the required funds, and they have the right and obligation to make a profit. Can these be outweighed by entrepreneurial efficiency, while maintaining high quality? The federal and provincial governments say, “Yes!”

AFPs are attractive to governments because they get a fixed price with delayed payments, and technically are not borrowing as much. But the revenue stream still flows from the wallets of taxpayers. For bridges, the Town would have to make regular payments to the company doing the construction or maintenance.

The strategy remains hotly debated, with opponents citing studies that show higher costs. Part of the confusion comes from the difficulty in putting a value on the risks that are transfered to the private sector.

The Wellington report says most AFP projects are done on time or early, and with cost savings estimates ranging from 13 to 30 per cent. Savings are expected to come from reduced design, pre-engineering and construction management costs, and from bidder innovation and value engineering based on performance-based specifications. Taxpayers would be shielded from cost overruns, and an accelerated schedule could reduce financing costs.

The report also envisions a county-wide consortium of municipalities that would bundle their bridge projects into a long term contract – for example, a 10-year plan to design and build, or a 30-year plan to design, build, finance, operate and maintain.

There would certainly be economies of scale, but Erin would have to make long-term budget commitments. The Town would not control negotiation of the contract, and might not have as much control as it would like over how and when their bridge work is done.

The Town would have to do a Value-for-Money analysis for any type of AFP, and should question all the projected benefits and possible cost savings before making any commitments.

All the province has to do to promote an AFP system is to be stingy with their grants until municipalities get truly desperate, or to favour AFP-based projects in their funding decisions. If it becomes a choice of getting with the program or getting left out in the cold, it’s not really much of a choice.

November 13, 2013

Lower flow in Credit could restrict new housing

As published in The Erin Advocate

Lower water flow measurements in the West Credit River could drastically cut population growth in Erin’s urban areas, according to the Town’s consultant for the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP).

New data has been gathered by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), but its methodology is being questioned and population limits will be the subject of negotiation in the coming weeks, said BM Ross consultant Matt Pearson, appearing before Town Council last week.

SSMP reports have previously estimated the possible maximum urban population (Erin village and Hillsburgh combined) in a range from 6,500 to 13,500.

“We suspect it could be lower by 50%,” said Pearson. “The concern is, it gives you less opportunity to do stuff.” The final number remains uncertain, and Pearson would not speculate on what it might be, since the previous range was so wide. The Town currently has about 4,200 urban residents, and 7,000 in the rural areas and hamlets.

Pearson laid out a schedule for completing the SSMP by June 17, with the only full public meeting just two weeks before that. There would be three meetings of the Liaison Committee (also open to the public) with the first one on December 4. A Council workshop will be held in March to discuss alternatives and review costs with consulting firm Watson & Associates, but it is not clear whether the public will be invited.

The Liaison Committee will not get a new mandate to have more control of the process or report directly to Council. Pearson said with new members from two citizen groups, he expects there will be an improved “opportunity for dialogue”, but he reiterated that the SSMP is not intended to evaluate specific wastewater technologies. That would be done after Council has chosen a general strategy.

Councillors hope to finish the SSMP before next October’s municipal election, deciding on whether to proceed with the next stage of environmental assessment that would lead to construction of a sewer system. Pearson said if they can’t get a definite population limit by Christmas, it will throw the schedule off.

Council also approved spending $100,000 in 2014 from the Environmental Assessment Study Reserve Fund, the amount estimated for finishing off the SSMP process.

This includes $54,000 previously approved for BM Ross, $17,000 for Triton Engineering, $9,000 for Blackport Hydrogeology, $15,000 for Watson & Associates Economists and $5,000 in expenses for advertising and public meetings. Council will now get monthly status reports on progress of the SSMP.

They face a dilemma, since the urban areas have far more land available for housing growth, especially with the high densities demanded by the provincial government, than the river will be able to handle using standard wastewater methods.

If it was not for the wastewater restrictions, current urban lands could accommodate 6,000 more lots, said Pearson. Developers have had housing plans put on hold for about 10 years, and face the possibility of insufficient sewage allocation.

Pearson and town representatives met with CVC and Ministry of the Environment (MOE) staff recently to get an explanation of the new stream gauge data, which when combined with previous data, enables a measurement called 7Q20.

It is the minimum seven day average flow over a period of 20 years (i.e., in any given year there is a 1 chance in 20 that the average flow in the river over any seven days will be equal to or less than the 7Q20 value).

“It drives how much treated effluent you can put in the stream,” said Pearson. “They’ve redone this number. It will now be analyzed, but there is some question still about how they got to the number. Your hydrogeologist Ray Blackport, and the MOE people even, are questioning how CVC did their number. The number came in obviously lower than the number they used before in the environmental study report.

“Lower has implications for the whole program. Lower means less effluent can go into the stream, which means less population to work with.”

The 7Q20 number will be used to calculate an Assimilative Capacity (AC) number, a limit on the combined future population of the urban areas. When BM Ross estimated the AC number in a range from 6,500 to 13,500, CVC warned it would likely be near the low end of that range.

“It will probably take a month of negotiations, discussions and lighting fires under them to move forward. The MOE has to take a crack at this, and Ray’s going to have a crack at the methodology,” said Pearson.

“Our goal, we always thought, was to get you the highest [AC] number we could, because we’re only going to get that number once.”

After questioning by Mayor Lou Maieron, Pearson conceded that the AC number could in fact change in the future, depending on environmental conditions and wastewater technologies.
“That number is a constantly moving target,” said Maieron.

“That number will always change,” said Pearson, but suggested that might not happen for 20 years.

“Maybe down the line there will be things happening. But right now, we’re going to get a number approved by these approval agencies who have to give you a permit to discharge. You don’t get to play with a range. I need the number so you can make some decisions.”

He said if development took place, and was found in the future to be too hard on the river, regulators could demand a higher level of waste treatment, which would be a “multi-million dollar surprise”.

He said while the SSMP is also about other issues such as storm water management, it is the sewer issue that will be the “constraining factor”, one which will require a “generational decision” on the future of the Town.