The “compromise” to destroy

Almonte residents were bitterly disappointed at the October 18, 2016 Committee of the Whole meeting to hear six councillors and the mayor vote to destroy Don Maynard Park and Block 42. Rather than vote to save or sell the park, they voted “compromise”: sell half the park and scold the Catholic school board for neglecting to buy Block 42.  Of course, a vote to sell even half the park is a vote to destroy it and the open space.

Let us address the reasons we heard for their “hard decision” (some, like the mayor, gave no reason):

“For the greater good of ALL of Mississippi Mills”

This translates, as Councillor Watters (who voted against the sale with Councillors Gillis, Abbott and Torrance) remarked, to “Now all of Mississippi Mills is at risk.” Please identify the resident who takes pleasure in something gained by the deprivation of another resident?  Why are some municipal residents so deserving of facilities that Council decides to punish others with real losses? Who believes that people in Pakenham, Clayton or Ramsay appreciate the loss of their assets for my benefit, and I certainly wouldn’t want to profit from their loss. The expensive bike trail has cost our community one green space already, at Greystone, and more destruction is planned for Munro Meadows. This Council needs money badly, and lots of it.

“The Stantec Parks and Recreation Master Plan said . . . “

The Stantec “consultation” process has been shown repeatedly, and point-by-point, to have been grossly inadequate. There are glaring errors in the numbers, one of which I pointed out to Council in my own presentation on August 9. Others painstakingly drew your attention to the flawed process and other errors. The current public consultations were the petitions, comments, letters, research and papers provided by more than 1,200 members of the public since July 2016. Listening to even half of it, you would have heard good alternatives voiced repeatedly. There are many “overlapping circles” west of the river, but the Chief Administrative Officer in her August 9 presentation focussed only on the area east of the river, omitting the effect that removing one of the Stantec circles would leave on the affected neighbourhood. Stantec consultants themselves would qualify their report, knowing the documented process flaws, incorrect information, and new public input that has since come to light. Any credible firm would.

“Mississippi Mills has a surplus of parks”

If this was a valid reason, then why is a park being destroyed in an area that has only two parks anywhere close to its main artery of Ottawa Street and the densely populated surrounding area? By this reasoning, the Town would surely have selected one of the many other parks clustered together west of the river, that comprise 96% of Almonte’s existing parks. Setting aside Gemmill Park entirely, there are still six times as many park acres there. To address this “surplus,”  why not carve out a big slice of Gemmill Park? Sell ten acres and still have fifty left. Then Gemmill Park could essentially pay for its own improvements and have plenty of space! However, Council are the ones who think it is okay to sell parks: the rest of us don’t. We went door to door in our neighbourhoods and so we know this; they didn’t go and they don’t know.

“No one was in the park when I went by” 

Of all the arguments for destroying the park, this was probably the nadir. Using this argument, the “River Watchers” group would have had to stand in the river every day in order to legitimize their desire to leave the river alone. Parks have value just by existing in an urban setting; you need only look at them to benefit: articles from scientific and medical communities have reported that for years. Destroying a park in a neighbourhood where people paid a premium on their homes and additional taxes to have and maintain the park is nothing loftier than stealing. I don’t live anywhere near the park but it is the closest park for me and many others, especially the new seniors’ residence. I enjoy walking through and by it. It needs only a bench to encourage and allow people to linger. A related misconception is the notion that a park must have a playground for children to be a park.

“Other people were too afraid to speak up on ‘the other side’” 

That may be, but there is no evidence that some people support selling a park, other than the seven on Council. I met a couple of people while petitioning who were afraid to sign our petition, but this was due to their experiences of bullying and retaliation in dealings with the town council and municipal staff. No one told me they wanted to sell it. This is not a valid argument unless the Councillor can provide a list to the tune of the names of more than a thousand people to counter-balance the more than 1,200 names on the Save Don Maynard Park petitions, letters and presentations.

“The False Dilemma” Fallacy 

By deliberately manipulating the presentation so that Council awkwardly forced a discussion of only “Option 3,” the Town relied upon the logical fallacy of “Either/Or,” as if there were only two choices. There are hundreds of alternatives for obtaining money, as stated most notably and publicly by Gordon Pike, Steve Maynard, and others. This indicates a strategic cleverness not to the credit of its calculating authors. The “fourth option” of leaving the park alone and looking at other funding was not even discussed.

The Equivocation Fallacy and Missing Information

Councillor Gillis astutely called out the author of that “staff report” on the equivocation, vagueness and misleading terms in “Option 3″. Do we believe that staffers who make ever-increasing demands of the public for details, specifics, dollars, site plans and dimensions sloppily forgot the same information in such a vital report to such an important audience?

The Fallacy of the “Middle Path”

The appeal for what was termed a “compromise” was a guileful tactic employed by Councillors McCubbin and Lowry to imply that reasonable people should go along with “just a little sale.”  Of course, once people agree to that, the town might as well move on to a whole sale, because the park and open space will be ruined anyway. Framing a sale as a compromise is “putting lipstick on a pig.”

History

How to explain the Town’s illogical determination to destroy the park in the face of reasoned, thoughtful opposition? A significant reason may be unaddressed: has some important and compelling information been left out of the Town’s rationale? We learned from the School Board that Lot 42 was “shopped around” to them a couple of times with numbers, by the CAO and the mayor. That is documented, even by the Town. What we have heard nothing about are details of discussions – and more importantly, any premature commitments – that the mayor and CAO held with other potential – or worse – de facto buyers. What other organizations, developers or businesses were approached? We have no answers and no one speaks of it, but we have a right to know this. By holding public consultations until the end of August, the Town led us to believe there was no commitment. Is that really true?

The August 9 Committee of the Whole meeting for “public input” was videotaped. Councillor Lowry chaired the meeting and one of the first statements she made was that “Council decided to hold this meeting although there was no statutory requirement to do so.”  Reviewing the video, one can clearly observe at 2:42 that when a presenter, Mr Belisle, began to refer to emails about the sales from the mayor and the CAO and asked a rhetorical question about their authorities, the mayor suddenly became animated. He pointed to Chair Lowry, drew his forefinger across his throat, leapt hurriedly out of his seat to confront the bewildered speaker and turned off the microphone. The Chair alleged that an insult to staff had been made, and adjourned the meeting. The Council then left the chambers but the meeting went on without them in a very orderly manner. The Council sheepishly filed back in and later claimed to have taken an unannounced recess and repeated that staff had been insulted and sent home. The next morning, and in the days that followed, the public was insulted by an incorrect if not dishonest “news release” stating that there were “negative statements directed at staff” and unobserved threats and violence to a female staff member after the meeting. I saw only one of these allegations through all the picture windows leading from chambers to the entrance as I waited for a speaker I wanted to congratulate: Steve Maynard slowly tried to make his way out of the building while the mayor followed him, pumping his arms and animatedly talking at him. The speaker freely admitted that he told the mayor in very impolite language to leave him alone. As for the other allegations, no charges of uttering threats or assault were ever reported to have been laid. There was no insult to a staff person in the video. Why the histrionics in an attempt to silence Mr Belisle?

The Town launched an offensive to chide and discourage residents from voicing opposition to the sale. This was observed at the August 9 and October 18 meetings: at the latter, residents were sternly warned twice not to speak, reinforced by three security personnel in the building and an unmarked police car outside. The Town initiated a media campaign of “news releases” of half-truths and exaggerations, opinion pieces, speeches, letters and emails from the mayor and some councillors in a frenzied effort to counteract public objections. Questioning of actions by town employees is met with furious attacks against the questioner.

At the August 23 meeting, upon taking receipt of the petition to save the park on the agenda, while councillors discussed the public’s opposition, Councillor Abbott reminded them about “Council solidarity”. It was an odd non-sequitur; surely the public prefers to hear about “Council accountability?”

At the October 18 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Chair, Councillor Edwards warned the audience twice that no disruption would be tolerated. One of the largest security officers actually walked by and loomed over seated people, scowling. This in spite of the summer’s events showing that only the mayor has a history of disrupting municipal meetings, and was forced by others on Council to make a grudging apology.

The truth is not always found in what is said, written, alleged or carefully phrased and acted. It is often found in what is left out completely. This scenario brings to mind the  Demming Method of quality control, when the Allies studied returning aircraft that had been hit by weapons but survived. They learned that the vulnerable areas of the aircraft were not those sustaining hits, but those parts that had no hits, since those parts caused aircraft to go down and not return. After analysis of the events and the feeble fallacious arguments for selling the park, in recalling how the “public consultation” was managed and staged and “victory” declared by Council, we must ask if there is some big truth left unsaid or some more worrisome motive driving this irrational fervour to destroy.

Jan Maydan