Dispiriting: The Council meeting on March 5, 2019

by Theresa Peluso

How should I describe last Tuesday’s Council meeting?  Dispiriting might be a good word. During this meeting, I witnessed several bewildering attempts to avoid elephants in the room, evade responsibilities, and second-guess people who are doing their best to fulfill their roles.

Exhibit 1

The Community Official Plan agenda item required a decision about which option of the Natural Heritage System (NHS) to approve.  Although Lanark County (in accordance with the requirements from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) are recommending Scenario 1, which offers a more cohesive protection of our woodlands and wetlands than the minimum protections provided by Scenario 2 (approved by the previous Mississippi Mills Council), our Director of Planning recommended proceeding with final approval of Scenario 2, which would give our municipality more latitude in resolving any disputes, without interference from the County.

Despite this advice, the decision was made to delay any decision.  The councillors were generally agreed that additional public meetings regarding the NHS wouldn’t be necessary, because numerous meetings had already been held. (If you remember, certain groups in our community had manipulated the facts about the PPS to create a disruptive mob that hijacked one such public meeting in December 2017, to the consternation of everyone else in attendance.)  Perhaps a new series of public meetings on the NHS, without the polarization generated by these “certain groups”, would result in more constructive modifications.

For some reason, our new Council seems to see environmental protection as an obstacle, and not as a way to prevent further damage to the air, water and soil and plants and animals that our children and grandchildren will inherit. Furthermore, these natural areas (woodlands and wetlands) are helping to keep us, right here and right now, from experiencing the full impact of the extreme weather events (droughts, floods, windstorms, etc.) that are occurring with increasing frequency.  While we’re on the topic of environmental protection, I must point out the need for our Council to respect our local Conservation Authority, the MVCA. These Conservation Authorities, established in 1946, have a distinguished history, and owe their existence to the many agricultural, naturalist and sports groups who lobbied the province to create them. The original mandate of the Conservation Authorities was, and still is, to remediate the severely degraded environment caused by the poor land, water and forestry practices of many early settlers (for example, clear-cutting and burning vast expanses of forest), by re-establishing and protecting our forests and looking after our watersheds.  Although we can never get back the old 140-foot tall trees that the early settlers saw, if we erode the authority of the MVCA, we will lose the little that has been gained back. 

Exhibit 2

This involved the agenda item to obtain long-term financing for the unfunded costs associated with Gemmill Park. The recommendation of our Treasurer, to obtain long-term financing for Gemmill Park, was disregarded. If you remember, the new members of this same Council had recently voted to undo the rezoning of Don Maynard Park (DMP) that created three building lots, and this decision has resulted in all of us Mississippi Mills residents likely being stuck with a 3 percent tax increase to compensate for the resulting loss in revenue of over $300,000, which was to pay for the improvements of Gemmill Park.  So now these councillors were faced with the real consequences of their previous decision on DMP, which will likely result in quite a few financially stressed and resentful residents. This matter too, was deferred.

Exhibit 3

You would have thought that approving the Treasurer’s recommendation to amend the 2019 Water and Sewer Rate By-law to reflect a one-time 5-percent penalty would be straightforward – but you would be wrong.  One councillor seemed to question the Treasurer’s competence by referring to a lawsuit against a utility company back in 2010 for something vaguely similar. The fact that our Treasurer had based her recommendation on similar by-laws enacted by larger municipalities with legal departments seemed not to matter.

Exhibit 4

Finally, the agenda item concerning video- or audio-taping of Council and Committee meetings, which had been resuscitated from the January 22 Council meeting, where it had been lost, was again deferred.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep up with the progress Carleton Place Council are making with their own plans for recording Council meetings?

My concern after this meeting is that our current excellent staff will be demoralized by having to deal with the results of this avoidance, evasion and second-guessing, and that history will repeat itself.

Dispiriting indeed.