by Theresa Peluso

Constructive and Collegial: The Mississippi Mills Council Meeting on February 18, 2020 (plus a brief summary of the recorded February 4 meeting)

As anticipated, this meeting was worth my time because the issues on the agenda were chaired effectively, and all discussion was pertinent and constructive.  All Councillors were present, except for Councillor Jan Maydan.

Because I was unable to attend the February 4 meeting (grandchildren are wonderful; but not the diseases they share with you!), I have taken notes based on the official meeting recording and added them at the end.

Recordings of the Council meeting and the Committee of the Whole meeting on February 18 can be found at Feb 18 MM COW and Council meeting recording

Recordings of the Council meeting and the Committee of the Whole meeting on February 4 can be found at Feb 4 MM COW and Council meeting recording

I have summarized here below what I considered to be the main items at the February 18 meeting.

A tribute to our former Mayor

Mayor Christa Lowry began the meeting with a moving tribute to our former Mayor, Shaun McLaughlin, who passed away suddenly last week.  She reminded us of Shaun’s love for our community, his enthusiasm for helping others, his passion for the arts, for our libraries and for the natural environment, and his effort to make our municipality fiscally responsible through long-term financial planning. Her tribute was accompanied by a thoughtfully chosen sequence of photos showing Shaun enthusiastically engaged in many of his favourite community projects.

The Council meeting

The Council meeting portion of the evening then began, and passed by in a flash, with minutes from the February 4 Council and Committee of the Whole meetings quickly approved.  The whole thing took only 10 minutes, which must qualify it for a record of some kind!

Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting

This portion of the evening started off quickly.  The Consent Reports from the various Advisory Committees were passed, with some constructive comments and questions.

As part of the Staff Reports, it was agreed (in reference to the report from Parks and Recreation) to modify municipal funding for Clayton and Union Halls by having the volunteer committees managing these buildings prepare a long-term business plan (with financial and staff assistance from the municipality).  This would enable both residents and Council to manage these buildings more effectively.

Wild Parsnip Management for 2020 – the sequel

This item was part of the Roads and Public Works (R&PW) Staff Report. The link in this paragraph will take you to the updated 2020 Wild Parsnip Management Program (see pp 32-43 of the COW February 18 agenda here:  MM Feb 18 COW agenda ).

Prior to this meeting, our Councillors had been alerted to the numerous shortcomings in this report: namely, contradictions regarding the purpose of the roadside spraying program, the punitive attitude towards the 13 people (out of 200 in total) who did not manage their roadsides to R&PW’s satisfaction (perhaps because of health reasons?), the lack of time allotted by R&PW to properly assess parsnip populations, the lack of precision regarding the type of spot-spraying considered (by truck or backpack), the inclusion of whipper-snipping as an option (the absolute worst way to deal with parsnip because of the photodermatitis caused by its sap), the lack of detail on the opt-in option used by Drummond/North Elmsley (an alternative to the opt-out option implemented last year by Mississippi Mills), and the questionable cost estimates given, including the following:  one pass of mowing targeted roadsides is assigned a cost of about $24,000; but two passes is estimated to cost $221,000 – in other words, a second pass costs more than 8 times the cost of one pass?

However, the most compelling reason for objecting to this report, in my opinion, is that no reference was made – at all – to the public input requested by R&PW Environmental Compliance Officer Abby Armstrong, in response to her previous Wild Parsnip Management Program issued last month.  (R&PW seem to need clarification as to the purpose of input, because they disregarded last year’s public input; in addition, they disregarded Council’s request for R&PW to get input from Friends of Lanark County (FOLC) on wild parsnip management.)

Councillor Bev Holmes asked that the motion to approve this report be deferred to the next Council meeting.  She had questions (understandably) about how the costs in the report were determined, and wanted to wait for input from the Agricultural Advisory Committee regarding roadside management for organic farms before going further.  Councillor Holmes also questioned whether R&PW had met with FOLC regarding Council’s instruction for them to consult with Friends of Lanark County (FOLC) on a Integrated Vegetation Management Plan for our municipality.

In answer to Mayor Lowry’s question as to whether there was any flexibility in responding to the County’s tender for spraying, R&PW Director Bourgon said there was a grace period of just one day.

Mayor Lowry also asked whether a clear indication needed to be given of the number of lane-kilometres to be boom-sprayed versus spot-sprayed, to which the answer was that at the end of the day, the contractor would be mainly concerned about the number of billable hours, and not the type of spraying required.

Director Bourgon stated that if it was Council’s decision not to spray, he needed to know very soon because that would negate the need for a spraying contract.  Councillor Holmes responded that Council was still planning to spray the roadsides, but couldn’t approve R&PW’s Option A as it stood. (Option A would be to boom/spot spray roads as already defined in the original 2020 roadside-spraying program, with the allowance to opt out or Adopt a Road.  Manicured areas within the right of way would not be sprayed.)

In response to Councillor Ferguson’s question about issuing a separate tender (Mississippi Mills only), Director Bourgon said that it would cost more than a joint tender with the County.

He also said that the number of lane-kilometres exempted by organic farmers opting out (a maximum of 10 lane-kilometres) would be insignificant with respect to the final tender.  Director Bourgon was unable to answer the question about the allowable amount by which the Buyer (i.e., the municipality) could reduce the contract requirements without being held liable by the Seller (i.e., the contractor).

Surely this would be common knowledge to someone with Director Bourgon’s responsibilities!  When CAO Kelly asked him if the allowable amount was 20 percent (which it apparently is), Director Bourgon couldn’t confirm that.

When Councillor Holmes stated that R&PW hadn’t yet met with FOLC, Director Bourgon replied that they had.  He seems to have mistaken a brief unplanned 10-minute conversation with one of the FOLC representatives as an actual discussion of how to manage roadside spraying in an environmentally sustainable way.

Mayor Lowry pointed out that the options in Ms. Armstrong’s latest Wild Parsnip Management Report referred to both lane-kilometres to be boom-sprayed and number of hours of spot-spraying, making R&PW’s estimates difficult to understand. (Like comparing apples and oranges, since there is no common basis of comparison).

Deputy Mayor Minnille asked if the amount of parsnip infestation would be reconfirmed in the spring, to which Director Bourgon answered yes.

Finally Councillor Holmes’s motion to defer approval of the contract was agreed to, by a vote of 4 to 2.

Finance and Administration Report

The main topic of this Report was Community Engagement Strategies.  A concerted effort is being made by our Council to encourage participation by residents in many ways: open houses and town hall meetings; on-line engagement tools as part of the new and improved municipal website; and finally, ways to make it easier for residents to meet their councillors through drop-ins, or pre-defined office hours, similar to what Councillors John Dalgity and Jan Maydan are doing during their monthly meet-your-councillor sessions at the Almonte library branch.

Thanks to the new two-week delay between introducing and discussing municipal issues (at the COW), and then actually making a final decision (at the following Council meeting),  residents now also have the option, following publication of the meeting agenda, of contacting Councillors and relaying their concerns and suggestions, or requesting a delegation for inclusion on the agenda of the following Council meeting.

Councillor Cynthia Guerard said that this was insufficient, and that, following publication of the COW agenda (usually three working days before the actual meeting), residents, after notifying the Clerk of their intent to speak prior to the actual COW meeting, should also be allowed an open forum (with a maximum speaking time of 5 minutes) at the start of the COW meeting.  Councillor Guerard explained that Councillors would not respond at that time, but would consider that input in their deliberations.

In response to Councillor Guerard’s requested amendment, it was pointed out that the new Community Engagement Process already provides ample opportunities for residents to speak or write to their Councillors, and also that, as has happened in the past, her proposed option could be used in a confrontational way, setting a destabilizing tone for the rest of the Council meeting.  In the end, Councillor Guerard’s proposed amendment was defeated, and the Community Engagement Strategies motion was passed without changes.

The second item under the Finance and Administration Staff Report was a recommendation to support development of an independent and sustainable model for the R. Tait McKenzie and Dr. James Naismith Collections at the Mill of Kintail; in other words, to designate the Mill of Kintail Collections as a not-for-profit organization with charitable status.

This requires funding for professional legal advice of up to $10,000 to create such an entity.  Councillor Holmes agreed with the initiative, but wanted Mayor Lowry to update Council on any discussions on this topic with the National Capital Commission.

Mayor Lowry replied that although she wouldn’t be allowed to share all the information she received from these meetings, she would share what she could.  She also pointed out that our municipality is just one of many entities involved in this initiative, so we don’t have a huge amount of influence.  This recommendation was carried.

The final item of the evening was a Notice of Motion by Mayor Lowry requesting that Council direct staff to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding between the municipality and the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (MVTM) for the Riverwalk and Millworkers’ Staircase (close by to the MVTM) to ensure that the project is implemented effectively and efficiently.  This motion was carried.

The meeting ended following some brief discussion of various items on the Information List.

All in all, both the Council and COW February 18 meetings were well run, with constructive discussion of the various items on the agenda.  Judging from the notes I took of the municipal recording of the February 4 meetings, the same can be said of them as well.  Please see below for a summary of the latter.

Summary of the February 4 Council and COW meetings

The meeting began with Mayor Christa Lowry announcing that Jeanne Harfield was officially appointed Clerk, a straightforward decision for Council to make, given that as Acting Clerk, Ms. Harfield has done an exemplary job of carrying out her responsibilities.

Ottawa Street Intersections  Then followed a presentation by Austin Shih, of Parsons Engineering, explaining the Ottawa Street Intersections Technical Report that his consulting group had prepared.  A few deficiencies in the current signage on Ottawa Street were pointed out, such as inconsistent use of pedestrian markings and hard-to-read street signs.

To improve pedestrian safety, some suggestions were: to modify the duration of the traffic-light pedestrian signal; to provide an advanced pedestrian phase before the green light for motorized traffic is activated; and to restrict right-hand turns during high-volume periods.  Some future (cost-dependent) considerations suggested were to modify the traffic lanes, install a vertical centre-line treatment, and add stop bars and twizzies (portable rubber speed bumps).  Mr. Shih pointed out that over-use of traffic-calming measures is strongly discouraged in the Almonte context because numerous motorists will disregard restrictions that they consider unnecessary.

Following the presentation, several members of Council asked very good questions, and pointed out that there was already clear evidence that pedestrian safety was a big concern, with several close calls reported on Ottawa Street.  Mr. Shih replied that pedestrians have to be well educated on how to cross safely.

(My own observation is that there will always be numbskull drivers on the road; hence the need for all of us to practise defensive driving, walking, biking and parking.  In some situations, perhaps there should be a resort to traffic cameras, with heavy penalties for violations.)

Councillor Bev Holmes suggested that the transportation consortium Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario be asked to provide data on student crossings, and to speak to Council about their observations and recommendations. It was also pointed out that concerns about left- and right-hand turns needed to be analyzed further.

In the end, it was suggested that the Parsons Engineering Technical Report be updated to include comments from Council, and brought back for further consideration.  During the Committee of the Whole (COW) portion of this meeting, there was further discussion to the motion as written in the agenda.

(This motion recommended that staff proceed with implementing the following mitigation measures, where applicable, at three intersections on Ottawa Street (Industrial, Paterson and Martin):  remove the school-crossing sign, provide a school crossing guard, increase the flashing Don’t Walk signal timing duration, add/adjust street name signs, review and remediate pavement markings and lane lines, and add ladder crosswalks.)

It was finally decided to ask the Director of Roads and Public Works Guy Bourgon to review and update the recommendations made by the consultants and report back to Council at a later date.

The COW Report from January 14 was adopted after some discussion about the 2020 budget, the need for water storage, and upgrades to the municipal website.

Committee of the Whole  During the COW portion of this meeting, the Consent Reports from the various municipal advisory committees were quickly approved, including a motion by the Agriculture Advisory Committee authorizing them to work directly with identified organic farmers and with the Department of Roads and Public Works to implement sustainable methods for managing wild parsnip on municipal roadsides abutting these farmers’ properties.

As part of the Finance and Administration Report, it was agreed to direct staff to work on the Mississippi Mills Bicentennial Celebrations coming up in three years’ time. These celebrations will mark the 200th anniversary of the European settlement of this area, as well as the 25th anniversary of the amalgamation of Ramsay, Almonte and Pakenham.

The last part of the meeting involved a discussion on attendance by Councillors at a meeting with the Solicitor General regarding the Police Service Boards and the Ontario Provincial Police.  CAO Ken Kelly recommended strongly that Mississippi Mills establish a solid presence at this meeting, given that policing is a $2 million line item in the municipal budget.

The meeting ended shortly afterward.  Once again, this meeting appeared to be well-run and respectful.  I look forward to seeing even more of this collegiality!