Our Town Council met on Monday March 7, 2016. The gallery was full, some regulars, lots of community volunteers, some new faces wanting to see how our Council operates, and even Deputy Warden Dowdall. Well, they put on quite the show Monday night! And no wonder, Grants and Donations have been a hot topic here in TNT for a while.
Council decided September 21, 2015 to refer the discussion to a “later” Budget Working Session. I guess they decided to discuss Grants and Donations during the November 17, 2015 Budget Working session. Yes, they posted an agenda, yes, it was on the agenda BUT unless you are a municipal agenda expert there was no way an average citizen was going to find it tucked away in a daytime Committee of the Whole Budget working session meeting.
Here’s how it read:
“PARKS, RECREATION & CULTURE DEPARTMENT Additional Information Memorandum to Item WS-1, Committee of the Whole Working Session Meeting of November 9, 2015: 2016 Draft Town Budgets.”
So if you were a volunteer eagerly awaiting this important decision about Grants and Donations, and spent some time (while you weren’t out unselfishly volunteering for our beloved Community groups) digging into the agendas, would you have clicked on the link at the bottom of the above paragraph which, as stated, in no way mentions “Grants and Donations”?
If you had, you would have found it! Just like that! Sounds completely open and transparent right? Absolutely NOT!
***Some of our Town Councillors sit on the boards of these Community groups, did these Councillors approach the Community Groups to advise them that the matter would be coming before Council for discussion during a daytime Budget Working Session on November 17th, 2015? Did the Town staff send out a communication to advise Community Groups this was on the November 17th budget? No, they knew nothing until Town staff sent out a communication on January 21, 2016, well over a month after the policy was passed.
In comparison, when Council decided to change the Development Fees, they contacted the developers before the meeting, on the Friday afternoon when the agenda was released, to inform them of the proposed changes so they could attend Council the coming Monday. Two of the developers who spoke complained that the notice the Town gave them was not sufficient. To that I say, try being a not-for-profit volunteer community group; they didn’t get a heads up before the policy was passed like the developers did.***
So here we are at Town Council Monday March 7, 2016, with a gallery FULL of people because Councillor Jebb was bringing back the Grants and Donations issue, also needing 2/3 vote to put it back on the table. She received her 2/3 vote and it was open for discussion.
Councillor Jebb mentioned a music festival in Tottenham that needs its funding in the Spring, (as in previous years) then suggested the payment timing for Grants and Donations (the new policy changes the timing to the third quarter) could be a problem for other groups as well.
Councillor Norcross, who was defeated (did not receive 2/3 vote) in his attempt to bring back the Fee Waiver discussion, as the new policy (decided in the November 17th/2015 COW Budget Working Session meeting) states the Town will not be giving ANY fee waivers out. Many of these Community Groups have relied on these fee waivers for their rental of space or picnic tables etc. Councillor Norcross decided to add to the Grants and Donations discussion by suggesting groups could apply under Grants and Donations, now that the fee waivers are unavailable.
His comments were rudely interrupted by Councillor Biss calling “point of order” multiple times while Councillor Norcross was speaking even though Councillor Norcross’ comments were relevant to the new Grants and Donations policy. The Town stated the exact same point Norcross was trying to make in the letter sent out to the Community groups January 21, 2016 addressing the new Grants and Donations policy. So now the conversation was directed at the Chair (the Mayor) for a decision on the “point of order”. Councillor Norcross was allowed to finish his suggestion.
Then former TNT Councillor Barbara Huson stepped up to the podium to speak, calm, soft-spoken and knowledgeable. She begins the conversation with, “Council changed the policies Grants and Donations and Fee Waivers during a daytime meeting that the public was not aware of, you sent out a letter to tell all these groups what is happening…” At which point she was INTERRUPTED by Councillor Biss proclaiming again “point of order… Point of order, your Worship, that’s not true at all. Are we going to allow her to say whatever she wants? Or are we going to talk about facts?” We then heard shouts from the gallery of “let the public speak!” along with gasps and a considerable amount of eye-rolling.
Just to clarify, Point of Order is explained within the Procedural By-law 2007-236 Section 16 (16.1) A member may interrupt the person who has the floor to raise a Point of Order when such member feels that there has been a deviation or departure from rules of procedure. Upon hearing such Point of Order, the ruling of the chair shall be final unless a member appeals the ruling to Council which shall then decide upon the question without debate.
So Councillor Biss’ ridiculous point of order was NOT upheld and the Mayor allowed Ms. Huson to continue to speak, asking her only to address all of Council when doing so. So she then continued to try to explain how these community groups were not given the notification that they deserve, and how this change was going to greatly affect them, finishing to a loud round of applause from the gallery.
To sum up: technically speaking, yes, notice was given to these groups, because if group members had clicked on the link, they would have found the item. But there was no ‘notice’ in the sense of providing an agenda listing which clearly showed this discussion was scheduled.
Would it not have been a good idea for Councillors to reach out to these Community group committees (that some actually sit on) to inform them it was coming to the November 17, 2015 Day-time Budget working session? Were these Community groups treated with the same respect as the developers, developers who were actually given additional notice and a chance to prepare a comment BEFORE changes were made to a policy that affected them? No, they weren’t.
So that’s an example of communication that failed, when it would have been a simple matter for Council to have listed the matter clearly on the agenda, and to have gone the extra mile to reach out to those they knew would be vitally affected.
Now, here’s an example of laziness in communication.
Councillor Biss (at the very same meeting) put a motion on the floor to have “Informal Ward Community Access Networking gatherings” with the Councillor, Mayor, Deputy Mayor and selected Staff, to meet with their constituents and discuss relevant issues in each ward.
Why is this laughable in so many ways?
First, if the councillor would actually take the time to listen to the residents coming before Council and engage in meaningful dialogue with them, we would be in a better place.
Second, how much of the taxpayer money is this going to cost just for another photo-op in the park so the councillor can listen to the residents then turn around and do nothing?
Third, what exactly is holding the councillor back from already being in communication with residents in their Ward? Why is it in this day of computer technology, the councillor has yet to figure out how to be more present in the lives of constituents? If the councillor wants to know what they think, feel free to ask them anytime through letter, email, Facebook, door knocking, heck the councillor could put an ad in the paper! Or just hold a meeting in the park, write down their questions, do the job, take the issues to staff, have the questions answered and voila just like that you’ve saved the taxpayer money by not making this overly official, complicated and costly venture through having Staff organize and attend your meeting plus the meetings of 7 other Councillors. Does the Councillor think that Town Staff have nothing more important to do but organize parties?
It’s like the Wild Wild West down here in the South, folks! Council is not doing their homework, they sit back and wait for Staff to do it for them. Council is worried about saving the taxpayers’ money and their instinct is to go after the community groups, but yet no one says a peep about the fact that in January 2016 the Town spent approximately $188,000 in lawyer’s fees. $188,000 IN ONE MONTH!!!!
Imagine if Council and Staff communicated as much with residents as with their lawyer, now that would be some serious communication.