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Astounding! Nina Bifolchi’s critique of four years of Smith’s mayoralty

In AWARE News Network
Sep 7th, 2018
Nina Bifolchi

Nina Bifolchi at the recent launch of her campaign to be elected mayor of Wasaga Beach

AWARE News Network

Wasaga Beach Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi, now running for the position of mayor, has posted on her website an account of her past four years as a member of the Wasaga Beach Town Council. She raises important and troubling matters relating to governance and democracy.

From the Bifolchi website:

The effects of Council’s decisions and actions on Staff and the Community

Every decision or action taken by a Municipal Council impacts staff, the community as a whole and in some cases the very integrity of Town Hall and by extension, that of the Municipal staff. In short, every Council action results in consequential repercussions on staff morale, good and/or bad.

It’s inevitable that there will always be ups and downs in interpersonal relationships that can cause stress with any workplace. However, I can honestly say that during my first two terms of council (2006-2014) I felt confident that staff members were comfortable sharing their ideas and thoughts, even if they weren’t completely aligned with the Council of the day, without fear of being reprimanded or fired. It has always been understood in municipal politics that it is staff’s job to bring their expertise to the table for council’s consideration and as a member of council I rely on their expert knowledge within their particular fields of education in making my decisions on any and all matters under discussion.

I can also state with confidence that during my first two terms of council the community as a whole had a much greater level of trust, confidence and respect for Town Hall and those in leadership roles. This has changed drastically during this current four year term. During one council meeting in 2017 Mayor Brian Smith made the comment that the current council was “more transparent than past councils have ever been in this community.” I immediately challenged his statement because, as the only sitting member of council to have served in previous Councils, I knew this to be completely untrue.

I am listing below a number of issues that have seriously affected Council and Town Hall’s credibility during this present term of council. I have not included specific items dealing with the Beachfront, Main Street, Downtown or Wasaga Distribution as they will be covered in separate articles.

-Third term Councillor Ron Anderson resigned from council, over concerns for his professional reputation only to be replaced by a member of the public who did not run in the 2014 election. The majority of Council, ignoring the democratic process, the wishes of the electorate and staff’s recommendation, simply filled the position by hand picking an individual of their choosing.

-When the Simcoe County District School Board ran into a similar situation and needed to replace Wasaga Beach’s trustee, the majority of our council, hypocritically in my opinion, recommended that the SCDSB choose the next successful trustee in line from the 2014 election, despite that same process not being acceptable to council when replacing Councillor Anderson.

-A break in at town hall resulting in a key laptop to our organization being stolen and never returned.

-Hacking of the town’s computer system with ransom being paid.

-Town being sued, as well as the Mayor personally, over beachfront contractual deals.

-There were obvious and blatant abuses of power during this present term of Council with several attempts to silence members of council and the public who didn’t agree with certain members of council. Some council members utilized the expensive Integrity Commissioner to attempt to silence and shame their fellow council members. The Mayor arranging for the OPP to be in attendance during meetings in what I believed to be a tactic to intimidate bully and silence anyone in disagreement with certain views.

-Several new committees were created and supported by the majority of council. Motions to support live streaming these meetings were turned down by the majority of council, eliminating opportunities for transparency. Some committees such as the Beachfront Management Board, consisting of a few council members and members of the public, spending a healthy budget of taxpayers’ money with no input from residents and only part of the elected council with the ability to have input regarding these decisions. In fact, Chair and Councillor Bill Stockwell denied two members of council from attending an in camera session of this committee, yet unelected residents of the community who sit on the committee maintained the ability to attend.

-The Mayor along with 4 other members of council, voted to give himself the authority to direct staff. This is totally unheard of in Ontario municipal politics. Council simply provides considered direction to the CAO who in turn directs staff. This prevents power hungry council members from abusing their authority over staff. After KPMG completed their operational efficiency review it was determined that this power needed to be removed from the Mayor.

-Long time and senior staff leave the organization. We have had several significant and high profile losses of staff this term of council which has deeply affected the morale of the remaining staff. The town recently hired our fifth clerk this term of council. Five clerks during one four year term of council is completely unheard of. From what I have seen the environment within the town organization is to keep your head down. That does not make for a good, happy and productive work environment.

-Four contract positions in the organization became permanent positions without discussion with the Human Resources Department or any proper evaluation or justification in this happening. Others in the organization were wondering why those positions would arbitrarily be changed by council.

-Concerns were raised regarding residential and full time businesses tax revenues subsidizing the seasonal businesses at the beachfront as well as the Town spending money on promotion songs and a party in Toronto, which included swimsuit models to promote one local business. This was most definitely not an appropriate or fair promotion for all local business nor a good use of taxpayers’ dollars.

-Questions about an RFP that allowed one particular bidder, (who was eventually named the successful bidder), to view and possibly provide input into the draft RFP that no other bidder had the opportunity to do. Council refused to discuss this.

-Unsuccessful attempts by the majority of council to change our media advertising source. In my opinion this was an obvious case of certain members of Council not being able to control the message. This time-consuming and costly process backfired on those wanting to change it and in the process created for some very negative feelings and relationships.

-Creation of a local group, IMPACT, originally touted as being a well-intentioned group particularly excluded membership to those they deemed not a “good fit” to their thought processes, further dividing the community. To quote one of the membership conditions and responsibilities, “it was agreed that a condition of membership is the requirement to read the book, 13 ways To Kill Your Community.” A guiding principal included supporting the development of a Main Street. Municipal tax dollars went to a presentation by the author of this book, the same book that this exclusive group was required to read. I have no doubt there are some great people in this group but it seems the message has been lost along the way and at the expense of the vast majority of municipal taxpayers.

-As recent as August 2, 2018 the majority of council chose to waive the rules and allow the Mayor’s picture and newsletter message to be mailed to all households, clearly self-promotion during an election year. This goes against the town’s policy.

These foregoing comments truly reflect just a few smaller things that created divide in the community and unrest at Town Hall and among staff.

I can honestly say that during my first 8 years on council I never encountered anything like what I did this term.

Advice to the next council to avoid the mistakes made during this term of council:

-Show utmost respect to your fellow Councillors and consider the simple fact that it is important that different opinions be shared around the council table. Members of Council don’t have to always agree nor should they be expected to. Agree to disagree and move on to the next issue. Don’t take everything or make everything personal.

-Council members can’t be expected to know everything about all issues. Everyone brings different skill sets and experiences to the table. Respect that staff members bring an expertise to the table that most council members don’t have. It is their job to provide all the relevant information so council can make informed decisions.

-Respect our community members and welcome their engagement. It is they who elect us to office and work for. Again, there will be times to agree to disagree but the community’s input is valuable and deserves consideration.

-Respect that everyone in our community deserves to be treated on a fair playing field. Favours for friends is not acceptable.

-Town business must be conducted above board at all times! Respect proper process, legislation and due diligence on behalf of our residents. Do not attempt to bend the rules simply to serve the particular whims of any of those on council.

3 Responses to “Astounding! Nina Bifolchi’s critique of four years of Smith’s mayoralty”

  1. Robert Reid says:

    My concerns are the amount added residential high density development. We do not have the roads or utilities to support it. We are restricted by the narrow strip of land between the river and the bay. Condos added near the beach area at the end of Main St. would just aggravate the congestion. This situation is similar to high density Ft. Myers beach in the US, which is located on narrow barrier island. They put in a four lane road going to a two lane bridge and a two lane road. They had put a stop light on the lanes approaching the bridge allow one lane at a time to go over the bridge. There are often long waits to over the bridge.
    This is what we are headed for at our main beach even though we have two lanes going on it is still choked with a one lane when across.
    The plans shown for the Main St/ Beach are really artists concepts and there is not enough space for some things.
    My experience at the beach goes back 75 years and know there is no way around the short season at the beach. A casino would do it but we do not have the space. The beach was more robust in the past because it was open and travel was more difficult. Now better roads and cars allow people from the Toronto metro area to travel farther.
    A high school is a priority if we have enough youths to populate it.
    Most people came here because of the beach and the forest. We are loosing the forest fast. Let’s not loose the beach.
    Robert Reid

    • Sandra says:

      W. Beach can become robust again if sites between Beaches 2 & 5 are leased (long-term) to operators of parks for mobile homes and 5th wheel trailers, who will rent spots for a maximum of one week, non-renewable for a week, except after a week.

      Dealers such as the Hitch House north of Barrie are expanding at a phenomenal rate. Buyers are moneyed adults. New owners are driving all the way over to Lake Huron’s parks between May & October because Georgian Bay has little (if anything) to offer. Pity.

  2. patricia Manning says:

    Why is there not more information re: Wasaga Beach Casino plans published in our
    local paper? Is it a signed deal or not? I hope our council thinks about the impact
    a casino would have & I personally feel it would be a negative one. Jobs created
    would be minimal as most casinos have eliminated positions and replaced
    them with automated service. Think hard council . Our beach is our main attraction
    and hopefully will remain so -not a casino that will deplete our tourist dollars being
    spent to the benefit of our local businesses.

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