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.
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.