Council’s asset management investigated by The Current

Opinion

              … completing the file on Ohio Road is a priority for this Council.

Message sent to Township’s lawyer – March 2017

Arguably the most important duty of a council is its responsibility for ensuring effective management of its municipality’s assets. Of all assets, those that can give rise to the most attention, and also contention, is the upkeep of roads. Residents want to be assured that this is dealt with in an even-handed manner, taking into account needs across the entirety of the community. In assessing those needs, the majority of residents no doubt would be content that there has been fair play through, for example, adoption of a “fix worst first” approach.

Councillor Carl Bromwich told The Current:

Perception in politics is always on my mind when taking actions within Council decisions. Decisions on roads has and probably always will be a very scrutinized issue with residents in our Township along with most others. We have a 5 year plan that shows clearly what roads are prioritized for repair and should be followed with few exceptions by Councils of the day. This road study was done by a professional engineering company and paid for with hard earned tax dollars.

Council’s sole role in asset management is limited to developing policies and strategies, so as to ensure that properly-formulated management plans are in place. One such plan is the Roads Plan which Bromwich refers to. Once it has been adopted, the implementation of it; i.e. carrying out the repairs it identifies in the order stipulated, becomes the responsibility of Township staff under the direction of the CAO and Operations Manager. Such plans are obviously not written in stone because changes in circumstances may require reprioritization; for example, if there is flooding damage or some other unforeseen event. That does not offend a “fix worst first” policy. Apart from that, so far as Council members are concerned, it should be very much “hands off.”

The Township’s 5 Year Capital Roads Plan

Prompted in part by concerns expressed by some residents (Paugh Lake Road was frequently mentioned), The Current has carried out an investigation into this Council’s record on road decisions. Whilst reading the results of this, it should be kept in mind that the Committee responsible for making policy recommendations about work on roads is the Operations Committee. The members of that Committee are Mayor Kim Love, Councillor Ernie Peplinski (who chairs it), Councillor Shelley Maika, and non-elected members Andy Boyd and Larraine McEllistrum. The only member of this Committee who is not a resident of Combermere is Maika. However, she is a former resident and has her roots there as well as having family members who reside there. Boyd and McEllistrum are non-elected members but have voting rights. Boyd’s association with the Citizens Action Committee is well-known, as is his support for Love, Maika and Peplinski.

As stated by Bromwich, the plan inherited by this Council which covers the period 2014-2018, reflected the recommendations of an independent engineer following physical inspection of all the Township’s roads. The Mayor at the time, David Shulist, talked about this in his interview published by The Current on August 11:

When you have the Study done, you’re not part of it now. You’re not part of that decision; the engineers did it. So when the time comes to do, let’s say, my road and I happen to be mayor or councillor, it’s nothing to do with the table at all. It’s done [because] it needed to be done.

This, Shulist explained, takes the politics out of it.

See the politics, it all depends on what you promised out there…. That document … does mean something. It should be followed. I don’t like that kind of politics. It’s like favouritism. Whenever you do a favour for someone, somebody else is losing. [for example] If it’s not in the schedule.

The Current’s investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting that some members of Council appear to have thumbed their noses at this commendable objective. It seems that they have orchestrated the carrying out of road work which was “not in the schedule.” This may explain further comments that Bromwich made to The Current:

Without being specific, it appears that Councils of the past and present may stray from that report in favour of selecting road repairs that favour their local areas of residence and that is where perception of interference and micro management is generated.

 

Work not in the schedule

This story starts with the following minuted comments made during a committee meeting held on November 15, 2015:

… suggested that Drohan Street, Lower Craigmont Road, Ohio Road and Dafoe Road should be considered during budget deliberations as they are in need of repairs and some roads lack properly built shoulders.

Love and Peplinski have their residences on Ohio Road, and Maika has hers on Drohan Street. Ohio Road, Lower Craigmont Road and Dafoe Road are all located in Combermere. The Plan referred to by Bromwich and Shulist above did not include any of these. As proposed at the November 2015 Committee meeting, both Ohio Road and Drohan Street eventually received allocations in the 2016 Budget, thereby by-passing the inherited Roads Plan.

According to Township records, Ohio Road was said to need work because it was “deficient in shouldering.” The justification for this was said to be “identified by community members.” As for Drohan Street, the records reveal that the reason for by-passing the Roads Plan was to carry out “reconstruction” with the justification “Not identified in the 5 Year Road Plan (Committee member request for consideration).” In neither case has The Current been able to trace any independent engineering input supporting the ad hoc prioritization of these projects.

Ohio Road work frustrated

It transpired that widening Ohio Road was easier said than done. This is because some of the land required for widening purposes was not owned by the Township but by adjacent landowners. Council directed staff to instruct the Township’s lawyer and surveyor to try and make this problem go away by entering into arrangements with the landowners. This occurred in early 2017 and, as of the last Operations Committee meeting on September 6 2018, very little progress had been made. As this work had not been identified as being necessary in the first place by the independent engineer, one might have expected that because of these obstacles, the project would have been abandoned long since. Instead Council records show that rather than  doing so, considerable staff time, as well as professional fees, have been incurred in order to move the project forward.

Anybody reading the Committee minutes over the past 18 months or so could not help but form the impression that certain Council members’ frustration and impatience have increased. The Operations Manager’s quote at the head of this article is taken from a report made at one of these meetings. He was directed to impress upon the Township’s lawyer the need for speed because “completing the file on Ohio Road is a priority for this Council.”

As for Drohan Street, that work was completed in 2017.

Should there have been declarations of pecuniary interest?

The Current has previously reported (in Mark Woermke’s Porch Views: Serving the Community) what Fred Dean, one of the leading experts on municipal administration in the Province, had to say about elected officials’ conflict of interest responsibilities when involved in decisions concerning roads.

In discussing councillors’ duties of disclosing pecuniary interests, Dean used the example of municipal roads. If work on a street would affect the value of a mayor’s or councillor’s property, that individual must declare a pecuniary interest and be recused.

Mark Willmer, candidate for council, when discussing his experience as a municipal councillor for 21 years in the article Former councillors tell all, said this about potential conflicts of interest:

I may agree with you that it needs paving, but because I live on the street I’m not going to be voting.

In addition to the November 2015 meeting, Love, Peplinski and Maika have been present at, participated in and voted at a number of meetings involving the consideration of their respective roads. Yet The Current has been unable to find any recorded Declaration of Pecuniary Interest, followed by recusal.

Perhaps they took professional advice, which is recommended in such cases, and were told that a declaration was not necessary. Regardless, what our investigation at least reveals is strong evidence of what Shulist describes as “favouritism.”

Explanation requested but not provided

Before publishing this article, The Current contacted Love and asked for an opportunity to discuss the matter. She did not answer. Subsequently, non-elected Committee member Andy Boyd was invited to meet with us for the purpose of reviewing the minutes and other documentation referred to in this article. Because of the implications of our conclusions, we wanted to provide an opportunity to hear the other side of the story. Boyd, as a non-elected member, seemed a suitable person to do this. He declined the invitation.

9 Comments

  1. Colleen Divell

    There can be no justification for operations committee members participating in discussions and or decisions regarding improvements to roads on which they own property. Is this the kind of “action” the Citizens Action Committee was looking for?

  2. Gerry Beanish

    When it comes to conflict of interest, I think we should all step back and look in the mirror. This article and others like it could suggest that the author of the blog has an axe to grind with selected members of council. Perhaps they were the same ones who released her from a position in 2016, eventually finding a highly qualified replacement (diploma-Travel & Tourism).

    • The Current

      Your comment contains a glaring factual error. The author of this article was not “released” from her employment.She in fact resigned. The only relevant individual who was, was Paul Nopper – who was “dismissed without cause.” He has now been replaced, after a very considerable delay.
      As for “conflict of interest” or “an axe to grind” as much as we would like to, The Current is unable to comment at this time as this would involve discussing matters that are the subject of ongoing litigation and investigations. Suffice to say that every opinion that mentions “selected members of council” (a) allows them the opportunity to comment before we publish; and (b) allows them to comment after we have published …

  3. Mary-Rose Dawes

    As much as the editors would like to inflame the electorate over this issue, they neglect to write that there are exceptions in the conflict of interest act. Section 5 does NOT apply to a fecuniary interest that a member may have ” by reason of the member being entitled to receive on terms common to other person’s any service or commodity or any subsidy loan or other such benefit offered by the municipality or local board”. There are many people who live on the roads in question.
    Yes our Mayor has presided over a divided and difficult council and yet good work has still been accomplished through her leadership both on the local and provincial level.

    • The Current

      Thank you for your further comment. So far as the first sentence is concerned, we believe the correct expression of our intent is to “inform” the electorate and as the article makes clear this was in response to some residents’ questions. We confess to not pulling our punches where appropriate or sanitizing any of our articles. We note that you have not challenged any of the historical matters that we referred you to, including evidence contained in Council records, and you continue to avoid the subject of “favouritism.” As for your interpretation of S.5 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, we suspect this would come as a surprise to municipal expert Fred Dean, whose opinion was reproduced in our article.
      As for your comments about the Mayor, we could debate why her Council is divided but this is not the place. We do not dispute that good work has been accomplished. The letters to the Valley Gazette editor CHOSEN for publication blow the trumpet for her. As is evident from this exchange, The Current publishes EVERY comment; i.e. letter to the editor, that we receive.

    • The Current

      Mr. Pavicic, thank you for reading The Current and for taking the time to submit a comment about this article.
      In answer to your question, (although we thought it was self-evident) it is an opinion arising from an investigation. Hope this helps and thanks again for reading The Current.

  4. Mary-Rose Dawes

    Effective management of the municpality’s assets is indeed an important role of council, and good management is exactly what is taking place for Ohio road. The five year roads plan has not been changed. No paving or road work is anticipated in the near future,. The municipality however in effectively managing the asset that is Ohio road has found that at least the first km of the road was originally built on land that is not municipally owned. The road weaves back and forth sometimes on township land, sometimes on private property. What the municipality is doing is swapping land ( ie road allowance) with the adjacent landowners to make sure that when the road is rebuilt at some future date dictated by the roads plan, the newly repaired road will be entirely on township property. This same process was the first stage in rebuilding the Old Barry’s Bay road. Often a discrepancy is found in preparing to redo an old road and it is deemed good management to address the issue. There is no conflict of interest going on. The exchange of property doesn’t include any member of council. My question is “why is the current trying to divide one part of the township from the others”. This blog might better be used to unify our community, rather than to inflame folks against each other.

    • The Current

      Ms. Dawes, thank you for reading The Current and for taking the time to post a comment. It appears that you have misread or misunderstood parts of the article. We do not say that the Roads Plan has been “changed.” Rather, we say that it was “by-passed” as a result of “ad hoc reprioritization.” More importantly, your description of the history of this project is at odds with contemporaneous Township records. You might wish to examine, for example, the initial Capital Project Detail 2016-OP-R-11 that was presented at the 2016 budget. Note in particular the reference to “active transportation” on the form which describes the “project type” as “new initiatives – community endeavour.” It contained a figure of $50,000 as the projected expenditure for increased shoulder width. The “forced road” situation was an issue that, as mentioned in the article, was revealed after the project was approved to go forward.

      The fact that “the exchange of property doesn’t include any member of council” (which we do not allege in any event) completely misses the point. The possible conflicts of interest relate to potential enhancement in value of any property on the road as a result of the improvement of it. The issue of whether the work is needed is also not the point. There are many roads in the Township that could benefit from improvements including for “active transportation.” Surely it is clear to you that the article focuses on possible conflicts of interest and favouritism, which you do not address. Do you have a comment to make about Drohan Street?

      In answer to your question at the end, The Current has existed for less than a year. By her own admission, the Mayor has presided over a divided Council for almost four years. Enough said.

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