… 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.