Sowing seeds of division – déja vu at MV Council

EDITORIAL

Following the Council meeting of June 18, The Current wrote to Councillor Ernie Peplinski seeking clarification of comments he made during the meeting in relation to the distribution of Canada Day grant funding. Those statements seemed calculated to leave the impression that Combermere had been unfairly bypassed. His statements included a complaint that “… someone in isolation is filling this in …” [referring to the grant application] implying that there had been no consultation, and also that it was “embarrassing.”

In its email to him, quoting some of his comments, The Current asked him if he believed that Combermere had been unfairly bypassed for the funding. The email was sent to him on June 24 but no reply has been received.

In order to throw more light on the matter, The Current, following discussions with other members of Council, examined relevant Minutes of meetings that preceded his outburst on June 18. Reading these Minutes and listening to the Township’s Soundcloud recordings of the meetings held on February 7 and June 4 proved to be enlightening. They confirm that Councillor Carl Bromwich, the previous Recreation Committee Chairman, together with Recreation & Community Development Co-ordinator Stephanie Plebon (who was cross-examined by Peplinski), and CAO/Clerk Sue Klatt told Peplinski in no uncertain terms that the reason why Combermere did not receive funds was simply because it had not requested them before the deadline. It had nothing to do with Township staff “filling out forms in isolation.”

Councillor Mark Willmer, who is the present Chairman of the Recreation Committee, described the funding allocation procedure as follows:

In my experience Council would expect staff to apply for the maximum grant that is available; however, there is a process to be followed. Staff (i.e. CAO/Clerk and Recreation staff), working with community groups, would write the grant application. Staff would then bring a report to Council – this would normally be “for information and discussion.” This is when Council would have a chance to comment and provide additional input with the understanding that staff are the subject experts and have completed community consultation and have brought forward a recommendation that best serves the Township as a whole. Since this report is based on community consultation, the “staff recommendation” would normally be approved.

Therefore, when Peplinski made his statements when the Minutes of the previous meeting were up for approval, he knew that not only had there been “community consultation” but more importantly it had not resulted in a request from Combermere for funds. But in order to assist Combermere residents after having missed out, staff recommended a special payment of $500 from taxpayer funds (not grant money) be given to them through a donation to the Combermere Recreation Committee to help support kids’ games at the CO Blitz celebration.

Have we not seen this movie before? Peplinski has a history of targeting Township staff for simply doing their jobs if it suits his agenda. Starting in 2015 and continuing through 2016 and into 2017, he and his ally, former Councillor Maika, carried out what was then described as a “vendetta” against Recreation Department staff. This was prompted by their campaign to curtail, if not completely eliminate, the activities carried out under the auspices of South of 60 at the Railway Station.

Their behaviour during this period resulted in staff renaming Committee meetings as “Committee beatings.” It resulted in harassment/human rights infringement charges (resulting in among other things a public apology by Peplinski), allegations of bullying, stress leave, and a firing “without cause.” It all culminated in a virtual shut-down of activities at the Railway Station, justified on the basis of there being a “staff shortage.” And whose fault was that?

In addition to the Recreation team’s staff being decimated, another casualty was the loyal corps of volunteers who were major contributors to the recreational, arts and culture scene. An example of the lengths that Peplinski and Maika went to achieve their objects and which contributed to the alienation of the volunteers was Maika’s disdainful suggestion, using her Council pulpit at a meeting, that the figures compiled by the volunteers, summer students and staff recording the attendance at the Railway Station were not genuine. When asked, Maika had no evidence to support this apart from mentioning that she knew because she was “born here.”

A further example from a “Committee beating” occurred when Peplinski’s sister publicly challenged the honesty of a South of 60 employee’s travel expense claim. Observers reported she read from a script during the public question period, insinuating that it was dishonest and demanding to know “the truth.” Her brother, as a member of the committee, supported her during an exchange that onlookers said appeared to have been rehearsed. No matter that the expense had been previously approved by two levels of management and could have been produced in response; her baseless accusations (along with a photo of her looking suitably aggrieved) appeared prominently in the Valley Gazette, as they no doubt anticipated. When “the truth” of the entirely legitimate expense was officially revealed very soon thereafter, the Peplinski team decided to temporarily lose their tongues. Despite requests made to the Gazette publisher to publish the truth in order to counter the reputational damage the original article had caused, he refused to do so.

Why has it become necessary to revisit those turbulent times? The answer is that his Canada Day grant insinuations suggest that Peplinski may be using the same playbook; i.e., blatant grandstanding on the backs of employees who have no pulpits of their own to answer back. His failure to take the opportunity by confirming to The Current that his comments may have been misinterpreted speaks volumes.

Last year’s election campaign confirmed that divisiveness on the previous Council had resulted in not only gridlock among its members at times, but also provoked “inter-village friction.” This had been previously flagged up in the municipality’s 2015-2019 strategic plan The Path Forward as a worrying trend. As Council will soon review that plan, it is to be hoped that they will consider the experience of the past five years and take appropriate steps to condemn behaviour that may foment such friction, including re-emphasizing that each member of Council is elected to serve the community as a whole. And that we live in post-amalgamation times.

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