At its Council-in-Committee meeting on Oct.3rd, MV Council listened to a presentation from Rae Stanley criticizing Council for operating “in a bubble.” She claimed that more open and effective communication was needed, while making it clear that her concerns were mostly influenced by the lack of reaction to earlier presentations she made on the subjects of flying the Pride flag in MV and the planning application to build a mosque in Hassanville. She also criticized the abandonment of a public question period at Council meetings — something which The Current has previously criticized, among other things, in its editorial Assisted by a complicit CAO, MV Council flouts its obligations of transparency, accountability and integrity. Click HERE to read. Stanley also raised some complaints that were not relevant to the powers of municipal councils as they are requirements imposed by, for example, the Planning Act.
After thanking Stanley for her presentation, Mayor Willmer invited questions or comments from Council — and when none were forthcoming, she questioned this by exclaiming, “No questions? No interaction!” Shown at top from left: Councillors Maika and Blank, Mayor Willmer, CAO Klatt, Councillor Olsheski (David Shulist absent) October 3, 2023. Photo: YouTube/MadawaskaValley.
Municipal insurance costs
The issue of “transparency” reared its head in other items on the Agenda at that meeting. In her Finance Report, MV Treasurer Amanda Hudder revealed that it was going to cost ratepayers an additional 23.3 percent to renew the municipal insurance policy — this following a 25 percent increase last year. She advised that there would be an “in-depth review” by Council when it considered the two competing bids. On seeing this when the Agenda was published, The Current wrote to the Treasurer, CAO Klatt and all members of Council suggesting that the “in-depth” review that Hudder referenced in her report consider the impact of the several hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees spent in futile attempts to persuade two Courts to dismiss The Current’s owners’ claims alleging abuse of power aimed at undermining The Current’s reputation. Ironically, The Current argues that the abuse of power was largely motivated by its exposure of previous examples of lack of transparency and accountability.
We cannot tell you what was discussed about these insurance cost issues and with what result because it all happened behind closed doors, despite the fact that the current Treasurer’s Report referring to it is a public document. In an attempt to get some transparency, The Current wrote again to the Treasurer and CAO asking why “no comment was made about Council’s ‘in-depth review’ mentioned in the (public) Treasurer’s Report, or whether the work being done in conjunction with [broker] McDougall’s has resulted in a lower premium. Also, whether the insurer continues to be Intact.” At the date of this report, no response has been received to this as well.
Review of Freedom of Information law demanded
Also on the same Agenda was the request from another municipality that MV Council adopt suggestions for reform of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). This Act, when it was introduced in 1991, was trumpeted as ensuring “unwavering dedication to privacy protection while pursuing a more open, transparent and accountable Ontario.” Over the passage of time there has been mounting criticism from both sides about the delays and costs occasioned by the procedures set out in the Act. On the local front, following an appeal, MV itself was criticized by an Information and Privacy Commission Adjudicator in 2019 “because of its flawed interpretation of its obligations under the Act” which saddled ratepayers with the not insignificant legal and other costs of them having to ensure proper compliance. There was no discussion about CAO Klatt’s recommendation to support the request that the Ministry review MFIPPA, the Mayor introducing it by saying, “I agree with that recommendation.” The motion was proposed by Councillor Maika, seconded by Councillor Olsheski, and carried. Given that a recent judicial inquiry and surveys have shown that there is now an even greater need for municipal accountability, it is to be hoped that any reforms to MFIPPA will not result in the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.
Concurrently with the publication of this article, The Current also publishes a report on planning matters given at the same meeting by MV Manager of Planning and Development, Luke Desjardins.