Township Budget Meeting Move to Friday: MRA asks, “What’s the rush?” and is Heritage spending all accounted for?

Update Feb. 28: Further to the original post, the hiring of a Landscape Architect to beautify the right of way between Highway 38 and south of the South Falls in Bala could be passed at the next Council meeting March 15. Here are the resolutions from the Feb. 5 meeting that will go to a Council approval vote on March 15. The wording has changed in the resolution from the Heritage Minutes, which notes a Landscape Architect should be procured for the beautification project: the resolutions speak to renaturalization of the waterside strip that can’t be seen from the highway. Will the cost of this work — that comes as a heritage recommendation — be absorbed in the heritage budget increase or will it now be covered under some other area of the budget? These are questions that could be asked tomorrow as the Township of Muskoka Lakes Council considers budget adoption. 

Feb 5 COW Resolutions

Township of Muskoka Lakes speeds up budget schedule; MRA wants questions answered before budget approved

Posted Feb. 26, 7.12pm: The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) is seeking answers to its outstanding questions on the budget and is asking council to consider returning the budget approval process back to its original schedule so that remaining concerns can be clarified. Below is their letter, followed by commentary by me, your MNW Editor. I point out that from the outside looking in, this budget does not look that unusual, but if the MRA that watches so closely, and Councillors themselves have doubts, I have to wonder. My outstanding question: is Council really going to approve spending money to hire a consultant to advise on beautifying a small section of land in Bala without a clear understanding of potential return on the investment? Please note that I have just last night learned from the MRA that this next critical budget meeting has been moved up to March 1 from March 15 (in direct conflict with a District meeting).

MUSKOKA RATEPAYERS’ ASSOCIATION: Worried about budget haste
February 25, 2013   Re: Township Budget – 2013

Dear Members of Council,

One of the fundamental reasons why communities have Ratepayer Associations is to ensure that elected representatives provide good governance by analyzing budgets and expenditures of taxpayer monies carefully, appropriately and thoroughly. For that reason, the MRA wants to express our concern – indeed alarm at the haste at which the current budget as presented is moving toward Council approval – now moved up to March 1st at a Special Meeting from the targeted approval date of March 15th – before unanswered questions and inconsistencies have been resolved to the satisfaction of the public.

The following are just some of the examples that require exposure and explanation.

1)    The explanation and justification of the proposed significant increase in budget allocations to Heritage matters, including over expenditures last year not approved, is at best bewildering and confusing. A complete airing is essential to ensure that all costs for Heritage initiatives, including legal, consulting, and the preparation of copious information binders and surveying, are taken into account and not allocated to budget areas elsewhere.
2)    The whole matter of depletions (reductions) of and contributions to capital reserves requires further illumination. Since this Council assumed office, it appears that regard for the maintenance of traditional reserve levels and contributions has gone wanting. It is beholden on Council to operate prudently to ensure public trust.
3)    The decision on the Bala Falls Power Plant is now final. Further staff and Council time allocations and consultant expenditures by the Township for 2013 cannot be countenanced or justified, and we are pleased to see that no expenditures on Bala Falls or related matters are contemplated. Indeed, the public has an absolute right to know the total cost to the taxpayer attributable to the opposition not only for this past year, but for previous years as well. Without answers, it may be necessary to seek assistance through the Freedom of Information Act to ascertain the true costs of this file.
4)    Last year was a year of considerable staff turnover. Not only did the Township suffer the loss of much experience through resignations and “retirements”, there was significant cost to their departure. The result has made it necessary to budget extra consulting assistance for this year so that matters such as updating of the Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw will not fall even further behind its scheduled completion while this Council is still in office.  Full disclosure of these new costs is essential.
5)    Because much comment is anticipated by the MRA on the financial figures for 2012, it is to be hoped that the actual financial results of last year’s expenditures were not relied upon unduly as a guidepost for arriving at this year’s budget numbers.

We maintain that establishing the 2013 budget and setting the tax rate are important concerns for the taxpayer. Undue haste makes waste. Please, do not short change proper process and the beleaguered taxpayer. A deferral to the original date for approval would be prudent and reasonable to allow further clarification and understanding of outstanding issues, and to avoid the costs of another “special” meeting of Council.

With respect,
Liz Denyar, Vice President, Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association

MNW Editor wonders about spending to beautify small side of Highway 169

Commentary by Norah Fountain posted Feb. 26: Following the Township of Muskoka Lakes meeting schedule can be like following a fast-moving bouncing ball with Township Council changing regular meeting schedules (See Bracebridge Examiner story on another meeting about meetings) and now budget meeting dates are changing from one notice to the next. Last time I looked, the budget would be considered for adoption on Friday, March 15, 2013 — that was the amended meeting notice posted February 12. Now the Muskoka Lakes Ratepayers Association always tries to have a member at the meeting to keep Muskoka taxpayers posted – and that’s how I learned the next budget meeting has been moved up a few weeks. Another Schedule Amendment notice went out last week — in fact it went out after the budget meeting on February 19 so unless you were in attendance at that meeting you might have missed the schedule change.

This is an important change as the budget will now be considered for adoption this coming Friday, March 1 — the same day as a District committee meeting that causes an immediate conflict for at least one Ward A District Councillor – Ruth Nishikawa. If the budget is considered for adoption, it would still need to be ratified at the next Council meeting. That would be the only opportunity left for any member of the public to make any presentation on the budget at the next Council meeting — and technically, the public has already had its one kick at the budget can so it’s unclear if Council would allow a delegation (NOTE: One presenter at that public input meeting was cut off by the Mayor when she uttered the words ‘Bala hydro plant’ but apparently she had run over the 5 minute time allotted). But hey, it’s just our money, right? Perhaps cutting off a presenter who was also a member of the budget committee is not inconsiderate, it’s just process. And having one less Councillor voice at the budget decision table shouldn’t matter — especially as people who have been attending tell me that Council is really only a one-woman show.

Why the sarcasm? I have had many calls about people being concerned about this budget. I’ve answered, ‘but look at the budget: it’s not that much larger than ones in the past and the levy has been brought back to close to 2011 levels, so what’s the problem?’ From an outside perspective, I understand why most people would think, ‘why the fuss?’ But from an insider perspective, Councillors themselves have told me they are perturbed about the amount of time and money being spent on Bala — just one area of our wonderful Township. I’ve been told they’re worried about what ISN’T apparent in the budget. And they want more members of Council to be asking questions. Yet the item they seem concerned about keeps getting passed! What bothers me, personally, is that no one seems to really be clear on why the heritage budget has increased another 30K or so. However, last week the entire Council except one member voted in favour of heritage spending (please, correct me if I’m wrong – I so hope I have been given wrong information).

How much is the Landscape Architect Beautification Project costing?

Here is what worries me: what I read in one report suggests the increase could be used to pay for a Landscape Architect to advise on how to ‘beautify’ the rubble section between the area known as Portage Landing (south of the area just south of the south Bala Falls) and Highway 38 and right beside the highway on the water side. If that work were to go ahead, those who might benefit from the improved view would be people visiting the Bala Falls and looking across the water and those who live directly across from the area to be improved. Yes, that includes Mayor Alice Murphy. I think this should be a cause for a few question about taxpayers dollars being used for an outcome that could potentially improve the mayor’s view and possibly increase her property value.

It prompted me to attend to hear the beautification proposal. So, on February 5, I showed up at the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting to try and catch the report from the Director of Public Works discussing Heritage Committee recommendations. But oops, the item had moved to a different time on the agenda (this seems to happen a lot – someone should complain as members of the public do attend for certain items and they may find themselves out of luck. Like I was.). I missed that discussion but did catch some of the meeting at the end of the day that related to heritage. Councillor Ruth Nishikawa raised concerns about whether the additional heritage money would actually be used for a heritage survey (I wondered, is that survey in regard to the hiring of a landscape architect as per the Public Works report?). It was a tough question for her to ask as it suggests a lack of faith in the way heritage monies are being used — and moving forward on heritage initiatives is near and dear to Councillor Nishikawa’s heart, (she previously was Chair of that committee, then resigned. The next Chair of Heritage, Councillor Phil Harding, has also questioned the increase in the heritage budget. He’s not the Chair anymore, either).  You can read about how questions regarding heritage were handled on Feb. 5 by the Mayor on MNW and in the Bracebridge Examiner. Why no Councillor stops the Chair of a COW meeting from engaging so heatedly in debate and berating councillors who ask questions is bizarre, but that’s not the point of this commentary.

What IS my point? The Council has approved this expenditure (awaiting ratification with rest of budget), but I wonder, ‘do they really know what they’ve approved?’ Quoting now from the report regarding a budget amount for heritage:

THAT Committee of the Whole recommend to Township Council that staff be directed to procure the services of a Landscape Architect to design and perform contract administration services for the beautification of the Right-of-Way of Muskoka Road #169 between Muskoka Road #38 and south of the South Bala Falls;

Furthermore, THAT Committee of the Whole recommend that Township Council seek support, in principle, from the District of Muskoka for this beautification project. (Note: Back in 2002, there was some discussion about putting docks in front of the rubble that is there now but didn’t District nix that idea as there was no access to the highway? My memory fails, but there was something about docks or a boardwalk — but were we really going to try to beautify (or ‘naturalize’ is another word I’ve heard) the rocky space between the highway and the water? Someone please tell me I’m wrong and that Council is not duplicating wasted effort).

Also from the report: Impact to the Township of Muskoka Lakes Capital Budget is outlined in the minutes of the meeting of the Muskoka Lakes Heritage Committee held on
Wednesday, January 30, 2013.

So let’s go to the minutes for that outline. Is it there? No. Here’s what those minutes said re Budget:
2013 Budget, Member Millar – Member Polewski
Whereas the Year to date Actual for 2013 amounts to $32, 129 relating to
CRB hearing expenditures, and
Whereas the Committee wishes to pursue a Part V designation under the
Ontario Heritage Act, and
Whereas certain additional expenditures relating to advertising and other
designations and other heritage related costs,
Therefore be it resolved that Committee request that Council support a total
heritage budget for 2013 of $60,200.

There is NO mention of any monies to pay for a Landscape Architect. Perhaps staff is going to try and procure one for free? Or maybe that idea has been given up and the money is only going to be spent to perform a study to designate Bala as a heritage district. It would seem this is the case.

From Jan. 30 minutes: ” Now therefore be it resolved that the Committee request that the Township commence a study to establish a Heritage District in the centre of Bala under
Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. ”

What also transpired that day was that the Mayor was going to write a letter to the province saying the Township wishes to have Port Carling, Bala and Windermere recognized as tourism and heritage districts (the only public meeting about the potentially for ‘designating’ a community was held in Windermere and by many accounts, the public there did not welcome designation with welcome arms). It’s hard to follow the twists and turns, but know that recognizing an entire community as a heritage district may be different that designating that community or parts of it. It appears only Bala is up for designation (too bad the Public Meeting about designating in Bala that was originally set for March 2012 has yet to be rescheduled).

“Be it resolved that Council request that Bala, Port Carling and Windermere be
formally recognized by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports as a tourist
and cultural heritage designation.” Maybe it is just recognition, but it does take these communities closer to designation – and look, the minutes actually say the word designation. TomAYto, TomAHto, perhaps?

Since Feb. 5, those attending the meetings tell me the extra heritage money is definitely to designate Bala, and only Bala. For now. The Muskoka Ratepayers in their letter says the money is to go to pay for ‘heritage activities’.

I look forward to being corrected by someone at Township about what the money is actually going to be used for — will it be for more surveys? From what I could tell at the last meeting attended, at least one Councillor wants to know, too. While we’re at it, how much did we pay for surveys for the first set of site designations, some of which it appears from the minutes that the Committee wants to re-visit. Here’s a resolution that sounds difficult to survey:

“Be it resolved that Council initiate an Official Plan amendment with respect to
preserving important and significant views and/or vistas in the Township of
Muskoka Lakes“.

If the Councillors have doubts what is being spent and for what reasons in relation to a budget they are about to consider for adoption, doesn’t it make sense that the public might have questions, too? I know I’m confused, and I’ll be speaking with my Ward A Councillors this week about it.

 

Related Article: Heritage spending sees 240% increase

Update: Teachers expected to return to bargaining table starting March 21

Update March 18: People for Education (P4E) reports that according to their sources, provincial talks with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) about the current imposed contract could begin again on March 21 and 22. P4E adds talks with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) are apparently closer to reaching some agreement. Those talks are expected to continue on March 23. Meantime, students in many boards at the elementary level remain without extra curricular support.

Update posted Mar. 2. The elementary school teachers union, ETFO, had set March 1 as a review date for its Bill 115 protest that includes directing teachers not to take part in extra curricular programs. That date has passed and the union has not changed its position. Moose FM has the update and you can read it by clicking here.

Update Feb. 28: Teachers protest outside School Board meetings this week; no change in ETFO direction to teachers to not take part in after school programs
Over 200 teachers in Lindsay, 40 teachers in Haliburton and 95
teachers in Bracebridge showed up to protest outside Trillium Lakeland District School Board offices on Tuesday ahead of the regular school board meeting. They were protesting, according to Steven Colliver, president of the union’s local for the board, to demonstrate to their employer that its OLRB application was an insult to their local teachers.

Meantime, the ETFO review deadline of March 1st is tomorrow, the date ETFO said it would review its decision to instruct teachers to not take part in after school programs. So

Protesting Board going to OLRB
Protesting Board going to OLRB

far, there is no suggestion ETFO will follow the suit of its high school union counterpart and tell teachers they can go back to running extra curricular programs if they want to do so.

Update: A ruling this week? OLRB says ‘that was news to us’

Posted Feb 21: 238pm: Officials at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) says there’s no way anyone from the Board would have said a decision would be coming this week on whether ETFO was engaged in illegal strike activity when it comes to after school programs. And there would be no timeline predicted as to when a decision might come down. As per legislative rules, the Board has to issue a ruling within six months or anyone could write to the Chair to have the hearing re-heard (but there’s also no indication teachers and school boards will have to wait that long for a resolution…)

In fact, it doesn’t have to be an OLRB ruling to settle the matter. If both parties approach the board and say the discussion has been settled (via the new Premier, the new transition team or new Minister of Education, for example), a decision will not be required from the OLRB.

The Upper Canada District School Board issued a release (see release) last week saying it expected the OLRB ruling by the end of this week.

Original Post: Teachers, local school board await OLRB ruling on teachers’ protest action: will after school program decision come soon? (See update above: OLRB has confirmed a ruling is still in the works)

Posted Feb. 21, 2pm: The Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ruling about whether elementary school teachers are engaging in unlawful strike activity was expected this week, but sources are hinting to MNW that it might be awhile yet before our local school board or the union hears anything. Officially, a decision is to come from OLRB Board Chair Bernard Fishbein to decide whether to order the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) to stop telling teachers to not engage in after-school programs. But sources from unions in other school boards are saying a decision on the impasse between the Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) — the board for Muskoka, Haliburton and Kawartha Lakes — and ETFO might be delayed as the province is hoping it can work things out some other way.

It’s unclear how that might happen, although there are unconfirmed reports (see The Toronto Star) that Premier Kathleen Wynne has a team looking into the situation.

Background: The OLRB hearing into whether the union for elementary teachers is promoting unlawful strike activity in our schools wrapped up on Tuesday, February 12. The TLDSB, along with the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), had filed an application January 25th with the OLRB to start the hearing process. The two boards are looking for a decision from the OLRB about whether or not the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is counseling unlawful strike activities. The UCDSB said last week it expected the OLRB decision would come down before the end of this week (by Feb. 22).

Board, Union waiting on ruling, but will it change anything?

TLDSB Chair Karen Round says she’s hopeful a decision will come soon that favours the Board’s position and “will result in an order to cease and desist the promotion of unlawful strike activity in our schools by ETFO’s leadership.”

“For some time we have been surprised and shocked that ETFO would take out their displeasure regarding imposed contracts, on student programming and school boards,” continues Round. “Our complaint is not just about extra curriculars. A teacher’s impact on student achievement extends far beyond classroom instruction. We believe that it is worthwhile to defend well-rounded student programming and our teacher’s right to have a choice while contracts are in place; and that our teachers should not feel bullied and intimidated by their union.”

Steven Colliver, president of the union’s local for the board counters that “Ms. Round has it completely backwards – our members have been telling us that they feel bullied, threatened and intimidated by the TLDSB. Our board is busy telling anyone who will listen that they “aren’t doing this to teachers, just the union”.  They forget that teachers ARE the union – they are not separate entities. Both school boards have already admitted to the media that filing their applications with the OLRB has “burned bridges” with teachers – they say “local unions” of course, but we know it’s actually our teachers they’re burning those bridges with. As a result of the recent actions of the board, we have heard a significant number of them openly questioning whether they’ll ever do anything voluntary for the board again.”

Colliver adds “The hearing is a tremendous waste of financial resources that they (the Board) can ill afford, and that could have been put to much better use in our classrooms for our students.”

MNW has contacted the OLRB asking for the status of the ruling or when it can be expected. Meantime, one labour relations professional told MNW that OLRB Chair Fishbein “is no heel dragger or shy about anything. If there’s any prospect of finding a resolution to a problem he will do his level best to make that work.”

 

Related Muskoka articles: Still in limbo by Jennifer Bowman, Metroland

Snowmobiler recovered from Muskoka River today (Feb. 18)

One sledder dies; three others escape water of Muskoka River at Baysville

UPDATE Feb 18, 5.55pm: Just before 1 pm today, the OPP Underwater Search and Rescue Unit recovered a missing sledder from the Muskoka River. His snowmobile, along with three others, went through an area of thin ice and/or open water late last night in Baysville. The victim has now been identified as 48-year-old Edward Dehaan of Smithville, Ontario, not Richard Dehaan as earlier reported by the OPP.

Posted Feb. 18, 9.20 am: One man is missing after four snowmobiles went through thin ice on Muskoka River in Baysville. Huntsville OPP say a search is under way for 48-year-old Richard Dehaan (Corrected to Edward Deehan – see update above) of Smithville, Ontario. Three other sledders with Dehaan managed to make it out of the water.

The group had reportedly gone to Deerhurst Resort for dinner and were heading home to their cottage near Dorset when they stopped for gas in Baysville. Not being from the area, police say the group took a wrong turn and ended up heading to an area of open water. Huntsville OPP, the Lake of Bays Fire department and Muskoka EMS responded to the accident just after 11pm last night (Sunday, February 17).

Muskoka Rose and Danced to End Violence Against Women

Posted Jan.14. 2.30pm: More than 70 people in Bracebridge gathered today at Nipissing University to join in the One Billion Rising Valentine’s Day event. Watching and dancing to a feed of a worldwide flash mob dance to bring attention to the event, the dancers in Bracebridge also carried signs on pink paper, with messages asking for an end to the attacks on women that happen every few seconds around in the world. Like right now. And now.

One Billion Rising, Muskoka, Violence Against Women
One Billion Rising – Muskoka – at Nipissing University

Why dance? Here was the message from One Billion Rising: When One Billion bodies rise and dance on 14 February 2013, we will join in solidarity, purpose and energy and shake the world into a new consciousness. Dancing insists we take up space. It has no set direction but we go there together. It’s dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive. It breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere at anytime with anyone and everyone.

One Billion Rising, Muskoka, Violence Against Women
Karla and Cathy catch a breath after joining in the One Billion Rising Dance

It’s free. No corporation can control it. It joins us and pushes us to go further. It’s contagious and it spreads quickly. It’s of the body. It’s transcendent.

And Muskoka Danced!

Muskokans from across our region danced in Gravenhurst (reports about 25 there) and in Dwight and Huntsville to show their support. In Port Carling, a group gathered to dance at Muskoka Place Gallery. The Muskoka-wide version of the event was promoted by the Muskoka YWCA, Muskoka/Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, Interval House and many others. In attendance in Bracebridge were members of the just mentioned organizations as well as Grandmothers to Grandmothers (who had reps across Muskoka), and Nipissing Muskoka Campus students and professors from all programs, including Gender Studies (a big shout out to Renee Valiquette who leads that enlightening program at the Muskoka campus) and Child and

One Billion Rising, Muskoka, Violence Against Women
Bracebridge Dance to End Violence

Family Studies. The team from Bracebridge Chiropractic (see pics below and right)

One Billion Rising, Muskoka, Violence Against Women
One Billion Rising

came from across the street with T-shirts made for their dancers (as shown in some photos here).

One Billion Rising exists to “show the world that we want to end violence against one billion women and girls!” The movement wants everyone to know that ending violence against women is as important as ending poverty, or Aids or global warming.

Mayor berates public, Council; accuses two of opposing Strategic Plan

Mayor berates public, Council; accuses two of opposing Strategic Plan

COMMENTARY by Norah Fountain, posted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 6.07pm

“No, No, with the greatest respect, you can’t go on a rant like that. It is NOT OK.” Mayor Alice Murphy responding to a question from a Councillor in a council Committee of the Whole Meeting, February 5, 2013.

Something is rotten at Township of Muskoka Lakes Council, and it needs to be talked about.

Consider this scenario: You’re chairing a meeting. If there’s any chatter in the public gallery, do you ask politely for quiet? Certainly. When a meeting member is asking a question, do you let them finish and ask if there are any other comments from others around the table? Most chairs do (and follow Robert’s Rules of Order). Or, do you cut the member off, tell them they’re wrong, accuse them of going on ‘rants’ and raising their voice when, in fact, you’re the one with steam coming out of your ears?

The latter approach to Chairing is what I witnessed at last Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole Council meeting. Up for discussion was a jump from $31,000 in the November 2012 heritage minutes to $60,200 in the January 30, 2013 minutes.  There were also questions about whether Heritage Meetings should be public or made known to the public (under the present bylaw, they don’t have to be).

There is no doubt that we want positive forward movement from our Council and to support our elected officials in the public service they do for us. When the opposite is happening, however, we can’t pretend all is good. We must speak up.

“This afternoon was not Council’s finest hour”, a Muskoka Lakes Councillor

Every day we hear how bullying hurts people and productivity. Council members learn to develop thick skins, but at the very least they shouldn’t have to endure Bully mayor, Muskoka Lakes, Mayor Murphy, Township of Muskoka Lakesundue criticism from the Chair of their own council meetings. I believe it’s time to give readers a taste of what is happening in Council Chambers.

Let’s start with an exchange between Councillor Phil Harding and Mayor Alice Murphy. She was Chair of this meeting and is a member of the Heritage Committee. For context, this uncomfortable exchange followed a tense conversation stemming from a Councillor Don Furniss question about why Heritage Meetings were not public and why at least one was held in Vaughan (and not Muskoka). Harding then asked his question about the Heritage Minutes clearly, and in an even, calm voice.

COUNCILLOR HARDING (former Chair of the Heritage Committee): “I’m looking at two sets of meeting minutes from November 3 and then Jan 30. I see a 30K request and mention of not wanting to participate in Doors Open.

Then in the next minutes, the request went from 31K to 60K and we went back in to Doors Open. I am not sure what transpired. I do recognize that there is a note in the review board hearing that we identified 25K for that in our 2012 budget. That should be off the table but I see in January we want to do a heritage district of 25K. For the future, we had 5K [in the budget]. I am not sure where numbers are coming from and why they are changing so drastically?”

MAYOR: (something about we’ve had enough of this aggressive tone). She continues: “It would be nice not to take the dialogue out of context. There is no intent to exclude the public from heritage discussions. We are a collective of citizens. But there is a process to be followed.”

MAYOR BLASTS RATEPAYERS


The Mayor then stopped, almost mid sentence, and suddenly takes aim at the audience, saying “You ratepayers. And the way you write things in the press (or letters) does not help.” Murphy also chided the public for noise in the gallery and then sat, stony faced, doing nothing, and saying nothing. Some Councillor asked if they were going to continue, and she said she was ‘waiting for silence’. (My note: I thought you could hear a pin drop although I was taking notes on my laptop. I was sitting in the very back row and the only other person in that row was Sandy Tozer-Spence, the present volunteer Chair of the Heritage Committee. There was one seat between the two of us. To our left there were another four people. Two press people were to the right, and there may have been one man to the right of us. Not a large group.).

After a while, the Mayor began to speak again:  “The committee thought that discussion could be better handled to Economic Development. So there was a budget implication from the heritage committee to the council. Then the assemblage of people can decide. Do they want to take that on and if they want to take on Doors Open.”

“With respect to budget discussions (missed word) this suggestion, this is coming out of left field, when this has in fact been tabled. It was the view of the heritage committee – and that was addressed by the conservation review board and the heritage committee before that. They would like to initiate the study to see if we can protect it under part five of the act. This will be helpful to the committee as they go back to Windermere where virtually all of the work has been done to go from part four to a part five. It would be appropriate….

(to Harding) Does that answer your question?”
HARDING (again calmly but with a stress on ‘an’): “It’s AN answer. We are approving budget numbers. We’re approving without seeing minutes, without having discussion on budget items. I agree with you from a process perspective…. And that we are understanding today that buildings have been demolished already because of a process that is already in place.”

“I’m not comfortable in doing so. I believe in preserving where we are going. If we fast-forward over past two years we continue to spend money in heritage districts.
I believe the Heritage district meeting in Windermere did not go over well. I apologize I couldn’t be here on January 29th (I made Council aware I wouldn’t be there [last council budget meeting]) but I’ll leave my comments for around the table.”

MAYOR ACCUSES HARDING OF RANTING
MAYOR, voice rising: NO, NO, with the greatest respect, you can’t go on a rant on that. It is not OK.

HARDING: And you have responded.

MAYOR: And now you’ve initiated another rant on how much we’ve spent.

Thoughts from the public gallery
As a taxpaying member of the public in attendance, I appreciated the fact that Harding had asked this budget question and I believe he raised it with great sensitivity. I cannot say how he was feeling after the exchange, but he did appear to me to look resigned, as if he was used to this type of strong response. What I didn’t understand is why the Mayor felt the need to speak to every thing any Councillor said at all – as Chair, as I understand Robert’s Rules, she should ask if other Councillors have anything to add, and if she wants to comment or join in debate, she should pass the gavel so another Councillor can take up the Chair position.

IT GOT WORSE.

Sadly, this was only one example during this one discussion item. To me, the most shocking outburst came after the vote on whether to pass the Heritage Minutes. There were confusing notes in the minutes (such next meeting dates which were on the same day and no notice of a next meeting beyond that date), and there was obvious discomfort around the table about the minutes, so it made sense that at least one councilor might vote against them. As it turned out, two Councillors voted against approving the minutes, and the motion to approve them carried as the majority voted to approve them.

That’s when it happened. In a loud, angry voice, the Mayor announced, “LET THE RECORD SHOW COUNCILLORS FURNISS AND MCTAGGART OPPOSE THE STRATEGIC PLAN!” (She might as well have shouted, ‘off with their heads!’.).

There were audible gasps. Councillor Furniss called a Point of Order, saying “That wasn’t called for, that was rude.”

The Mayor responded, “No, you are… Councillor Furniss, you have accused people. The rudeness around this table has been extraordinary. I am going to suggest that Councillor McTaggart and Furniss bring forth their concerns about the Strategic Plan when they next visit this as they are clearly uncomfortable.”

I considered posting the entire transcription of the Council discussion, but I’m not sure what good this does, but it does show our other elected Councillors are trying to represent us (some who attend more meetings say they are just starting to try out of sheer frustration). We’ve elected an entire Council, not just one person. Mayor Alice Murphy holds the hopes of many Muskoka Lakes taxpayers who voted for her and still want to support her. It’s time for her to relinquish the Chair position when it comes to meeting items she feels so passionately about. As I said, I’ve heard constituents complain they think the other Councillors aren’t even trying to stand up to the elephant in the room: Mayor Murphy appears to be having difficulty separating her activism from her responsibility as Mayor. When this is the case, she becomes ineffective to govern, in my opinion. Murphy brings great potential to the role of our Mayor: she has proved to be a charming ambassador for Muskoka Lakes while out at community events. But the bullying tactics she displays in public or closed Council meetings or even after meetings when she reportedly has hauled Councillors and others into the back boardroom or an office… This has to stop. No one should stand by and just watch it happen.

Related Articles: Developer pulls project, blames Mayor’s ‘lawless, bullying approach’

Hall Findlay cancelled, but Trudeau hoping to win some love this week in Muskoka-Parry Sound

Update Feb. 12. 6pm: Martha Hall Findlay’s campaign team has just called to say she is ill and will have to cancel her Muskoka stop. So make that ONE federal Liberal leadership contender in Muskoka this week.

Original Post Feb 12: Two more federal Liberal leadership contenders arrive in Muskoka this Thursday and Friday. Candidate Martha Hall Findlay stops in Gravenhurst on Thursday (CANCELLED AFTER POST) and the next day (February 15) is Justin Trudeau’s moment to win some Liberal leadership delegate votes in Bracebridge.

Who’s Where: Who will be your political valentine? Of course, it only really counts if you’re Liberal minded when two top Liberals show up to woo you this week…

  • Thursday, February 14: CANCELLED Martha Hall Findlay, at the Gravenhurst Boat
    Hall Findlay Feb. 14
    Hall Findlay Cancelled
    Trudeau Feb. 15
    Trudeau Feb. 15

    Museum (Grace & Speed) 275 Steamship Bay Rd, Gravenhurst) between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm.

  • Friday, February 15: Justin Trudeau, Bracebridge Sportsplex, Noon. Doors open 11:30am
  • February 27, Karen McCrimmon (Location TBD)
Joyce Murray, Liberal, Leadership, Muskoka Liberals
Joyce Murray in Peterborough Feb. 13

(And for his farewell tour, Federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae will be in Huntsville for a gala at the Grandview Golf Club on March 8. Tickets are $200. If interested in his final hurrah in Muskoka, you can buy tickets online at liberal.ca or contact Dave Hudson at 705-645-4073.)

Why here in Currently Conservative Country? Why the sudden interest in Parry Sound-Muskoka where Conservative Tony Clement seems to have a strong hold on the vote? The last election had him in by a landslide even though he tossed out former Liberal MP Andy Mitchell by only 29 votes. Well, here’s why: the Liberals have changed the way they pick a leader. Any one who is a member of the federal Liberal party before March 3 can vote by online ballot or by phone. And it’s a preferential vote, so you put your first choice, second choice, etc. How does that impact Parry Sound-Muskoka Liberals? For the first time a point system exists that gives every riding an equal voice in choosing a Liberal leader. So Parry Sound-Muskoka has the same amount of preferential power as the most populated downtown Toronto or Vancouver riding, for example. Thus, the influx of Liberal leadership candidates starting with Marc Garneau last month and continuing with Hall Findlay, Trudau, McCrimmon. There’s no word if we’ll see the other contenders: David Bertschi, Marin Cauchon, Deborah Coyne, Joyce Murray or George Takachi. Murray is from B.C. and that may be a reason why she might not get here. It’s also possible that no local Liberal has signed up to be a voting delegate in support of any member of this latter group – maybe that might keep them away. At least the visits we are getting gives people in the riding a chance to meet who would be King/Queen Liberal and a possible future prime minister (should the Liberals ever crawl their way back in to power).

Note: The local Liberal riding association says everyone is welcome for these upcoming Liberal events (whether you’re a party member or not) but the executive ask you to RSVP to contact@parrysoundmuskoka.ca or call 705 224 9461.

Queen Jubilee Honours for Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith

Posted Feb. 6, 8am: Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith is about to add some shiny royal ‘bling’ to his look: He’s being honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal of Honour in recognition of his community work. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has selected Mayor Smith to receive a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in honour of the contributions he has made to the community and to all of Canada. Mayor Smith will receive his medal from Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement Friday at the Bracebridge Municipal Office at 10:30am.

Steady on the sleds: Huntsville crash sends sledder to hospital

Posted Feb 4. 150pm: A snowmobile crash on a trail near Deerhurst Highland Drive in Huntsville yesterday left the driver with minor injuries. Police say a second person was unhurt — that person was the passenger who jumped off the sled before the driver struck a tree (he had stayed on). While the snow’s good, sledders are reminded to be careful. In Muskoka Lakes, people are being warned to stay off the ice near Appian Way on Lake Joseph after a barge was removed from the Appian Way landing.

Update: Draft Muskoka Lakes Township Budget on line, public input chance is Monday Feb 4, 7pm

Updated Feb 2, 830 am: Now that’s swift action. MNW notified Township staff late Friday night (1030pm) that the Budget documents the public were being asked to comment in couldn’t be accessed as posted. By 8am this morning, Clerk Cheryl Mortimer sent an email saying the problem was fixed. Thanks to the Clerk and CAO Chris Wray for their prompt response.

Do you care about how your tax dollars are being spent in Muskoka Lakes? For those who do, you can now access the Budget documents here BudgetDocforFeb4 and you can visit the Muskoka Lakes Township web site and open Item 4c of Monday’s Council Meeting so you can read some Council discussion about budget items.

Editorial note: One budget item that caught my attention was that the Heritage Committee budget ask has gone from $30K to over $60K and may grow again with a request for a Landscape Architect to be hired to beautify lands that are next to the Bala Portage Landing site the Township wants to designate as heritage. That request will be considered at the Committee of the Whole Meeting on Tuesday. The land being considered for a facelift include a strip from Muskoka Road 38 to the land south of the South Bala Falls.

UPDATE – The Draft 2013 Budget package provided for a Special Township of Muskoka Lakes Budget Meeting held January 29 is posted below. Earlier this Friday evening, MNW noted the link for the Monday Agenda Package is not working for public users – hopefully that will get fixed soon, but you can still access budget documents here if you wish to review before the Public Meeting this coming Monday night at 7 pm in Council Chambers —  your chance to give input in to the Township budget without having to make a special delegation request.

Draft2013Budget

Note: An announcement of the schedule for Budget Meetings can also be downloaded from the Muskoka Lakes Township website. It was published on January 18, 2013 and includes all dates, including this public input meeting date, and the next two budget meetings by Council in February and March.

Updated Feb. 1, 1030 to original post Friday, Feb 1, 10pm: The public has a chance to give input in to the Township of Muskoka Lakes Draft Budget for 2013. An agenda has been posted for a Special Meeting of Council this coming Monday, February 4, 2013 at 7:00 p.m., in the
Council Chambers at the Port Carling Municipal Offices. Unfortunately, MNW was unable to download the Agenda Package as you have to have municipal access to see that package. This may be a simple error as there are also parts of the Agenda Package for Monday’s daytime Council meeting that can not be accessed publicly. The Township has a rule that Agenda packages are to be posted on the Thursday before Council meetings. For this meeting Monday night, interested constituents would want to see the budget documents first so they can be informed before commenting or providing input. Here is what comes up when you try and click on the link for the Budget Meeting package and for Item 4c for Regular Council Meeting:

Unable to Access Budget Documents
Unable to Access Budget Documents. No doubt this is a simple error and the public will be able to have access before the budget meeting 7 pm on Monday.