What’s Up Muskoka Article, Mayor Murphy’s Attitude Draws Scorn
Click here to Read Article by What’s Up Muskoka. Author: Matt Driscoll.
Muskoka News Watch fully agrees with this article and others like it published over the past four years in Muskoka newspapers. MNW Editor Norah Fountain writes she believes we have a poisonous culture being fostered at Muskoka Lakes Council and more people need to speak up about what they’ve seen and experienced.
Commentary by Norah Fountain posted March 6, 11:30am: I don’t take delight in writing about what myself and others feel is untoward behaviour on the part of some councillors in our Township. In fact, I feel ill as I write this commentary. You see, it’s even harder in a small municipality to speak up about abuse, and I am in awe of those who have the guts to say they’ve been treated badly and want it to stop. The weekly What’s Up publication, owned by Sun Media, this week published an article about people who say they have felt the wrath of Alice Murphy, the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes. Click here to read it. For her part, the Mayor was quoted by What’s Up as saying she acts in a “open and warm” fashion…and that those firing off criticism should find something proactive to do with their time and energy.” If she believes that, she isn’t leading by example.
Muskoka News Watch (MNW) readers regularly complain (off record, out of fear of retribution they say, unfortunately), to me about treatment they have seen Murphy mete out. Members and supporters of the fire department management appear to be favourite targets, along with anyone who has any opinion that differs from the mayor on the proposed hydro plant. Even a librarian giving a report about libraries was once reduced to tears during a council meeting.
A poisonous culture brewing
And the Mayor is not alone in her behaviour toward others. Recently Councillors Harding and Nishikawa berated a staff member in a public council meeting over her job fair efforts. In that case, the Mayor actually stopped the questioning that observers said was unduly sharp, reportedly on the advisement of the Clerk. It’s unfortunate that Murphy isn’t stopped when she herself takes aim at staff or someone delegating to Council.
At a meeting I attended on February 14, Councillor Nishikawa laughed derisively about the Fire Chief’s pay scale recommendations while agreeing with Councillor Harding that she couldn’t understand the report the Chief had delivered. This is a report the Council had originally requested and sent back for more work three or four times. The Mayor and Councillors sent the Chief back to the drawing board again. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that as part of good oversight, but here’s the but: in my opinion, from what I saw at that meeting and what I’ve heard has happened at others, the way the fire chief is treated might be construed as a potential constructive dismissal ploy. In other words, make the ones you don’t like want to quit.
He wouldn’t be the first staff member to leave (See Sun Media article, More Senior Staff Jump Ship). Six senior staff employees either quit, or opted for early retirement in 2012, leading one business person to ponder why in a client newsletter: “It is uncertain whether these moves are coincidental, or due to issues with the Mayor’s management style.” (Source, Muskoka Happenings, Summer/Autumn 2012).
I’m sure some staff are getting along very well with Council, but I believe no one should endure the poisonous tone of questioning I have witnessed at some Council meetings.
Then there are the people — the taxpayers and professionals hired by taxpayers — that experience ‘unpleasantness’ in and outside of Council chambers.
Stories of unpleasant interactions in and out of council
>The woman giving a historic tour of Port Carling to a group of of tourists who was stopped (some say accosted) by the Mayor on the street (The Mayor had a loud bone to pick with her for some reason).
>The man who was booed as he gave a delegation as the Mayor sat back and let it happen (Granted, the Mayor has improved and now asks for courtesy. That’s appreciated).
>There are the two people (that I know of) who have left Council meetings in tears (the first was reported by the Bracebridge Examiner – for May 2011 article, click here) who no longer wanted to endure the Mayor’s comments.
>The ratepayers who were singled out by the Mayor during a discussion on heritage minutes (Read February 2013 Metroland article, Heritage Minutes set off Mayor, here) and have been slammed at other times in the newspapers by the Mayor (Read March 2013 Metroland article in which she displays her warm approach to all: “Mean spirited RatepayerAssocn hurts #Muskoka community. Running secret society w/ ‘chosen’ Board, yet positioned as ‘conscience’ of Townshp,”). This was a YEAR ago.
>There are property owners who have dared speak opinions that don’t jive with hers and then had to go to the Ontario Municipal Board for resolution, costing them and the Township money.
>The politicians in other local municipalities, and in other levels of government, who shake their heads about her Tweet tirades against politicians and government agencies. Most recently, Oakville Mayor Burton, whom Murphy once asked for advice and then wrote to the province and federal government with allegations about Oakville that the Oakville Mayor countered were untrue.
>And yes, there’s me. I was yelled at to get out and ‘show some respect’ by an enraged Mayor striding across a public hall outside Divisional Court in Toronto. I asked for an apology, but like others, I’m still waiting. I’ve been approaching and interviewing politicians since 1979. I’ve never seen any of them act like Murphy.
Fear factor alive and well in Muskoka Lakes
I wish more people would speak up, but I can’t blame Councillors or local business people who have had their own negative experiences with the Mayor. They say they can’t risk it. Or that it’s pointless, especially as without competition, it looks like Murphy will be the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes for another four years. Certainly, who am I to judge them? I didn’t hold my ground when she went after me that day in Toronto. I try my best to never engage with her on social media like Twitter as she demonstrates ‘Troll-like” behaviour (see definition in this article about her Twitter tackle of Oakville’s Mayor).
Last week a Toronto political journalist called me and asked how I manage writing such commentary when I live in a small area where I can encounter the people I’m writing about in the grocery store and such. It’s hard for big city journalists, too, but small town politics are way more up close and personal.
The president of the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) told me he feels the negativity of what I and others have written is unproductive (I am a member of the MLA and the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association). So have my personal friends. I agree with them in principle, and wish it were different, but as long as people are being abused in our township — be it staff, taxpayers or visitors — I think we all need to shine a light on it.
I admire the brave ladies of the MRA who sit through so many Council meetings to report what they see for those of us who can’t be there to see for themselves the way Council business is being conducted. And a big nod to local media – What’s Up Muskoka and Metroland’s Bracebridge Examiner and Banner for reporting what is happening in Muskoka Lakes. Believe me, it isn’t easy for those writers either.
Full disclosure note: Some readers have complained that I may be guilty of ‘sour grapes’ because I was the co-campaign manager for mayoral candidate Patricia Arney in 2010. The fact is that Alice Murphy won by a landslide. Arney was in third and even if Arney and incumbent Karen Ellis had pooled their votes together, Murphy still would have won. She ran a strong campaign and Murphy once thanked me for being so gracious during the campaign. That was 2010. Articles written since have focused on the actions of Murphy since taking office. In the What’s Up article this week, Murphy also accuses the MRA of sour grapes because of her win. It is clear that many MRA members voted for Murphy.
Any mayor will get both positive and negative attention. Winning an election is one thing. It’s what your do in office that really counts.
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