This posting is a copy of Coucilor Art Kings letter to the editor of the Owen Sound Sun Times published December 22, 2009.
It tells a story which outlines the reality of the the situation in Wiarton, as well as giving us a some insight as to where the real problem is with the Council of South Bruce Penensula.
This is an open letter to the ratepayers of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula:
As some of you may have noticed during the three years I have been a councilor in the town I have to this point not written a letter to the editor, however, a recent page of letters to the editor in The Sun Times from Councilor Kerr and Councilor Wunderlich should not go unchallenged.
As we are all aware there are two sides to every argument and/or situation, and I will try to place before you a true version of what is actually taking place.
I am one of the members of South Bruce Peninsula council who returned to Wiarton from the Good Roads Convention that stormy wind blown night that Councilor Wunderlich speaks of. There was no attempt to hide the fact that we believed we needed to return to the town and vote on the motion regarding the $84,000,000 plus water line from Wiarton to Sauble Beach.
There is no question that this motion could and would determine not only the future of the area but would place a debenture on this town that would restrict it’s ability to debenture or raise funds for many years to come.
Mayor Gwen Gilbert and myself returned from Toronto, on our own time and our own mileage and after the council meeting returned back to Toronto before the meetings there the next day. Councilor Wunderlich suggests that council adjourned the meeting, the fact is that councilor. Harron wrote a note on a piece of paper which I observed her pass to Councilor Kerr, who also added something to the note. Councilor Kerr then walked around the table showing the note to selected council members and then left it with Councilor Lamont, who was seated beside me.
I leaned back and read the note and it said, “we will leave at intermission”, then in someone else’s handwriting it said, “they will not have a quorum” Councilor Lamont kept the note. At the break in council, Councilor Harron, followed by Councilor Kerr, Councilor Hoath and Councilor Lamont stood up, gathered their council notes and left the meeting. Not one of them spoke with the exception of Councilor Lamont, who said, “your Worship, I have to leave for Hamilton now”. As I previously mentioned it was a snowy, stormy night and in fact Councilor Lamont then left and drove over the north hill of Wiarton, in the direction of Red Bay and the opposite direction to Hamilton.
It is interesting that Councilor Wunderlich should mention this happening because that in my opinion was the turning point in council’s relationship with Mayor Gwen Gilbert.
Shortly after this is when some “good old boys” insisted that the mayor’s election expenses be audited. Council voted in favor of this thereby costing the rate payers thousands of dollars for an audit which showed that she was completely cleared and all expenses charged by Mayor Gwen Gilbert were legal.
When this council first met we all agreed that this would be a, “transparent and open council” however, it soon became apparent this was not to be so, and it is a shock to me to find that this council spends more time in “closed session” than in sessions that are open to the public. It is also of interest that the Municipal Act clearly states, when members of council meet together, and form a quorum or more by doing so, they must have a clerk or a person appointed by the clerk to keep minutes.
Many of our ratepayers will no doubt have noticed that on an ongoing basis after a council meeting a quorum or more of this council hold “secret meetings” in the far corner of the local coffee shop and as they all come from different walks of life it is hard to convince the ratepayers that they are not discussing and/or planning council business.
Councilor Wunderlich mentioned in his letter to the editor of the loss of many of our department heads and I agree with him that it is a sad state of affairs. Let us examine the firing of the most recent CAO, as an example. We started out with a committee composed of Mayor Gwen Gilbert, Councilor Lamont, and Councilor Hall. Now because the CAO’s contract was up for renewal and there were certain items in that contract that a previous council had agreed to we were attempting to negotiate a contract that would be more acceptable to the town. We were of the understanding that headway had been made in this regard when suddenly at a “closed session” which the mayor was unable to attend, Councilor Lamont brought forward a motion that Mayor Gwen Gilbert be removed from this committee. The only discussion that was held was when I pointed out we would be in violation of our own Procedural Bylaw if they did this, as the mayor is, because of the bylaw, automatically a member of every committee of council. A vote was called for and I requested a recorded vote, and as you may guess the results were, 7 to 1.
They then moved on to instruct their new committee that along with the clerk they meet with our solicitor and have a letter drawn up firing the CAO. Unbelievable as it sounds they could not find a reason that justified this firing so they advised him in writing that he was fired, “without cause”.
Although I cannot divulge the actual sum paid to our previous CAO, I believe I can tell you it is somewhere in the neighborhood of five times what our average ratepayer would earn on an annual basis.
As I mentioned previously the clerk was present during this “closed session”, and offered no warning or indication to the council they were in violation of their own Procedural Bylaw. The clerk then attended with the committee of two at the solicitors office where they instructed the solicitor to write up a letter of dismissal to the CAO. A short time later council in their wisdom appointed this same clerk to be the acting CAO. At a “closed session”, these same councilors agreed to pay thousands of dollars per month on top of the clerks regular salary for the position of acting CAO. They have also agreed to form a committee to negotiate with the clerk/acting CAO regarding the staggering hours of overtime that are apparently owed to the Acting CAO.
These same councilors also in their wisdom and on the advice of the acting CAO approved the paying of thousands of ratepayers’ dollars in bonuses to members of the staff as selected and approved by the acting CAO. Now I am not suggesting that these members of staff should not be recognized for their dedication and hard work, however, there are many other ways to recognize this, i. e. a special performance review on their personal file, a luncheon with the mayor and acting CAO, and/or a recognition of their commitment at an open council meeting. And as I know these staff members I truly believe, they did not request this bonus and would have been pleased with any of the recognition I have suggested.
It is also of great interest to me that during all this turmoil no outside staff have been recognized for their contributions even though last winter on the weekend that the Colpoy’s Cemetery collapsed and our outside workers spent that whole week end attempting to save the resting places of our loved ones and worked waist deep in water, keeping our roads open and running pumps to stop the water from entering ratepayers residences, there was absolutely no recognition for the “over and above”, contributions that they made. On the contrary Councilor Kerr, on several occasions, has with the help of other councilors cooked a delicious lunch for the inside staff, which they are unable to refuse even if they wanted to and even if it takes away from the valuable time they would be spending on ratepayers business. Councilor Kerr has now decided along with other councilors to come into the Town Hall and serve a delicious breakfast on the ratepayers time clock. The town hall is taking on somewhat the appearance of a New Orleans Holiday, with the council leading the parade. Since the council in their wisdom has removed Mayor Gwen Gilbert from her office while taking her computer and BlackBerry I now find this has opened the door for councilors — as many as two or three — to wander the halls popping in and out of staff offices and having friendly chats and visits. I would have thought they would have restrained themselves as this only proves to me why Mayor Gwen Gilbert had an office there.
In their letters to the editor both Councilor Kerr and Councilor Wunderlich stressed the importance of democracy and I truly believe neither Mayor Gwen Gilbert nor myself need lessons on democracy in Canada.
Many of my relatives fought in both World Wars defending democracy in this country that we love. Some of them died on the battlefield, some of them returned home only to die later of their injuries and still others came home to a shattered life that only war can bring.
Many years ago as a police officer I swore an oath to, if necessary, give my life to protect the people and the laws of Canada and therefore Mr. Kerr I do not need a lesson from you either on the price of democracy or democracy in Canada.
Several ratepayers have complained to me about mob rule on the part of the seven councilors who appear to vote in block. I defend their right and their freedom of choice to vote together if they wish, I also defend Mayor Gwen Gilbert and my right to vote in what we believe to be the best interest of the ratepayers. Although we are continually defeated on important issues I believe that recorded votes produced at election time will allow the electorate an opportunity to make an informed decision at the polls.
Both Councilor Kerr and Councilor Wunderlich speak of bullying tactics on the part of Mayor Gwen Gilbert.
I am of the opinion that it is hard for two people to bully seven adults.
But let us talk for a moment of bullying and who might be bullying.
So far in an effort to make her vote with the pack, council has forced an audit on Mayor Gwen Gilbert’s election expenses, taken away her office privilege at the town hall, taken away her computer rights, taken away her telephone at the town hall, taken it upon themselves to open and sensor all of her incoming mail and last but not least taken away her BlackBerry. I think the lowest trick of all was to not remove her message from her now surrendered BlackBerry, the message now reads, “You have reached Mayor Gwen Gilbert, please leave a message”, I do not know who is receiving and/or recording these messages from ratepayers but I can assure you it is not Mayor Gwen Gilbert. Therefore if you wish to reach Mayor Gwen Gilbert please do not use her previous Blackberry number.
When you look at the above list of items you may well wonder that if Mayor Gwen Gilbert is the bully on council, she is not making a very good job of it.
Councilor Kerr speaks of the fact that Mayor Gwen Gilbert found it necessary to retain a solicitor to protect her rights and there is no disagreement regarding the fact she pays for this solicitor out of her own personal funds.
It is of interest to me that the councilors have retained a solicitor to protect their personal rights however, this solicitor is being paid for by us ratepayers.
I can speak personally about bullying because at open council I have been called, “a shit head, an asshole and been told if I was any kind of a man I would step outside and settle our differences”. These comments have been made by the female portion of our council, however Councilor Lamont recently said to me at a council meeting, “I am in charge here, I will do as I please, just watch me”.
So perhaps you will understand that I feel also a complete failure as a bully.
In closing I felt it was my duty as a councilor and ratepayer to present what I believe to be a true picture of some of what is taking place.
Further to this I also feel it is my duty to warn you of the hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money that is being spent by this council behind “closed doors” and will no doubt be reflected in your 2010 tax bills.
I am not proud of what this council has reduced itself to and as a councilor I feel I must share some of the shame and blame, but you have my commitment to continue to serve the ratepayers of The Town of South Bruce Peninsula, to the best of my ability, until the next election, in October of 2010, that is when the electorate of the town will have their opportunity to speak, loud and clear at the polls.
Councilor South Bruce Peninsula
Outstanding Art! Keep up the great work!