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Regular meeting held March 16, 2021
CAO unhappy with line questioning over FOI
CAO Jay Barbeau addressed a memo to council, concerned with the direction of discussions in their March 2 meeting about the Municipal Freedom of Information (FOI) and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA).
Mayor Joanne Savage’s written request to have an overview of the legislation put on the March 2 agenda included seeking info on rights of access, reporting procedures and notification to council. The request came in response to an FOI request filed by the Tribune, seeking access to investigation reports by the municipality’s Integrity Commissioner, which were provided to the newspaper as per the legislation but not shared with council.
The discussion ended with a vote being put off to the next meeting, on whether a legal opinion sought by Municipal Clerk Melanie Ducharme – the designated head in dealing with FOI requests – should be released to the public.
“My first comment/concern is that it would appear that the actual intent of the Mayor in bringing this item forward was not simply to receive information as stipulated but rather to question and comment on a specific FOI file that the Clerk dealt with,” read Barbeau’s memo. “This leaves those who participated with the impression of being ambushed by not being completely informed with the true intent of the agenda item… The second comment/concern that I have is the inference by some that the Clerk acted in a manner that is lacking ‘Transparency.’ Several councillors referenced this point. Given the fact that the Clerk had carriage of the file, these comments can be construed as a public attack on her professional integrity. To be clear, the Clerk strives at all times to conform to legislation.”
The Mayor denied this was her intent. “I wanted to highlight in no way, shape or form that it had to do with anything pertaining to the integrity or professionalism of our Freedom of Information Clerk,” Mayor Savage told council on March 16. “It had to do with having a better comprehension and understanding of the entire process and dealing with requests that involve council and communication and fees.”
Mayor Savage was particularly curious why she wasn’t informed of the Integrity Commissioner’s report that was sent out in response to the FOI request, and only found out about it when contacted by a reporter for comment.
Ducharme sought a legal opinion on whether she was required to inform the mayor or council (of which seven members were named in the report), that the report had been released. There was nothing in the report that met the specific criteria under the MFIPPA to notify the mayor or council that the info had been released.
“My main concern was that when there’s disclosure that concerns council, there should be a mechanism of communication and no need to find out from the outside world when we are part of the corporation and we should be duly informed,” said Mayor Savage.
Councillor Chris Fisher pushed back on the idea that they need to be alerted of every FOI request that council is mentioned in. “We’re kind of public property, and there’s not a lot that we do and document that is not in the public domain… We are public animals, when we put our names forward to represent the people, we kind of have big targets on our back and we just have to live with it. In my mind, it’s all public.”
In a split-decision, council voted against releasing the legal opinion sought by the Municipal Clerk. Mayor Savage and Coun. Denis Sénécal, Lise Sénécal and Duhaime voted in favour; Coun. Malette, Larabie, Fisher and Roveda voted against.
Seguin warehouse expansion defeated
A proposed sale of a municipal lot to Ed Seguin & Sons Trucking and Paving has been halted after residents in the area made their concerns known to West Nipissing council.
The potential acquisition of the municipally-owned lot – located behind Seguin’s 106 Bay Street warehouse and also behind residents on the north side of Villeneuve Court – was contingent on land being rezoned from its current designation of R1 (residential) to M1 (light industrial), so that two new warehouses could be built there.
But after nearby residents voiced their concerns, first at the March 8 Planning Committee meeting and then through a letter writing campaign to council, enough members were swayed to nix the proposal.
“For the people that live around there, no,” said Coun. Dan Roveda during the vote.
The motion was defeated by split vote. Mayor Joanne Savage and Councilors Denis Sénécal, Lise Sénécal and Yvon Duhaime were in favour of rezoning; Councilors Leo Mallette, Rolly Larabie, Chris Fisher and Roveda voted against.
Fisher and Roveda were the only two members of the Planning Committee who voted against recommending the proposal at the March 8 meeting.
Neither representatives from Seguin & Sons Trucking or residents of Villeneuve Court opted to comment on council’s decision when asked. Seguin & Sons have until April 7 to file an appeal with the Land Planning Appeals Tribunal.
Along with concerns over noise, nuisance and safety, nearby residents were also upset about the lack of transparency, noting many of them had less than 10 days to prepare their arguments against. The Municipal Act allows for any proposed or pending deal that has to do with the disposition of municipal land to be discussed in closed session, so the Planning Committee Meeting was the first time the item was up for public discussion.
A big sticking point with any potential development on that land is the current drainage problem nearby neighbours are experiencing. According to submissions from Pierre Leblanc, on behalf of his mother who lives at 120 Bay St. next to Seguin’s warehouse, her property has been experiencing drainage issues since they expanded the neighbouring parking lot in 2018. The expansion blocked off a drainage ditch and now water builds up on Leblanc’s property every spring. Residents are concerned that more development there will just cause more drainage issues.
Part of the proposed sale would have seen the property enter into a Site Control Plan Agreement with the municipality. That legal agreement would allow the municipality to make specific requirements regarding the development, including the drainage plan, and if those requirements weren’t met, West Nipissing could construct them on their own and bill the property owner.
As it currently stands, drainage issues between neighbours are a civil matter.
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