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Issues Looming on the Horizon
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At first blush there seems to be no real issues in this local municipal election; hence the complacency towards it. But make no mistake, there are some very real, serious and expensive issues looming on the horizon to be handled by the incoming Council. Who you elect is going to matter very much.

The Issues

Shrinking financial support from higher levels of government: Yes, the federal Gas Tax Fund is now being indexed at 2% per year, but that is not enough to offset the ever-shrinking-until-it-is-phased-out-entirely provincial Municipal Partnership Fund. Even though property assessments go up every year, generating additional tax revenue to municipalities without having to raise tax rates, properties in Ontario are seriously over-valued and the coming market adjustment is likely to devalue the property tax base to some extent (just how much is hard to predict). The probable outcome of these combined factors is that municipalities will have less money to work with. The kind of council you elect will determine whether they can do more with less, or whether they opt to raise your taxes - and by how much. It is going to directly effect your personal bottom line.

Port Stanley Harbour: The development, or lack of development, of this newly acquired municipal asset has the very real potential to become a situation that eats far more money than it generates and there is still no viable business plan for its self-sustaining development. The infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes and we did not get enough money in the transfer deal to repair that infrastructure (we came up $13 million short of the bare minimum needed to repair it). If the west breakwater is allowed to crumble into the lake, the broad main beach for which we obtained the Blue Flag status will erode back to the narrow stoney strip of beach it used to be (reduced tourism). The berm is supposedly going to be redeveloped into a park by Transport Canada, beginning in 2016 - assuming that a federal election resulting in a change in government does not happen before then. We've been through this scenario before and right now all we have at the berm is a weed-overgrown mess with mountains of sand piled up to keep people out. The municipality takes no care of this property at all and its maintenance falls far below the municipality's own lot maintenance standards by-law. Successive Councils of the day repeatedly promised us they would not take ownership of the harbour without enough money and a business plan to make sure the development and maintenance of the harbour did not end up on our property tax bills. Well, they did take it without sufficient funds and the only reason it has not yet ended up on our tax bills is because they have done very, very little in the way of either development or maintenance. All they've really done so far is spend money to acquire more harbour land, one piece of which they turned into a very ugly parking lot that nobody uses. That parking lot may get used once the Prespa development on Edith Cavell actually begins. The Richardson property will cost us another $250,000 to demolish the grain elevators and structures that are currently on it.

McAsphalt: Given that the municipality is now having Closed Session meetings with McAsphalt, it would not surprise me in the least to see a proposal for the municipality to also buy that property, shortly after we get through the fall election.

Port Stanley Firehall: A new Port Stanley Firehall is on the table and the stated preferred location is the ball diamond in Selbourne Park. Not only is it the last remaining public greenspace of any significant size left in Port Stanley, it was even suggested that the kid's playground and skatepad could be left in the park, for the kids to avoid fire trucks rushing in and out when responding to calls. How brilliant is that? Current Council and staff do not want to even consider the practical and cost-saving solution of amalgamating the Union and Port Stanley firehalls into one, because it's a political football. A municipality of less than 13,000 does not need four firehalls (two of which are less than 15 minutes apart) and cannot afford to support four firehalls. Given that the vast majority of the calls are medical in nature, it makes sense to leave only a paramedic team in Port Stanley, and have Union respond to the actual fire calls in this end of the municipality. We can save on trucks, buildings, equipment, maintenance and staffing, and we don't need a Quint (which is the next major purchase on Chief Crocker's wish list).

All of these looming issues affect your tax rate and thus affect your personal bottom line. Currently our taxes, although higher than some neighbouring municipalities, aren't that crazy - but they could easily get crazy if your elected Council does not properly control the directions the municipality takes.

So what are the qualities we actually require in our Council members - the mayor, the deputy mayor, and each and every councillor?

Leadership: is paramount. Did you know that senior staff inform newly elected Councils that "we can make the next four years easy for you, or we can make it hard"? Now, does that sound to you like Council is directing staff - as they claim - or like staff is, in truth, directing Council? You hire competent staff to act as advisors, but it is only an advisory role, not a controlling one. I've been attending and reporting on Central Elgin Council meetings since 2005 and my impression over these last 9 years is that senior staff in the municipality are effectively running a fiefdom rife with nepotism which whatever council of the day simply rubber stamps. Even if senior staff is university educated and degreed (which not all of them are, though we pay that level of wages), their role should still be restricted to advisory only. They serve at the will of Council, not the other way around. I have yet to see any real leadership emerge in any Central Elgin Council meeting I've attended, and I've attended most of them. Even in budget meetings the Council primarily follows whatever staff wants. Real leadership is the only thing that can handle the Port Stanley Harbour development without it eventually ending up on your tax bill.

Previous Council Experience: I've heard more than one person say they prefer to vote for someone with previous council experience, and would not vote for a mayor without previous council experience. Well, an experienced incompetent person is still incompetent - they are simply more experienced at being incompetent. Experience is only a relevant factor if you want to return the same "old boys club" to the helm, to keep things running just as staff have always run them, with special favours for friends and projects undertaken to assist the business interests of other members of the "old boys" club. In Central Elgin, you are never going to get something better if you vote for anyone who currently sits on council, or who has previously sat on council, or who has ever worked for the municipality. Previous council experience is not the experience you need to look for in a candidate if you want something better.

Pertinent Experience: The type of experience that matters in a candidate is their background. Are they educated? Do they possess a Masters in Business Administration, an economics degree or accounting designation, an engineering degree or urban planning designation, a law degree or any other kind of post-secondary education or skill set like negotiations and alternative dispute resolution that would be pertinent to the running of a municipality? Never discount the value of a candidate who has years of experience running a mid to large size company, or large department within a large company. That kind of experience is exactly what we need for developing a viable business plan to make the harbour self-sustaining. By and large we've had councils who have not had these kinds of education, business or skill sets. How well has that worked out for you?

Financial Literacy: Determining the viability of a budget for a municipality is not like running a household budget or a small business. There's a lot more involved in terms of money and services provided that requires every member of council to have the financial literacy skills needed to determine whether or not what staff is proposing is necessary or desirable. It is not your money you're spending, so this is one of those areas where strong leadership qualities are critical. A career in which the candidate has been paid from the public purse is not the best teacher of financial literacy when making decisions on how to spend that public purse.

Integrity: This one is HUGE! It goes right to the heart of the "old boys club" syndrome and the nepotism apparent in our staffing rosters. I have seen council members neglect to declare a conflict of interest when they knew, or ought to have known, they had one. The conflict can be because of property owned by yourself or a relative, because of membership in a particular service club or other organization, or the relationship by blood or marriage to a candidate for employment. As a member of council it is your responsibility to ensure the municipality's business is conducted fairly, equitably, and without favouritism or discrimination, at all times and in all things. In the years I've covered council I have seen only one member of council consistently display this level of integrity and that member is not running in this election.

Intelligence: Every member of council needs to have the intellectual capacity to understand what they read, understand what their advisors are telling them, and to research for more information on their own. They need to be able to tell when others are trying to manipulate or deceive them, and be reasonably skilled at discovering ulterior motives and hidden agendas (you get a lot of applications coming before council in which ulterior motives and hidden agendas are at play).

Strength of Character: When you occupy a position of power other people will try to bend you to their will, to get you to use that power you have for their benefit or to satisfy their preferred agenda. I will not go into a lesson on how this is done; suffice it to say that it happens - a lot! Power can also tempt you to use it for your own benefit - and this is a very seductive power to which many people fall prey. Your candidates for council need to possess and exhibit the strength of character that can resist both temptation and pressure, particularly manipulative pressure.

Commitment: Commitment to the people you have been elected to represent is absolutely essential and incorporates a strong sense of allegiance to those people. When you decide to run you are saying your are putting the interests of the electorate ahead of your own personal interests. That is what public service means and if you are not prepared to do that, get out of the race. Your decision to run should not be motivated by a desire to improve your own social status, to be the big frog in the small pond, or to improve your own financial health or that of your friends. Yet it is obvious in some members of council that money is a motivator; wielding power in a beneficent or vindictive manner is a motivator; and the social status they perceive as being a part of the local governing body is also a motivator. Some people run because they don't have a job and view this as an employment ticket.

The Current Field of Candidates

On the municipal website it states: Every four years, in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, as amended, the Municipal Clerk, as Returning Officer, conducts elections for the offices of:
•1 Mayor elected by all the residents of the Municipality;
•1 Deputy Mayor elected by all the residents of the Municipality;
•1 Councillor for Ward 1
•1 Councillor for Ward 2
•1 Councillor for Ward 3
•1 Councillor for Ward 4
•1 Councillor for Ward 5

This means every voter gets to vote for a candidate for mayor, a candidate for deputy mayor, and a candidate for councillor in their own ward. That means you will place an X beside three (3) names on your ballot - not just one or two names. If there is only one declared candidate for a position, that person wins the seat by acclamation.

As of July, 14 2014 the following individuals have filed Nomination Papers, and the comments are my observations and impressions of their performance on past or present councils.

David Marr: Sent as Council's representative to the ARC for Port Stanley School, he failed to get the boundary review that might have kept enough students in Port Stanley School to ensure it stays open. The appropriate steps have all been taken that would allow the Thames Valley District School Board to close that school at any time in the next five years.

He was also on the Harbour Divestiture Committee and a principal negotiator for Central Elgin. Former Mayors David Rock and Sylvia Hofhuis assured Central Elgin residents that the municipality would not accept the harbour without a business plan to make it self-sustaining and enough money to make it economically viable such that not one penny in extra taxes would end up on resident's tax bills. Well, David Marr failed to get sufficient funds with divestiture deal, getting only S13 million when the municipality's consultant said they needed at least $26 million to make it viable.

Marr is also on the Port Stanley Harbour Visioning Committee and so far, despite a $100,000 grant from the federal government to develop a business plan for the harbour and another $56,486 spent from the interest earned on the harbour fund, no viable business plan for the development of the harbour exists. Another failure.

Although these days Marr will declare a conflict on items pertaining to the Port Stanley Lions Club, he does not declare a conflict on items pertaining to other Lions Clubs within the same Lions District, although as a Lion he is required to support the activities of other Lions Clubs within the same district. I do not, and cannot, know the level to which he participates in Closed Session discussions, decisions and votes pertaining to things like the lease for, or improvements to, the Lions Landing Marina Park in Port Stanley. This is not to say that Lions Clubs within the municipality have not made substantial donations to various projects, groups and activities in the municipality - they have - but ethically speaking, because of their own rules governing Lions Clubs, no member of council who is also a member of a Lions or Lioness Club within the municipality should be involved in discussions or votes on anything pertaining to any Lions or Lioness Club within the municipality.

His financial background is as an income tax preparer, working primarily independently on his own. He has no formal accounting designation of any kind.

Marr was elected Ward 1 Councillor in 2006 and was appointed as Deputy Mayor after Deputy Mayor Tom Marks moved up to become Mayor when Mayor Sylvia Hofhuis died. In 2010 David Marr ran for Deputy Mayor, as the incumbent, against three challengers - Francie Dennison, Danial Dale and Dennis Crevits. Incumbent David Marr beat challenger Francie Dennison by just 88 votes. Danial Dale came in third, 49 votes behind Dennison. Dennis Crevits came in fourth at 58 votes behind Dale. Once again the split vote save David Marr's seat (as it did in 2006), though the total number of votes against (3,102) him well exceeded the total number of votes he received (1,174).

So far no one is challenging him for this seat, so he may get in by acclamation.

Deputy Mayor
Sally Martyn: is a former school teacher who was paid from the public purse throughout her career. History was her specialty. She comes from Sparta where she and her husband continue to run a small farm. She is a staunch advocate for the preservation of anything historical, often with what others view as an unrealistic view of the financial implications of such ventures. She met with stiff opposition when she tried to foster a Heritage Conservation District in Port Stanley and has often met with resistance when trying to add a property to the Clerk's List.

She is a staunch supporter of Sparta and Union, the Ward 2 she represents. When the Union Sports Club was required to pay property taxes on the facility they bought for $1 off the Thames Valley District School Board, Sally strongly supported the group's request for tax exemption, or a grant equal to the taxes. This was one of those instances when Sally's public-purse background prevailed and she had great difficulty with the argument that the municipality could not give to one group what it did not give to others. In her defence, given that the lease for the Lions Landing Marina Park effectively gives a tax exemption to the Lions by paying the taxes out of the rent money paid to the municipality, Sally's resistance to the argument could be understood. Every year Sally donates money (from her remuneration as a Councillor) for the taxes to the Union Sports Club.

Sally, along with Russell Matthews, is often at odds with the rest of council and staff when it comes to discussions and votes on fiscal restraint, especially the fire budget and the municipality's fleet of vehicles. Their calls for fiscal restraint are usually argued and voted against.

In the 2010 election Sally Martyn retained her seat by acclamation (no one ran against her).

Danial Dale: holds the position of Director of Planning and Municipal Services for the Town of Aylmer. When he previously served on Central Elgin Council as Deputy Mayor he seemed smart enough, but was definitely not one to rock the boat. He followed Mayor Rock's lead, supported Mayor Hofhuis, supported Don Leitch, supported Lloyd Perrin and supported Sharon Larmour. He was often late for Central Elgin Council meetings as they conflicted with Aylmer Council meetings. I remember nothing of note in his performance on Council and can find nothing of note for him in my records.

In the 2010 election he came in third in the race for Deputy Mayor. In the 2006 election he lost as the incumbent Deputy Mayor to Tom Marks.

Ward 1
Dan McNeil: is a retired Rear-Admiral from the Canadian Navy. That means he was paid from the public purse throughout his career and knows how to take orders. He is a volunteer on Project Ojibwa and was in charge of the operation of getting the submarine to Port Burwell. On his watch the submarine failed to get to Port Burwell in the allotted time, costing the project a $1.5 million federal grant - but McNeil remains a part of the Project Ojibwa team. Should the endeavour be unsuccessful, the taxpayers of Bayham are on the hook for the $6 million loan guarantee Bayham agreed to for Project Ojibwa.

In 2010 he campaigned on replacing CAO Don Leitch and before he was elected in 2010 was always in opposition to David Marr. He won his Ward 1 seat with 794 votes to the 334 votes of his challenger, Fred Darlington. In my opinion, since being elected he has had his head so far up the butts of Marr and Leitch that he hasn't seen the sun in the last four years. Not once in the four years he has been on Council have I ever heard him object to any proposal from Marr or Leitch or any staffer. He always votes in favour of whatever they propose and against any proposal of which they disapprove.

McNeil is also on the Harbour Visioning Committee, and I repeat, there is still no viable business plan to make the harbour self-sustaining. This is the same guy who helped lose a $1.5 million grant for Project Ojibwa. In his 2010 campaign McNeil said "My most important accomplishment would be to help Central Elgin have a very effective executive leadership that has a culture of communicating to the community as a matter of routine and is as transparent and accountable as possible." In this McNeil has completely failed. He hasn't even come close to living up to that campaign rhetoric. So far no one is challenging him for this seat, so he may get in by acclamation.

Ward 2
Dennis Crevits: Dennis Crevits is a life time resident of Central Elgin. His family farm is located in the former Yarmouth Township. He has an Honours Degree in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario. He was the past Deputy Mayor of Central Elgin from 2000-2003. He has been self-employed for over 25 years. He ran for Deputy Mayor in the 2010 election and finished in fourth place (dead last).

In his last campaign Crevits said a fire budget needs to reflect the population base and that "Taxes in the current economy cannot rise at a greater rate than personal income." So far no one is challenging him for this seat, so he may get in by acclamation.

Ward 3
Stephen Carr: is the incumbent and a farmer who retained his seat in Ward 3 in the 2010 election by defeating challenger Marie Turvey by just 59 votes. He consistently votes with whatever is approved by David Marr, as proposed by senior staff, forming a voting block of Marr/Carr/McFarlan and which usually also includes Walters. He also recently purchased a property in Port Stanley, so has a vested interest in what is done by Council regarding Port Stanley.

Ward 3 does not seem to ask for, or get, anything out of their relationship as part of Central Elgin beyond garbage collection and road maintenance. The only thing they ever got was success in stopping the municipality from forcing them to hook up to a sewer system they did not need when the County was rebuilding Sunset Drive (Hwy 4). For that the residents had to form an association prepared to take legal action to stop the municipality. They got no effective representation from their councillor at that time, though that was not Stephen Carr. So far no one is challenging him for this seat, so he may get in by acclamation.

Ward 4
Trent Clark: lives in the Lynhurst area. Correction: He has run, and continues to run, his own successful distribution business for the last 20 years and will downsize it if elected to dedicate enough time to councillor. He has been attending council meetings faithfully for the past year, to familiarize himself with the workings of Council as much as an "outsider" can. The incumbent, Russell Matthews, is not running again. So far no one is challenging him for this seat, so he may get in by acclamation.

Ward 5
Wayne Charron: Beyond the fact that he lives in Belmont, this one is completely unknown to me. He has attended only one Council meeting this year, and none in prior years.

Rob McFarlan: is the incumbent from Belmont who served on Council prior to 2006 but did not run in the 2006 election. In 2010 he won his seat by defeating challenger David Roberts by 77 votes. He has been employed by the Toro Company as an Ontario Area Sales Manager since 1993 and was a member of the Belmont Lions Club in the early 1990's. His performance on Council, both previously and on the current council, has always been to support what was proposed by staff and as part of an "old boys club" voting block along with David Marr.

Candidates have until September 12, 2014 to file their nomination papers. The next regular Municipal Election will be held on Monday, October 27, 2014. If you want what you've always had, return the same people to council. But if you want better, you need to vote for a clean sweep.

And now the fun part: let's see how much of what I've written here ends up in the election brochures and speeches of the candidates - just as it did the last time!

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