Secret Meetings and Personal Agendas, The Clock Tower Court Yard
On May 19, 2020, the Council of Whitchurch-Stouffville did enter into a “Closed Meeting”. The only report of that meeting was expressed as, “Council direct staff to proceed as instructed in the Closed Meeting”. See Council Agendas for May 19, 2020, “Matters related to Town-owned Lands”.
As you may all remember, the country was deep into closing down caused by the Covid19 pandemic. The current council took it upon themselves to vote for the opportunity of leasing out the east side of the Clock Tower Court Yard to the new owner of 6343 Main Street, Stouffville. The new owner would be the proprietor of The Fishbone Restaurant. It was explained as “A friend of the Mayor’s”. They did not want us to know about it.
On June 17 a memo to the staff that read,” The Town is in receipt of a Pre-Application Request for the property at 6343 Main Street. Please see the attached documents… Given the peculiarities and the political nature of this file, we are requesting a one week turn around for comments. Comments would be appreciated by June 26, 2020”. They wanted this done and done quickly.
The plan was to lease out the east side of the court yard, remove the trees and sitting benches along the east boundary line and replace this with a private patio for the use of the new restaurant. This application was leaked to the public in the summer of 2020. There was a large outcry from residents that this was not to happen. A costly investigation was conducted by the Town to find the “whistle blower” that leaked the information. This would take nearly a year to conclude with nothing conclusive found.
The Down Town Core cannot be sustainable without some trees and benches for those who wish sit and enjoy the area.
Since the story broke, the owner of 6343 Main Street was unable to make the site work for himself. The Current Council, in 2022, spent 1.1 million dollars to buy the property from “the Friend of the Mayor”. This was purchased in one of the most expensive real-estate markets. This cost did come from Park Trust, funding from developers. 200 square meters of “parkland” on Main Street? This same price tag could have purchased up to 1000 square meters of greenspace in another part of town. It will be up to taxpayers to pay for what happens with this building. Will we lose an historical building from the BIA? Demolition of the building $300,000 to $500,000? Redevelopment of the site, 1 million dollars? Money that could be for the redevelopment of the Down Town Main Street.
There was also a second investigation that was started by Aird and Berlis LLP into the legalities of the original Closed Meeting. This would be done to find out whether Council had the right to keep the information from the residents of Whitchurch-Stouffville. The finding of this second investigation was that, the Council of the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville was found to be in breach of the Ontario Municipal Act, Section 239 and in breach of the Towns own Administrative Procedure No 59 (AP59).
AP59 is the Accountability and Transparency Procedures. https://www.townofws.ca/en/town-hall/accountability-and-transparency.aspx, This states,
“Accountability – The principal that the municipality will be responsible to the public for decisions made and policies implemented as well as its actions or inactions”.
“Transparency – The principal that the municipality actively encourages and fosters public participation and openness in its decision-making processes. Additionally, Transparency means that the municipality’s decision process is open and clear to the public”.
In both these policies, it indicates a strong willingness to be open and transparent in Councils decision making. In this instance, Council did not do this. The Council and Staff that were involved in the meeting and the processes after the meeting should be held accountable for their decisions to keep this from the residents of Whitchurch-Stouffville.
Procedure AP59 was voted into existence in 2016. The council that broke the procedural guidelines was mostly made up of same council that adopted AP59. How do you make a procedural bylaw and then break it a short time later.
Some may think that this is not worthy of the time of day. But you do have to ask, is the Council being open and honest to the residents of this Town? What is the thinking that went into the decision to keep it a secrete. Have they done this before? Will they do it again?
They did do it again. In June of 2021 they broke the very same procedural bylaw, AP59 and only from a technicality did they not break the Ontario Municipal Act and secretly tried to sell the Bethesda Park. The Town, The Mayor and the CAO have now been implicated in a 38-million-dollar lawsuit. (See my Hot Topic, “The Sale of the Bethesda Sports Field”)
How Many times does a council get to do this? Can they be trusted to continue to lead the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville?
Something is broken and we need to fix it.
We need a different kind of better,
Vote Mark Carroll 4 Mayor,