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A lot of time ‘wasted’ on first day of OMB hearing

County solicitor Wayne Fairbrother, co-council Samantha Foster (at left), and appellant Pierre Klein at the first day of the Ontario Municipal Board hearing in Shire Hall, Wednesday.

Opening day of the Ontario Municipal Board hearing into municipal ward boundaries lost a lot of time to dealing with procedural discussions, and the absence of two witnesses who could have been heard at day’s end.

“We really, unfortunately, wasted a lot of time today and now we’re going to waste another hour and a half for continuance of this hearing for witnesses,” said OMB chairperson Mary Anne Sills at the closing of the first of the scheduled three-day hearing at Shire Hall. She noted all witnesses that were to be called should have been present on the first day to learn how the hearing will be managed.

Pierre Klein, of Cherry Valley, is representing himself in his appeal of Prince Edward County Council’s decision to change ward boundaries (combine Bloomfield and Hallowell and reduce the number of council members by two – Bloomfield’s rep and one from Sophiasburgh). The County is represented by its solicitor Wayne Fairbrother, and co-council Samantha Foster.

At the opening of the hearing, Sills, former Belleville mayor, reminded the parties the OMB has no jurisdiction over the number of councillors and will focus on the issue of ward boundaries.

Sills told Klein he could not use the time before the board to promote his own plan, and made clear his witness Kevin Gale could only appear before the board as a citizen, and not as a member of council. Klein subpoenaed witnesses CAO James Hepburn, GIS supervisor Grant Hopkins, County Intermediate Planner James Barr and County Clerk Kim White.

The OMB chair patiently reminded Klein several times throughout the day that she had read and understands all the volumes of documents before her and that he did not need to have his witnesses speak to that information, or items already offically on council record. She noted the onus is on him to provide solid evidence on why the bylaw is flawed. As a result of her directions throughout the day, Klein, revamped his questioning of witnesses and said he is withdrawing himself from the witness list.

“I guess my evidence has to come through my expert and his testimony, and not staff,” said Klein at the day’s end. “Today was somewhat rough, but I think it was successful in identifying the actual numbers used in calculations were suspect… and there’s a big distinction between electors and population… The board is faced with a difficult decision. If it determines that there were violations in the decision-making process, if it was unfair or faulty… The minutes show dozens of attempts to get advice to see if it meets criteria and it was all turned down… I confirmed the four proposals didn’t meet the tests through my own research and as a former municipal politician I’ve always had the philosophy that it’s fine to point out a problem, but unless you can offer a solution, you should shut up, or get the advice you need… That’s the process council should have used.”

His expert witness, Dr. Robert Williams, professor emeritus, political science at the University of Waterloo, is expected to be heard Thursday morning, along with Gale. Following will be three residents who were granted participant status – Dennis Fox in support of Klein; Kathleen Vowinkel and David Mowbray in support of the municipality’s decision.

OMB Chair Sills explained this hearing was the third election cycle this issue has gone through.

“Council’s decision is now off the table and the board will make a final decision. If this matter is not resolved by the board by December 31 of this year, the municipality will go into another four-year election cycle status quo – as it is now,” she explained. “It is the board’s intent to resolve this matter once and for all, one way or the other.

“The board does not have the jurisdiction to specify the number of elected officials that a municipality has, but having said that, a decision made by the board may have an effect on the number of representatives you have – without the board directly saying… that decision is solely with the council.”

One of the previous OMB directions was to have a referendum question on the 2010 election ballot. It asked “Are you in favour of council commencing a public consultation process to review the size of council for the County of Prince Edward?”

Results were deemed not binding as voter turnout did not reach 50 per cent, but overwhelming support from those who did vote resulted in extensive community consultation – including a Citizens’ Assembly in 2013 (which recommended one mayor and 10 councillors). In 2015, extensive public meetings and involvement brought 19 proposals to modify boundaries and the number of councillors. Mayor Robert Quaiff asked council several times to ‘finish what they started’ and seek advice that the plans meet criteria. He stated he was certain a hasty decision would wind up at another OMB hearing.

In January 2016 council considered four options before choosing the option put forth by former Sophiasburgh councillor John Thompson (14 councillors 9 wards). In the other plans, Mayor Robert Quaiff proposed splitting the municipality in half with 10 councillors and a mayor; County resident Gary Mooney proposed three wards, 12 councillors and a mayor and the final option was status quo.

A plan by Klein (10 councillors and mayor, 10 wards) that arrived weeks past a lengthy public consultation process was rejected as being “late to the party.”

In March, he appealed council’s decision to the OMB on the grounds the bylaw was in contravention of the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms and that the process and the basis by which council made the decision was “defective”.

The hearing is to resume Thursday at 10 a.m.

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  1. Mark says:

    Snowman; Council did not make a good step. They let us down miserably. If you live in a one councillor ward your right to voter equity has been denied. That is just plain wrong.

  2. Lynda Westervelt says:

    Snowman, i would hope that our taxes would be lowered…..but we will never ever see that in this county…..they will surely find another ’cause’ to spend our money…..i am sick to death of council not representing their constituents…..their focus is on the well being of the tourists, not local people, who are expected to support the expenses (for the tourists) while the tourists are not here so much…..and it is sickening

  3. Snowman says:

    We live in a democracy. Democracies are not perfect and elected officials don’t always think the same way that a few “keyboard warriors” do. Thompson’s plan,adopted by Council was a good start. Probably not the end game ,but a step in the right direction. And here’s a news flash for you. All the pressing issues will confront and torment the cash strapped,but “smaller” council that you desire, just as they have since (and before,if we are honest with ourselves)

    Why don’t we just elect a Mayor and Council committed to change. If this is such a fervent issue, where are all the candidates at election time? If 80% want change, then surely that will translate into candidates and votes that create that change.
    Instead we have an OMB hearing,yet again sucking $$$$ from all of us, making a decision for us. Sad.

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    I think what we all need to be reminded of is the huge effort and the amount both time and money that Mr. Klein has dedicated to this challenge. It makes me boil a bit to see once again tax dollars going into the pockets of municipal lawyers to defend a council position that they know does not represent the public’s desire for change. The referendum of 2010 clearly showed that out of approximately 10,000 vote cast – that over 80% of those votes supported a smaller council. What this and past councils have done is a disgrace. I am now at the point of hoping that the OMB will just make the decision to change ward boundaries – resulting in a decision that our council doesn’t want to make – downsize! At the end of the day, a series of councils have ignored public input and refused to implement their own process.

  5. Snowman says:

    All it took to set this up was $125. No legal costs appear to be incurred. The Board member has already stated that every one’s big bone of contention (size of Council) will not be addressed. I hope council goes after costs, so my taxes are lowered next year.

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