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Councillors fail democracy with embarrassing act

Things went from awkward to really, embarrassing in Woolwich council chambers Tuesday night as councillors first refused to hear from a registered delegate, then couldn’t really explain their decision before finally relenting and letting the speaker go ahead.

While some of the councillors fished around for explanations involving technical issues and subcommittees, it would be hard for Dan Holt and assembled members of the Citizens Public Advisory Committee to see the goings-on as anything more than a hastily-arranged, and obviously not thought-through attempt to prevent him from speaking.

There’s a history here, as those involved with the current CPAC were among those who participated in what was previously the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee. That longstanding version of CPAC was rather unceremoniously disbanded by the current council in favour of a new structure –RAC/TAG – aimed at bringing disgruntled Chemtura and Ministry of the Environment representatives back into the fold.

As a not-unintended by-product, the changes also sidelined vocal critic Alan Marshall, a member of CPAC in its current form and one of those in the gallery Tuesday night.

A long-time thorn in the side of pretty much everyone connected with Chemtura and the ministry over their inaction in dealing with contaminated groundwater and soil in and around the Elmira chemical plant, Marshall is also noted for bringing forward official complaints about councillors. Both Mayor Sandy Shantz and Coun. Mark Bauman were forced to step down temporarily and seek reinstatement in the courts after Marshall challenged their election expense reports. Shantz’s legal actions continued until Wednesday, in fact.

Marshall and another CPAC member, Richard Clausi (also in the gallery Tuesday), were involved in Municipal Elections Compliance Audit Committee (MECAC) hearings looking into the expenses reports of both Shantz and Coun. Scott Hahn. The challenge of Hahn’s filing was brought by Holt, a fellow Ward 1 candidate in the 2014 election.

While councillors may have been able to separate all of those issues when coming up with a reason to prevent Holt from speaking, the poor handling of the situation certainly raised suspicions to the contrary.

Perhaps not an outright attempt at censorship – a word bandied about in the audience – but clearly a bid to avoid dealing with certain people and topics. It was not a proud moment for Woolwich officialdom.

Councillors then pushed on, passing a Shantz-led motion to have staff develop a policy for directly would-be delegates to the township’s various committees as appropriate rather than hearing the issues directly. Matters pertaining to Chemtura, contamination and cleanup efforts would, it seems, be directed to RAC/TAG. Other environmental topics directed to TWEEC (Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee). Heritage issues? There’s a committee for that. Business in the core of Elmira or St. Jacobs? There’s a BIA meeting for you.

How requests to speak to council will be delineated remains to be seen. Some thought will be needed to avoid a reprise of the rather embarrassing scene the other night, which was a demonstration of clutching at straws.

Better still, councillors who supported the ill-considered move should quietly let the matter drop, hoping that no one ever mentions the cringe-worthy spectacle from Tuesday night ever again.

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  1. Kudos to Councillor Patrick Merlihan the only councillor able to see the big picture, keep a cool head and think with it; while all around him are flailing away in anger and ignorance.

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