Justin Rousseau

Settlement reached between town and estate of Graham Hobbs

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The lawsuit that was filed by a retired grandfather that continued after his death has now concluded.

A settlement has been reached between the family of Graham Hobbs and the Town of Amherstburg. Hobbs had been banned from town hall and other municipal property following an alleged incident at the Amherstburg Municipal Building Nov. 20, 2015. He subsequently filed the $100,000 lawsuit against the municipality.

Hobbs died Jan. 2, 2017 but the lawsuit had continued until recently when the town received $25,000, which resolved the matter.

“Being a legal matter, I do have to be careful of what I say and how I say it,” acknowledged Mayor Aldo DiCarlo after Monday night’s council meeting. “Obviously we felt the town’s position was appropriate.”

According to the mayor, efforts were made to try and resolve the matter.

“Unfortunately, we could not do that outside the legal forum,” he said.

DiCarlo said the $25,000 will be put towards costs to defend its position.

While the matter is over, DiCarlo said the town takes no pleasure in the outcome.

“We don’t feel great about it but we did have a fiduciary duty to get taxpayers’ money back and we did that,” he said. “It was an unfortunate incident and it’s just not the kind of thing that you want to deal with when you’ve got all these other issues you have to deal with.”

In a report from treasurer Justin Rousseau that came before council on 2017 year-end financial ratios and indicators, it contained a portion which read: “Subsequent to 2017 year-end the claim Hobbs CV-16-23500 was settled with cost being awarded back to the Town of Amherstburg. In early 2018, $25,000 was received by the Town to cover the Town’s legal expenses for this matter. This is no longer a pending claim at the time of this report.”

 

Questions and tempers raised as fundraising expenditure discussed

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A question over an accounts payable to the Crown Park Corporation that was labelled for Belle Vue fundraising sparked a contentious debate Monday night.

Town council allowed Michael Prue, treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy, to speak and Prue questioned a few Belle Vue related expenses, with most of them being connected to the ongoing roof construction. When he got to the line about the Crown Park Corporation, he expressed curiosity and told council “we don’t pay for any fundraising.”

CAO John Miceli, after conferring with treasurer Justin Rousseau, said it was not actually for the Belle Vue fundraising but rather a planning study for the Amherstburg Community Foundation for fundraising efforts for all town initiatives.

Miceli said the study looks at raising money for town endeavors without having to rely on going to the taxpayers. A $6,000 payment was listed under the accounts payable section but the CAO indicated it was a $12,000 report.

“There are two payments of $6,000 to tell us how to fundraise?” asked Councillor Jason Lavigne, who also wanted to know who is on the foundation, when they meet and whether council can see minutes of their meetings.

Rousseau indicated the Amherstburg Community Foundation is a “holding account” and that money is reimbursed by the foundation for any cheques the town cuts. He said taxpayer money wasn’t used on the study.

“Who supported the $12,000 is the question,” Lavigne pressed. “Who paid the $12,000 for the study? I think we all want to know.”

Miceli said there are efforts being made to “accelerate” fundraising and that now “we have a study that will help us.” He said that funds raised by the foundation may be used for Belle Vue but research has shown that not all donors want to donate to Belle Vue and those donors may want to give funds to other projects.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said both himself and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale sit on the foundation.

Councillor Diane Pouget wondered if Crown Park Corporation had been hired by the foundation and Miceli said the foundation hadn’t hired anyone. The study was done in order to raise more money for the foundation, with the CAO adding the Belle Vue Conservancy has done a “great job raising money” but other avenues wanted to be explored by the foundation.

Prue emphasized he spoke up because he didn’t understand the fundraising expenditure.

“We’re fundraising for nothing,” he said.

Councillor Rick Fryer said he recalled getting updates when the Libro Centre was being built on the fundraising process.

Pouget said she called earlier Monday and was told by Rousseau it was for Belle Vue, and was upset with the responses she was getting at the meeting.

“I expect the treasurer to tell us the truth,” she said. “I am asking on behalf of the constituents.”
Rousseau said he had yet to review the document, and gave Pouget the most accurate information he had when she called.

“I gave you the best information I had this morning,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “If that has fallen short, I apologize.”

Administration is expected to give council more details on the matter at an upcoming meeting.

More ideas come in on what to do with the Belle Vue property

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

More ideas have been floated as the town held a second public meeting on what to do with the Belle Vue property.

About 25 people attended last Tuesday night’s meeting at the Libro Centre with more people from the general public attending this meeting than the first one held seven days earlier.

Similar to the May 29 meeting, attendees were told that as of May 31, the Belle Vue Conservancy had raised $210,000 in cash, had nearly $18,000 in in-kind contributions and another $65,000 in future cash pledges.

“We are starting phase one, which is the repairing of the roof,” said CAO John Miceli. “We’re trying to make it water-tight.”

Miceli praised the conservancy, stating they have done a good job raising money. Renderings depicts such things as gardens, brick pathways, a greenhouse, conference meeting centre, lighting, a bandshell and other amenities but the door has been left open for other ideas. Miceli said nothing has been adopted by council.

“It is an incredible property to be placed here in Amherstburg,” said Miceli. “We took a blank canvas and created something our community could enjoy as well as our region.”

Historian Robert Honor, who is also a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy, gave a history of the 200-year-old home from the time it was built by Robert Reynolds in 1816-19 through its various private owners, to its time as a veterans’ home and then as St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church. The church sold the property in 2000. The town bought it in 2016.

“Belle Vue seems to tell a story of people starting new adventures,” said Honor. “Belle Vue might be considered a symbol of new beginnings and new prosperity.”
Honor added that “as we speak, we are also part of the process of new beginnings as we discuss the future of Belle Vue.”

One of the renderings shown at the two recent public meetings shows the elevations of the historic building once Belle Vue is restored.

John McDonald said the fundraising process could be assisted if people could use the grounds. He suggested teaming with the Amherstburg Fort Malden Horticultural Society to spruce up the nine-acre site, with the first priority being to put in trees.

Use of the property could “build public momentum,” McDonald said, adding that such things as church picnics could be held on the grounds under a permit system.

The chief administrative officer replied that there are currently liability issues with Belle Vue as the site needs to be graded to make it safer. He did note that it is in the parks master plan. There is also no irrigation on the grounds to help water any plant materials at the current time.

The greenhouse that is proposed would allow the town to grown and maintain its own plant materials, he envisioned.

Councillor Leo Meloche spoke on the conference centre idea with Miceli indicating that the historic building could house smaller conferences while larger conferences could be held in a new building that could be built behind the home.

Meloche added the parks and gardens will take Belle Vue “to another level” but was hoping for minimal operating costs to run it, also hoping that would be self-sustaining.

Bob Rozankovic questioned whether the site could be self-sustaining with Miceli responding that the town would seek partnerships in running the site. He was confident it would be cost-neutral, envisioning that Belle Vue would be a destination that people from the region would want to book and attend.

A proposed look at what the Belle Vue property would look like.

Miceli added that a business model would have to be built but emphasized his belief Belle Vue could become a popular place in Amherstburg for residents and visitors alike.

“It’s a unique venue,” said Miceli. “There’s nothing like it.”

The CAO added it is “a totally different look and feel” than Willistead Manor in Windsor and believed there would be more amenities should Belle Vue be restored.

Treasurer Justin Rousseau agreed that there could be “a lot of uptake for bookings” at a restored Belle Vue and “that type of revenue stream” and that type of revenue could prove fruitful for the town.

Using the home as a bed and breakfast was floated but Miceli said they would have to work with a private operator to run it, should the town want to go in that direction. He said there could be an announcement soon as it relates to a hotel coming to Amherstburg.

Marc Renaud said relationships have to be built with the community to help get the site restored. He said the ongoing roof replacement shows there is activity at the site.

“It’s about donor. Money that will make the place run,” he said.

As for a timeline, Miceli said that is tough to give since the restoration depends on fundraising dollars. Should donors step up and grants come in, the actual construction process could take 18 months to three years on the home itself while the grounds could take approximately eight months to complete, according to the CAO.

Miceli said news about a federal grant could be coming soon.

“We are applying to every opportunity that comes along,” he said.

Paul Hertel, another member of the conservancy, recalled being on town council when King’s Navy Yard Park was created. He believed it is now a reflection of the community’s desire for growth, and that Belle Vue could turn into the same thing.

“I feel Amherstburg has great potential and energy to grow,” he said. “It takes a whole community to raise its collective conscience of who we are and the space we are blessed to occupy. I have great faith the process will be successful. It’s not a one-term project. It’s a life journey.”

An image of what a restored Belle Vue would look like, according to renderings by Architectura.

Miceli said the Belle Vue project and the project proposed for the Duffy’s property are among the most exciting he has dealt with in his 28-year municipal career.

“They are game-changers for the town,” he said.

The Belle Vue Conservancy’s next fundraiser is “All That Jazz for Belle Vue,” which is an event that includes a dinner and a show. It’s planned for June 25 at the Artisan Grill. Tickets are $80 per person and are available at the Artisan Grill, Amherstburg Freedom Museum or by calling Shirley Curson-Prue at 519-736-6947. The entertainment includes Renee King-Jackson and her Fabulous Foursome. It runs from 6-10 p.m.

For more information on future events or on the Belle Vue Conservancy, visit www.bellevueconservancy.com. To donate, people can visit www.amherstburg.ca/donate.

Belle Vue is located at 525 Dalhousie St. in Amherstburg.

Town approves $50,000 to fund implementation of staff accommodation review

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg has addressed a “staffing resources shortage” during the 2017 and 2018 budget deliberations and now are having difficulty finding places for them to work.

Town council authorized an amount not exceed $50,000 for implantation of a staff accommodation review. The results of that will see the lower level of the Amherstburg Municipal Building reconfigured to provide for additional work spaces. A report authored by treasurer Justin Rousseau stated that plan will “accommodate the current staff accommodation needs at the municipal offices potentially for the next few years, subject to growth in the town and administrative demands.”

However, Rousseau cautioned that it does not provide “a comprehensive long-term solution” to address long-term growth in municipal operations nor does it address compliance with accessibility legislation.

Councillor Leo Meloche questioned why the study was not a budget item during 2018 deliberations with CAO John Miceli admitting it had been missed. He said “for full transparency, we came to council” regarding the matter.

Meloche further pressed as to whether the matter should have been put off to the 2019 town budget, but Miceli said the staff have been hired and now need a place to work out of.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo indicated that he has first-hand knowledge that there are tight quarters at town hall.

“I’m sharing my office with a new hire,” he said, “not that I’m complaining.”

The Town of Amherstburg had previously applied for grant funding to assist with town hall upgrades and the ability to move further services to the Libro Centre. That grant was unsuccessful. The building and planning departments have been based out of the Libro Centre for the last few years.

Town agrees to new positions, decides against others

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

There will be new positions in Amherstburg, with some positions garnering more debate than others during budget deliberations.

Amherstburg town council agreed to fund an additional 1.5 bodies in the tourism department at a cost of $88,552 with CAO John Miceli noting there was a “significant amount” of increase programming on the horizon. Tourism co-ordinator/visitor information centre Jen Ibrahim noted the town’s new strategic plan states the department is “poised for growth” and that “tourism numbers increased year-over-year” for the last decade. She told town council that there has been a 38 per cent increase since 2016.

Ibrahim further told town council that numbers need to increase to justify a hotel coming to Amherstburg.

The department is currently staffed by Ibrahim and manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota – the latter missing the budget deliberations due to a family emergency – and Ibrahim said it has led to seven-day-a-week workloads. “Exciting new initiatives” such as the Duffy’s development and Belle Vue property will require time and resources to help write grants, she said.

Tourism staff are also looking at another major festival for the Civic Holiday weekend in 2018, she indicated.

“We want to keep Amherstburg top of mind,” said Ibrahim, telling council a risk of not hiring additional bodies hinders succession planning.

“We’re just looking for sustainable work years ahead,” she added.

Councillor Rick Fryer noted his daughters made a video documenting the “Canuck it Up!” Festival and touted its success. Fryer made the motion to bring in 1.5 new positions and told Ibrahim “we really appreciate the work you do.” Councillor Leo Meloche said he was fine with one new position, but didn’t favour 1.5.

The public works department will be getting one new position, and came close to a second. An engineering technician, a position that carries a cost of $90,726 including salary and benefits, was approved but a supervisor of roads and fleet position – valued at $113,408 – was eliminated roughly 90 minutes after it had been approved.

Council emerged from its dinner break Wednesday evening with Fryer making the motion to reconsider the previous motion that approved the position.

Fryer believed there would be three management positions for six employees, a concerned shared by councillors Diane Pouget and Jason Lavigne.

“It would be hard to justify this position to the public,” said Pouget. “We need more people working, not overseeing.”

Public works administration argued that it wasn’t actually three management positions in roads and fleet as there is only one manager there. The others are contained within other aspects of the department, PWD officials added.

The motion to approve the public works budget without that position failed on a tie vote with Pouget, Lavigne and Fryer in favour and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Councillor Leo Meloche and Councillor Joan Courtney opposed. Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale was absent for Wednesday’s deliberations.

DiCarlo noted that even though the motion lost, the position still won’t be created as it was no longer approved and didn’t exist in Amherstburg to begin with.

The position of financial analyst, the cost of which is $95,644 including salary and benefits, was approved by town council with Miceli and treasurer Justin Rousseau strongly advocating for the position. Rousseau said it was the fourth time requesting the position, one that was recommended in the Deloitte report.

While Rousseau stated the finance department has made “leaps and bounds in the last few years,” the department is not at the “mature” status as recommended in the report. He said they can’t do business reviews and other functions in as timely of a fashion. A financial analyst would assist the department in finding additional savings.

“In my professional opinion, this is a required item to get to the level of reporting that a corporation of this size should have to its council,” said Rousseau. “We are doing more than ever but doing it with the same people. To not make this investment would not serve the community well.”

DiCarlo said he questions during hiring debates whether the job would pay for itself and whether the work is not getting done and Miceli was emphatic that the position was a necessary one in his opinion.

“This position will pay for itself,” said Miceli.

The CAO recalled that in his former position as executive director of parks and recreation in Windsor, financial analysts helped turn things around from a deficit to a surplus. The hiring of a financial analyst would be a “minimal investment for council to make,” he said, adding “I believe it will provide excellent benefits to the town. It will pay for itself.”

In a recorded vote during Tuesday’s budget deliberations, six of the seven council members voted in favour with Fryer being the lone vote in opposition.

While not the full-time position administration had put in for, town council did approve the policy co-ordinator job on a part-time basis. The original request of $76,238 was cut in half.

Council made progress on updating its policies earlier in the term but Miceli noted no progress has been made since as the person that had been working on them is no longer with the town. A total of 122 policies still need to be reviewed, he said, adding the request was for a one-year contract position.

The town got itself “in trouble” because of a lack of policies to address the decisions of council, the CAO stated, but Pouget disagreed. She said there were policies in place but she accused councils of the day for not following them.

“The policy is only good if council is following that policy,” she said.

DiPasquale believed it to be an important position, stating the policies are “one of the most important things that need to get done.” Rousseau added there are legislative changes coming and that there is still more “heavy lifting” that need to be done.

Meloche didn’t believe in hiring a person from the outside to update policies as they don’t know the town well enough.

“I think we have to look at a better approach in the long-term,” he said.

Lavigne also disagreed with a full-time position, stating that Rousseau had helped create or update 23 policies in two years. He did note that upper tiers of government, such as the province, should help municipalities as legislation is creating more work.

Pouget said university students are looking for placements and suggested the town engage a student to do some of the work, but DiCarlo didn’t think that would be feasible. The mayor, who is also a physics lab co-ordinator at the University of Windsor, said the goal of the co-op department is to give students experience but supervision is still required.

“You will still tie up a full-time position,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said he was OK with not approving the position as long as council understood that policies would not get done or be updated “very slowly.”

Town council also approved a part-time bylaw officer at a cost of $33,452. Meloche said they have been hearing bylaw-related issues over the past few years and advocated for the position further by stating that new bylaws will need monitoring as well.

“It’s time we match the resources with the requirements,” said Meloche.

After Pouget raised concerns about issues she believed had to be dealt with, council went in-camera Wednesday afternoon for a 45-minute session after which Miceli reported out that it had to do with a motion made in January 2016 about council wanting $100,000 in savings. Those savings were achieved, according to Miceli, through the amalgamation of the bylaw and building departments.

While some positions were approved, others were denied. A part-time policy co-ordinator position will not be hired in 2018, though some council members suggested it could be reconsidered for 2019. Streamlining committees were cited as a reason that it isn’t necessary in 2018 with Lavigne noting some committees were also eliminated as the committees were “not following procedures.”

A part-time committee co-ordinator carried a cost of $29,517.

There also won’t be a communications officer hired in 2018 as council didn’t approve the $95,644 cost that came with it. Miceli said he had a concern over messaging that “we want to bring forth in the community” and that messaging through social media is important and has to be accurate.

“I feel very strongly this is a position that brings merit,” he said, noting similar positions exist in Lakeshore, LaSalle, Leamington and Essex.

Council did not agree.

Lavigne said council uses the mayor as its “voice box,” adding “he does a tremendous job.” He didn’t believe there were enough people using the Talk the Burg website to warrant a new position.

“It says to me people are content and happy living in Amherstburg,” said Lavigne.

Meloche agreed that the mayor and CAO are doing a good job representing Amherstburg. DiCarlo joked that his Facebook account “blows up” on occasion but said he will try and stay on top of issues. The communications officer position can wait, he believed, as “we’ve got other bills to pay.”