Joan Courtney

Outgoing town council members say their goodbyes

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A combined 38 years of experience left town council at the Nov. 26 meeting.

The five outgoing town council members bid farewell at the final meeting of the term. Councillor Diane Pouget said her goodbyes after a combined 14 years of service, as she served from 1991-97 and again from 2010-18. Pouget thanked her fellow councillors, including four that “have been my saviours in the past year. You have done a very good job. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to you.”

Pouget also offered her thanks to administration. She said she fielded the most complaints out of all of council and that she would bring those complaints to administration.

“You were always there for me,” said Pouget. “I thank you for that.”

Thanks were also shared with the Amherstburg Police Service, Chief Tim Berthiaume and the Amherstburg Police Services Board. Pouget thanked Berthiaume for his years of service and hoped the transition to the Windsor Police Service would be a smooth one.

Pouget also thanked the public for allowing her to be one of their council members for the last 14 years.

Councillor Leo Meloche, who has now ascended to the deputy mayor’s job, praised Pouget.

“I know she is very passionate about what she does,” said Meloche. “I really respect her for that. She’s a fighter for the people. I wish her the best in whatever she chooses to do.”

Courtney leaves after four years of service as a town councillor. The former Catholic school board trustee thanked Pouget for “everything she has done the last four years. I admire her more than she’ll ever know.”

Courtney also thanked the rest of her colleagues, stating “it’s been a real ride.” She paid tribute to councillors Rick Fryer, Jason Lavigne and Meloche. Of retiring Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale, she stated “I just love you Bart. I wish you well in your retirement.” She also thanked the citizens, including the crowd that regularly attends council meetings.

“You keep tabs on us,” she said.

Thanks were also given to Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, treasurer Justin Rousseau and the rest of administration. She referred to clerk Paula Parker and deputy clerk Tammy Fowkes as “my saviours” for all the help they have given her over the last four years.

“It’s been a ride,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne said “I can’t give enough praise to Councillor Pouget,” recalling her days of helping to save General Amherst High School to the present.

“To those lobbing insults, none of you have given what she’s given to the town,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne said he was mentored by Pouget. He added that Fryer helped get him into politics and also thanked Courtney for her support. He also wanted the community to support Meloche as he moved into the deputy mayor role. He also thanked DiPasquale and pointed out his longevity in public service.

Recommending that people “don’t listen to the noise on social media,” Lavigne said he wants the town to move forward.

“I go out of here with my head held high,” he stated.

Fryer also praised his fellow council members. He said Courtney brought her knowledge of the school board to town council and that knowledge “got us through a difficult time.” He added that Lavigne is passionate about what he does and told him he “did an admirable job the last four years.”

Five members of town council said farewell at the Nov. 26 meeting. From left: Councillor Rick Fryer, Councillor Diane Pouget, Councillor Joan Courtney, Councillor Jason Lavigne, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale.

Like Courtney before him, Fryer referred to Meloche as “a numbers guy” and wished him continued good luck over the next four years. However, Fryer also said he would like to see more county dollars flow through Amherstburg and said, “County Road 20 looks like (crap) right now.”

Fryer said Pouget was “like a mom to me” and also pointed out her passion on town issues. He noted Pouget’s passion didn’t waver despite tough family circumstances this past term. He also praised his father Mike, who was also his campaign manager in every election he ran in.

Even though he was defeated in his bid for deputy mayor Oct. 22, Fryer said he was happy because he got an opportunity to represent the residents. He said he was always thinking of the people when he voted. He said that difficult emotional times after his ankle injury, coupled with criticism from members of the public, caused him to contemplate whether he should “get rid of myself” but “the people of Amherstburg kept me up.” He ran for council again, he said, to show “you can rise above that and be a leader in the community.”

Fryer also said that administration did a great job and “we’ve got to keep moving forward.” He believed social media should be used for such things as congratulatory messages but encouraged the community to not to use it as much.

“Get behind the next council and stay the hell off of social media,” said Fryer.

DiCarlo missed the Nov. 26 meeting due to illness. He did send written remarks, that were read by Parker.

“Over the past four years, this council has authorized and implemented many guiding documents that future councils will rely upon – all with a view to improving the quality of life for residents of Amherstburg,” DiCarlo wrote. “The Community Based Strategic Plan, with its extensive public consultation, will help to shape the future of Amherstburg. But the outgoing council did much more than simply authorize the preparation of these documents – they also acted upon them.”

DiCarlo stated that “strategic initiatives” such as the purchases of the former Duffy’s property and the Belle Vue site and the Bell Fibre to the Home initiative were all supported by the town’s Community Based Strategic Plan.

“A progressive council looks beyond four years,” DiCarlo wrote. “That’s what this council has done.”

Of DiPasquale, DiCarlo pointed out DiPasquale’s years of service with the Amherstburg Police Service as well as his eight years as a member of council – the first four as a councillor and the latter four as deputy mayor.

“It was a pleasure to serve with him as a representative on county council,” stated DiCarlo. “We thank him for his service.”

Regarding Pouget, DiCarlo noted her 14 years of public service to the residents of Amherstburg.

“She is a passionate councillor and her work with the parks committee is something that I think the residents will remember for years to come,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo stated that Fryer “has been a continuous advocate for infrastructure as well as environmental issues. The past two years, he has also served as chair of the Essex Region Conservation Authority.”

Of Lavigne, DiCarlo noted that they both served together on the Amherstburg Police Services Board as well as council.

“He has served with passion and commitment,” said DiCarlo of Lavigne.

DiCarlo also thanked Courtney for her service on the 2014-18 council.

“Councillor Courtney brought her experience as a school board representative to the council chamber and served with honour and passion,” he stated in his written remarks.

 

Courtney presses for more information on Amherstburg Community Foundation’s fundraising method

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Councillor Joan Courtney wanted more information on how the Crown Park Corporation is proceeding with fundraising for Belle Vue and brought her motion to council.

Courtney’s motion asked for the Crown Park Corporation’s progress to date, noting the firm was hired at a cost of $12,000, and the motion also asked the Amherstburg Community Foundation (ACF) to provide council with information pertaining to how the Crown Park Corporation was selected.

CAO John Miceli noted the goal of the foundation is to raise money for the Town of Amherstburg and that it consists of the mayor, deputy mayor, treasurer and manager of recreation services.

“There is no direct connection between the Belle Vue Conservancy and the Amherstburg Community Foundation,” said Miceli.

Of the ACF, Miceli added “it was established under a separate article of corporation and it does not report to council.”

Courtney said she still wanted to know what the $12,000 was used for and how the corporation was selected. Miceli said the ACF’s funds were used to try and raise more money through the foundation. Some donate with a specific purpose in mind while others will simply donate to the foundation in general. The report generated by the Crown Park Corporation will “provide for a much more robust foundation,” Miceli suggested, adding the foundation could look vastly different if recommendations are implemented. Projects that are currently funded through tax dollars could be funded through the foundation if a more robust foundation is established, Miceli further suggested.

The CAO added that if council wants more information from the ACF, he will go get it.

“If council wants me to approach them, I will,” he said.

 

Recount to occur in deputy mayor race

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

There will be a recount in the deputy mayor race.

Town council approved Diane Pouget’s request Tuesday night with the council members voting in favour being Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and councillors Jason Lavigne and Joan Courtney. No other member of council was in the chambers for the vote, with others either declaring conflicts or vacationing.

(UPDATE — Town administration stated Friday that the recount will occur Nov. 21.)

Pouget said the meeting had been originally cancelled and accused Mayor Aldo DiCarlo of doing so without discussing the matter with the rest of council. She thanked those who helped petition to get the meeting rescheduled, with those council members being DiPasquale, Courtney and Lavigne.

Residents packed the council chambers Tuesday night with crowds overflowing into the lobby at town hall. Pouget called the support she received “amazing,” though there were residents on hand to support Leo Meloche.

“From the beginning, I was told I had to go to the Superior Court,” said Pouget, who lost to Meloche by four votes in the Oct. 22 municipal election. “I kept getting one roadblock after another.”

Pouget said she hopes a bylaw is enacted by the next council and hopes “no other member of council has to go through this again.” She believes it should be for difference of at least ten votes, but the matter should be decided collectively by the new council.

Noting her original request was a recount for all races, Pouget said she had to drop that request as it would have put six of the seven members of council in conflict. She added Tuesday night that she was unclear when the recount would take place, believing it would happen in the next 10-15 days. She plans to have her lawyer and a scrutineer with her for the recount, adding Meloche has the same opportunity.

While not at the meeting himself, Meloche had legal representation on hand. Dina D’Andrea questioned the need for a recount, believing the electronic tabulators would return the same result.

Clerk Paula Parker said the town would have to ask election officers to return and rent the electronic tabulators again. An estimate for the cost of a recount is $25,000 with election co-ordinator expenses and legal opinions also factored in.

It was learned later in the meeting the town budgeted $125,000 for the 2018 municipal election and used $75,000.

Lavigne outlined numerous concerns, including with the $25,000 cost, which he later referred to as a “guesstimate” when speaking to the media. During the meeting, Lavigne said he did not receive a report to substantiate those costs and wondered whether it was “a fear tactic.”

“I have some serious concerns about the way things are being done around here,” said Lavigne.

The meeting cancellation was “a farce,” Lavigne added, and believed the 83 spoiled ballots should be looked at again.

“Four votes is not a lot when you have 80 spoiled ballots,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne added he wants the new council to get started on solid ground and not have any questions around it. He stated he didn’t recall any uproar surrounding the recount in the 2003 municipal election between Paul Renaud and Ria Smith.

“I just want to get to the bottom of it and get it over with,” he said, adding he will support either candidate after the recount.

Councillor Diane Pouget speaks to town council Nov. 13. Pouget’s request for a recount was approved after she was defeated by four votes by Councillor Leo Meloche in the race for deputy mayor in the Oct. 22 election.

Lavigne also questioned why no bylaw was ever brought to council to deal with recounts. He acknowledged it is not a requirement under the Municipal Elections Act but recommends it in case of a close vote. Lavigne believed the town dropped the ball on not having a such a bylaw in place.

CAO John Miceli said a report was brought to council in Dec. 2017 outlining election procedures and that all candidates received a copy of those procedures.

Most residents that got up to speak supported a recount. Ken Thrasher believed that, in the interest of accountability and transparency, a recount should take place while Larry Bezaire said people in Richmond Terrace or Seasons Amherstburg may not have known to colour in a circle and put a check mark or “X” instead. Parker indicated testing was done on the ballots including with various types of markings and if a tabulator rejected the ballot, voters would either be given a chance to go behind a privacy screen to fix it or were given a new ballot.

Parker guaranteed that 82 of the 83 voters that had spoiled ballots were given new ballots in order that the ballot could be filled out properly. She said the 83 spoiled ballots were listed on the report to provide a ballot count.

Lori Wightman and Lavigne sparred over the recount issue. Wightman noted she was 33 votes away from a council seat and Lavigne was 37 votes out. Wightman would eventually ask for a recount for the councillor’s race but Lavigne said he would not because of the issue of most members of council being in conflict. He also wondered if Wightman was there to “sink the vote” on the recount issue for deputy mayor.

John McDonald also was in favour of a recount.

“This is a democratic process,” said McDonald. “If it is less than ten votes, simple practice is there should be a recount to verify the results.”

McDonald called the cost of a recount “the cost of democracy.”

“It’s four votes,” said Gregory Moore, who was also a councillor candidate. “I don’t care who wins or loses, you need a recount.”

Larry Amlin called for council to “do the right thing” and vote for a recount. He believed “transparency went right out the door” in the last eight months of the current term.

“Do a recount and put it to bed,” said Amlin. “The next council will have to deal with it right from the beginning and it will tear this town apart.”

“We need to stop the bickering,” added Alison Baldwin. “Count the votes.”

“It just comes down to simple sense,” added Courtney, who agreed with her colleague Lavigne. “It’s four votes. We are Amherstburg. We are a democracy. Citizens are entitled to that democracy.”

Courtney noted there was $50,000 left in the election budget.

“It’s taxpayers’ money but a recount is part of the election,” she said. “It’s a simple thing. Let’s vote on it and put the process in motion.”

Developer to pay for cost of tree and its removal from construction site

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A town-owned tree will cost a local builder $8,500 plus removal costs.

Drew Coulson appeared before town council last Tuesday night regarding a tree located at the corner of Lowes Side Road and Sandwich St. S. He said his company was represented at the Committee of Adjustment several times on the matter and the original intent was to keep the tree.

The installation of storm and sanitary sewers was done in the area, but a letter to the town from Coulson stated “I am also submitting letters from 4 legitimate sources stating that the actions of building the new homes on the Lots, in no way initiated the decaying and subsequent dying condition of the tree. Therefore, I submit the following letters attesting to the fact that the tree was well-advanced in decay prior to the commencement of construction of the new homes.”

“I’m willing to pay to cut the tree down,” said Coulson. “I’m not one who likes cutting down trees.”

Councillor Diane Pouget said a report from the town’s arborist said the tree was formerly in good condition before construction began in the area.

A tree near the corner of Sandwich St. S. and Lowes Side Road was the source of controversy at the most recent town council meeting.

“Thank you for your letter although I don’t believe any of it,” Pouget told Coulson.

Pouget said the town’s tree bylaw “is very, very clear” in that it says that trees have to be protected if near excavation and that snow fence or another type of barrier has to be installed. She said she didn’t see any of that near the tree in question, a 36-foot silver maple.

CAO John Miceli said the tree bylaw is also very clear with regards to how to determine the value of trees with Miceli adding that he told Coulson that the cost of the tree is $8,500 and the builder is responsible for removing the tree. Miceli added that town arborist Bill Roesel said the tree is a danger and needs to be removed.

“I was not going to stop construction of three houses,” said Miceli.

Councillor Leo Meloche believed some of these types of issues are on the town, as trees are placed in “precarious positions.”

“We’ve created some of our own problems here,” said Meloche.

Councillor Joan Courtney said it “would have been nice” if the arborist was at the meeting. She questioned the tree having been fine one year and having to come down the next.

“If there are trees deteriorating that fast in one year, we should look at all of our trees,” said Courtney.

Integrity commissioner to investigate alleged in-camera leaks

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Who leaked information from an in-camera meeting and the circumstances surrounding it will be subject to an investigation to be conducted by integrity commissioner Bruce Elman as well as a private investigator.

The integrity commissioner will investigate council members that were in the Sept. 10 in-camera meeting while the other investigator will look at administration. Mayor Aldo DiCarlo called the special council meeting Monday night and said from an e-mail chain he was a part of that there was a “clear violation” and that the leak occurred somewhere between Sept. 10-13. Information was sent to Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB) chair Bob Rozankovic and Rozankovic sent an e-mail to council and CAO John Miceli with concerns about it.

No names were released as to whom the person or people are believed to be.

DiCarlo called for the integrity commissioner to investigate the alleged “breach of confidentiality” and council would agree, though not before other amendments were debated, defeated and adopted.

Councillor Rick Fryer’s amendment that council appointed Police Services Board members be removed during the investigation and the positions refilled was defeated. Councillor Jason Lavigne believed that “adding that clause to the motion smacks of guilt before a trial,” adding “that seems to be going a lot around this town lately.”

Lavigne questioned why this particular leak was of such interest and why it warranted a meeting. Lavigne said the current council hadn’t had a meeting of that nature before and further stated he will be asking his own questions at an upcoming Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB) meeting, of which he is a part of. He added he e-mailed DiCarlo several months ago about an apparent breach at a parks committee meeting.

“Know what was done? Absolutely nothing,” said Lavigne.

DiCarlo took exception, responding that “you can’t say what I did or didn’t do” and added after the meeting that all possible violations are taken seriously and treated individually. He also said after the meeting that any member of council can file a complaint with the integrity commissioner if a breach occurs and that the responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the mayor.

Councillor Diane Pouget opposed Fryer’s amendment and that she believed “we are already pre-judging someone” and that “we don’t know who it is.” Fryer said he was not trying to accuse anyone and that his amendment would have removed the people from the APSB while the investigation was ongoing.

“I’m a little befuddled on why you are trying to lay blame on myself or the police board,” asked APSB chair Bob Rozankovic, when Fryer’s amendment was being discussed.

Rozankovic said he advised council and CAO John Miceli regarding the information he received, something he did “out of respect, not to make your lives difficult.” He noted the board is in the middle of severance package negotiations and other matters relating to the switch to Windsor.

The alleged breach did not occur from a APSB member, Rozankovic maintained.

“That came from someone else,” he said. “It was not the police board that created the breach.”

Fryer stated that when Rozankovic sent an e-mail to all of council  – including Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Pouget – it was not the correct course of action as the two council members were in conflict and not in the Sept. 10 in-camera session.

“When you declare a conflict, you are not privy to what happened in that meeting at all,” he said.

Councillor Leo Meloche said answers are being sought and that all parties are being looked at. He said it was an attempt to “put it out into the open” and find out why it happened.

“At the end of the day, I just want an answer,” Meloche said.

Councillor Joan Courtney wanted to make sure administration was investigated as well.

“With all due respect to administration, they were in the room too,” said Courtney. “Members of the police service board haven’t done anything wrong. They were acting on the information they were given.”
Town council voted 4-2 to reject the motion with Fryer’s amendment with DiCarlo noting his objection was due to the rest of council wanting administration to be involved in the investigation as well.

The second motion, which included DiCarlo’s request for an integrity commissioner to investigate council members and Pouget’s request that administration be investigated by an independent investigator was passed unanimously.

Following the meeting, Rozankovic said he was informed of information that he didn’t like was in town council’s with his belief that information was in the purview of the APSB. The e-mail voiced his concern that the information was out there and that it involved the employment status of people in the board’s employ.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Rozankovic. “This is all about the police issue. Things may not be going exactly as they would have liked (with the police transfer to Windsor). They have promised zero cost to the transition at all five of their town hall meetings, and I guarantee you this will not be the case.”

Rozankovic said the costs won’t be as promised and that he believes council has to blame someone. He said he would tell the integrity commissioner where the information originated, but didn’t tell council.

“They’re scared of the outcome of certain things and they’ll try to block certain things from happening and certain information from getting out,” said Rozankovic. “It’s the silly season.”

Fryer questioned why Rozankovic didn’t reveal more information about where the alleged leak came from. He asked that “if it’s silly season politics,” why didn’t Rozankovic inform council and “what do you have to hide?”

Fryer added that he has no reason to believe the transfer of policing duties to Windsor isn’t going smoothly.

“In general, I haven’t heard of anything that could cause a derailment,” he said.

In response to what was in the e-mail chain, Fryer indicated he could not comment on it because it contained in-camera information.

Fryer, Rozankovic, Meloche and Pouget are all running for deputy mayor in the Oct. 22 election. There were at least 13 candidates counted in the gallery or in the lobby at the meeting, not counting the candidates who are also members of the current council.

DiCarlo told the media after the meeting that, as the head of council, he had to call the meeting once he discovered there was a possible breach. He disputed claims it was politically motivated.

“It’s not the case,” he said.

The mayor added he did “what I was supposed to do” and that was to call a meeting and let town council discuss the issue. He wanted the two separate investigations, he said, because “no one should be targeted” and that it should include everyone.