Leo Meloche

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.”

Recount issue becomes more complex in deputy mayor race

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The deputy mayor race saw the top two candidates finish within four votes of each other with a recount appearing to be more difficult than originally anticipated.

Leo Meloche finished with 2,579 votes while Diane Pouget ended up with 2,575 votes with Pouget’s route to a recount becoming more complex thanks to the Town of Amherstburg having no policy or bylaw pertaining on to how a recount would be addressed. Pouget said she requested a recount Tuesday morning but was told she could not have one as the town didn’t enact a policy or pass a bylaw regarding possible recounts before May 1.

Pouget said she was “very disappointed” to lose to Meloche by only four votes but understood it was the will of the people.

“I really respect my constituents. They voted in favour of Councillor Meloche to be deputy mayor,” said Pouget.

Pouget, also a current councillor, said she received a number of phone calls and e-mails suggesting she ask for a recount but was notified when she went to town hall Tuesday morning that a recount could not occur due to a new law that came into effect that called for the municipality having to have a bylaw or policy in effect by May 1.

“It appears my hands are tied,” she said, though noted she has two lawyers looking into the situation.

Regardless of the result, Pouget said she will still try and work on behalf of any resident that contacts her.

“I’m going to be there for anyone who needs help,” she said.

Should Pouget wish to pursue a recount, she would now have to go through the Superior Court and give reasonable grounds for a recount, said clerk Paula Parker. Election results became official Tuesday and Pouget would have 30 days from then to make her request.

Parker confirmed that Pouget did ask for a recount but an automatic recount is only available in case of a tie vote. As there is no bylaw or policy, the town has to rely on provincial legislation and that a recount has to be requested through the Superior Court.

There were no reports of issues with the process or the tabulators on election day, Parker added.

“Everything went very smoothly,” Parker reported.

DiCarlo re-elected mayor, Meloche narrowly wins deputy mayor

 

By Ron Giofu

Aldo DiCarlo is returning as the Mayor of Amherstburg.

DiCarlo was re-elected Monday night, as the incumbent finished with 4,576 votes. He was challenged by Glenn Swinton, who finished with 2,726 votes.

The race of the night was for the deputy mayor’s position. Leo Meloche topped his council colleague Diane Pouget by a mere four votes – 2,579 to 2,575 – with Amherstburg Police Services Board chair Bob Rozankovic finishing with 1,142 votes. Rick Fryer, a current town councillor like Pouget and Meloche, finished with 948 votes.

There will be five new councillors with former journalist Donald McArthur topping the vote-getters with 3,508 votes. Michael Prue finished second with 3,011 votes. In third spot was Patricia Simone with 2,966 votes while Peter Courtney came in fourth with 2,402 votes. Marc Renaud grabbed the fifth spot with 2,274 votes.

Lori Wightman finished just out of the running with 2,241 votes while Jason Lavigne, the only incumbent councillor seeking re-election to that position, finished seventh with 2,237 votes.

All results were unofficial as of press time. Voter turnout was roughly 42 per cent, but clerk Paula Parker told the River Town Times that figure was not exact as of late Monday night.

Aldo DiCarlo celebrates his re-election as mayor with wife Laura Monday night at Wolfhead Distillery.

DiCarlo, who will enter his second term, said he felt good with the result.

“I wouldn’t have signed up for it if I didn’t want the job so it’s good,” said DiCarlo at his victory party at Wolfhead Distillery.

Noting he felt “lots of relief,” he ignored people who were telling him beforehand that he was going to win.

“I am not one to take anything for granted,” said DiCarlo. “It’s never over until it’s over. Now it’s over and the results are in.”

DiCarlo said he hasn’t stopped working even though there was an election and stated, although people questioned the timing of last week’s hotel announcements, those were a “culmination of four years of working with developers.” He stated that the new council will have to deal with these issues right away but that, plus the forcemain, two condominium projects and finishing the fiber internet project, are “good news” issues they have to finish.

“There’s a lot of good things ready to go,” said DiCarlo.

However, the new council will soon have to go into budget sessions and that is a different process than many might be used to, DiCarlo acknowledged. Training will be big for the new councillors but said this council faces a better situation than the outgoing council, which had no money in cash reserves and other issues to tend to in 2014.

Councillor and Deputy Mayor-elect Leo Meloche (left) chats with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo at Wolfhead Distillery Monday night.

Retaining his seat as mayor also means DiCarlo is retaining his spot on Essex County council. With Warden Tom Bain not seeking that position again and Deputy Warden Ken Antaya not seeking re-election as LaSalle mayor, those spots are now available but DiCarlo is uncertain whether or not to seek them.

“My personality is to focus on what you can focus on,” he said. He noted with his day job as physics lab co-ordinator at the University of Windsor, his role as mayor and the fact he still had to campaign left him little time to consider anything else.

“I figured I’d have to get past this election first,” he said. “I haven’t made that decision (on seeking a further role on county council) yet.”

Meloche trailed Pouget much of the night, but surged ahead at the end to narrowly win the deputy mayor position.

“I feel elated right now,” he said, just after results came in at the Libro Centre. “I guess my hard work paid off.”

Meloche congratulated all who participated in the election and was confident DiCarlo would retain the mayor’s chair. He said he knew Pouget had a strong following but “I guess I have a strong following as well.”

“At the end of the day, I’m at a loss for words,” said Meloche. “I’m looking forward to the next four years.”

From a personal standpoint, Meloche said he wants to take a little break as he had to campaign, continue in his role as a town councillor not to mention having to recover after the loss of his wife earlier this year. He said he spent a year-and-a-half caring for her plus tending to his other responsibilities.

“I just want some me time to recharge my batteries,” he said.

From a political standpoint, Meloche said the town has to keep growing and they have to work with the developers to get shovels in the ground as it relates to the two hotel announcements.

“We have good things going,” he said. “The town has to expand and grow to relieve pressure on the tax base.”

Unofficial vote totals, courtesy of the Town of Amherstburg’s website.

Pouget wasn’t sure as of Monday night whether she would ask for a recount.

“The people voted. That’s what they wanted,” she said. “I did my best for 14 years. It’s obvious they wanted change. I wish them all the best.”

Pouget said she knew it would be a tough race.

“I accept what the people have voted,” she said, adding that if people knew that council didn’t know ahead of time of the two hotel announcements, the result could have been different.

“I think that would have made a big difference,” said Pouget.

In the other mayoral races around the region, Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda MacDonald unseated incumbent mayor John Paterson, while Larry Snively won the mayor’s job in Essex. Marc Bondy will succeed Antaya in LaSalle while Drew Dilkens retained his job in Windsor. Bain was acclaimed in Lakeshore as was Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara and Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos.

Ron LeClair was acclaimed as Greater Essex County District School Board while results of the local Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board were unavailable as of press time.

Town council formally decides what to do with Belle Vue

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg purchased Belle Vue in 2016 and now they’ve decided what to do with it.

Town council decided to use it as a conference centre and wedding venue as part of last Tuesday night’s meeting. Councillor Diane Pouget declared conflict of interest due to the proximity of her home to the site while Councillor Jason Lavigne cited the proximity of his parents’ home as his reason for declaring conflict.

Councillor Rick Fryer had questions over maintenance for the property but CAO John Miceli noted the only real issues at this point is grass cutting. Maintenance for future issues like the botanical gardens are budgetary matters for down the road, but the Dalhousie St. property has to be developed first.

Use of taxpayer money was of concern to Councillor Leo Meloche, who wanted to ensure that no taxpayer money be committed for any work, repairs or restoration work without specific council approval identifiable to the project or undertaking. Meloche said council has to be aware of all repairs being done and not find out afterward that additional work is required.

Town council has formally decided the Belle Vue will be used as a conference centre and wedding venue.

Miceli said the town received grant money that was specifically earmarked for the roof project and debated with Meloche about whether that was taxpayer money.

Meloche added that the town has to “protect the asset” but at the same time, ensure there is financial accountability in place.

Treasurer Justin Rousseau stated that none of the work that has been done at the Belle Vue property happened before council was informed. Miceli added that “anyone suggesting we have not been transparent is more than welcome to look at the books.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said the motion at hand was not to approve any funding for Belle Vue, but to assist with fundraising.

“We have had interest in fundraising with big numbers,” said DiCarlo, adding that potential donors want to know what will be happening with the site before committing any dollars to it.

“There shouldn’t be any concerns about money,” he said. “It will come before council.”

Deputy mayor candidates square off

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The candidates for deputy mayor went head-to-head last Thursday evening in the second of two “Meet the Candidates” nights organized by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC).

Held at Western Secondary School, the event featured Rick Fryer, Diane Pouget, Leo Meloche and Bob Rozankovic making opening and closing statements with questions also being posed by moderator Patty Handysides of AM800. Many of the questions were the same as the previous night’s councillor debates and had been sent in by members of the public.

“Infrastructure is a need, not a want,” said Fryer.

Fryer added that jobs are also needed and that the mayor and chief administrative officer (CAO) are already doing “a great job” in bringing new investments to Amherstburg.

“We definitely need jobs,” he said. “Amherstburg is ready for new innovation and jobs.”

Fibre internet coming to town will assist in bringing jobs to town, Fryer believed, and that the town needs to go after employment for such lands as the former General Chemical property and other areas.

“I’m always looking after the ratepayers,” said Fryer.

Fryer said infrastructure is the top item on his to-do list and that council was saddled with a lot of infrastructure needs when they took office in Dec. 2014. He said the town has to expand its tax base.

Meloche said his late wife grew to love Amherstburg and that he found time to take care of her plus look after his other obligations when she was ill.

“I did what needed to be done,” said Meloche. “I fulfilled my commitments.”

Meloche said he brings sound financial accountability and business analysis to the table and that the current council was able to make “substantial improvements” in town.

While noting there are issues like Belle Vue, Duffy’s and the roads still left to be resolved, Meloche said the town has to “keep the momentum” and continue to make progress.

“Progress doesn’t just happen,” he said. “We need to keep working at it.”

Meloche said the problems relating to roads have been “20 years in the making” but the town now has an asset management plan and levies to help pay for projects.

“Unfortunately, what taxpayers didn’t pay 20 years ago is going to be put on their shoulders in the next four years,” he said. “There’s no way around it. We will have to continue to pay for the errors of the past.”

Pouget outlined her past experiences, dating back to the 1990’s when she headed up the Parent-Teacher Council (PTA) at General Amherst High School. She said they fought to preserve the school from being lost by the public board and they were successful in keeping it as General Amherst after some struggles. She said she was sued at the time, adding “Glenn, I know what you’re going through,” in reference to mayoral candidate Glenn Swinton’s ongoing defamation suit filed against him by CAO John Miceli.

Pouget said efforts to save the school included blocking off streets, meeting provincial officials and gaining national headlines. The lawsuit against her was eventually dropped. That led to the start of her career in municipal politics. She said they had to save General Amherst again earlier this term when it was part of a PARC process, along with Western Secondary School and other schools in the area.

Town council hired local lawyer Anthony Leardi to represent them in the matter and Pouget called the $12,000 expenditure some of the best tax dollars ever spent.

“I believe my 14 years of municipal experience will assist me in becoming your next deputy mayor,” she said.

Pertaining to roads, Pouget said they now have a roads needs study and that the town has to follow it and the advice of its engineers. She said they have to proceed carefully pertaining to roads but added they have made other successful investments including ones to combat flooding.

The debt will be $35 million by the end of the year, she said, with $15 million in reserves. Much of the debt, she added, is tied up long term.

Rozankovic said “the next council will be pivotal in determining the future of Amherstburg for many years to come. Moving forward we need to make decisions ensuring that residents get the maximum value for  their tax dollars.”

Rozankovic wondered where the $24-30 million will come from to update and replace the Amherstburg water treatment plant and said other issues include roads, plans for both Duffy’s and Belle Vue, a new outdoor swimming pool and a decision on the remaining 12 acres at Centennial Park.

The policing issue has become the focal point of this election, Rozankovic added, and that people were actually wondering four years ago whether the town was getting value for the money they spend on policing.

“Whether to contract out policing or not is not simply an exercise in ‘what is cheaper.’ There is the emotional attachment of residents to consider,” he said.

Rozankovic said a referendum could have been on the ballot and would have pushed the contract start date to July 2019.

“So where do we stand today on the policing issue?” he asked. “The residents were told that every employee of the Amherstburg Police Service Board would be offered employment with the Windsor Police Service. That was not the case. The residents were told that there would be no severance payouts attributed to the contracting out of police services. While we do not have solid numbers yet, we can say that the total possible exposure exceeds $2.5 million.”

Rozankovic said he will, if elected, ask the new council “to hit the pause button” and re-evaluate the situation.

The $1.41 million committed annually for roads will likely lead to the town falling further behind, said Rozankovic, and that “we have to find money somewhere in the system.” He suggested maybe it wasn’t such a good move to buy the Duffy’s property and Belle Vue.

Leo Meloche, Rick Fryer, Diane Pouget and Bob Rozankovic discuss issues during the Meet the Candidates Night presented by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce Oct. 4 at Western Secondary School.

On the subject of economic development, Meloche believed small business is the key for economic development. That will be aided by further residential development with the new force main to lead to over 700 new homes coming to town.

Commercial development will spur job growth, Meloche added, and the town has to look at helping small businesses and “build from the ground up.”

The town “sells itself,” Pouget believed, and that the local real estate industry does a good job in promoting the town. The tourism department also does a great job, she said, and touted the General Chemical site for future development.

Pouget also noted the need for a hotel in Amherstburg.

“We have so much to offer,” she said.

Rozankovic said he travels through China, Mexico and the southeastern United States through his employment and questioned the ability to attract industry to town.

“Everyone is chasing industry,” he said. “Amherstburg doesn’t have anything to sell to industry. This is a reality.”

Rozankovic suggested promoting commercial and residential growth, including more distilleries and microbreweries. He said there is a reason there are not takers for the former General Chemical site and that the future is residential and commercial development.

Fryer said he would want to set up a “task force” for economic development and touted the area’s workforce. There should be incentives offered to companies, Fryer suggested, and that such a proposal is happening in Windsor.

The town has “turned the corner,” said Fryer, but now a “revival” is needed. He suggested streamlining the application and permit processes.

“We need to go after jobs,” he said, adding he voted in favour of the Wendy’s proposal.

One of the questions was about policing. Pouget said she could not answer because of a conflict of interest. Going against the advice of her lawyer would be “very, very serious” and potentially end up in a court of law.

“I can’t put the residents of Amherstburg at risk or my family at risk,” she stated.

Rozankovic said should the deal be finalized, Windsor would do “a fine job” but believes a referendum should have been held. He reiterated that more information should be obtained before any deal is finalized.

Fryer said it has been referred to in the media as a “takeover” but it is not. He said the same officers will patrol the streets of Amherstburg and that the only thing to change will be the uniforms.

“Our officers are still going to be there,” said Fryer. “That’s not going to change.”

Rick Fryer, Leo Meloche, Bob Rozankovic and Diane Pouget took turns presenting their cases and answering questions last Thursday night at a “Meet the Candidates” event at Western Secondary School. The four are running for deputy mayor.

Meloche described himself as a “numbers guy” and that at the end of the day, he believed switching to the Windsor Police Service would result in “significant savings.” In 2014, he said, policing costs were the number two issue he heard and that he compared services to Essex and Amherstburg currently pays $1.9 million more. Municipal policing is also a hot topic at conferences, he added.

“The only thing that’s going to change is the boss,” said Meloche “The employees will still stay the same.”

Relating to taxes and funding local government, Rozankovic said there are costing pressures for such things as roads so needs have to be focused on. He stated that police severance payouts could eat up the first five years of savings “so be careful there.”

Fryer quoted a figure of $2 million to purchase Belle Vue and said he was “totally against it.”

“That’s a (heck) of a lot of roads we could have done,” he said.

Meloche said growth will take some pressures off of tax bills but stated the Libro Centre is built to the size of a 40,000 person town while the wastewater treatment plant is built to accommodate 50,000 people.

“21,000 are paying for it,” he said. “How we address it is growth.”

Pouget called for the reinstatement of the finance committee. She said that committee warned against hiring nine new staff members at the beginning of the term and that she is opposed to positions as plumbers and electricians as the town contracted those services out to “excellent people.”

In closing arguments, Rozankovic stated public trust needs to be regained and that people need to know all the facts before moving forward on projects. Pouget said she has served in every committee imaginable and that she will “continuously work” if elected deputy mayor. Meloche said both the senior and youth populations have to be consulted going forward while Fryer indicated his black and white campaign signs are keys to his campaign as “the answers I give you are in black and white.”