2022 City Election



- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

While watching the budget presentation at the last Owen Sound council meeting, a slide on the screen caught my eye. It was intended, I think, to put our modest tax increase into perspective by comparing it to our Grey County neighbours. West Grey was looking at an 8.2% greytaxhikesincrease in 2022.

Elected representatives ask questions to help them be as responsible and accountable as possible with their residents' tax dollars. Councillors in West Grey, determining that policing represents about 32% of the proposed operating levy and almost half of the tax increase, looked in that direction.

West Grey is one of four comparable municipalities in Ontario with its own police force. The Police Act requires them to provide a police station of a defined size and amenities. With this in mind, the municipality bought a versatile lot for $1.1 million, on which they could build a station to replace the existing one which does not meet the standards. The estimate to build what is needed is more than $12 million; a cost of approximately $400,000 per year amortized for the next 30 years.

Given the proposed operating increases for West Grey Police, a Councillor gave a notice of motion in December in which Council would direct staff to request an OPP costing.

I followed this with interest, as variations on this have been taking place across the region. Policing costs and services are under discussion in many smaller municipalities and are likely to be part of upcoming election discussions .

In 2014, Meaford rejected a proposal to have Owen Sound Police provide services; the council unanimously stuck with the OPP. Owen Sound Council itself asked for an OPP costing in 2017, and ultimately opted to stay with a municipal force. At least one Councillor was ready to re-visit that decision after the OSPS service review was released in 2019. That same year West Grey Mayor Christine Robinson said, with council's approval, her municipality would join in a conversation about combined regional policing with Owen Sound and Hanover.

In all these cases the status quo had the emotional advantage among community members, and residents contacted their representatives to have their say.

In West Grey's case, there was a petition, paper and on-line, around Durham and West Grey swiftly following the passing of the Motion to request OPP Costing, asking that it be rescinded. Without any information on the table some people had decided that they did not want information.

A public satisfaction survey on policing was done by the Police Services Board last September. A request from one member of the Board to add a question to the survey  about contracting with other  service providers was denied. The results of the survey have yet to be released to Council or the public. A committee of the West Grey Police Services Board has also been working on a business plan, which at this point is two years overdue.

The motions - to request an OPP costing and to hire a consultant to give an objective review of the costs and service levels before the construction of a new police building was put out to tender – have been passed, but the backlash against the councillors who supported them was swift.

The suggestion was that anyone who even dared to ask for information from the OPP was therefore not supportive of the West Grey Police.

Before voting against all the motions, requesting a recorded vote, the Mayor stepped away from the chair to state that she was opposed to acquiring a costing from the OPP or assessment by a consultant because - she supported the local police. The implication about those Councillors who voted in favour of requesting the information was clear.

The Mayor also made a point of saying that this was the last year of Council's term – in other words, this is an election year. The Councillors supporting the motions were putting their re-election at risk, simply for doing their jobs - asking questions to ensure they have all the data necessary to make the best decisions for their constituents.

Even now that the municipality has officially requested costing from the OPP, the petition to rescind the motion to request it remains in circulation. To what end, one wonders,but to make the mere request a divisive election issue? Of course, the first tax bills with the 8+% increase may raise their own response from the public.

Beyond watching the council meetings and reading the municipal documents as this unfolded, I began to follow the discussion online. The Chair of the West Grey Police Services Board did something I do not ever recall from a person holding that position.

An unsuccessful candidate for council in 2018 himself, the appointed Chair used social media to take democratically elected officials to task. From a Facebook account displaying the West Grey Police emblem, he asked “Is it just four councillors with an agenda that are using West Grey taxpayers as pawns and wasting our tax dollars?”

The Chair does not specify what be believes the “agenda” of the four Councillors to be but it was made very clear by the Councillors themselves in the two Council meetings I watched. They intend to gather information to determine the best service level and most responsible use of tax dollars for policing for the 13000 residents of their large geographic municipality. The only money being spent in the process seems to be $80,000 for a qualified consultant like the one used by Meaford, Owen Sound and the Owen Sound Police Services in a similar service review.

Almost as if to pre-emptively defend against any results of such a consultant's report, and suggesting there is no reasonable limit to the costs of policing the taxpayers should be prepared to pay, the Police Services Chair goes on - “Can council really put a price on community safety, community involvement and mentoring?”

It gets worse. This same Facebook account – again, apparently belonging to the Chair of the Police Services Board – posts “Bullies aren't just teenagers in high school. They are also adults in offices with nice titles who thinks [sic] they have the right to break the spirits of others so they can feel better about their miserable lives,” with the tagline "Could be Councillors too".

It is a risky thing for an elected official to use social media. Owen Sound's Mayor says he closed his own Facebook account because of the feedback he was receiving. One West Grey Councillor sought to counter the rising emotions with facts, posting decisions of Council, data from the West Grey Director of Finance and excerpts from the actual public Council meetings on her West Grey Councillor Facebook account.

I was shocked to see the Chief of Police of West Grey, who also uses his police flash as his image on Facebook, comment on her post - “Your attack ads are not appreciated.”

Every elected representative is working for the public. Their job is to listen to the values of their communities and set policy based on balancing those priorities with available resources. Their job is literally to ask questions, collect information and make hard decisions.

I will start with the assumption that they all go to work to do what is best for the people they serve.

They won't all agree on how this is to be done, but it will definitely not be accomplished by impugning each other's intentions, refusing to seek all available information, or supporting those who sling mud.

Where is the petition for due process, or the lawn sign for civility?  Without these, in every community, the bullied representatives will not stand for re-election, and those civic-minded citizens who observe the bullying will not run.



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