Friday, January 15, 2016

The Mayor’s View by Bill French

             Happy New Year!

2016 will be an interesting and most likely an eventful year for the Township of Springwater.

Strategic Plan
Springwater Council, Senior Staff and some key stakeholders participated in a number of sessions in the last half of 2015 to develop a strategic plan for the township. It will be launched during the current term and will set a clear direction for the future. Unlike previous exercises, we developed this plan from the ground up. It builds on the past but looks clearly into the future. I think you will be pleased when it is released by the end of the first quarter. A clear Vision and Mission has been identified and I am excited to see the plan implemented to the benefit of all in Springwater. Stay tuned. These are positive times for Springwater.

The 2016 budget will be tabled for approval on January 20th and I expect it to be approved by Council. Our senior management took Council and Stakeholder input from the working sessions, made some adjustments and have returned with a quite impressive and well detailed plan to retain service levels, make improvements where necessary and control expenditures. I can assure you everyone is cognizant of the use of your tax dollars. The budget also includes a long term plan to set aside and build an Infrastructure Replacement Fund. This is in addition to our normal reserve funds. I think you will be pleased with the final results of the budget.

Report Card
By the end of February, we will be releasing an Annual Report on the activities of the Council for 2015. When we started reflecting on what was done in such a short time, and considering it was mainly a new and inexperienced Council, the accomplishments were noticeable. Special appreciation goes to our experienced Councillors, Hanna, Ritchie and McConkey for giving us newbies some needed guidance. Even though we don’t agree on many things, we work well together and so far so good. You, the ratepayer, seem to be the paramount focus of all of Council as both individuals and as a group. That is the way it should work.

We have had many positive comments on our webcasting of our Council and Special meetings. It is a simple thing to do with today’s technology but allows our constituents to keep abreast of the fast moving changes in Springwater. I found it interesting that one viewer commented what a pleasure it was to watch the budget discussions last week. I really do want to know what she was sipping from that glass! But we do appreciate the comments and feedback. I encourage you to send me an email in advance of our meetings with your own questions for the Council Meeting Question Period. Those in attendance will of course be given first priority to ask questions but if we have no questions from the floor, I would be quite pleased to table your email questions during question period. Our Town Hall Meetings went well last year and we will continue that effort this year. We want your feedback in whatever fashion is best for you!

Special Recognition – Mike Guilbault

I would be remiss if I did not mention the special recognition that Elmvale’s Mike Guilbault received from the Master Photographers International Organization. He was named a Master Photographer of Fine Art. Congratulations Mike! We are quite proud of your accomplishment.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Election Compliance Audit Update – "It Gets Crazier by the Day" December 2015

The article that follows this introduction was the last in a series of Three updates I wrote on my election compliance audit. I do thank the many people that have contacted me since a critical article appeared in Springwater News. You can also call me at 705-718-7031 to discuss the matter. 

Election Compliance Audit Update – "It Gets Crazier by the Day"
I am totally flabbergasted at how a simple request for an Election Compliance Audit of my 2014 Election Expenses has taken on a life of its own and is now out of control. I understand people being vindictive and petty minded, but this is beyond comprehension.

I have decided with advice from my solicitor Renatta Austin that I will not participate in a second audit of my 2014 election campaign finances without an order from a court directing me to do so.

When my solicitor informed the Township Clerk and copied the new forensic audit firm of my decision not to participate, I received an email from the new audit firm threatening a summons to appear before them if I did not agree to participate. They confirmed in the email that the Compliance Audit Committee has approved the cost of their legal representation to chase me. With no other options before me and based on the advice of my solicitor, I have launched an application to the Divisional Court to deal with the matter and challenge what has been done.

For those that may not be aware of this sad and expensive saga, here it is.

At its meeting on July 20, 2015, the Compliance Audit Committee in a 2 to 1 decision accepted the application of Dan McLean, defeated Deputy Mayor in the 2014 municipal election, to review my 2014 election campaign finances and subsequently appointed Grant Thornton LLP to conduct the audit. I acknowledged my intention to cooperate with the audit in an engagement letter from Grant Thornton to the Township of Springwater dated September 2, 2015, and I fully cooperated with the auditor and provided access to everything they requested.  The auditor reported to the Committee on September 25, 2015.

Grant Thornton LLP was selected by the Compliance Audit Committee and is a well-qualified firm and when questioned by my solicitor on Oct 23rd confirmed they have conducted other Compliance Audits. This was not a new exercise or area of expertise for them. Their audit was complete and aside from some compliance issues that were noted in the Grant Thornton Audit Report, it mirrored the audit that had been conducted by Smith Lassaline from Barrie. Even with the variances my election expenditures were still about $5,000 under the spending limit.

The Committee was required to consider the auditor’s report within 30 days of receiving it and to make a decision to either commence legal proceedings against me if the report concluded that there were apparent contraventions of the Act, or to make a finding as to whether there were reasonable grounds for the application if no contraventions were found. According to my legal opinion, the Committee had no authority to reject the auditor’s report and request a new audit.

My solicitor also informs me that the Committee’s decision to adjourn the proceedings on October 23rd was beyond the authority granted to it under section 81 of the Municipal Elections Act. Its decision to reject an audit that was favourable to me and to appoint a second auditor without any authority to do so is tantamount to audit shopping and it is contrary to the basic rules of natural justice and procedural fairness. As is reflected in the recording of the proceedings on October 23rd, through my lawyer, I objected to the adjournment on these grounds.

The Committee has now exceeded its 30-day time limit to consider the auditor’s report and to make a decision. I will not participate in any further audits or Committee meetings with respect to my 2014 election campaign finances without direction from a court. In the absence of a court order, I will consider the matter closed.

It was confirmed by the Clerk at a recent Council meeting that the Grant Thornton audit was $13,000. I estimate the cost of a second audit to be double that since it is now a forensic audit, plus legal fees. Just for the record I am responsible to pay my own legal fees and they are mounting and now into the 5 figures. Don’t be surprised if this circus will go into the stratosphere in dollars spent by the time it is over. I hope someone files a Freedom of Information Request to find out how much money was spent by the Township to simply embarrass and harass the Mayor you elected. As the saying goes, it may be worthwhile to “follow the money”.

In closing, I publicly offer the following resolution to this mess. I ask that the Compliance Audit Committee do the honourable thing. I ask that they reconvene the meeting of Oct 23, accept the audit report from Grant Thornton (which was completed according to the letter of engagement) and then pass a motion to take no further action. That would end this unfortunate situation and stop the mounting and unnecessary legal costs for both the Township and me. I, for my part, will agree to take no action against the Township as I would prefer to focus on the job that you elected me to do. It is a sensible solution to stop the merry-go-round.

Compliance Audit Update in November of 2015

I am publishing these articles as there is  small  group of politically motivated individuals who would like to intimidate me to the point I will get fed up and either backoff  my election promises or resign. This was article Two of the series of Three articles.

The Compliance Audit Committee reconvened on October 23 to consider two matters according to the legislation.
“In accordance with Section 81(14), the Compliance Audit Committee may consider the following:
 (a) if the report concludes that the candidate appears to have contravened a provision of this Act relating to election campaign finances, commence a legal proceeding against the candidate for the apparent contravention;
(b) if the report concludes that the candidate does not appear to have contravened a provision of this Act relating to election campaign finances, make a finding as to whether there were reasonable grounds for the application. 2009, c. 33, Sched. 21, s. 8 (44).”

That is what I expected to happen, but it didn’t. To my surprised solicitor Jack Siegel acting for McLean the applicant, challenged the competence and the completeness of the audit and the engagement letter. Grant Thornton LLP is a well qualified firm and when questioned by my solicitor confirmed they have conducted other Compliance Audits. This was not a new exercise or area of expertise for them. Their audit was complete and aside from some minor compliance issues that I noted in my last article and were noted in the Grant Thornton Audit Report, it mirrored the audit that had been conducted by Smith Lassaline from Barrie.

Even though my solicitor Renatta Austin, a close associate of well know lawyer Peter Rosenthal, repeated a number of times that the only purpose of the October 23rd meeting was to consider the matters above, the committee seemed swayed and questioned the Grant Thornton LLP Letter of Engagement and the Compliance Audit Report itself. The Committee has asked for a new firm by issuing an RFP and also requesting a forensic audit, which is not required by legislation. Just so you know, you are paying for these audits, as it is a Township responsibility. The Committee will reconvene within 20 days and appoint another auditor. If you are counting, that will be three audits of my election expenses. Remember, I am still well under my spending limit by close to 25% after two audits.

What is my thinking on the matter? I believe certain parties intend to cause me financial harm by various legal delay tactics. They are hoping I will roll over and play dead and in frustration resign as Mayor. That is not going to happen. I and my team worked far too hard to allow Springwater to finally be governed by people with them first in mind. I do not respond well to intimidation and have seen this type of clever legal maneuvering many times in my career. With the support of many in Springwater, I will be around when this nonsense is over and hopefully some others will be held accountable for this ill-conceived attempt at attacking my character and reputation, causing unnecessary stress on my wife and family along with my pocket book. A number of people who are appalled at this three ring circus are asking how they can help. I am thinking about that. This is all about democracy, not my election expenses. Most of the electorate chose me to be your Mayor and I plan to honour that trust.

In closing, I thank the many supporters that attended the committee meeting on October 23 and have phoned me with their words of support. It is much appreciated.

August Comments on The Compliance Audit of Bill French Election Expenses

My thoughts and comments on the Election Compliance Audit-by Bill French

I am publishing these articles as there is  small  group of politically motivated individuals who would like to intimidate me to the point I will get fed up and either backoff  my election promises or resign. This was article One of the series of Three Articles.

I had no intention of making any comment on this matter until the entire matter is resolved, but a few people have encouraged me to provide my perspective on Dan McLean’s application for a Compliance Audit of my Election Expenses. As a point of interest my election expenses were audited by an independent local firm Smith and Lassaline of Barrie. I was under the eligible spending limit by $5,000 as a point of interest or stated in another way spent about 75% of the allowable limit.
For those that were present on July 20th and 21st, the Elections Compliance Audit Committee, in a 2 to 1 decision, has approved a request for an independent audit of my already audited election expenses. I don’t mind the decision but it appears that some on the committee missed an important point of law that was actually submitted by Jack B. Siegel, the high profile solicitor for Dan McLean, defeated Deputy Mayor in the 2014 Municipal Election. To quote from the Lyras V. Heaps case that Siegel referenced, the judge of the Ontario Court of Justice hearing stated “In my view, where the statute requires, ‘a belief on reasonable grounds’, the jurisprudence applicable in other contexts indicates that the standard to be applied is that of an objective belief based on compelling and credible information which raises the ‘reasonable probability’ of a breach of the statute”. Mr. McLean provided no compelling or credible information, as all members of the committee agreed, but presented a number of suppositions that could not be substantiated with any hard evidence. As committee member QC Robert Barlow rightly stated in his dissenting vote “Conjecture, again is not acceptable to me in a matter of this nature” and concluded with a statement based on various cases he referenced throughout his decision, “In the end result, considering the documents, evidence and submissions of the parties and of the facts and on the law provided, I find that a contravention of section 81.1 of the Municipal Elections Act has not been proven by the Applicant (McLean) and I reject the application.”
The committee has appointed the firm of Grant Thorton LLP to conduct the audit.
I look forward to the outcome and will make more detailed comments at that time, as there are a number of other unusual circumstances that need to be brought to the public eye that relate to this matter.

Stay tuned!

Merry Christmas - The Mayor’s View by Bill French

“It is the Season” as the saying goes.
Springwater with its many unique communities have fantastic celebrations for their local neighborhoods. Even though we have a lot of important things going on which I could address, I want take this opportunity to address some of the celebrations of this month.

Elmvale’s Annual Tree lighting was great event with entertainment provided by Betty Holiday, our local entertainer. With great weather the Gateway Park was crammed to its limits. The BIA made this event a reality and with the continued commitment by Doug Kirton and friends, the tree this year was spectacular. The Minty family donated a new star to top off the tree. The annual Elmvale Santa Claus parade saw the streets jam packed with spectators with hundreds of children bursting with excitement to get their first glimpse of Santa this year. A special thanks goes out to all those that made this annual celebration just a little better than the year before.

Hillsdale hosted its first annual Christmas tree lighting and the residents responded with a full house in the recently refurbished Community Centre, a great pride and achievement by the many volunteers that pitched in. Santa also popped by because he heard the people singing, “Here comes Santa Claus”, so he decided to surprise them.

Anten Mills
Anten Mills had a well-attended Tree lighting ceremony with carol singing and a magician entertaining the young and old. It was followed by a spectacular fireworks display and Santa dropped by compliments of transportation by Springwater Fire department as his sleigh broke down on one of his test runs. Apparently he was getting a faulty reading from the sleigh’s Clausometer but Santa says it will be ready to roll by December 24th. One of the most unique and fun Santa Claus Parades is the one in Anten Mills. With about a dozen floats created by the various neighborhoods in Anten Mills, it was fun and extremely entertaining. You must see it to understand what a tight and creative community exists in Anten Mills.

Minesing’s Holiday celebration was another star studded event with, tree lighting, craft and Christmas gift displays, arts and crafts for the kids, great hot chocolate and pizza and amazing face painting for the children. Swampy, the Minesing mascot, came out of hibernation for the event. He said it was pretty warm in the swamp and heard the carol singing, so he thought he would come and have a gander. Swampy posed for pictures with Santa and was checking who was naughty and nice. I pointed out a couple of naughty ones.

These community celebrations are the life blood of Springwater. These events only happen because of the dedication of those in the community that serve on the local hall boards. We always need new faces and hands and voices. Springwater is alive, vibrant and continues to be the preferred place to Live, Work and Play in Simcoe County because of our local community pride. It can be found in Elmvale, Hillsdale, Orr Lake, Fergusonvale, Phelpston, Anten Mills, Midhurst, Snow Valley, Centre Vespra and surrounding smaller communities. All of us make this possible. Let us all commit to do a little more for our local community in the new year. Even committing one hour a week or month will make a big difference and lighten the load for someone else.

On behalf of my very special spouse Lorraine, my 5 children, my 11 grandchildren, I offer my sincere wishes and God’s Blessing on all of you for making this year so special.

Merry Christmas and Wishing you a Prosperous 2016 New Year.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Mayor's Life is Always Interesting-and I love it!

The last two weeks has been quite busy as we approached the summer season.

We speak of Springwater as a community of communities. Canada Day illustrated the uniqueness of some of those communities.

Canada Day
In Minesing there was a family oriented event with a special competition for those that wanted to dress up their bikes in a Canada Day motif. It was great. Everyone in the community participated with grandparents, parents and children all having a great time. Thanks to Tracy, Wanda and the rest of the local Recreation Board for their efforts.
In Phelpston, their annual fireworks was fantastic. Everyone buys fireworks from the Kinsmen Club and the Kinsmen Club come and facilitate the safe lighting of the fireworks. I would say there were about 200 people in attendance. A few brought their own POP!. Thanks to Danielle, Rick and the rest of the Phelpston Recreation Board.
All of our Boards are becoming quite alive and energetic, which I find encouraging. I have spoken to a few people and possibly, for next year, we can have a special event for each of the major holidays in a different area of the township. Our small communities are simply great!

Farmers Market
The Elmvale Springwater Farmers Market has been open for a few weeks but the official opening was on July 3rd. It was a great day and the market was well attended with a lot of locals and visitors partaking of our excellent locally grown foods and crafts. A number of new participants have signed up and, on speaking to them, are pleased with the attendance and the venue. Come up to Elmvale on Friday mornings from 9:30 to 1 and get your fresh foods. It does taste better!

Official Plan Workshop
As many people know, the Springwater Official Plan dates back to 1998 and has a number of amendments. Parts of the Plan do not appropriately reflect new planning regimes especially the impact of the Provincial Policies and Plans from 2005 and beyond. This makes it challenging, both for landowners and planning staff. We staged our second workshop with Bob Lehman and Associates last week and it was very fruitful. The report to Council will be tabled on July 20th and we will then begin the process of developing a “Made in Springwater” Official Plan. It is our desire to move away from an external driven planning approach, to a township internally controlled planning process. We hope to be proactive rather than reactive. That will assist the township in being able to better project OUR future.

Strategic Planning Session
One of the things that I found very useful in my 40 years of business was developing a direction for the organization that had buy-in from everyone. It’s called a Strategic Plan. The last Council created one in 2010, updated it in 2012 and you see mention of it on staff reports. Times have changed with this council and we want to develop a Strategic Plan in concert with those that elected us. We had our first session last week and we have now set the direction for the development of the plan. In the near future you will be asked to respond to a questionnaire on your vision and needs in Springwater. So please participate. Being a great believer in Branding, I have asked Council, Staff and anyone that is interested to come up with a slogan that we might use as an umbrella for both our Official Plan and Strategic Plan. To show the interest and enthusiasm at the meeting, CAO Robert Brindley provided one that I think shows the direction we as township want to embrace, “Our Springwater, Our Future”. I have already had some other suggestions, some not for the faint of heart.

Springwater Park
We received great news last week with the announcement of the returning of Springwater Provincial Park to operating status. Beausoleil First Nations and the Province of Ontario have entered into a 5 year co-management agreement along with an operating agreement with BFN. The Park opened its gates for visitors last Friday. As a Township, I am pleased that we were able to provide assistance during the last six months and I kept in communication with both parties. The Township provided snow plowing to the gate during the Winter months and our Parks and Recreation Department trimmed the grass in advanve of the recent POW WOW at the Park. Congratulations to all for reaching the agreement. I encourage us all to visit the Park once this Summer. I know in the last term Councillor Hanna and McConkey tabled and passed a resolution to set aside some money for the Park. I think we will hear more on that in months to come and possibly a cooperative initiative.

Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture 75th Anniversary
I sit as the County Council representative on the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture. This is a wonderful organization that is both protecting the future of farming in the area and at the same time educating all of us about importance of agriculture in a healthy economy and society. This year they celebrated their 75th Anniversary and it was hosted at the Partridge Family Farm in Oro Medonte. Over 380 people were fed. There was a great showing of vintage vehicles and farm tractors that was enjoyed by all. The food was great and the audience had the pleasure of dancing and celebrating to the tunes of the Martels Rock and Roll Show. The People’s Choice Award  Trophy for Vintage Vehicles was Ron and Linda French with their beautiful coral coloured ‘56 Mercury Convertible. I hope Mike has a photo in this edition. Special mention should also go to Wayne Hawke of Anten Mills and his really cool 1929 Model A hotrod and Gary Strachan and his pristine 1933 Ford Vicky street rod as both were close runners-up. The next time you see a farmer, say “thank you for feeding us”. You will get a broad smile back.

Compliance Audit

As some of you are aware, a defeated candidate in the Fall Election has requested a Compliance Audit on my election expenses. Since I am the only candidate in Springwater that, in addition to my financial statement, provided an Independent Auditors Report, I look forward to the meeting on July 20th starting at 9 a.m. If you have time, please come out and witness the exercise. I will definitely be writing about the matter when it is complete.

The Mayor's View

In early June we had our second strategic planning session at the County of Simcoe. The purpose of the meeting was to reaffirm the direction County Council is taking over the next few years. Many confirmed that as a County we must be fiscally diligent but at the same time respond to the growing needs of the 450,000 residents it services.

The meeting was very productive and the engagement of all the Councillors is encouraging and a true effort of “for the greater good” was prevalent in the lively discussions.

There is much work to do in County capital projects which needs to be balanced with confirmed sources of revenue. The Administrative Staff were directed to come back with different scenarios for next year’s budget based on low tax increases and what the impacts may be for the Long Term Financial Plan. Keep tuned to the County information as 30% of your taxes goes to the County.
At the Township level our Long term Financial Plan, based on three growth scenarios is progressing quite well with lively dialogue from all parties involved. The challenge is projecting the assessment values of the new developments since higher density development is new to Springwater. I have difficulty accepting a premise that just because it is being built in Midhurst, the assessment value will be more than a similar property in Barrie. We need to make sure we have this right as the future financial sustainability and viability will be based on what we conclude in this plan. If we get it wrong, and overestimate the assessment values, our revenues could fall short of projections and we, the tax payer, will pick up the difference. A good example is with the County as a comparison. The County conducted a DC Charge study in 2011. It included projections based on some optimistic forecasts. Starting in 2012, through to today, it has come up dramatically short of the projected revenue levels leaving a large DC reserve shortfall. Even using an optimistic view it will take many years to stabilize this shortfall. With Springwater being a smaller municipality, if we miscalculate our financial projections, it will result in a dramatic impact and could hit your wallet significantly. We will persist until we have the financial projections correct.

I was pleased to participate in a number of events in the township recently. The Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival Banquet was a sold out event and Kevin Frankish’s Elmvale centric version of Jeopardy was great. I found a few things I didn’t know about the history of the local area. Great laughs were had by all. Many local organizations benefit from this annual event and its 50th Anniversary was one of the best they had in recent years.

The Bike Safety poster competition in all our schools brought over a 100 submissions from area elementary schools. The schools narrowed it down to four winners and the Community Policing Committee hosted a lunch at the Township Administration Centre for these students and their families. I had the opportunity of presenting the certificates and had each of them explain the meaning of their particular posters. This type of peer education is so effective. Kids accept and absorb information more readily from their peers as compared to someone in a position of authority. I congratulate everyone involved with this fun initiative.

The Pow Wow on June 13th at Springwater Park was well attended and put life back into this sacred and special ground. Working with the MNR and Ontario Parks, our Springwater property maintenance staff assisted in preparing the grounds for the event in exchange for some consideration from the MNR. Working together we can provide benefits and opportunities to local area residents without burdening the taxpayer. We have been in dialogue with the Ministry and our First Nations People offering our assistance in expediting the reopening of this valuable asset. For a point of clarification, the MNR and Ontario Parks has confirmed that Springwater Park will remain a Crown asset and owned by the people of Ontario. There is no intention of handing over ownership to any other party. There is certainly discussion on uses of portions of the Park, so it is important to keep things in perspective.

Since people keep asking about the progress of the potential developments in Midhurst, we will be adding correspondence to the Township website in the Midhurst Secondary Plan section to make everyone aware of some of the challenges we encounter when trying to resolve a growth plan far beyond anything we have ever experienced. We are progressing as fast as possible with the Environmental Assessments and Long Term Financial Studies and all parties are committed to the process. Whatever happens, the execution must be well managed and must prove to be a net benefit to all residents of Springwater.

Even though we, as a Council are being more transparent than ever before, with many public meetings and open hours, the Township has received a Freedom of Information request to have access to my personal email account, which would suggest that some party feels there is something untoward. It is an interesting request as my personal email is not under the control of the Township and they have no access to it. On the other hand my Springwater email account is under the control of the Township and would be subject to such a request. The Act is not clear and we await direction from the Privacy Commissioner. The request was predictable and will not detract me from doing what is best for Springwater.

Two important matters for Elmvale came to the table at the last Council Meeting. The Elmvale Curling Club as many know had a major facility failure which cut their season short. Even though, the Township is not a lending institution, Council responded to a request for a loan to replace the equipment. The Curling club will repay the loan over a 5 year period at prevailing borrowing rates and are expected to actually repay it in 18 months, after they apply and are successful with some grant applications for 2016. Of greatest importance to the Elmvale Community is Elmvale District High School and its long overdue renovation and expansion. Even though Education is a provincial responsibility, the previous Council agreed that we as a Township had to show our commitment. Councillor Ritchie was a crusader in the last Council and this term supported by Councillor Austin, Council increased the commitment from $200,000 to $300,000, using part of the Elmvale Hydro Fund reserve which can only be used for Elmvale based projects. I know Councillor Ritchie would have preferred more and has made me clearly aware that he felt we could have done more. The positive thing here was that the resolution was supported unanimously by all of Council.

In closing people have been asking me, “so what do you think of the job so far”. The simple answer is “I love it”. I have always able to get the best out of people throughout my career and I feel I am having a positive impact on Springwater and we have just started. The support, enthusiasm and involvement of this council, with their fresh ideas, working closely with our management and staff, makes it even that much more enjoyable. We had a great turnout for our staff BBQ and all Council were present to express our appreciation for the work they do. I also really enjoy the visits when people drop in on Friday afternoons.

There are definitely challenges as anyone at our last Council Meeting will attest, but we are all in it for the right reasons is my belief. Come to Council Meetings and judge for yourself.