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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Council meeting notes - Tuesday, September 8, 2020

by Sylene Argent and Adam Gault

New regulations around election complaints approved

Essex Council has approved new rules surrounding official complaints around municipal elections, partially due to concerns surrounding the alleged misuse of proxy votes during the 2018 Essex election.

  This new mandate will now direct the municipal Clerk to seek legal counsel, contact the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, or call the Ontario Provincial Police, should it be suspected that a candidate or other individual has been in violation of the Municipal Elections Act.

  “If you want residents to come out and vote, they have to know that there’s a lot of checks and balances in the system,” Councillor Sherry Bondy commented, speaking to the numerous complaints received surrounding the 2018 election. “Now, it’s very clear. Last election, our Clerk was in a very difficult position receiving all these complaints.”

  On February 26, the OPP announced that its Essex County Major Crime Unit completed its investigation into the 2018 Essex Municipal Election, which related to the reported misuse of proxy voters.

  The OPP commenced an investigation after receiving a complaint in October of 2018 of the alleged improprieties under the Municipal Elections Act of Ontario.

  As a result of the investigation, the OPP has charged Essex Mayor Larry Snively with the offence of Procuring Persons to Vote in a Municipal Election, when those persons were not entitled to do so, contrary to Section 89(d) of the Municipal Elections Act.

  The matter has not yet gone to court.

  This by-law will also address issues surrounding campaign signage as well as candidate’s use of municipal resources.

Over $66k transferred from current Harrow/Colchester CIP reserve

In addition to receiving Economic Development’s report on the Community Improvement Plan (CIP) 2020 budget update, it also approved the transfer of $66,107.46 from the Harrow and Colchester CIP Reserves to the current budget year.

  The Town’s CIP program offers a variety of municipal grants to approved businesses in predetermined boundaries. The funding varies in nature, from façade improvements to demolition grants.

  In the report to Council, it notes there was an increase in interest in the Town of Essex Community Improvement Plans (CIP) this year from Harrow and Colchester. As a result, the initial $100,000 budget for Harrow and Colchester is nearly assigned.

  Through the report, administration recommended Council transfer $66,107.46 from the Harrow and Colchester CIP Reserves to the current CIP budget.

  There is currently $29,182.40 remaining in the Essex Centre CIP reserves.

Harrow property owner accepts new fill permit by-law

Harrow area property owner, Mr. Darrel Dufour, has decided to accept the Town’s by-law regarding an issue surrounding a fill permit on his property.

  Brought to Council during the August 24 meeting, Mr. Dufour presented the issue of a fill permit he obtained in 2015 to raise a section of his land to road grade, because parts of the farm were lower than the bottom of the road ditch.

  This permit was revoked, in part, due to issues surrounding current stormwater runoff onto a neighbour’s property, after some work pertaining to the original permit had already been underway.

  In 2019, By-Law Enforcement received complaints regarding properties where fill was being brought in. After reviewing several open permits, it was determined that a number of these permits were issued with deficient information.

  The municipality determined that not enough was being done with regards to storm water control, such as the prevention of run-off onto adjacent property.

  With this, the property owner will reapply for a new permit that satisfies the requirements of current Town by-laws.

Community Pantry approved in Harrow

The Town of Essex has approved a pilot project in partnership with the non-profit organization Project Hope Windsor-Essex, that will construct a “food pantry” structure adjacent to the main entrance at the Harrow Arena.

  The around 100 square-foot, climate-controlled building will hold perishable and non-perishable foot items and toiletries, and will be accessible by anyone in the community.

“[Project Hope] is asking for no financial resources, they’re just looking for property on municipal lands to put this facility,” Essex Director of Community Services/Deputy CAO Doug Sweet, said. “Any cost for electrical, they would cover those costs as well.”

  Councillor Sherry Bondy said the project would go a long way in addressing food insecurity in the region, and the model of the structure being open to anyone will help with the perceived stigma surrounding the usage of food banks.

  “It’s [accessible to] anybody. It’s a mom or a dad, if they’ve run out of milk or bread, they can go there,” Bondy said. “It’s reducing the stigma and filling a gap in our community.”

Town redefines “Centre” designation

Council approved a motion to drop references to “Centre” on wayfinding signage in and around municipal urban centres outside of Essex Centre.

  This would have “Harrow Centre,” “Colchester Centre,” and “McGregor Centre,” referred to as just the proper noun, without the use of the word “Centre” following their respective name on all municipal wayfinding signage.

  The implementation of the signage in the four urban centres of the municipality has been an ongoing project throughout 2020, and is designed “to inform and direct visitors and residents to key points of interest related to cultural and recreational amenities, business districts, and municipal services.”

  This includes an overall signage design that is cohesive, attractive, easy to follow, and creates improved branding for the Town of Essex.

  The “Centre” designation was initially implemented to reduce confusion surrounding whether someone in conversation post-amalgamation was referring to downtown Essex, or the municipality as a whole.

  “When I’m outside of Harrow, I don’t hear people saying ‘Harrow Centre,’ when I’m outside of Essex, I do hear people saying ‘Essex Centre,’” Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said.

  That sentiment was shared among the majority of Council, with Councillor Vander Doelen referring to the use of the word “Centre” outside of downtown Essex as “clunky.”

  “I don’t think it works as smoothly as it should,” Vander Doelen said of the use of the word. “Just call Essex Centre a “Centre,” because McGregor and Harrow and Oxley and Colchester will never stop being those places.”

Digital Grant Growth fully allocated

Council received Economic Development’s report regarding the COVID-19 Business Grant funding update, and learned the Digital Growth Grant was fully allocated.

  In June, Council approved forwarding $15,000 for the Digital Growth Grant program for businesses within the municipality. The Essex Centre BIA also contributed an additional $5,000 to this initiative and the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre provided in-kind support.

  The Digital Growth Grant program has been allocated, with $1,000 grants distributed to twenty businesses within the municipality.

Less than half of the COVID-19 Business Relaunch Program allocated

In addition to receiving Economic Development’s report regarding the COVID-19 Business Grant funding update, Council also approved extending the deadline of the Business Relaunch Grant until October 2, 2020 for all businesses assessed in the commercial class.

  Council originally approved the Business Relaunch Grant in July. It was designed to set aside $100,000, so that up to $500 could be distributed to any businesses within the municipality, fitting the criteria, to help with restart costs during the COVID-19 emergency.

  To date, $43,827.15 has been allocated to 92 businesses through the program.

  At the recommendation from administration, because the program received less than half of the uptake possible, Council moved application deadline from August 31 to October 2.

Essex to apply for grant, commit funds to develop Agri-Tourism Strategy

Council voted to support the Town of Essex’s grant application in the amount of $25,000 to the Tourism Economic Development Recovery Fund, through the provincial Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries.

  The idea would be to use the grant funds to create an Agri-Tourism Strategy. It further approved reallocating up to $25,000 in funding from the 2020 Tourism Marketing Budget to create an Agri-Tourism Strategy in 2021.

  The Report to Council notes, despite challenges farmers and the agriculture sector have had over the past several years in regards to factors that impact their ability to derive income from their land, agri-tourism in the Town of Essex has been a way to add value to those businesses.

  Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) has expressed that this project supports agri-tourism on a local level and would have a positive impact on the entire region. TWEPI has therefore confirmed their commitment by contributing $5,000 towards the project, the Report to Council notes.

  The report adds unspent tourism funds have been identified that could be redirected to support the preparation of an Agri-Tourism Strategy. Of the $45,000 that Council approved in the Tourism Marketing Budget for 2020, $10,196.53 has been spent so far.

Bondy wants more youth categories for positive COVID-19 cases

Essex Council received a letter from Theresa Marentette, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer, for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, which was issued on September 2.

  At the July 20 meeting, Essex requested the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit provide the breakdown of COVID-19 cases in the municipality and region, based on classification. At the August 2 regular meeting, Council, voted to send second letter to Health Unit, asking for more detailed information as it relates to numbers of tests issued and where within a municipality positive cases of COVID-19 are. Kingsville Council also sent a similar letter to the local Health Unit.

  In addition, at the August 24 meeting, Councillor Bondy spoke of her concerns regarding the Windsor-Essex Health Unit not breaking down ages for youth with positive cases. It just has a category for those aged 19 and under. Bondy would like to see a further breakdown in ages for youth, with kids going back to school.

  In the letter, Marentette thanks Council for its past correspondence, sent in July, that requested raw data on positive COVID-19 cases in Essex County.

  Marentette responded the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is committed to providing accurate and timely data on local, positive COVID-19 cases. She wrote that its website is updated daily and provides key information on COVID-19 cases in the region, and that its epidemiological summary provides more in-depth analysis on all cases, including GIS maps of cases in the region and a weekly epidemiological summary by municipality.

  Its team of epidemiologists, the letter continues, supports data sharing efforts with the community, without compromising the integrity of the data, while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals positive for COVID-19.

  Bondy was glad to see a response from the Health Unit, albeit it was given two months after the initial request. “Our Council never asked for any private information. We asked for more stats, but we didn’t ask for any private information.”

  With youths in school, she had concern with the age breakdown. She still wants to see a further breakdown of ages for youths; that could group those who are in daycare, grade school, and high school separately.

  Mayor Larry Snivley said he would forward the request to the Health Unit at its next meeting.    

Essex supports Windsor’s correspondences to support journalism,

Vander Doelen thinks motion is a waste of time

Essex Council received and supported correspondences from the City of Windsor that noted a healthy, professional news media is essential for the proper functioning of civil society and democracy at the local, regional, federal and international levels;

  Information provided as part of the correspondence, through – which is a group of former newsroom employees – noted Canadians lost the essential service of around 2,000 media workers in 100 communities across Canada, due to layoffs in only six weeks from the time the COVID-19 pandemic began, and advertising revenues have plunged, prompting an emergency $30-million advertising-buy by the federal government; and, that190 Canadian communities lost 250 established news outlets, due to closings on mergers between 2008 and 2018.

  Council was also urged the federal government quickly pass legislation to ensure an ecosystem for a healthy news media to serve all Canadians.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen did not think the resolution would be effective, as a past reporter and columnist. He expressed his “disappointment in the lateness and the lameness of this support, which comes about ten-years too late and is going to be completely ineffectual. It is a complete waste of time and it doesn’t even get at the real issues of what is wrong with the media. And, in fact, this is going to do media more harm than good, because what this means is that all levels of government will now feel an obligation, in fact we are seeing it on this Council, to start throwing money at local media, which means you are buying them off, which means the media are not independent anymore, which means they can’t be trustworthy and they are going to be even less likely to survive in the future.”

  One of the main problems with the dying local media in Canada is that the CBC is subsidized greatly, which is sucked out of all the rest of the media, he said.

  “Does that mean we are…in favour of defunding the CBC and clawing that money back so local media can have it? That would work,” he added.   

 Drain Maintenance NoM removed

Councillor Sherry Bondy removed a proposed Notice of Motion that she wanted to discuss that would have the Town send out Notices of Drain Maintenance Works in December and January to minimize impact to the farming community during planting and harvesting season.

  Bondy removed the Notice of Motion after learning that the municipality does plan on sending out the notices earlier, after receiving complaints from farmers that municipal drain maintenance without sufficient notice was impacting their crops.

  Representatives from administration noted the Town is currently striving to be earlier when notifying farmers of upcoming work projects, and will seek to delay projects that would impact crops.

Procedural by-law held until report is created

Councillor Sherry Bondy withdrew a Notice of Motion seeking to direct Administration to review the agenda and procedural by-law for regular Council meetings after it was agreed that the Town Clerk would return at a later meeting with a report on the matter.

  Bondy hopes the potential change would give Council more of an open forum to discuss Town matters with less procedural formality.

  “I’m wondering if we can have a half-an-hour or an hour to discuss items,” Bondy said. “Maybe we want to have more recorded votes, maybe we want to have a question period, maybe we want to look at giving our delegations more time to get on agendas.”

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen was opposed to the issue, as he believes it seemed to be an attempt to remake how Council does business.

  “It seems to me that it might open us up to becoming like an out of control talking shop,” Vander Doelen commented, citing what he believes are excessively lengthy council meetings from other municipalities in the region. “I know one of our local Councils often talk until 11 p.m. over the same number of items we do, and that’s a waste of not only the Council’s time, but the administration’s time and the public’s time.”

  Administration will now explore different avenues for some additional free-form discussion within Council meetings, and will return to Council with a formal report on the subject.

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