Friday, February 26, 2016

If I Were a Greater Sudbury Council Member, Here's What I'd Ask About Maley Drive

The Scene: Council Chambers, immediately before Staff are to give their presentation on the Maley Drive Extension - Phase 1 Business Case Report. The Mayor, acting as Chair of the Special Meeting of Council in the form of a public input meeting, looks around, and asks, "Are there any questions before we begin?"

"Yes, your worship. I have a few...."


At this meeting, Council has been, in the language of the Procedure by-law, “Summoned by the Mayor” through Article 7.09 of the by-law.  I understand that this is an unusual meeting – a special meeting of Council in the form of a public input meeting, as per Article 32 of the by-law.  Typically, when Council is “Summoned by the Mayor”, it’s to deal with an important, time-sensitive issue.  And typically, public input meetings are called by Council or Committees of Council – they’re not “time sensitive” matters.  Given that Council or one of our Committees aren’t being asked to make a decision on Maley Drive, and it remains unclear whether this Council or a Committee of Council will be asked to make any decision on Maley, why did the Mayor feel that having a public input meeting was an urgent enough matter to by-pass a motion to Council or one of our Committees?  I’m just trying to understand why we’re rushing through this process – and creating a lot of confusion along the way.

Staff Presentation - Procedural

Article 32 of the Procedure by-law sets out the components of public input meetings, and how those meetings will be held.  It establishes the rules for public input meetings, like this one.  One of those rules indicates that members of the public will only be given a maximum of 5 minutes to speak – and I see that a Resolution has been prepared to change that this evening, if we deem it appropriate.   However, Article 32 doesn’t appear to contemplate Staff presentations at a public input meeting.  We’ve got a number of processes for Staff to their items on the Agenda, including items that Council have asked them to prepare. But the Procedure by-law appears to make it clear that this is a time for Council or one of our Committees to hear from the public.  I’m not suggesting that Staff’s presentation isn’t relevant to our discussion tonight – but I do want to know how Staff ended up on the Agenda when we’ve got a Procedure by-law that doesn’t contemplate staff presentations on the Agenda.  Shouldn’t we be changing the rules to allow this to happen first? 

Staff Presentation – Appropriateness

I’ve had a chance to review the Staff Report that we’re going to be hearing about tonight.  It’s the most comprehensive summary of the Maley Drive Extension and Widening project that I’ve ever seen – even though it’s only a summary of Phase 1.  I can’t imagine how this is only going to take up 10 minutes of our time tonight, but here we are.  We requested this kind of report back in October of last year.  In October of 2015, we asked to see the Business Case for Maley Drive.  At the next meeting of Council in November, we got a little bit of this summary, along with a Cost Benefit report.  We weren’t sure if that was the Business Case we had asked for, even though the Background section of the document indicated that it was prepared to respond to our October request.  Well, now we know that what we got in November wasn’t a Business Case.  What we’re going to be seeing tonight is that Business Case, apparently.  I understand that we're all here tonight to listen to the public – but again, this is a public input meeting.  This Business Case should have been presented to Council at an appropriate meeting of Council, as we had asked for.  We should have seen this in advance of any input meeting for the public.  It should have been in the public realm for a good amount of time so that the public would have the benefit of reviewing the case and forming its opinion on the Business Case.  But instead, we had this report posted to the internet just a week in advance of this meeting, and on the same day that we closed down public comments on our website.  Those who provided written submissions would not have had any chance to review this Business Case before they provided their submissions.  I can only imagine how they might feel now, after reading the Business Case – maybe it renders some of their submission to Council meaningless, as probably some of those questions they were asking will have been answered here.  Maybe there are new issues raised by the Business Case which they couldn’t have possibly have commented on – like the known presence of species at risk in the midst of the Maley corridor.  Whatever their reactions, it just doesn’t seem to me to be fair that Staff have provided this Business Case now, 4 months after we asked for it, and just days in advance of a public meeting.  Since it’s not even clear to me that Staff should be on this Agenda anyway, and since Council isn’t being asked to make a decision on anything, I have to ask somebody, what’s the rush?  Why aren’t we giving ourselves and the public enough time to take a critical look at this new Business Case? 

The Scene: Despite the timely questions, Staff have nevertheless now given their presentation. The Mayor, in his role as meeting Chair, asks, "Are there any questions on what we've just heard?"

"Through you, your worship...."

The Case of the Missing Business Case

I see that the Business Case Report in support of the Maley Drive Extension Phase 1 project is dated February, 2016.  Does this mean that there has never been a business case brought forward to Council at any time in the past, say 25 years, that we’ve been talking about the Maley Drive Extension, spending money on reports and assessments to support building the Maley Drive Extension, and making applications to senior levels of government for funding the Maley Drive Extension?  Is this present Council to understand correctly that we are the first to have presented to us a Business Case, which is supposed to be a fiscal justification for the project, that we’re the first to see this?  I understand that concerns related to alleviating congestion on our roads have been driving this project for 25 years, but do I understand correctly that it’s only been in the past year that the City has bothered to build a case that from an economic standpoint, the road makes sense?

Business Case – Is this for a New Project?

I’ve had a chance to review the Maley Drive Extension Phase 1 project Business Case Report.  Part of the Report seems to be missing – or maybe I’m missing something.  Back in November, staff gave Council a bunch of documents, including historic cost estimates for something called the “Maley Drive Extension and Widening Project” – a project which appears to have received the approval of past Councils.  That project, however, differs significantly from the Project being presented tonight.  Sure, both have Maley Drive in their names, but what we’re seeing tonight is a project that isn’t on the same scale as the one presented to past Councils.  It also doesn’t have the same estimated cost.  It’s not clear that it will have the same estimated benefits to the community, given the differences.  The Maley Drive Extension and Widening Project, back in 2012, which was the last time that Council was asked to approve the project, the project contemplated a 4-laned Maley Drive running eastward from Lasalle Boulevard at College Boreal all the way to Falconbridge Road.  It was estimated to cost about $130 million.  That’s the project that Council approved in August of 2012.  This project, though, will see a new 4 lane road from Lasalle at College Boreal just to Barrydowne.  At Barrydowne, it’ll dump traffic onto a refurbished Maley Drive that’ll be just 2 lanes wide, and onto Barrydowne Road just north of Cambrian College, where it’ll need to travel through a residential area in order to access destination points.  4-laning the existing part of Maley isn’t a part of this project.  Yes, the potholes will be filled in, but we’re going to have to wait for who knows how long now to 4-lane.  Clearly, this isn’t the same project that Council approved in 2012, or 2011, or 2009.  It’s not the same project that the 2008 or 1995 Environmental Assessments contemplated.  How can we go to the public now and tell them that the Maley Drive Extension Phase 1 project is “shovel ready” when it’s not the same project?  When it’s never been approved by Council, or had its socio-economic and environmental assumptions tested against the technical reports that were prepared to support a more grandiose project?  It looks to me like we’re far from shovel ready.  Rather than being at the end of the process for this project, it looks to me like we’re just getting started.  At least we’re just getting started on the right foot though, with an opportunity for the public to share their input on Maley.

Species at Risk

So, the City paid for two Environmental Assessments.  The first was completed in 1995.  It looked for but didn’t find any evidence of species at risk habitat being impacted by this proposal.  We used that EA in part to justify the eventual route of the Maley Drive extension.  The second Assessment was completed in 2008. We did that one because the first EA was only good for 5 years, so an update to it was needed. The 2008 update also looked for but didn’t find any evidence of species at risk which might be impacted by Maley.  Those were both public processes which have clear rules to follow under provincial legislation. Sometime after 2008, we apparently took another look for species at risk through some process outside of the Environmental Assessment process, and guess what?  We found species at risk. Blanding’s Turtle and Whippoorwills.  Not just living in close proximity to where we wanted to run a new road – but right in the middle of the corridor that we’ve staked out.  We did those assessments in 2013 and 2014.

And now that we’ve invited the public to come out to a public meeting to share their thoughts on the project, we’re finally telling them that the original Environmental Assessments that were put together to support Maley were wrong – maybe the birds and the turtles moved in since 2008, who knows?  For whatever reason, the birds and turtles were missed in 1995 and again in 2008.  But we found them in 2013 and when we went back in 2014, they were still there. 

When Council was asked to make decisions on the Maley project in 2009, 2011 and 2012, we didn’t know about the turtles or the birds.  Past Councils made decisions to move forward at the time based on the best available information.  But now we know that there are threatened species who are living in the same area that we want to bulldoze and build a road over.  I know that the Province might still allow us to do this.  They’ve got a process – an Overall Benefit Permit – that we can follow, and at the end, we’ll get a permit, and that’ll be it for the turtles and birds living along the corridor.  But the province’s process, as near as I can gather, requires us first to look at alternatives – to look at perhaps moving the project away from the habitat of the threatened species.  It’s a road after all – it’s not a mine.  It doesn’t have to be located where we’ve identified it to go – we have some discretion here. 
But we’ve never looked at rerouting the road away from the turtles and the birds.  If we were setting out to do an Environmental Assessment on a new project today, I can promise you that the starting point would be to find a route that avoids the habitat of species at risk.  If we can’t find that route, then by all means, let’s try to demonstrate to the Province that there’s a way that we can demonstrate an overall benefit to the species by destroying their habitat along the only corridor that we can drive a new road through.   But whatever the outcome of that process would be, we would at least be looking at alternatives with the interests of the species at risk in mind.

But now it seems to me that we’re being asked to plow ahead with a new road which will destroy the homes of turtles and birds without first asking ourselves if we can do better protecting these at-risk animals by doing a better job designing this new road.  We haven’t looked at alternatives.  We’ve decided to stick to our guns with the route, based on the recommendations of earlier Environmental Assessments which, for whatever reasons, missed identifying species at risk along the corridor.
And we are being asked to take a leap of faith here even with that.  The Business Case Report estimates that we will get an Overall Benefit Permit from the Province sometime after we’ve started construction on the road.  Again, I’m not an expert in the province’s permitting process, but it seems to me that this is a real unresolved issue – what if the Province says No?  And we’ve already agreed to invest $80 million and we’ve spent a good chunk of that money to build a road which we can’t then link up to the existing road?  You may say that’s unlikely to happen. You might be right about that, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Province might have a thing or two to say to us, especially if we haven’t looked at alternatives.  Especially if our own Environmental Assessments which were used to support the existing route for whatever reason didn’t identify the presence of species at risk habitat in the first place. 

Further, keep in mind that we are being presented tonight with a new project – the Maley Drive Extension Phase 1 project.  It’s not the same project as what previous Councils were presented with.  We’ve no plan to fund and build a Phase 2 right now.  If we’re now at the starting point of building a shorter road, shouldn’t we be doing the sorts of things necessary in order to build that road?  Shouldn’t we be looking for a new public Environmental Assessment, one prepared on the basis of a shorter road, using the most up-to-date data that we have?

Given all of this, I ask whether it is prudent that we proceed at this time, knowing what we now know about the need for the Province to provide us with permits to destroy habitat that our own assessments missed up until very recently.

Species at Risk – the Secret 2013 and 2014 Assessments

Section 10.2 of the Business Case Report indicates that at least two “assessments” were undertaken in 2013 and 2014, which determined the presence of two species at risk in a location just 400 metres west of the current intersection of Maley Drive and Barrydowne Road.  My questions related to those assessments are:

Where are they? In October, 2015, Council asked for a Business Case in support of the Maley project.  We got a summary from staff, and yet there was no indication that species at risk assessments had been conducted in 2013 and 2014, and no suggestion at all that those assessments had confirmed the presence of species at risk.  There was no indication that the findings of the two earlier Environmental Assessments were contradicted by these more recent assessments.  And there are no copies of these assessments in the package of information which has been presented to Council this evening.  The 1995 Environmental Assessment and the 2008 Addendum are both available to the public online.  These 2012 and 2014 assessments aren’t.  I’d like to see them.  I’d like them to be shared with the public, whom we’ve asked to comment on this project.  Let’s make sure we’ve all got the complete amount of information here – that we’re all working with the same data.  In the interests of openness and transparency, could someone please post these assessments to the City’s website?

Why am I asking about this now?  These assessments were conducted in 2013 and 2014.  Why am I and the public just hearing about them now? Why wasn’t this information shared with us at least back in November of 2015, or even earlier?

What process did these assessments follow?  Who prepared them?  Was it City staff?  If so, which staff, from which department? Did we hire consultants to prepare these reports?  What did we do with these assessments once they were completed?  Did we give them to the province, or are they being used just as background to support an Overall Benefit Permit application?

Overall Benefit Permit

Have we applied for an Overall Benefit Permit at this time?  If we haven’t, we can we expect to apply for one?  What’s the timeline?  Will the public be consulted?  Do Overall Benefit Permit applications need to be posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights by the Province?

Missing Costs from Cost Benefit Report

Back in the fall of 2015, this Council asked for a Business Case on Maley.  We ended up getting a Cost Benefit report, prepared by AECOM. Today, we found out a little more about the methodology that was used. I've been hearing a lot of criticism about this report. First off, it doesn't actually identify any financial benefit to the City - just to motorists, who'll save some time commuting, and the atmosphere, that'll receive a little less pollution because cars are moving more quickly around our streets and not idling as much in traffic.  About those benefits to the atmosphere, by the way. We've got to build this road, no? Usually, building a road involves the use of construction equipment.  I see that AECOM factored in the costs of building the road on the costs side of the report's ledger.  But what about all of the emissions we're going to put into the atmosphere to build the road?  That probably wouldn't have been difficult to figure out - for goodness sakes why wasn't that calculation included on the costs side of the ledger? Such a serious and inexplicable omission really does create a tremendous amount of doubt as to whether we can buy the what the rest of the report is selling, including the concept that a motorists travel time is worth $16 an hour if you add 30 seconds here to 15 seconds there. I've looked at other Cost Benefit analyses before, and they appeared to be a little more comprehensive than this one. I understand that this was based on something Metrolinx did for transit infrastructure, but surely there are better examples of how to write this kind of report from outside of Ontario. Metrolinx at least didn't call their analyses "cost benefit reports" but rather "Benefit Case Analyses". Long story short - it looks to me like a complete range of costs are missing from the report, so I'm wondering why Council should have any confidence in it?

Missing Benefits from Cost Benefit Report

Not only do costs seem to be missing, but a whole host of benefits that we've been hearing about also appear to be missing.  The Business Case report identified some of these benefits, such as creating several hundred construction jobs and all of the money that goes with those jobs.  While I'm not sure where the City is getting its numbers from in terms of construction jobs, because our numbers appear to be more conservative than the Chamber of Commerce's estimates, but I can't help but wonder that whatever the source of our numbers, why weren't these recorded as "benefits" in the Cost Benefit report? The absence of those numbers really shakes my confidence in the report.

And what about all of these lands that are going to be opened up for development as a result of building Maley?  Since we'er taxing those lands at a vacant rate right now, we can expect more tax revenue when they're developed.  I know that we can't expect all of the land to be developed, but why hasn't the Cost Benefit Report identified how much money the City might receive as a result of new development attributable to Maley Drive?  It makes one wonder whether or not we can actually expect to derive any economic benefit from new development at all.  It makes one want to question the correlation between building this new road and all of the new development that will be coming our way that people in the community, and frankly, that many of my colleagues around the table have been talking about as one of the selling features of building this new road.  Why hasn't any of this new development potential been identified, monetized and noted as a benefit?

Safety, too. We hear that building this road will make other roads safer, because we'll be getting the big trucks off of Lasalle and the Kingsway.  Traffic collisions cost money as well as lives.  Surely if building Maley is going to make our streets safer, I would have expected to see the safety benefits of Maley monetized and presented to Council.  Their absence makes one question the whole premise of building new roads makes our streets safer.  I can't help but wonder whether Maley will actually make our roads safer, because I've also heard that the easier we make it for people to drive quickly down our streets, the more that will do so.  That doesn't sound all that safe to me. In fact, with more drivers on our roads, driving faster, that sounds like it might actually be unsafe.  So maybe the safety aspect of Maley is actually a cost, and not a benefit, and that's why I'm not seeing it on the benefits side of the ledger.

And how about transit? The Business Case report says building Maley will be better for transit riders because buses will be able to travel more quickly.  If there's a benefit to transit riders, why hasn't that been identified in the Cost Benefit report?  That should be easy to monetize. If more buses run on time because our roads are empty, well, how much will that save transit riders in missed connections, etc?  Of course, some have suggested that since the roads won't actually be emptier than they are now, because more people will choose to drive, and that'll actually add more cars to the road - and likely degrade our transit system as well.  Since we know that building roads actually leads to more traffic, because it makes living further away from one's work more attractive, and makes choosing areas of town which can't support transit more popular for commuters, I'm not sure that the benefits identified in the Business Case for transit riders are real or just figments of a traffic engineer's imagination.  Certainly the economists who wrote the Cost Benefit report didn't identify benefits for transit riders.  Who are we to believe here?

"Thank you your Worship - that's all I've got for now. But could you come back to me before we open this up this public input meeting up to the public?  I may have a few more matters I'd like clarified from staff...."

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Maley Drive: Why Has Greater Sudbury Been Keeping Species at Risk Info Secret for Years?

On Monday evening, around about the time it was closing its electronic gateway for the submission of comments from the public on the Maley Drive Extension proposal, the City of Greater Sudbury decided to post online a copy of a "Business Case" in support of the project (see: "Maley Drive Extension - Phase 1 Business Case Report," the City of Greater Sudbury, February 19, 2016).  While much of the material included in the "Business Case" has been in the public realm for some time, there is new information contained in the report - and some of it is extremely problematic.  In particular, Section 10.2 of the "Business Case" indicates that the Maley Drive Extension will obliterate the habitat of threatened species - Blanding's turtle and whippoorwill.  That may be bad enough - but the fact is the City appears to have known about this since at least 2013 and has never made this information available to the public.

Section 10.2 of the "Business Case" (a part of the "Legal Requirements" section of the report) tells a story.  The original 1995 Environmental Assessment and the 2008 Environmental Assessment Addendum reports did not identify the habitat of threatened or endangered species along the route.  The City is suggesting that it was as a result of changes made to the Endangered Species Act legislation that had them take another look at habitat, and that might be - but the fact is that field workers went out and looked for habitat as in 2006, and none was identified.

Keeping Secrets

Apparently, the City undertook at least two assessments of the habitat - once in 2013, and another in 2014.  The Business Case is silent on the form of these "assessments", but apparently they are being used in the pursuit of "Overall Benefit Permits" from the Ministry of Natural Resources.  More on OBP's in a moment - but for now, suffice it to say that these assessments haven't been made available to the public, and they are not included in the Business Case or its appendices. Nor have they been posted on the City's website.  There's really no way for the public to know who authored these reports (was it a wildlife biologist? or a traffic engineer?).

It's not only the public from whom these "assessments" have been kept.  Back in October of 2015, Council adopted a Resolution proposed by Councillor Lynne Reynolds which read, "Councillor Reynolds requested a report regarding the Maley Drive Extension including a business case and economic benefits be brought to Council for discussion and information." (see: Minutes of the October 2015 Council meeting).  What Council received in response to that request was a package of information which it described as, "In response to Council's request at the October 20, 2015 Council meeting, staff have prepared the attached summary of information related to the Maley Drive Extension and Widening Project," (see: "Maley Drive Extension and Widening Project," City of Greater Sudbury, November 3, 2015).  This document included a number of documents - essentially providing a summary of where the Maley project was at in November, 2015.

That summary document made no reference to the issue pertaining to Maley Drive traversing the habitat of threatened species.  And yet that information was available to staff at least since 2013.  It's unfathomable why this information was being withheld from Council - and from the public.

Destruction of Critical Species at Risk Habitat

Besides keeping this information a secret from the public, here's the real issue: apparently, City of Greater Sudbury staff are embarking on the pursuit of Overall Benefit Permits (OBP's) from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).  OBP's are essentially a license to destroy specific habitat, under certain conditions, and only where there can be a net benefit to the species shown as a result of other undertakings. Critics of OBP's (like me. See: "May: Who is looking after woodland caribou?" the Sudbury Star, March 28, 2014) say that they undermine the province's otherwise decent Endangered Species legislation.

But even the MNRF considers OBP's as a bit of a "last resort" - see the Requirements Section of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's "Species at Risk - Overall Benefit Permits" page.  Specifically, see the bullet point which reads, "reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been chosen". Those "reasonable alternatives" are generally the sorts of things that an Environmental Assessment would examine.  They would include (as the MNRF's page alludes to further down in the "Requirement: Consider Reasonable Alternatives" section), "changing the location of the activity".

In fact, had either of the two earlier Environmental Assessments identified the presence of critical habitat of a species at risk, they would have examined a number of options for the project, including having Maley Drive follow a different route.  In fact, the first Environmental Assessment did examine a number of different routes for Maley Drive and alternatives to the City's street network.  And while the 1995 EA determined the present route to be the most feasible, the outcome might have been different had it been known at that time that the habitat of species at risk was located in the middle of the favoured corridor.

But rather than taking a step back in 2013 once the presence of the critical habitat of species at risk was identified, the City seems to have decided to plow ahead with the OBP process.  It's not known whether the assessments performed in 2013 and 2014 looked at re-routing alternatives (although if defies logic that the City would have done this through a process other than the Environmental Assessment process).  If those alternatives haven't been closely looked at, it seems difficult to me that Staff should be suggesting to Council that it should just simply press on with the project.

Sorry, but this is a complete game-changer.  This throws the findings of previous Environmental Assessments out the window - along with the assumptions and decisions which were made since 1995 based on those findings.  This isn't a minor matter that can be blown off through a permitting process - even as one as flawed as the one that exists in Ontario today.  Without a fresh look at route alternatives, it is completely premature to write off the critical habitat of species at risk that is located approximately 400 metres west of the intersection of Barrydowne Road and Maley Drive.

Proceeding Would be Irresponsible

Earlier today, I requested copies of the "assessments" identified in the "Business Case" from the author of the Report, David Shelsted, the City's Director of Roads and Transportation Services.  If I am going to present at the public meeting on March 1st, I'd very much like to have all of the information about this project, in order to come to my own conclusions.  Right now, in absence of these assessments, it seems to me that it would be irresponsible for Council to chase Maley down a rabbit hole from which the road might not emerge, due to the presence of species at risk.  But I'd like to see those assessments - and see what they say.  Maybe the City has examined alternatives, including rerouting the road around the habitat.  Right now, though, I just don't know.

Council and the public deserve to have information available about what will assuredly be the most expensive piece of public sector infrastructure in the City's history.  Council specifically asked for a Business Case back in October of last year.  What it got in November purporting to be a Business Case appears now not to have been the final word on the matter - indeed, not even a complete summary of where the issue stood in November of 2015, due to the omission of this critical nugget of information regarding the City's involvement with the OBP process.

One can only speculate why this information is being made available now - years after the "assessments" were undertaken, but less than a week before the public has been invited to make presentations to Council at a public meeting (and on the same day that the City closed its online written submission process).

That's not good enough.  Greater Sudburians deserve better than this.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Building More Roads is No Solution to Congestion

At 35%, Ontario’s transportation sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, equalling the combined output of emissions from all electrical generation and industrial activities in the province (see: “#ONclimate: Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy,” the Government of Ontario, November 2015). Thanks to a growing population that’s commuting longer distances to and from work, we can expect emissions from personal vehicle use to rise, if left unchecked.  More cars on our roads leads to more congestion and longer travel time, generating more air pollution and climate changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Congestion also costs our economy.  When people and goods are stuck in traffic, we’re not only wasting time, but money as well.  In the Greater Toronto Area, it’s been estimated that congestion accounts for an economic loss of between $6 and $11 billion annually (see: “Congestion costs may be up to $11 billion for GTA, study says,” the Toronto Star, July 12, 2013).

What’s the solution for congestion?  Traffic engineers have approached congestion as a failure of engineering – if there’s not enough capacity in the roads system to meet our needs, the answer is to expand the roads system to create additional capacity. 

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The real causes of congestion are found in economics, and the balance between supply and demand.  Building more roads makes it easier for car owners to drive more and over longer distances.  Since it’s easier and cheaper to drive, we end up with more cars on our roads  creating congestion, which leads to a demand for more new roads. 

For too long, traffic engineers have used a measure known as “Level of Service” to determine when roads should be expanded or new roads and highways built (see: "Level of Service," Wikipedia).  Letter grades ranging from “A” to “F” are assigned to traffic conditions on existing roads.  Where traffic flows freely with little interruption, the road gets an “A”.  Where traffic is significantly impaired due to congestion, lower grade levels are assigned, and traffic engineers start looking around at how to expand capacity.

Traffic flows more freely the less it is impeded.  Under the influence of Level of Service standards, our roads have become wider and more numerous.  Lane widths have grown, along with turning radius at intersections.  Level of Service standards have been used to justify removing pedestrian infrastructure like crosswalks and transit stops, as pedestrians and busses that stop pick people up slow down the flow of traffic (see: “Confessions of a Traffic Engineer: the Misuse of Level of Service,”  Peter Koonce, P.E., City of Portland, September 28, 2012).

After decades of prioritizing cars over people, we’ve created a congested car-centric urban environment that is massively impacting the atmosphere.  By not recovering the full costs of roads use from users, we’ve effectively subsidized a sprawling low density built form on the edges of our cities.  We know that to reduce congestion and emissions, we must reduce the number of cars on our roads (see: "California Has Officially Ditched Car-Centric ‘Level of Service’,” Streetsblog LA, August 7, 2014).  But when traffic engineers ponder the problem of climate change, the solution they come up with is often a perverse one: let’s build more roads.

By playing games with numbers to show reduced commuter times and emissions, decision-makers are sold false solutions to both congestion and climate change problems.  At a time when all levels of government are looking at debt-financing new infrastructure to stimulate the economy, it’s now more important than ever that we acknowledge that building more roads, while politically popular, will not take us towards having a prosperous economy or a healthy environment.

Instead of using public infrastructure money to build new roads, let’s take real action to reduce emissions and congestion by investing in projects and initiatives designed to get people out of their cars. Let’s spend our public resources on improving alternative transportation and transit options in existing built-up areas.  And let’s do away with unsustainable Level of Service measures which simply encourage more cars on our roads, and facilitate taxpayer-subsidized urban sprawl.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as "SudburyColumn: More roads won't ease traffic jams" (online), and "More roads no solution to traffic congestion" (print), February 13, 2016 - without hyperlinks.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why I'm Backing Off on My Call to Boycott March 1 Maley Public Input Meeting

In my blogpost of February 17, 2016 ("Process and Legitimacy: Why Rules Matter," Sudbury Steve May, February 17, 2016), I referred to a public input session scheduled to take place in Council Chambers on March 1, 2016 as a "fraud being perpetuated on the public and members of Greater Sudbury municipal Council who have been implicated by the Chair of Operations Committee as having provided their consent to direct the Clerk to call the meeting in the first place when no direction was ever given by them."  I called for a boycott of the public input meeting by both citizens and members of Council.

Today, I'm retracting that statement, and I'm retracting my call for a boycott.

New information was provided to me yesterday by the City Clerk's office with regards to how the public input meeting was called.  The City Clerk advised that the March 1st public input meeting was actually called by the Mayor as a "special meeting of Council in the format of a Public Input Meeting in order to receive comments from the public regarding Maley Drive."

While I have my concerns about the Mayor using this relatively obscure part of the Procedure by-law to convene a special meeting of Council, as well as concerns that this part of the by-law was ever intended for the use of holding public input sessions (I'll probably write about those concerns in an upcoming blogpost), today I want to focus on the reasons that I'm retracting my earlier statement and call for a boycott of the meeting.  

As I had indicated in my earlier blogpost, I had been in touch with a number of municipal representatives in order to ascertain how the March 1st meeting came about.  I was eventually given a very clear explanation as to how the Clerk came to schedule the meeting by Ward 5 Councillor Robert Kirwan, who also chairs the City's Operations Committee.  This explanation was provided to me in a public setting - via a post made by Councillor Kirwan on the Valley East Facebook group.

It was with Councillor Kirwan's explanation in mind that I wrote the blogpost in which I called for a boycott of the March 1st meeting, due to my considerable concerns with the legitimacy of the process used to call the meeting.  Well, it turns out that the explanation given to me by Councillor Kirwan on the Valley East Facebook group was not actually correct.

In the evening of February 17, 2016, I received an email from Councillor Kirwan in reply to an email that I had sent to the Clerk earlier that night.  In that email, Councillor Kirwan indicated that the March 1st public input meeting was scheduled as both a special meeting of Council and Operations Committee under relevant sections of the City's Procedure By-law (Sections 7.09 and 7.11, respectively).  Since this explanation completely contradicted the public explanation he had provided me with earlier in the week, and since it seemed very strange to me that the March 1st public input meeting was to be both a meeting of Council and Operations Committee, I wrote back to the Councillor, copying the Clerk, advising that I would await further information from the Clerk's office pertaining to how the meeting came to be scheduled.

It was on Thursday, February 18th that the Clerk advised that it was the Mayor who called the meeting as a special meeting of Council.

So it turns out that the meeting was not scheduled by the Clerk on the direction of the Operations Committee at all, as was originally reported to me by Operations Committee Chair Kirwan.  Given that a significant concern that I raised in my Wednesday blogpost had to do with how "consensus" was achieved by Operations Committee as per Councillor Kirwan's Facebook Post, it seems to me that based on this new information from the Clerk, and my own analysis of the Procedure by-law, my use of language comparing the March 1st meeting to a "fraud" and call for a boycott are inappropriate.

I am still, however, wrestling with whether or not I will appear at the meeting.  While I acknowledge that the Mayor might have the ability to call this sort of public input meeting as per the Procedure By-law, it seems very unusual that he would choose to use these exceptional powers to call a public input meeting.  Further, there remain irregularities with the City's advertisement identifying 10 minutes being set aside for public presentations, versus what Councillor Kirwan indicated in his Facebook post earlier in the week (that at the meeting, Council will have to approve 10 minutes, because the by-law only allows for up to 5 minutes - I admit I am paraphrasing here).  He may be right about that, and if so, that's really problematic for people like Tom Price who are putting together presentations for Council based on the City's meeting advert.

In the meantime, I remain convinced that all of this should have been handled better - but I acknowledge that we're here now, and we can't change the past.

I'm sure I'll have more to say in the near future - but right now, I'm taking the weekend off to spend with my family, whom I am sure are getting frustrated with seeing me hunched over the computer screen at all hours.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Process and Legitimacy: Why Following the Rules Matters

Shortly after former Acting CAO Bob Johnston abruptly left his post in the fall of 2015, he went public with a number of complaints about what’s been going on behind the scenes at Tom Davies Square.  One of his complaints had to do with governance, and the blurring of the roles between elected officials and administrative staff (see: “Sudbury’s city hall ‘toxic’: Johnston,” the Sudbury Star, November 19, 2015. Note: all subsequent quotes attributed to Bob Johnston in this blog are taken from this source, unless otherwise attributed).

As many of my more regular readers know, I’ve been an opponent of the Maley Drive Extension project for some time now.  I have written extensively about why I feel other municipal infrastructure projects should receive funding priority over Maley, and I’ve critiqued the Maley project to a considerable degree, based on information made available to the public.  This blog post isn’t about Maley Drive – although the proposed new road is at the heart of an issue which is emerging in our community in a very public way.  

That issue pertains to whether rules and processes are being followed.  In answering those questions, other questions are raised.  If the rules aren’t being followed, why not?  Both supporters and detractors of the Maley Drive Extension project ought to expect that rules for collecting public input are followed, as any subsequent decision to build or not build the project is put at risk of having been made on an illegitimate basis.

A specific circumstance has come to my attention related to the calling of a public information meeting, to be held in Council Chambers on Tuesday, March 1st, 2016, in accordance with an advertisement appearing on the City’s website (see:  “PublicInput Session on Maley Drive Extension,” City of Greater Sudbury (undated)).  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to obtain answers as to how this meeting has come about, given the absence of direction provided to the Clerk of the City of Greater Sudbury from either Council or a Committee of Council , as required by the City’s Procedure By-law 2011-235.  I’ve publicly expressed my concerns related to the need for Council processes to be accepted as “legitimate” by members of the public in order for meaningful and substantive public input to be offered (see: “Public Input Meeting on Maley Drive Shaping up to be a Sham," Sudbury Steve May, February 9, 2016). 

Under most circumstances, the legitimacy of public input sessions isn’t something which is questioned –and that’s because the City has through an open and transparent process set out the rules for the collection of public input through meetings and other processes.  By providing a clear set of rules, the expectations around participation in public input meetings are established for both members of the public and members of Council and municipal staff.  Following the rules establishes legitimacy in the process – and gives all public participants a level of assurance that there is equity in the process.

With regards to the March 1st public input meeting on Maley Drive, it has come to my attention that the rules as outlined in the City’s Procedure By-law have not been followed for the calling of the meeting, and may not be followed at the meeting itself.  Specifically, the Clerk of the municipality whose job it is to call public meeting, appears to have done so on the direction given to her by the Chair of the Operations Committee and the Mayor.  This direction appears not to have been based on any measurable expression of Council or one of its Committees, but rather on what can only be described as pure fantasy.

Let me explain further – and please forgive my deep dive into the arcana of the City’s Procedure By-law.

In my efforts to determine how the March 1st public input meeting came to be called, and what rules are to be followed at the meeting, I’ve engaged several Councillors and the Clerks’ office, looking for information.  Yesterday, via a post made on the Valley East Facebook group, I was advised by Operations Committee Chair and Ward 5 Councillor Robert Kirwan that the meeting was scheduled to take place on the basis of direction provided to the Clerk through himself as Chair of the Operations Committee, based on his understanding that at its January 18, 2016 meeting, Operations Committee had reached a consensus to hold the Maley input meeting.

This came as a surprise to me, as the Agenda for the January 18, 2016 Operations Committee meeting doesn’t even reference Maley Drive, much less a public input meeting.  Further, the Minutes of the January 18th meeting also fail to mention Maley Drive, or indicate in any way that the Chair should direct the Clerk’s office to schedule a public input meeting.

I’ll let you read the text of Councillor Kirwan’s post in its entirety, so that you can see if his interpretation of how he obtained Operations Committee’s consensus to schedule a meeting makes any sense to you.

“I always enjoy a discussion about procedural rules, Steve May. So let's see where we are with this one.

Under Section 32.01, "The Clerk, as directed by Council or a Committee, may schedule a meeting for the purpose of receiving public comments on any matter, in which case:

(1) the meeting may be conducted with four or more Members present; however,

(2) if less than a quorum of Council is present, no resolutions may be enacted at the meeting except for a motion appointing a Chair and a motion to adjourn.

During the January 18, 2016 Operations Committee Meeting discussion that emanated when I was questioned about Mr. Price not being on the agenda, there was mention of a public meeting that would be held at some point in the future when all members of the public would have an opportunity to make presentations. This was confirmed by Mr. Cecutti and the Operations Committee was in favour of such a meeting being scheduled where Mr. Price would eventually have his opportunity to speak. I would say that there was consensus, but I will definitely admit that there was no formal motion of direction. However, strictly speaking, Section 32.01 does not specify that the "direction" must be in the form of a resolution duly moved and seconded.

Prior to the Operations Committee meeting held on February 1, 2016, I met with the Mayor, the Clerk, and the CAO to discuss when a public meeting could be scheduled. If you will recall, it was at the beginning of the Operations Committee meeting of February 1, 2016 where I announced that the public input and information session would be held on March 1, 2016 and that further details would be forthcoming from the Clerk's office. This was the first time that any details of the public input session was announced publicly.

Again, I will concur that there was no formal motion made providing direction to the Clerk to hold the public input session, but there was consensus from the members, and that would be enough for the Clerk to act in scheduling the session under Section 32.01.

If we look at the wording of the By-Law, "direction of a Committee" does not necessarily require a motion. The consensus of the Operations Committee would, in my opinion, constitute "direction" that would be in keeping with the spirit of the By-Law.


Under the terms of Section 32.02, it is indicated that the Chair may only allow a maximum of 5 minutes per speaker. However, under Section 32.01, if there is a quorum of Council members present, and we expect all of Council to be in attendance, a resolution can be made to allow 10 minutes or any other length of time that is approved by the Councillors. If quorum is not present, then despite the advance information in the news release, speakers will only be allowed to speak for 5 minutes, as you point out. In this case, we are hedging our bets that we will have quorum and therefore we can pass a resolution to allow 10 minutes. I also expect that there may be a member of Council who will ask for an amendment to allow a longer period of time for the individual presentations. We don't know for certain but Councillors want to be fair to speakers so I can assure you that I will be making a motion to allow 10 minutes per speaker.

I will agree that the By-Law is written in a manner which allows for some flexibility in the interpretation of "direction". However, the wording in Section 32.01 gives us some evidence that this direction does not need to be by way of resolution.

For example, Section 32.01 states "The Clerk, as directed by Council or a Committee, may schedule a meeting for the purpose of receiving public comments on any matter,"

In this case, the fact that the Clerk "may" schedule a meeting implies that there is some discretion on the part of the Clerk. We know that if the Council or a Committee passes a "resolution" directing the Clerk, there would be no room for "may". She would be obligated to schedule a meeting in accordance with the resolution. Therefore, I feel comfortable in stating that the very fact that none of the Operations Committee members objected to a public input meeting being scheduled on March 1, 2016, meant that the Clerk was free to schedule such a meeting. If the Clerk decided that she did not want to schedule the meeting, then we would have had to resort to passing a resolution requiring her to follow our direction.

So, in conclusion, I still feel comfortable in asserting that the Procedural By-Law was not violated in this matter. The only thing that remains to be seen is if the time limit will remain at 5 minutes or be approved for some other time period. I am pretty confident that we will have more than a quorum in attendance at the public input session and we will approve at least 10 minutes.

Thank you for your question, Steve May. I love working with by-laws and the language of the law and enjoyed this analysis. If you feel that I have missed anything, please point it out and we will continue.

As for having staff make a presentation to set the stage and provide the public with a status report prior to the public making their presentations, that is something that I understand has been done many times in the past and is definitely not intended to infringe upon the integrity of the proceeding.
At the end of the day, we will now be able to listen to everyone who wants to make a presentation on the Maley Drive Project.”

Sorry for doing this, but let’s just revisit a few lines of this post one more time, as I’d like to draw your attention to some specific information contained herein, which I’ll highlight.  Councillor Kirwan wrote, 

“This [holding a special meeting for public input] was confirmed by Mr. Cecutti and the Operations Committee was in favour of such a meeting being scheduled where Mr. Price would eventually have his opportunity to speak. I would say that there was consensus, but I will definitely admit that there was no formal motion of direction. However, strictly speaking, Section 32.01 does not specify that the "direction" must be in the form of a resolution duly moved and seconded.” 

Later on, Kirwan returns to the topic of consensus, and writes, 

“Again, I will concur that there was no formal motion made providing direction to the Clerk to hold the public input session, but there was consensus from the members, and that would be enough for the Clerk to act in scheduling the session under Section 32.01.”

Councillor Kirwan believes that the consensus of the Committee provides enough direction to the Clerk so that she may schedule a meeting.  But how did he determine consensus in absence of taking a vote? Councillor Kirwan writes, 

“Therefore, I feel comfortable in stating that the very fact that none of the Operations Committee members objected to a public input meeting being scheduled on March 1, 2016, meant that the Clerk was free to schedule such a meeting.”

So, by virtue of not objecting to scheduling a public input meeting, Councillor Kirwan indicates that he was able to determine that it was the consensus of Operations Committee to schedule that meeting.
Of course, it’s difficult for Committee members to express an objection to something which isn’t actually on their agenda, or which does not appear as a motion.  It’s not at all clear that members of Operations Committee were given any opportunity to “object” or even comment favorably on the idea of holding a public input meeting on Maley Drive.  Based on my review of the January 18, 2016 Operations Committee meeting, it appears that Chair Kirwan was the only member of Council to discuss a public input meeting at all – and then so only in the context that it would be something which Committee should think about doing.  Was it the following silence which led him to believe that other Committee members had agreed with him and provided their endorsement for holding a meeting?  One can only speculate here – because there isn’t anything on the record to which anyone can turn to which suggests that any member of Operations Committee other than Chair Kirwan had any opinion at all on holding a public input meeting.

Again, though – why is any of this important?  Let’s go back to the City’s Procedure By-law and see what it says about establishing a transparent and predictable process for meetings of Council.  I’ll highlight areas of certain sections of the by-law which I think are relevant to this discussion.

“1.01 Purpose

In order to better serve the citizens of Greater Sudbury by ensuring the most effective, efficient and timely procedure for governing the calling, place and proceedings of municipal meetings, the City of Greater Sudbury hereby establishes its Procedure Bylaw in accordance with the Municipal Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 25, as amended. The rules and procedures contained herein shall apply to all meetings of Council and Committees, unless otherwise prescribed."

The City has a Procedure by-law so as to serve the citizens of the community in an effective, efficient and timely manner, in accordance with provincial legislation.

“1.03 Basic Principles

The basic principles for the application of these rules are:

(1) take up business one issue at a time;

(2) promote courtesy, justice, impartiality and equality; and

(3) while the majority rules, the rights of the individual, minority and absent Members are protected."

All of these principles are important, but I wanted to highlight the second one, because it’s the one that I’ve been on about for some time now in my earlier blogposts.  Clearly, the Procedure By-law agrees with my assessment that meetings of the public should follow certain rules so that issues of justice, impartiality and equality (equity might be a better term) are addressed at all meetings of Council, including public input meetings.

Now, let’s continue on, keeping Chair Kirwan’s explanation regarding how he was able to determine that Operations Committee had provided a consensus decision to direct the Clerk to schedule a public meeting on Maley Drive. Helpfully, Chair Kirwan himself has already directed us to Section 32.01 of the by-law – the section which lays out how a public input meeting is called.  It reads,


The Clerk, as directed by Council or a Committee, may schedule a meeting for the purpose of receiving public comments on any matter, in which case:

(1) the meeting may be conducted with four or more Members present; however,

(2) if less than a quorum of Council is present, no resolutions may be enacted at the meeting except for a motion appointing a Chair and a motion to adjourn."

The by-law contemplates direction for scheduling the meeting to come from “Council” or a “Committee”.  What does this mean? Let’s return to the by-law:

“2.10 Council

“Council” means the Council of the City of Greater Sudbury.”

Ok, so that doesn’t apply here, because it was Operations Committee which Chair Kirwan says provided the direction to the Clerk.

“2.06 Committee

“Committee” means a group composed only of Members of Council, who are appointed by Council to perform a function, or functions, and does not include a committee otherwise defined by statute. “
So, Operations Committee is a “group” of “Members of Council”."

“2.18 Member

“Member” means a Member of Council or a Committee and includes the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chair and Vice-Chair, as the case may be.”

This is different from the definition of a Chair – which you’ll note is not referenced in the definition of composition of a Committee.

“2.02 Chair

“Chair” means the Mayor or presiding officer at a Council or Committee meeting.”

All of this is to clearly establish that Operations Committee can only be considered to be a group of Council Members, and not simply the Chair.  And only as a group can Operations Committee direct that the Clerk schedule a public input meeting, as per Section 32.01 of the by-law.

Of course, Chair Kirwan maintains that it wasn’t his unilateral action which provided the Clerk with the direction to schedule the meeting, but rather that direction was given to the Clerk by the Members of Council on Operations Committee acting as a group through some sort of consensus process which was based on the lack of an objection to holding a public input meeting.  Let’s examine this further to determine if there any legitimacy to using this kind of process to direct the Clerk to schedule a meeting.

Well, the by-law references the word “consensus” only once – in Section 7.17, which indicates that by consensus and subject to the Municipal Act, Council Members may alter the time, date and location of a meeting.  Since this section of the by-law pertains to meetings which have already been called, it is not relevant to the matter at hand.  There is no reference that Council or a Committee may call a meeting through a consensus process.

So, perhaps there is some process outside of the Procedure By-law which can be followed when the direction contained in the by-law is vague or unclear.  In fact, there is such a reference:

“1.04 Robert’s Rules of Order

For purposes of interpreting this Bylaw or determining a proper course of action for matters that may arise that are not specifically contemplated by this Bylaw, the most recent edition of Robert’s Rules of Order in existence at the time shall be referred to."

Unfortunately, we’re no better off with Robert’s Rules, as the concept of “consensus” doesn’t appear in Robert’s Rules of Order at all (see: “Robert’s Rules Online: Index,", undated).

Ok, so the Procedure by-law is silent on the matter, and Robert’s Rules are no help.  Here’s a shot in the dark: can the Chair of a Committee disregard the Procedure by-law entirely, and make up his or her own process (although let me be very clear here – that’s not what the Chair of Operations Committee contends having happened). In fact, the Procedure By-law does speak to this matter here:

“3.02 Rules - Temporarily Suspended by Unanimous Consent

Any rules established by this Bylaw, other than a quorum requirement, may be temporarily suspended at, or for, a particular meeting with the unanimous consent of all Members present and voting, provided that this does not result in a contravention of the Municipal Act, 2001 or any other statute."

But the Members of Operations Committee didn’t consent to suspending the rules of the January 18, 2016 meeting.  Or perhaps they did by not indicating their opposition to suspending the rules (cheap shot, sorry).

What then to make of the notion that the consensus of Operations Committee was given to the Chair by virtue of Council Members having remained silent during a discussion on a matter which didn’t appear on their agenda?  Both the Procedure By-law and Robert’s Rules are silent on using this method to determine the will of a Committee of Council.  And yet, that appears to be the method used by the Chair to provide direction to the Clerk.

The Procedure by-law does provide a method for determining the will of Council or a Committee.  It provides that Council or a Committee may make recommendations for future action,

“2.24 Recommendation

“Recommendation” means a proposed course of action suggested by a Committee or staff for an eventual final decision by Council.”

The minutes of the January 18, 2016 meeting of Operations Committee indicate that no recommendation to hold a public input meeting was brought forward to Operations Committee by any Committee of Council or member of staff at the meeting, so that process wasn’t followed. Having said that, Chair Kirwan alludes to General Manager of Infrastructure, Tony Cecutti, having engaged in the discussion around holding a public input meeting.  Could this constitute a “recommendation” to the Committee?

Generally, staff recommendations are brought forward in staff reports, and not verbally at Council or Committee meetings. But for the sake of argument, let’s presume that Tony Cecutti’s contribution to the discussion about Maley Drive was, in fact, a recommendation made to Operations Committee to hold a public input meeting.  By the very definition of “recommendation”, Cecutti’s advice alone was not enough to act on when it comes to scheduling a public input meeting, because “recommendations” are for “eventual final decisions” of Council.  And clearly Council never undertook the action of making a further decision based on Operation’s Committee’s “direction”.
Council or Committees can also make decisions by way of motions.  Here’s the process for that:

“2.25 Resolution

“Resolution” means the result of a substantive motion of Council.”

Despite the unusual numbering below, there are only two types of motions, both of which must come before the Members present at a Council/Committee meeting for consideration.

"2.19 Motion

“Motion” means a question which a Member may bring forward for the consideration of the Members present, and may be:

(4) procedural (“procedural motion”) when it concerns the process, timing, manner or methodology of any matter; or

(5) substantive (“substantive motion”) for all other questions."

Members are defined in the By-law to include Members of Council.  Therefore, it stands to reason that in accordance with 2.19 of the by-law, motions are to be considered by all Council members present, and not just the Chair.  In the case of the January 18, 2016 meeting of Operations Committee, no motions were presented to Committee on the subject of scheduling a public input meeting on Maley Drive. 

Why does any of this matter?  Well, earlier this year, I wrote a blogpost on why I believe the Maley Drive Extension project requires a “social license” from the community before proceeding (see: "No Social License for Maley Drive Phase 1 Project," Sudbury Steve May, January 27, 2016).  I laid out the case that the current version of the Maley project has never been one which has gone before Council, and has never received the benefit of input from the public through a municipal process.  I indicated that as part of obtaining a social license from the community, that one of the components would be for Council to put public input onto their agenda prior to making a further decision on Maley.  I have always acknowledged that this is just my opinion – there is no requirement for a “social license” that I am aware of for infrastructure funding.  There doesn’t even appear to be the need for Council approval at this time for the shortened “Phase 1” Maley project.  But I continue to believe that it’s in the best interests of the community for our Council to obtain that social license through public discussion – and to proceed to some sort of decision point on Phase 1 in absence of Phase 2 ever moving forward.

As part of the process for obtaining a social license, I’ve suggested that a public input session be held on Maley.  With this public input session being called for March 1st, 2016, I’ve received a certain amount of feedback through social media regarding why I am questioning the legitimacy of the meeting – and not just simply accepting the fact that I and others like me are going to be given a chance to speak our piece on the matter.  As I indicated in another blogpost (see: "L'Affaire Tom Price: Who is Setting the Agenda in Greater Sudbury?" Sudbury Steve May, January 20, 2016 ), I believe that it’s important that rules be followed in order for the public to have the assurance that their voices will be heard.  In the case of the March 1st public input meeting, I had previously suggested that since the rules for calling and holding this meeting appear to have been circumvented, that the meeting itself was shaping up to be a sham.

Today, after further information received on how this meeting was called, and how it is intended to be held, I am going further.  The process for calling the meeting and for holding the meeting isn’t a sham; it’s an outright fraud being perpetuated on the public and members of Greater Sudbury municipal Council who have been implicated by the Chair of Operations Committee as having provided their consent to direct the Clerk to call the meeting in the first place when no direction was ever given by them.

What appears to have happened is that the Chair of Operations Committee, in conjunction with the Mayor (according to the Chair’s own words) have unilaterally made a decision to direct the Clerk to schedule a meeting, and to arbitrarily change the rules of procedure for the meeting without either the scheduling or rule changes having gone before Operations Committee or Council.  That would be egregious in and of itself, but both the Chair of Operations Committee and the Mayor have gone on the public record to indicate that they’ve already made their minds up on the Maley Drive project, and while they may appreciate hearing public input on the matter, their minds aren’t going to change.
Further, the Chair of Operations Committee has appealed to his followers on a Facebook Group which he moderates to come out and make presentations in favour of the Maley Drive project – essentially to provide him with the input that he wants to hear.

From a post by Councillor Robert Kirwan, February 9, 2016 on the Valley East Facebook Group:

"I have made it clear right from the beginning that I am in support of Maley Drive as a package that includes the Barrydowne Extension and the extension of Main Street in Val Caron to the Barrydowne Extension. As far as I am concerned, the Maley Drive project will only take some of the trucks off of MR 80 and MR 15. We need the entire package in order to give the trucks and alternate route.
Residents of Valley East should express how they feel about the Maley Drive project as a way of saving our roads and the infrastructure of the homes along the truck route. This is your chance.

As for Councillors seriously considering the presentations, I can assure you that this is one Councillor who is very committed to evidence-based decisions that take politics right out the mix. But I do know that the residents of Val Caron and Blezard Valley want to get the trucks off the highway going through the Valley. And the only way to do that is by building Maley Drive to start with.”

Keep in mind that it was the Chair of Operations Committee who originally dis-invited public deponent Tom Price from giving a presentation on Maley Drive to Operations Committee on January 18, 2016 (see: "No-show irks Sudbury Councillors," the Sudbury Star, January 19, 2016).  The Clerk had originally invited Mr. Price to speak, but at the January 18th public meeting, when questioned by Councillor Dutrisac why Mr. Price was not on the agenda despite the Clerk’s invitation, Chair Kirwan refused to provide Committee members with an explanation.  Councillor Kirwan later took to Facebook to shed some light on his rationale for having Mr. Price silenced in front of the Operations Committee – but to my knowledge, he has never had the courtesy to provide this same information in a public forum to his Operations Committee colleagues.

Shortly after leaving the City, former Acting CAO Bob Johnston wrote,

“After a number of weeks observing the interaction between council and staff it was clearly evident that day-to-day operations were subject to political interference and pressures.  In particular, my office was significantly impacted by the mayor’s office and in particular the chief of staff, who micro-managed my work activities.”

Can the current Acting CAO be experiencing similar pressures? 

Given these circumstances of how this meeting came to be called by the Chair of Operations Committee, and (allegedly) the Mayor, Clerk and CAO , can the March 1st “Public Input Meeting” be anything other than a fraud?  We have rules for a reason. In this case, the rules are codified in the City’s Procedural By-law.  These rules are not being followed.  Instead, it seems that some members of Council believe that they can make up the rules as they go along – and then imply that their colleagues have consented to these rules through their silence or through the presumed manner in how they will vote on an issue in the future.

I understand that one has to have a broad skill set to be an effective municipal councillor.  However, I didn’t think that clairvoyance and the ability to predict the future were included in that skill set.
In response to statements made by former Acting CAO Bob Johnston shortly after his departure from City Hall, Mayor Brian Bigger responded in part with the following statement:

“Every decision made by myself and council has been made in the best interest of our city and our citizens. Council has shown respect for staff and their enquiries for information should not be seen as interference. It is why we were elected. We expect a high standard of performance, which may be higher than evidenced in the past, but always in the best interest of the community. The mayor and council will continue to represent the public in a responsible and accountable manner. It is what the citizens of Greater Sudbury deserve.”

As the Mayor has been implicated by the Chair of Operations Committee in the process of establishing this public input meeting through a process outside of the Procedural By-law, as head of Council, I believe that he owes his fellow Council members an explanation as to how this meeting came about, and why it is being held now, in absent of any further decision point appearing on Council’s agenda.  Mayor Bigger owes it to the public to reassure us that despite the flagrant flaunting of the City’s procedural rules by those who have stated their public support of the Maley project, that our public input on the matter will be heard and considered in a meaningful way.  The Mayor must hold himself to the “high standard of performance” he has previously identified.

None of this can happen in the context of the March 1st public meeting.  I believe that it’s incumbent on the Mayor and administration to scrap this fraud of a meeting, and go to Council to seek direction on when it would be appropriate to hear from the public about Maley Drive through a process anticipated by the Procedural By-law and endorsed by Council.

Former Acting CAO Bob Johnston cited a lack of good governance as one of his primary concerns about what’s going on at City Hall behind closed doors.  Here’s how Mr. Johnston defined “good” and “poor” governance in the context of his experience at Tom Davies Square as Acting CAO:

“Good governance to me is a council that sets strategic goals, priorities and policies, and passes resolutions. It’s the staff that enacts those directions and provides services in the most cost-effective manner possible. The working environment was not conducive to that. Poor governance was contributing to this poor morale. I worked extremely closely with the mayor and chief of staff, and I have to be truthful – there was a very high level of micro-managing and interference in the work I was doing. And it was very negative towards the senior management team and the people working closest with the mayor and council.”

You can make up your own mind as to whether the debacle surrounding the calling of the Maley Drive public input meeting represents “good governance” in action or not.  After having taken a close look at the public’s ability to provide input on the Maley Drive Extension project, I believe that Mr. Johnston’s concerns are ones that we here in Greater Sudbury should take to heart.

I personally can’t participate in a fraud public input session.  I sincerely hope that the Mayor and members of Council seek out the public’s input in a legitimate, transparent and open manner which includes one or more appropriately constituted public input meetings.  Until that happens, I am refusing to take part in what appears to me to be a fraudulent public process.  And I encourage other citizens – and members of Council - to follow my lead.

UPDATE (February 18, 2016): The Clerk's office has confirmed with me that this meeting was in fact called by the Mayor, in consultation with the Chair of Operations Committee, as a special meeting of Council in the format of a public input meeting.  That's quite different than I was advised by the Chair of Operations Committee.  Further, special meetings are generally reserved for emergency situations (notice provisions for these meetings are far less robust), but I do acknowledge that the by-law provides no direction on when the Mayor can use this exclusive power.  So I no longer have questions related to process, per se.  Now I am left wondering why the Mayor believes that it was in the public interest to by-pass his Council through the use of these special powers to call a meeting.  Gathering public input on a matter that might never come before Council for a decision seems a strange case for the use of this special meeting section of the by-law.

Questions raised by the Operations Committee Chair with regards to how much time will be given to presenters remain outstanding at this time - so for all of those prepping to present, keep in mind you might only get 5 minutes, despite what the City has indicated in the meeting advert posted online.  Or you might have more time - I guess it all depends on the whim of Council.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)