COLUMN: Municipal report card time

MORRISBURG — Public-board elementary students in Cornwall and SD&G will finally receive their report cards over the coming days. With the municipal councils having reached one year in office, it is report card time for them as well. Councils as a whole and notable officials will are graded with an old-fashioned letter grade. Criteria include: how well councils functioned; key issues; individual performance; and adherence to their election platforms. Not everyone will be graded. In this report card the townships of North Dundas, North Glengarry and North Stormont were not graded.

Township of South Glengarry

In the last year, South Glengarry council has brought on more volunteer firefighters, revitalized their wharf in Lancaster, and otherwise generally kept themselves out of trouble. A plus is the township has agreed to discuss with the city of Cornwall over the jointly-owned airport to help resolve long standing issues. Council receives an “A”.

City of Cornwall

Voting out half of city council in 2014 has not cured what ailed in the last term. Little progress has been made on the waterfront, Domtar land redevelopment, and economic diversification files. The city remains reliant on only a few industrial sectors, making it difficult to weather the rapidly changing economic picture. Negative marks for the undemocratic method of replacing Brock Frost, and the national negative press attention over skating rinks and worm farms.

Mayor Leslie O’Shaunnesy has done his best to provide sensible and pragmatic change after two terms of Bob Kilger at the helm. O’Shaunnesy has retired the iron fisted, “mother-may-I-speak” nature of council meetings, leading meetings in a more relaxed manor. He earns a solid “B” grade.

Justin “Captain Cornwall” Towndale is the eager councillor who always is willing to jump into the press spotlight on an issue. The rookie should temper his enthusiasm for the press a bit, earning a “C” grade. Councillor Bernadette Clement also earns a “C”  due to attendance issues. Her grades will go up once she has attended a full-year of council meetings.

Rookie Councillor Carilyne Hébert, and stalwart Elaine MacDonald earn “B” grades for representing the progressive side of council well. Councillor David Murphy earns a “B” for his support of capping handouts to city and outside groups at budget time.

The largest disappointment so far has been in the performance of returning councillor, Mark MacDonald. The former maverick has been mute so far this term. Gone are the protests over transfer payments from OPG and other bluster. It is unfortunate, as the “champion of the common man” shtick was among his best qualities. MacDonald earns a “D” in the hope that with all the issues Cornwall is facing, he gets some of his fire back.

This council gets a grade of “C”, an OK effort, but with financial challenges ahead council needs to focus on the basics.

Township of South Stormont

South Stormont replaced their mayor in 2014, and the change of leadership style shows. Council no longer operates as a three-ring circus, as it had degraded to in the previous term. That does not mean there have not been issues, namely traffic oriented. Traffic issues remain the key issue for this council to deal with. Improvements are ongoing to issues in St. Andrews, but the dangerous Headline Road and Highway 138 intersection remains untouched. The council supported the county’s roundabout plan in Long Sault, despite the negative reaction from area residents. Positive points for council include more industrial and commercial businesses locating to South Stormont.

Notable is Mayor Jim Bancroft, who is not as adversarial as his predecessor earning him a grade of “B”. Deputy Mayor Tammy Hart has also earned a “B” with her toned-down rhetoric this council. Hart has not been afraid to be on the losing side of a council vote, while championing the views of the residents. Her stance against the roundabout issue highlights this.

The Township of South Stormont earns a “B”.

Municipality of South Dundas

The electorate wanted change and three-fifths of council was changed. Whether this change was for the better remains to be seen. South Dundas council has moved issues forward as well as a tractor mired in mud, going nowhere. Key administrative changes have taken longer than usual to decide with roles vacant for six or more months. When challenges are presented to council, the appearance of favouritism or bending the rules take precedence over common sense. The Renegade Bass Tournament funding, which council still has not seen a report on from the local chamber of commerce partner; or donations for the waterfront which was in a gray area of the municipality’s procurement policy are key examples. Both set bad precedents that will cause issues in the future. Meanwhile reports and issues carried over from the previous council sit to collect dust. Those issues include economic development, bylaw and parking issues, and the Fire Master Plan.

Mayor Evonne Delegarde campaigned on a platform of open and transparent government, with town-hall forums and better communication. The number of “in-camera” meetings and last-minute special council meetings called say otherwise. Delegarde appears to be more focused on social aspects in the municipality than providing fair leadership, earning her a “D” this time around. Do better, please.

Deputy-Mayor Jim Locke provides a good counterbalance and experience at council meetings, but earns negative marks for his support of “green energy” and not always being prepared for council meetings with facts and figures. Recently stating a fire plan consultant cost “around $60,000” when council minutes in 2013 state the cost was $19,890 highlight this. Simple mistake of facts lead to miscommunication and rumour, something all-too frequent in rural communities. This earns Locke a “C”.

Councillor Archie Mellan has become the (mostly) pragmatic voice of reason on this council, earning the grade of “B”. Rookie Councillor Marc St. Pierre earns the grade of “D” for inaction on his own platform, support of the bass tournament deal and support of delaying the hiring of an Economic Development Officer. As top vote-getting councillor, he has not met the public’s expectations. Councillor Bill Ewing earns the grade of “F” for his lack of movement of any file forward. Ewing should focus on his job as councillor instead of attempting to micromanage all the municipality’s issues he hears about. As the adage goes, “Do one thing, but do it really well.”

South Dundas council gets a “D” for this year. If council focused on the job of council, they could do much more.

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