Council Report Card – 2010 to 2014 ……. In Our Opinion


Background

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (the MRA) is a community organization focused on monitoring and reporting on municipal affairs in the Township of Muskoka Lakes.  The MRA advocates for good governance, transparency, accountability, and prudent property taxes.

Representatives of the MRA attend all Council, Planning and Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings at the Township (over 150 to date and counting), as well as many District Council meetings.  It is from attendance at these meetings that the MRA is able to gauge the performance, actions and decision making of the Mayor, individual councillors as well as council as a whole.  This is done conscientiously to ensure we are informed firsthand and you, our members benefit from these observations and reporting.

The MRA issued a “Report Card” in April 2011 noting our observations of this council in its first 100 days in office.  These results are posted on our website at The First 100 Days' Report and remain available at this time.  In advance of the 2014 fall election, this second review is to assist our members in evaluating the overall performance of the present sitting council.   Additionally the MRA will host an All Candidates public meeting on September 27, 2014 for all candidates running for office.   A handout booklet with each candidate’s answers to a set of questions prepared by the MRA will also be available.

To be clear, the MRA does not endorse individual candidates or issue a slate of preferred candidates for office.  We believe that it is the responsibility of each individual voter to inform themselves and then decide who best represents their interests.

Assessment of the Current Sitting Council

Some Accomplishments

  • Have been actively involved in the cost review of policing, fire protection and waste management at both the District and the Township;
  • The Windermere shoreline retaining wall was repaired;
  • The Ullswater Community Centre was made accessible and the roof was replaced;
  • A public access ramp was approved for Clear Lake, Ward A;
  • An exotic animal by-law was formulated and approved;
  • Contracts to replace condemned docks at the east end of Acton Island and Currie St. in Bala were awarded;
  • The Milford Bay Golf course lawsuit was settled;
  • The program to eradicate giant hogweed on township lands was initiated;
  • A dark sky by-law was formulated and approved;
  • A review of Comprehensive Zoning By-law 87-87 is well under way;
  • Council has not yet stopped  construction of the Swift River Hydro project but it has delayed and blocked its progress;
  • The Nursing Station of the Brock and Willa Napier Wellness Centre is moving forward;
  • Fluoride was maintained in Township water system;
  • Restoration of the Port Carling wall was completed.

Some Disappointments

  • Most of the councillors elected in 2010 had no previous experience on municipal council.  Understandably the learning curve required was monumental;

Although this inexperience has allowed council to look at matters with fresh eyes, this lack of understanding regarding by-laws, protocols and regulations has sometimes negatively impacted decorum and debate; 

One can excuse a new council for taking time to learn the ropes in their first year in office, however, after nearly four years the situation should have shown more improvement;

  • Excessive energy and debate is regularly allotted to matters over which the Township has no jurisdiction;
  • Often a “staff report” is called for when a simple council decision could have been made and perhaps not delay a taxpayer’s request by at least a month;
  • Council’s decisions have also resulted in a significant number of appearances at the Ontario Municipal Board, heritage designations, law suits and court proceedings all of which have been costly;
  • There has been a significant exodus of staff, particularly in the senior management levels;
  • After one year in office, a newly elected councillor resigned his seat because he “did not enjoy participating on Council as he had expected to”;
  • Some members of council tend to micro-manage matters which should be the prerogative of staff.  Staff recommendations are often disregarded, and many decisions are deferred to future meetings;
  • No affordable housing has been approved for the Township, exacerbating the already evident need.

Mayor Alice Murphy

Some Accomplishments

  • Created a budget advisory committee which utilized the expertise of local residents and ratepayer representatives;
  • Held town hall meetings in Port Carling, Windermere and Walkers Point as promised;
  • Championed the fight to “Save the Bala Falls” but to date only delay has been accomplished;
  • Raised the awareness of heritage within the Township.

Some Disappointments

  • Information provided to the MRA by Township staff indicates that Reserves have been notably reduced:
  • The Mayor promised to introduce a pro-active business style of leadership, based on her corporate experience; unfortunately, in our opinion, this style is inappropriate in a municipal setting;
  • The Mayor has disregarded municipal protocols and procedural by-laws;
  • Meetings that she chairs are often chaotic and excessively long.  At times, members of the public and staff alike have left council meetings in frustration. Even if she is not chairing a meeting, the Mayor will often act, interject and try to conduct the meeting as if she were;                                             
  • Senior Staff and staff turnover has been alarming.  Among those who have left the Township’s employ due to sudden or early retirement or job opportunities elsewhere are the following:
  • 2 Chief Administrative Officers;
  • 2 Treasurers;   
  • A Director of Planning;
  • A Director of Public Works;
  • A  Director of Parks and Recreation and Facilities;
  • A  Deputy Fire Chief;
  • A Senior Planner;
  • A  Planner, and
  • A By-law officer.

In the MRA’s opinion, this might suggest that the existing working atmosphere and the continual interference with staff responsibilities are having a negative impact;

  • The Mayor promised to improve transparency, having fewer closed sessions.  The MRA has  observed that this is not the case;
  • It is the MRA’s opinion that the Mayor continues to micro-manage matters that appear to suit her agenda;
  • The Mayor promised not to get bogged down in law suits or endless OMB proceedings.  However, it is apparent that expensive and time consuming legal matters continue;
  • The Mayor’s resistance to appropriate development in the Township has tarnished the relationship with the building and development community;
  • Swift River Energy Limited (SREL) has filed a suit against the Mayor personally and the Township for incidents related to SREL carrying out exploratory work at the Bala Falls;
  • The optics of the Mayor’s excessive commitment to thwarting the hydro project continues to be questioned by many, as a conflict of interest, due to the proximity of the Mayor’s cottage to the Bala Falls.

Conclusion

In the view of the MRA, the present council has some very capable representatives around the table. However, due to the overwhelming influence of Mayor Murphy, their true qualities were often overlooked and/or smothered.  There is no doubt, in the MRA’s opinion, that Mayor Murphy is persistent and passionate. She seems to prefer, however, to do most things her way giving little regard for the opinion of others. 

In our opinion, it appears evident that there has been excessive time, energy, and taxpayer dollars spent by this council dedicated to a single issue – the stopping of the Bala Falls hydro project, to the detriment of the rest of the Township.

It is the MRA’s opinion that Mayor Murphy’s leadership style, is contrary to the prudent management of the future growth of our Township and is not consistent with the direction that the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association believes the Township should and needs to take.

 

 

Upcoming Events - Monthly Calendar

MRA - Board Meeting
Nov 25, 2017 9:00am to 1:00pm
TML - Committee of Adjustment
Dec 13, 2017 9:00am to 12:00pm
TML - Committee of the Whole
Dec 14, 2017 9:00am to 12:00pm
TML - Council
Dec 15, 2017 9:00am to 12:00pm
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