Councillor Mel Getty declared his uncertainty whether this was the time to change Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. (THI).
“But I think it’s time to really look at it,” he said Monday evening inside a packed open council chamber, featuring roughly 20 members of the public over allotted seat capacity, standing or reclining in portable auxiliary seating.
Getty outlined three potential options for THI including merger, sale or status quo, adding the contention any decision must be based on facts and weighing pros and cons through a process of ‘due diligence’ to ascertain what is best for the community at large.
“Coffee shop talk shouldn’t be a part of it.”
Council will get one ‘kick at the can,’ Getty added, “and it had better be done right.”
In closing, Getty reiterated his contention a decision should be based on ‘due diligence’ and its pros and cons, “without politics entering it.”
Comparatively gently, and ‘with respect,’ Councillor Marty Klein responded it already ‘is about politics otherwise the room wouldn’t be full.’
And whether politics had entered the issue or not, clearly, council’s willingness to add a front-end public process ‘early in May’ had, as evidenced by a unanimous 6-0 recorded vote (Councillor Chris Rosehart was not in attendance) in favour of the same.
Looking back, council maybe could have done things in a better way, Klein mused aloud. “But there are no ‘re-dos’ in this thing.
And while prefacing his statement with the caveat he might not convince everyone, Klein indicated it was always his intention to ‘go public’, a sentiment echoed both by Mayor John Lessif “Council has no issue with a public meeting,” and Councillor Brian Stephenson: “I just want to reiterate, it was always our intention, my intention to bring it to the public.”
CAO David Calder had opened the discussion with historical perspective he had been directed to develop a format for a public meeting during the February 27th meeting and report back to council Monday with the same.
Calder suggested a large-venue (complex for example) meeting early in May chaired by the mayor and following council protocol, beginning with reports, a presentation from himself and financials from Director of Finance Darrell Eddington, along with one from the THI chair and board members. Following those information items, Calder envisioned one-way public input, with council essentially listening and taking it into consideration.
“You may want to consider timing,” said Calder, noting a standard delegation to council has 15 minutes for presentation, which might be long, considering anticipated public interest. Calder suggested a five-minute timeframe in fairness to all, “and allow lots of people to have input.”
Councillor Dave Beres noted he had received ‘a lot of intelligent questions,’ from the public, and inquired whether he would forward the ‘what ifs’ to Calder?
“I think they need to be answered and not in general terms, in specific terms,” said Beres.
Calder outlined a plan to formulate a ‘FAQ’ sheet, reflecting staff’s desire to keep ‘neutral, while providing balanced information and factual information,’ to cover off similar questions efficiently.
“The public meeting is where everyone hears the answer.”
If there are individual questions falling outside those parameters, said Calder, they can be addressed through the public meeting and council. There are questions, he added, which may not have direct or easily-quantifiable responses.
“We might have to say, ‘we just don’t know,’ is the answer.”
Deputy Mayor Mark Renaud raised one of those nebulous issues.
“A lot of people have asked me ‘what’s going to happen with jobs?’”
Calder responded he couldn’t comment on staffing for two reasons, the first is he didn’t know, because he didn’t know the direction council might choose. Secondly, he didn’t want to comment in a public meeting prior to meeting with staff privately.
Renaud continued with the issue, suggesting potential job losses, downsizing and resultant effects on the tax roll were part of an informed decision because ‘they are all intertwined.
“If we are going to have a public meeting, everything needs to be on the table in that public meeting.”
Mayor John Lessif took exception to the deputy mayor’s talk of loss of jobs.
“I’ll talk about new jobs and creating jobs,” he declared.
Lessif also said as mayor, it was his duty to look at every asset we have, (and) “getting the maximum value out of that.”
Lessif indicated his faith in Calder to do due diligence on the issue, bringing forth both positives and negatives on an issue that has ‘two sides’.
“It’s not all negative.”
Lessif also subsequently supported Klein’s suggestion of a 10-minute presentation period through what he had always thought of as a ‘one issue’ meeting separate from normal council business. Mayor Lessif also indicated if one night wasn’t enough, “we’ll go two.”
Earlier, Renaud had referred to his notice of motion further down the agenda, for the referendum question “Are you in favour of the Town of Tillsonburg maintaining 100% ownership and control of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc.? YES OR NO” to be added to the upcoming municipal election’s ballot, noting it has an April 30th deadline for ministry approval.
“Time is of the essence.”
Calder indicated legal advice suggests a public meeting can be held prior to such a ballot question as long as it is ‘balanced’ and therefore did not constitute ‘campaigning.’ He also stated he was at ‘council’s mercy’ in terms of scheduling a public meeting, although he had suggested early in May, as opposed to April.
“You can tell me to do it in two weeks and we’ll do it in two weeks,” Calder said, cautioning that may provide a challenge in terms of appropriate preparation.
Indicating his opinion it was time to stop talking, “and do it, or get on with running the utility,” Klein suggested supporting Calder’s judgment on scheduling, while realizing if that didn’t suit the deputy mayor’s timing, council would have another resolution to deal with later. Klein also added a wry twist of self-directed humour, indicating it may in fact be redundant in this, an election year.
“I’m confident whether or not there is a referendum, depending on how we vote, there may be a referendum on all of us.”