Committee-of-the-Whole Post-view: What Happened at the January 15 Meeting?

It was a contentious and surprisingly lengthy first meeting of the Committee-of-the-Whole for 2018 as topics from Governance and Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise were debated. This is the first of what will be a series of “Post-views” by Politico for council meetings, a recap of the meeting in the similar format of the regular preview post for each meeting.

CLOSED MEETING: IDE-2018-08 Dolime Quarry, Mediation Process Update – Council did not finish the closed meeting in time for the beginning of the open session. Mayor Guthrie said that committee would return to the closed session immediately after the open meeting.

PRESENTATION: Recognition of staff involved in the Conestoga College Internationally Trained Professional Internship Program – IDE Chair Dan Gibson recognized the work of those involved with Conestoga’s Municipal Interneship for Immigrants at Guelph Program. Mayor Guthrie and Chair Gibson handed out certificates and posed for pictures.

PRESENTATION: 2017 United Way Guelph Wellington Dufferin Joint Union Management Award – Recognition was given for the City of Guelph’s workplace campaign in 2017 and the campaign team for raising $61,785. Councillor Cathy Downer was the campaign chair.

IDE-2018.05 Sign By-law Variance, 120-130 Silvercreek Parkway N – Passed by consent unanimously.

IDE-2018.06 Sign By-law Variance, 111-193 Silvercreek Parkway N – Passed by consent unanimously.

IDE-2018.07 55 Delhi Street Notice of Intention to Designate Pursuant to Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act – Robert Eilers, President and Director, Vesterra Inc. spoke to supporting the designation, and the challenges involved with redeveloping the property while keeping its heritage features intact. Councillor Leanne Piper asked Eilers’ experience with heritage tax rebate programs in other municipalities, and whether Guelph should adapt something like it. Eilers said it’s worth talking about, but tax credits are not the driving force in revitalizing these old buildings, and having a staff member that specializes in overseeing the building code specifically for heritage buildings would be more helpful. Motion passed unanimously.

IDE-2018.02 Faith-Based Institutions: Response to Council Resolutions – Councillor Piper asked about a letter received from the McElderry Resident’s Community Group, who were one of the originators of the review. The question involves whether or not a faith-based institution could reimburse the City for a portion of unpaid taxes when a property is sold for private development, is there any legislation about that? Provincial legislation dictates property tax regulations, and there’s no mechanism to “claw back” those regulations in an instance that the letter referred to. Piper also asked about the Halo Project, a separate study about the value of faith-based institutions as community space, but staff only looked at land use. Mayor Cam Guthrie said the report gives a good picture to those that were concerned about this issue, even though it turned out that the question was answered the way they expected it to be answered. Motion passed unanimously.

IDE-2018-04 Sign By-law Project Charter – Councillor Piper, speaking for a constituent concerned about sign bylaw, asked if staff could look at creating a special “district” with different lighting restrictions at the corner of Woolwich and Norfolk, and perhaps other areas where residential meets commercial. Mayor Guthrie asked about how this future bylaw might interact with heritage districts. He wanted staff to go back with the idea of flexibility it terms of thinking about the challenges of future development, like the creation of a new heritage district or in-fill. Guthrie said that the year timeline for the new bylaw seems like a long time, but staff noted that some municipalities have taken over two years. Councillor Andy Van Hellemond asked if there’s any signage to let people know they’re entering a heritage district. Staff says there is not, Guelph only has the one heritage district at the moment, but it’s one of the things they’re looking at. Motion passed unanimously.

IDE-2017.130 Commercial Policy Review: Stage 1 Commercial Analysis and Background Report – Councillor Dan Gibson went through a series of questions he asked of staff. Gibson said it was his assumption that the calculations done for the Starwood and Watson site were for maximum development potential, and staff said that it comes from a calculation of what’s existing space, what’s part of an active application, and what present zoning supports. Gibson also asked if the Starwood/Watson site doesn’t come to complete fruition, how would the loss be compensated, and would there be a way of keeping that space in the east end? Staff said that in the second stage of the review, vision and principles will be brought forward to council, which will help guide the policy alternatives, like what happens if a site isn’t fully developed. Gibson then asked about the options if there’s no longer any large parcels of land, is there opportunity to amalgamate properties? Staff said this is something that will have to be looked at in stage two.

Gibson’s ward-mate, Councillor Bob Bell, noted that one of the causes of lack of commercial land in the east end was the “mish-mash” of zoning along York Rd over the years. He asked if part of phase two is to contact the property owners to investigate their current zoning and getting their input? Staff said part of the phase one work was engaging property owners, but it’s not their intent to do another mass mailing, but they did invite them to be part of the feedback process going forward. Bell noted that there were community engagement meetings in November, and he talked to landlords who seemed unaware of the initial mailings. Since this might be a significant change, Bell said he would appreciate it if property owners along York should be engaged frequently. Staff said that when it comes to changes in designation and zoning, there are still a lot of process to get through before they get there. There’s principles, policy alternatives, and then a proposed framework that might have zoning changes. Right now, there’s a large list of property owners that have already expressed interest.

Councillor Christine Billings asked about retail trends, specifically the growth of e-commerce. Staff said they looked at changes in trends, including e-commerce, and it’s hard to know exactly what those changes are. They looked at the e-commerce numbers in U.S. and Europe, and while Canada is seeing an increase in e-commerce, it’s not expanding as fast.

Next, Councillor Phil Allt had a comment. He noted that it’s interesting to deal with this the day after “Sears died in Canada,” and that the trends are all over the place with big box stores. He wished staff the best in getting those e-commerce answers because it’s his suspicion that Guelph is going to need less retail space in the future.

In closing comments, Gibson said that this is one of the more impactful pieces of policy that council can do in this term, correcting the course of dealings in the east end these last 20 years. He talked about “an uncooperative partner” in the east end (read: Loblaws) and how this allows the City to ask what they can do to stimulate this going forward. Gibson said he’s not here to ask for special treatment for the Ward, but points out that 20 years ago, York Rd was mostly a country road that started the way to Rockwood, and know the city extends out another 2.5 kilometres in the east. He’s hopeful, but keeping an eye on the file.

Motion to receive passed unanimously.

Promotional Expense Account Policy/Members of Council Expenses – Mayor Guthrie brought this item forward, he called it a “math problem”. After correcting the numbers for Councillor Allt ($325) and Councillor Mike Salisbury ($665), Guthrie said that the promotional line item on the budget is only $7,000, and if he played fair, everyone on council would get over $600 each to spend equally.

Allt said that the situation is that there’s no policy that discusses communications as an expense; Allt, in this instance, was copying flyers to get constituent feedback. Allt thought it was worth bringing to the Governance Committee to feel out council about developing policy in regards to council communications, and not just photocopying, but websites and other communications too.

Billings point out that one-third of the councillor’s salary is tax free for the purpose of paying for expenses related to work on council. Allt, answering the question, said that there’s some ambiguity here, and that the stipend is meant to incur “exceptional” expenses, like out of town travel, according to his understanding.

Piper said that a can of worms has been opened up, communications with constituents is part of the job, but there are changes coming to the tax-free stipend this year, which means that the City has a policy void. There are also a lot of expenses that come with being a city councillor that they don’t invoice, she said, so talking about compensation now is worth looking at in this term of council so that the next council isn’t debating the qualities of their own compensation. Piper suggested that it could be investigated in terms of what other municipalities do in regards to community engagement policy for councillors.

Allt declared a conflict of interest, as this is a matter of pecuniary interest. Piper then said that she would have to see the flyer to decide as to where the expense should fall. Guthrie had a copy of the letter in question.

Van Hellemond asked if putting something like this on a website doesn’t accomplish the same thing. Allt said that it was on Facebook and Twitter too, but the problem is that it presumes that people are online, and Allt says he deals with many seniors who are not online.

Councillor Mark MacKinnon said that he felt committee was going off on tangents, and wondered if there was a motion that needed to be made. He made a motion to reject the expense from Allt, and Van Hellemond seconded it.

Salisbury asked if this was a usual type of decision that the mayor’s office makes, and Guthrie said there was some disagreement about his decision to not endorse the expense out of fairness to the rest of council, hence a discussion about the matter now in committee. Bell said he didn’t think Allt did anything wrong, but council can now set a precedent with a vote rather than draft new policy. Guthrie said that he wished this was brought forward before it was done.

Piper added that she thinks this motion is telling Allt that he did something wrong, and Downer said that she felt Allt should be reimbursed and then develop more specific policy to clarify. Guthrie took exception saying that this doesn’t direct people to an event, like a town hall, but this was about promoting of a person more than community engagement. He added that if he did something similar, he would be rightly pilloried by the town and the council. The motion passed 8 to 1 with only Salisbury voting against.

Salisbury’s expense was next, and he said he felt like he stumbled into this. He was going door-to-door last summer and was concerned because there seemed to be not a lot of awareness about the then-pending hydro merger decision. So he made up some door knockers to encourage people to get more information from the Energizing Tomorrow website, or by contacting him:

Salisbury said it was never his intention to get reimbursed on this, he just thought it was important and he would spend the money again. MacKinnon said he would be happy to make a similar motion, but Salisbury said that this was never meant to be a debate issue at council, merely it was an offhand comment by him about maybe rolling the expense into the promotional budget of Energizing Tomorrow. He said, basically, that life is short so he’ll withdraw the expense.

Guthrie said that moving forward, exploring a new policy for expenses should be something brought back to the next term of council in order to give staff plenty of time to explore all the options. Downer suggested that the matter should be referred to the compensation committee, as she had learned some information at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) that many cities and towns had moved away already from the model of one-third tax-free exemption for council salaries and just raised the compensation. Downer made a motion to have the matter looked at before the start of the next term on December 1, 2018, and the motion passed unanimously.

Piper brought forward another motion to look at promotional expenses currently covered under council remuneration in order to “clean up the grey areas”. She didn’t put a deadline on the motion, because she wanted staff to fully explore what other municipalities do, because it is Piper’s suspicion that Guelph is rather low on the scale of what it spends on promotional budget. Bell suggested that there needs to be a guideline too on how to promote things in the city, even though he was not going to support the motion. Gibson thought council was making work for themselves. If it is clear from the mayor that there are some things that he or she will approve, and things the mayor will not approve, then that’s good enough and not untypical from most office hierarchies. The motion failed 3-6 with Allt, Downer and Piper voting in favour.

Regrets: Councillors James Gordon, June Hofland, and Karl Wettstein.

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