This Month at Council: Investing, Parkview, and Mail-In Ballots

It’s the end of another month of city council meetings, and there was a lot of ground covered with a couple of big meetings. We took one step closed to getting some supportive housing in the city, we got at least one firm decision about what the 2022 election will look like, and there was some interestingly wonkish discussion about investing policy. All in a month’s work.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – February 1

The most dramatic thing that happened at Committee of the Whole yesterday is the 45-minute delay in the start of the meeting due to technical difficulties. After trying to get the live-stream going for the better part of an hour, the clerks office posted a WebX link to social media and the proceedings finally got underway.

The meeting unfolded in a straightforward and direct manner and was completed in less than an hour.

After this month’s staff recognitions, committee heard the presentation on Prudent Investor Standard Analysis and recommendations, and how it would be a long and difficult road to get the City of Guelph ready to potentially join an investment board or start its own. Staff were asked about the potential of making only ethical investments, and the potential dangers to the City’s liquidity, while Councillor Bob Bell was basically against the whole opportunity to expand the City’s investment portfolio. Committee voted 11-1 in favour of the recommendations.

The second of two topics for discussion was the 2020 Internal Audit Summery and 2021 Work Plan, which featured a brief verbal presentation from new Internal Auditor Karl Hutchinson. Committee asked Hutchinson about long-term audit planning, the process for determining what audits get done, and the potential impacts on his work plan from the service rationalization review. One that last point, Hutchinson said that a planned audit of the I.T. department was delayed because of the rationalization, but the City’s cyber security is currently under review anyway so it’s not strictly a miss. Committee received the report in a unanimous vote.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – February 8

There were four statutory planning items on the agenda, and Mayor Cam Guthrie did a couple of things off the top for clarity. First, he asked for a pre-emptive vote to go beyond 11 pm, which was four-and-a-half hours away at the time, and he reminded everyone watching and delegating to keep their comments contained to planning and zoning concerns and not focus on the end use operations or users.

First, staff presented the proposed planning amendment for the site of the Parkview Motel, which will see the property transformed into 32 units of supportive housing. Grace Gardens, so named due to a cherished supporter of the Drop In Centre, has been a topic of much controversy since it was announced that the project is moving forward last fall, and the meeting proved that the controversy is alive and well. There was a lot of support from the dozen or so delegates, but there was also a lot of concerns that checked the usual boxes of safety and negative effects on the neighbourhood.

In terms of the direct planning or zoning concerns, several councillors were curious about parking at Grace Gardens. There are only 13 spaces for the property, which are mostly intended for staff and visitors, but a couple of councillors pointed out that as residents get settled, they might seek out their own private automobile, and the parking could get dicey. It’s worth noting that Grace Gardens will also have secure bike lock-up in the building, and it’s anticipated that residents will be using bikes, or the transit stop just outside their front door, to get around.

Council also asked the planners about accessible units in the building, of which there will be six, and they will be at the front of the building with an interior entrance from an expanded inner hallway. There was also a question about the use of safety in environmental planning, and the planners pointed to the limited access to the building and the “natural surveillance” with more open spaces, which also has the benefit of giving residents more places to hangout on the property with improved and renovated green spaces.

Other concerns: whether the renovation will meet density concerns, whether there’s the commercial land in Guelph available for another hotel project, and the status of parkland dedication and development charges on the project. Council approved receipt of the application.

The second item was the statutory meeting for the Emma-Earl Bridge, which seemed to attract a fairly equal division between people who want the project to proceed, and people that have their doubts and would rather that the City of Guelph focus on restructuring Speedvale Avenue to allow for bike lanes on the bridge over the river.

Hearing those concerns, Councillor Leanne Caron expressed one of her own, seeking assurance about where the Emma-Earl Bridge fell technically in the City’s planning work. Was it a road construction project considering that it was being done along with improvements to Speedvale, or was it work that technically fell under the Trails Master Plan, which is currently in the process of being updated? Caron wanted to make sure that if it was under Trails that the work on the Emma-Earl Bridge wasn’t superseded other trail priorities. Councillor Phil Allt added that council had come this far on the project, and unless there was a terrible underlying reason not to continue then they should stay the course. Council accepted the application unanimously.

There was considerably less controversy on the third planning item, which was two apartment towers and commercial building on a vacant property on Edinburgh Road North between London and Willow. The only delegates were the planners for the property, and council asked some questions about density, accessibility, and the fate of some of the old trees on the property. (They’re safe!) The application was received unanimously.

The final application of the evening (and month) was for a townhouse development and apartment block on Eastview Road. There were a great many concerns about this application including the idea that there might be too much density on the site, and along with that many wondered about pressures on area traffic, a transit stop on that corner, and a lack of sidewalks along this section road. There were also concerns for the natural heritage features on the property including protected woodland and protected wetland, as well as a lack of common open space, especially for any families with young children that move here.

Council ended up receiving the report unanimously just 10 minutes after 11 o’clock.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – February 17

Delayed from its usual Monday perch due to Family Day, council met in an unusual Wednesday setting to talk about voting options for the 2022 Municipal Election. Along with the tabulators that have been used since 2006, the Clerks Office was also proposing to introduce a mail-in ballot option, but no online ballots for the second election since they were first introduced in 2014.

Council heard from 10 delegates, and they were all supportive of the introduction of the mail-in option, or at least agreed that it was a good compromise between security and accessibility. On the later, accessibility advocate Brad Howcroft was concerned that there were still issues that mail-in voting didn’t address, like people who might have issues getting their completed ballot physically to a mailbox. Most delegates, including cyber security experts Aleksander Essex and Nicole Goodman, noted the lack of a paper trail from online voting as particularly concerning.

This was a concern that many on council shared, although it appeared that the recommendations presented by the clerk had near unanimous support around the horseshoe. Councillors also discussed the future mitigation from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation list of electors to Elections Ontario’s list for the 2026 election, how the clerks’ office might respond to issues with Canada Post like a postal workers’ strike, and the logistics of mail-in voting. For the record, you will have to request a mail-in ballot, and the clerks’ office will have a verification process not dissimilar to how it’s done at in-person polling places.

The two original recommendations from the clerks’ office were approved unanimously, but there were a couple of additional motions for council’s consideration before the night was through.

First, Councillor Cathy Downer proposed a motion that supports the potential implementation for a home visit program pilot to help people with accessibility or mobility issues vote in the 2022 election. Council can’t direct the clerks’ office to perform a specific action in the administration of an election, but they can offer suggestions, and Clerk Stephen O’Brien said an information report will come forward in July after his staff has had a chance to do some research and meet with the Accessibility Committee.

The second new motion, which was proposed by Mayor Cam Guthrie, directed the mayor and the clerk to draft a letter for the Government of Ontario, AMO, Ontario’s Big City Mayors, and the local MPPs asking the Province to develop a set of standardized rules for online voting, which is another issue that needs remedy according to the experts during delegations. The motioned passed 8-5 with Councillor Phil Allt being among the dissenters noting that security concerns need remedy before standards are developed for online voting.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – February 22

For the most part, the last meeting of the month took about 30 minutes to complete, or rather that’s how long it took to complete the open session of the meeting anyway.

The closed session began at 5 pm and had two items on the agenda for discussion. Only one of those topics though, the Union Bargaining Considerations Report, was completed in time for the open meeting, and saw council give no direction and just receive information. Councillor Cathy Downer had to declare a conflict of interest though and did not take part in the discussion.

After quickly passing the minutes and the 2020 Internal Audit Summary and 2021 Work Plan, council heard from the one delegate on the Prudent Investor Standard Analysis and Recommendations. The delegation did give councillors a chance to ask some follow-up questions about ethical investing and how the City could work to secure its risk while prudent investing. Councillor Bob Bell used the occasion to announce again that he was against the very concept and was the one councillor that didn’t vote to ratify the report.

After that, council went back into closed session to discuss the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Bargaining Report, which took faster than expected. Mayor Cam Guthrie reported that council gave direction to staff.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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