Council puts off decision on fate of old town facilities for three more months.
By ALLAN BENNER
Special to The Standard
The fate of Niagara-on-the-Lake's library and community centre will have to wait again, and the decision to defer the final decision has done little to placate angry residents.
After originally deferring the decision to move the facilities out of the old town until after a public meeting held March 16, at Monday's council meeting aldermen deferred making a decision for three more months.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Conservancy president Laura Dodson said she is declaring war.
"I think it's unbelievable that a group of what I would call intelligent people could make such a stupid decision — such a devastating decision," she said in an interview following the meeting.
Dodson was one of more than 100 residents who packed council chambers hoping to hear the town's final decision on the plan to move the facilities.
"Instead of voting tonight to rip the heart out, they're going to vote three months later," said Tom Braybrook who lives on Mississauga Beach.
"I think the decision stinks and I'll tell you why," he said. "It's the same thing — they're still talking about pulling the library out. They're still talking about yanking the community centre out. (Alderman Austin Kirkby) didn't say we're going to study options. She said we're going to study taking out the library. We're going to study moving the community centre."
Resident Bill Auchterlonie said the decision to defer shows no consideration for the "huge swell of opinion that wants public and diverse input into the decision-making process."
The deferral was made to give town staff a chance to find a new location for the facilities (possibly within Niagara District Secondary School), find suitable tenants for the buildings that house the facilities (the community centre on Platoff street and the historic courthouse on Queen Street), consider the costs involved and look at the long-term benefits ; moving the facilities will have on the old town, Kirkby said.
Aldermen gave final approval to part !of the original motion made at the March 1 committee of the whole meeting that called for moving the soccer fields out of Rye Street Park for this summer and finding a new home for them by the summer of 2000. Dodson was in support of moving the soccer fields, but said it's important to consider the location.
"I'd be quite agreeable to the soccer fields, but I don't want buildings on Highway 55."
The town-owned property is one of the locations being considered for relocating the facilities.
Aldermen Allen Snider and Rob Copeland wanted to defeat the original motion which has been at the centre of controversy since it was first passed.
"Why don't we just get rid of all this stuff and start back at Square 1 right now. Everyone's so damn confused and it doesn't make sense to do it this way. Defeat it and start again," Copeland said to applause.
Alderman Judy Rylands was also against deferring the decision, calling it a fiasco.
"You have now created, even more now than ever, us versus them — the old town residents versus the rest of the municipality," she told her fellow aldermen.
Dave Eke, library board vice chair, said he hopes the town can put residents' fears at rest during the period of the deferral so the community will support the move.
"If anybody wants to be convinced, just make a trip to the library to be reassured that there are needs to be met," he said.
During his opening remarks Lord Mayor Art Viola called the March 16 meeting "the largest public meeting ever seen in this town."
He said the residents' message to defer the decision and to keep the facilities in the old town was "absolutely clear."
In a news release, the Coalition for Old Town Advocacy said it's considering several options for protecting the heritage of the community which include vying for independence.
"The notion of independence is not as radical as one might think," said spokeswoman Mary Jane Grant in a prepared statement. "After all, we were an independent town before the current system of municipal government was introduced in 1970. While it may be a step into the past, it may be the only way to step into the future."
Niagara-on-the-Lake council proves it can't conduct a meaningful meeting
[By MIKE KEENAN]
Niagara-on-the-Lake council lacks vision; however, I didn't realize how bad it was. For two-and-a-half of the assigned three hours at the public meeting last Tuesday, I tried to speak. The chair studiously avoided eye contact. Even the people sitting beside me, complete strangers, were becoming incensed.
What I learned is that chairman Slingerland (and council by their compliance) does not know how to conduct a meaningful public meeting, nor its purpose.
It begins with atmosphere. A packed hall was figuratively read the riot act by the clerk, dryly citing from the procedural bylaw that we had better be good. A police cruiser idled outside just in case the citizens (average age of 58) had packed guns, knives or brass knuckles.
A public meeting is an opportunity to exchange information. For the momentous decisions looming ahead, representatives with town planning, technical and financial expertise should have sat at the head table.
Council should have faced the people, prepared to dialogue in a question-and-answer format. Instead, we had a myopic chair, a clerk who set a negative tone and the mayor, mute save for a brief introductory welcome.
Puzzled citizens were reduced to one-way oral submissions. Nevertheless, the repeated courage and creativity of the speakers was an inspiring component.
The task of council is to reflect that courage and creativity, to harness it and package it in a clear vision that demonstrates leadership and viable long-term goals, not simply a three-year, re-elect-me mandate.
Two speakers were abruptly forced to sit down, a nervous over-reaction by the chair. One woman was appropriately silenced when she personally attacked the chief administrative officer.
Otherwise, the public meeting — had it been a genuine dialogue, and had there had been town expertise available — might have been a wonderful opportunity to create a win/win scenario. Instead Niagara-on-the-Lake has a 5-4 vote on huge issues.
That is neither vision nor meaningful consensus; that is polarization, and as the first public speaker explained, grounds for a ward system that might truly reflect geographic needs.
I was not well served by my elected representatives on Tuesday, nor does improvement seem likely unless someone can galvanize council members who would rather sit back in the crowd as opposed to front and centre where they belong.