PARRY SOUND – Seguin Township councillor and Foley Agricultural Society first vice president Alex Chidley has concerns over who can vote on a memorandum of understanding between the township and society.
The board of the Foley Ag society has recommended its members vote Wednesday evening in favour of handing over ownership of the agricultural hall and some surrounding land for 20 years. The township has said that if the ag society members agree to the transfer, it will apply for a federal $425,000 Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund grant to put towards a proposed $1.28 million renovation of the hall, including building a new Foley library and agricultural society office within the building. Township officials say the municipality can only apply for the funding for municipally owned buildings.
The society’s constitution stipulates that only those who’ve paid the $5 membership fee for the past three years can vote on the agreement.
Exhibitors pay membership fees to enter the annual Foley Fall Fair, but many on the board haven’t ponied up the $5 every January. There are only two board members who have paid the annual due, including the president, who only votes to split a tie.
As a result, only one board member has the right to vote alongside just over 30 exhibitors who have had their wares on display for the last three consecutive years.
“These are the people who are now going to decide the fate of the Foley Agricultural Society and the community is being left out,” Chidley said.
Many people, he said, volunteer their time, especially at the fall fair, without becoming members.
But Chidley said he hasn’t heard anyone express any concern that they’re not getting a chance to vote on the memorandum with the township.
“I don’t think they know what is going on, okay,” he said. “They don’t understand what is going on. I think if they did understand there would be quite a nasty meeting there on Wednesday night, okay. We’re giving away a building, an unknown amount of property, and we don’t even know what we’ve got in return for it – that’s what the problem is.”
No longstanding fall fair volunteers who aren’t official members of the society have raised any concerns with the board, said current agricultural society president Janet Borneman. But, she said, at least six people who have never volunteered in the past have requested memberships so they can vote Wednesday evening. Under the rules of the society’s constitution, they won’t be able to.
“The members who are eligible to vote have all been notified in writing and have all been given a copy of the draft memorandum of understanding so they can review it and ask questions of whomever they feel is appropriate ahead of time,” said Borneman.
Chidley said the reason he and others haven’t paid the $5 due is simply that there, “isn’t time for that.”
“Who cares,” he said. “We do the work. We never think there is going to be an issue like this coming up and year after year after year…you just do it. I think they ask at the annual general meeting for memberships, but nobody ever bothers, because, who cares.”
Chidley said he wants to work with the township, but that the board had originally said it was too busy with plans for the upcoming fall fair to make this decision ahead of the funding application deadline of August. 24, which he described figuratively as a “gun to the society’s head.” He said other funding opportunities will come along and that it isn’t necessary to rush this deal to apply for this grant window.
He’s also upset the board went from opting to put off a decision amid the upcoming fall fair and 50th anniversary celebrations, to recommending its members accept the deal.
Chidley is often the lone wolf around the council table and been chastened by fellow councilors for misrepresenting the views of council at municipal events. When asked what he would say to anyone who was concerned he was using his position on the ag society board as an attempt to get back at his fellow councillors, Chidley said he’d tell them, “You have to prove it, because it’s not true,” he said.
Chidley said he’s concerned about exactly how much land would exchange hands and what the renovation of the hall would look – details that are to be determined during the next phase of the process.
“He’s correct in a sense that we don’t know how much property is going to go, but nobody is going to spend the money to do the surveys and everything else until the memorandum of understanding has been signed,” Borneman said. “Why would you go to that expense for no reason? If the general membership is going to say no, we don’t’ think this is a good deal and we’re not prepared to sign, then it’ll probably stop there or it may go and they’ll try to negotiate it on different terms for a new time period. I don’t know. I suspect there would be some sort of joint use agreement put in place when everything is said and done and we know exactly what it is that is being transferred.”
Currently there are safety concerns for staff and patrons at the Foley library, with its location in the basement of the activity hall. The proposal before the ag society gives the community a new library if the township application for a grant is accepted. But, that, Chidley said, isn’t reason enough to have faith and work with the township for a new library and municipal community centre.
“The safety at any building in this community is the responsibility of the township - period,” said Chidley. “And that building should be made safe today, not when it’s hooked in there. It would have more opportunities; obviously when it’s in with the (community centre) but that building should be safe or it should be shut down. One or the other.”
Chidley hasn’t spoken on the matter at the council table and didn’t attend the agricultural society meetings where the memorandum of understanding was finalized and agreed to in principal.
Seguin council formally accepted the agreement with the Foley Ag Society at its August 7 meeting, but the vote was not recorded.
According to the proposed agreement, if the township doesn’t come up with enough money or the renovation hasn’t started by April 14, 2014, ownership of the property would revert back to the agricultural society. Also, if the township determines in the next 20 years, which is the term of the memorandum, that the facility isn’t viable as a community centre, then the agricultural society would regain ownership.
The meeting, at the agricultural hall, begins at 7 p.m.