Meeting about heritage minutes sets off mayor
MUSKOKA LAKES - Tension charged the air when a routine procedure to pass heritage minutes became a contentious budget and transparency issue.
Photo by Jennifer Bowman
Loud gasps filled the council chambers in Muskoka Lakes when Mayor Alice Murphy accused two councillors of disagreeing with the township’s strategic plan, the township’s guiding document, because they were opposed to sending a letter, which they weren’t allowed to read, to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Murphy read a resolution asking for council’s support to send a letter requesting the ministry to recognize Bala as a tourist and cultural designation. She specified that this is different from a heritage designation.
When Coun. Don Furniss asked Murphy for the opportunity to read the letter before they voted on a resolution to send it, the mayor refused, saying she believed that was micromanaging and there wasn’t time to bring the letter to the table.
“We’re just asking that something that is consistent with our strategic plan - that we just acknowledge this,” she said.
Following the vote, in which both Couns. Don Furniss and Gault McTaggart opposed the resolution to send the letter, the mayor accused the councillors of disagreeing with the township’s strategic plan.
“Point of order. That wasn’t called for, that was rude,” Furniss said as other councillors sputtered in shock at the statement
The event followed a long day at a committee of the whole meeting on Feb 5 and was close to the end of a contentious 45-minute discussion on the heritage committee, mostly revolving around the committee’s meeting minutes, public meeting policy and an unexpected increase in its budget request.
The heritage minute discussion was off to an edgy start when Furniss asked whether the heritage meetings were open to the public and how the public would know about them.
Following five and a half minutes of back-and-forth discussion about public meeting policy, Murphy interrupted Furniss to explain the role of the heritage committee, then stopped and for five silent seconds glared at the five-person audience, some who had sighed at the interruption.
“I’m just waiting until we have silence,” she said as one of the onlookers flipped a page in the otherwise quiet room.
After another five seconds of silence, Furniss said he hadn’t heard any noise and Murphy continued her explanation. A few minutes later she reprimanded councillors on their aggressive tone of voice while asking questions, then turned to the Muskoka Ratepayers Association.
“I’m also going to ask the rate payers, and I’m pausing here, that it would be nice to not take the dialogue out of context every time we read the paper. So there is no intent to exclude the public from the heritage discussion; there is no intent to exclude the public from anything related to the township. We are a collective of citizens. There is a process that needs to be followed,” she said.
After the meeting Murphy told the Furniss, McTaggart and Coun. Phil Harding, who had questioned Murphy on the heritage committee’s budget earlier in the meeting, that she wanted to speak to them. Harding refused, to the mayor’s protest, telling her he had to leave and would contact her later by phone. The mayor proceeded to take Don Furniss and Gault McTaggart to an unofficial meeting behind closed doors.