Delegation to Council asks many questions around finance in a variety of areas

Laura Robinson of Southampton, who presented a delegation at Saugeen Shores Council meeting on February 24th, questioned Council on Financial Accountability and  Transparency, speaking to several areas that included the newly formed Municipal Innovation Council (MIC), the Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII), the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey, violence against women and children, nursing, town staff development and training costs, costs for attendance at conferences and several more.

Robinson began by asking how the newly created Municipal Innovation Council (MIC) will focus on, and measure, the four areas that it has prioritized and questioned the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that it has with the Nuclear Innovation Institute, which she described as “doublespeak”.  The MOU sets out that the NII will make available space at its new facility in Port Elgin (former police station) for the MIC and will also help with new technology and innovative ideas.

The newly formed MIC consists of seven municipalities – Arran-Elderslie, Brockton, Bruce County, Huron-Kinloss, Kincardine, Saugeen Shores and South Bruce, and is a three-year pilot project for the communities to collaborate on how best to provide services.

In her delegation, Robinson also wanted to know if community members of Saugeen Shores are informed of upcoming meetings of the MIC and NII, and if are they open, and referred to what, in her opinion, was “… the secretive way that countless County meetings concerning the Nuclear Innovation Institute have taken place, (if so) then no one in Saugeen Shores should support them.”

Robinson continued drawing attention to the MOU with its statement “…Be responsible for budget including reporting to MIC partners”.  “I would like to focus now on being responsible for budgets as I believe this is where transparency and accountability are crucial, and would like to have a few questions answered,” said Robinson.

Wherein, she moved to question why Mayor Charbonneau, CAO David Smith and Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jessica Linthorne, who is now the Chair of the MIC, attended the Canadian Nuclear Association’s (CNA) annual conference in Ottawa.  “There appears to be nothing in this report (Mayor Charbonneau’s 2019) that could not have been accomplished either in meetings or phone calls in Saugeen Shores, so let’s look at how much attending this conference cost.”  At which point, she broke out the costs involved (see delegation link below for breakdown).  “I am not saying the mayor and staff should not attend conferences, but when they do, we need to know how the costs were rationalized and prioritized.”

Robinson also cited that when communities were invited to the table for the formation of the MIC, Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) had not been included.

Councilor Kristan Shrider said that the focus areas of the MIC confirms that a collaborative group is needed.  “The concept of the MIC was developed around the table by Bruce County CAOs and I do not believe the intent was to exclude any communities or municipalities but was intended to develop a program and explore other partnerships.  The MIC was launched about a month ago and is already popular with other municipalities, communities and members of the public.  The four priorities were actually arrived at through a prioritization workshop with participating municipalities and not just Saugeen Shores needs.  There are also other emerging issues that did not make the top four, such as doctor recruitment, but does not mean they won’t be dealt with in a timely manner. I support the MIC and the communities involved that will revolve around the challenges we all face and the successes that we can all share and, hopefully, that others can learn from.”

Shrider went on to encourage Robinson to attend budget meetings or to read the budget that is on-line and which includes staff development costs, conferences and training dollars that are set aside and which are all tracked and reported in public documents.  “Attending training sessions and conferences is very beneficial as we gain much more knowledge from the speakers and hand-out materials received.  The real take-home is the networking and relationship building that our staff do at these conferences and if costs $1,000 or $2,000 to represent Saugeen Shores, I would send them again next year without question.  In fact, in budget deliberations I pointed out that I was disappointed that not all of our allocated professional development funds were being spent.”

Robinson also brought out that the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey has a shortfall in funding this year of some $193,000 and asked how the MIC would address it and if the Director, Jessica Linthorne, would be attending the annual general meeting of the Women’s Shelters of Canada.  “How are we addressing violence against women?”  She also questioned the amount that Saugeen Shores Council has committed to the Women’s House in 2020 ($2,500).

Councilor Cheryl Grace said that extra funding had been found in the budget and that she would be raising a motion to increase funding to the Women’s House.  She also pointed out however, that Saugeen Shores supports the Women’s House in other ways.  “Saugeen Shores has waived property taxes for the Women’s House second stage housing since 2009 and, this year along, was over $3,000 for a total of some $30,000.  We donated the land which would have been valued at $50,000 at least and waived the development charges of $9,300, all of which are on-going. So, the town has found other ways to support the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey.”

Councilor Jami Smith also pointed out that the Women’s House welcomes individual donations year-round.  “For as little as $48, an individual can fund a counselling session for and woman and child and for $138 can sponsor a night of safe shelter and counselling referrals.  The Women’s House also hosts a number of fundraising events, such as the International Women’s Day event next week.”

Public transportation, homelessness, violence against women and children, affordable housing, labour shortages were all additional subjects that Robinson would like to see addressed by the MIC.

Robinson ended by saying she would like ” … a transparent accounting of every cent that has been spent on attending conferences and meetings to advance the Nuclear Innovation Institute and the Municipal Innovation Council, starting with all costs associated with attending the Canadian Nuclear Association conference since Project Innovate was created in 2016, and the rationalization behind it.”

To read Robinson’s complete delegation – CLICK HERE.