Reflections on a council stymie that should have been avoided

Posted October 4, 2003

After four hours of debate, several votes, and listening to citizens, city council failed to resolve the demolition of the derelict Wilson Farmhouse.

Although there are 13 members of council only 12 councillors were present and it split six for demolition, and six against.

The missing councillor was Lise Burcher. Her fellow councillors who previously supported various heritage issues must be enraged that she failed to show up.  She had voted to support heritage issues in the past. Ms. Burcher is a professor at the University of Guelph earning more than  $100,000 a year plus her council remuneration of some $30,000. Despite not having to attend council or committee meetings in the month of August as meetings were shut down, the councillor was a no-show. Ms. Burcher is also a candidate for a senior position with the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.

Residents of Ward Five must wonder where her loyalties lie.

What’s even more puzzling is the support of saving the farmhouse from Ward Six councillors Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein. They represent the south end of the city, far away from the Wilson site. Their record of blindly supporting activism goes on unblemished.

This was obviously a serious decision for council to make. And they failed.

Digging beneath the surface citizens must ask why the full council was not present for this important vote. In the end, the heritage supporters scored a marginal victory. Ward Five Coun. Leanne Piper, an ardent supporter of Heritage Guelph, moved to consider “better” funding for heritage sites as part of the capital funding discussions for the 2014 budget. That was finally agreed by a majority of council. Then she moved that more consideration be give to commemorating heritage sites that are current unmarked.

If Coun. Piper was truthful about her relationship with the heritage group; she should have abstained from voting because it could be considered a conflict of interest.

People will recall Coun. Piper’s triumph in selling the council in 2007 to renovate a derelict building that the city did not own into a new civic museum. That heritage saving adventure cost taxpayers $16 million. Before being elected to council, Ms. Piper was chairperson of the Guelph Heritage Society.

If there is public money available, you can count of Ms. Piper to find a way to spend it on her personal agenda items.

This is a case of public perception of the heritage special interest lobby that disregards the cost to public funds of maintaining and restoring alleged heritage sites.

As a result, six councillors who consistently voted to restore the Wilson farmhouse disregarded this. The cost estimated by staff to renovate and move to another location was more than $500,000. City staff was on record for demolishing the Wilson farmhouse. It reflects the attitude of these councillors to defend their personal agendas that are not always in the public interest.

The specious remarks of some of the pro-Wilson presenters were that regardless of the expense, the Wilson Farmhouse should be saved. When our city has a deficit of $2.4 million for the first six months, where did they think the money was to be sourced?

Yet another sad case where whacko activism is treated better by a rump group of councillors than projects to serve all Guelph citizens.

This list of these self-serving decisions that have cost taxpayers millions during the Farbridge term of office is long and will be documented in the next few months.

The cost is staggering in terms of public funding and misguided decisions that serve the few but not the many.

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5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “Reflections on a council stymie that should have been avoided

  1. Curious isn’t it that Gloria Kovach showed up at the meeting (her first after an understandably long absence) to vote for demolition, and Burcher couldn’t make it to vote for preservation?
    I wrote about this issue on my new blog (guelphtoday.typepad.com) if you have a chance to check it out. There’s also a related Twitter account: @GuelphToday

  2. “Residents of Ward Five must wonder where her loyalties lie.”
    Residents of Ward Five wonder why she represents a riding where she does not live… believe she is on the river in the downtown ward, now?!?

  3. If Piper becomes our next Mayor – I will leave town. Aside form Laidlaw I have never seen a member of council with more of a personal agenda and a champion for the special interest groups in our city who, let’s face it ARE a minority contrary to whatever the belief of our band of representitives may think

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