Again protestors stood out front as council proceeded upstairs in council chambers late Monday afternoon. Outside, many said it’s not just the parking anymore but the way the decision was made. One protestor, who wouldn’t give her name, remembered back to last year. “It was a done deal then, and the new council comes in and all of a sudden it’s just rescinded.”
Sherry Pepper agreed. “They worked so hard last year, they actually had a public forum. This time it was hush-hush.”
Brent Cummings figures about 75 percent want angle parking and asks, rhetorically, why Smiths Falls would want to be like Perth or Carleton Place who don’t have angle parking. “It’s like taking your living room and cutting the space in half. Why would we do that?”
Marie O’Neil who came upstairs to council along with her sister Anna-May Kerr says the whole debate has become “poor communication on the Town’s part. People assumed it [angle parking] would remain the same (even after the infrastructure was completed). But after the new council came in, all of a sudden they changed their mind — remove angle parking and go for parallel, they said.” It’s not about angle parking anymore, she continued, it’s more about “people you put in power.” Kerr agreed. “We feel betrayed.”
During the meeting council accepted correspondence from former mayor Dennis Staples, who, having met with a group of 70 at the Legion on Saturday, on their behalf, asked the Town for a public meeting on the Beckwith Street Reconstruction Project. With a packed chamber waiting for an answer, and after first a lengthy in camera session, and then a lengthy discussion on Staples’ request, council decided to ask staff to pull together various options for engagement.
The Town is under pressure to put out a tender request for reconstruction; the Town has set the date for this at March 11, barely two weeks away. Staples suggested perhaps that could be stayed for a week or two. Harking back to several issues on his watch as mayor he brought up the arena, smoking ban and OPP costing situations. “If you hear from the public, at the end of the day they feel they’ve been heard. You may end up making the same decision after serious consideration, but it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
Councillor Brennan, sitting in the chair Monday, wants “a listening session to assure people we have done our due diligence — not a re-vote or a reconsideration, just an opportunity for people to express themselves, and [for us] to talk about why this decision was made.”
Councillor Dwyer said perhaps “a public meeting in a formal format is not the way.” She suggested seeking direction from staff in how to undertake a public consultation “in a meaningful way” and that it should happen “sooner than later.” She further suggested hiring a professional mediator, a communication firm to mediate.
CAO Malcolm Morris pointed out the Town has just launched Speak Up Smiths Falls https://speakupsmithsfalls.com as one avenue of feedback from the public, it has just published a Question and Answer paper on Beckwith Street Redevelopment Plan, and that “individuals could engage directly in conversation.”
Councillor McGuire agreed to a public consultation but with conditions — to sign a pledge at the door to keep the conversation respectful. “If it degrades to the same level as on Facebook right now, I’m not willing to support this.”
Councillor Alford asked what the expectation was coming from a public meeting. “Is it that we’ll reverse ourselves?” She said present council did due diligence with previous council’s consultation documentation. “We did not agree with their decision, we rescinded it and voted a different way. Are we [now] revisiting all the public consultation?”
Councillor McKenna commented that a public consultation would get the word out — “people standing and asking questions…a great start.”
Councillor Allen commented she’d done both her research and her homework and at the end of the day “I will believe exactly what I believe now” — making a decision for the future.
Mayor Pankow said the Town has been trying to get its position out and takes exception to the suggestion there has been lack of transparency. At the moment, he says, the discussion “has degraded to mean-spirited commentary.” He adds no one has contacted him for a face-to-face conversation, to talk in a civil fashion. “I’m open to that,” he says.
Councillor Brennan brought the meeting to a close. “We’ve got some fence mending to do,” he said. As it stands now, a special committee of the whole meeting to look at options will be held next week before council. Watch the Town’s website for further information.