Chopp moves to enforce her mandate
Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp served notice again this week that there is a new sheriff in town and she expects her mandate to be respected.
Chopp was, by far, the most active participant in the council chamber Tuesday as the new council got down to business after a five-month hiatus.
Chopp asked for changes or deferrals on several key reports and resolutions.
A key proposal involves county solicitor Nicholas Loeb reviewing case law and bringing to council instances where Ontario citizens have successfully challenged Official Plan provisions for over-stepping their authority.
Norfolk’s new Official Plan came into force Oct. 5 following a four-year review. However, Chopp would like to go through the document and eliminate as many provisions as possible that go above and beyond provincial policy.
A basic Official Plan appeals to Chopp because the fewer extraneous details it contains the fewer opportunities there are to encumber property rights. Loeb will report his findings in the new year.
Staff also encountered considerable push-back Tuesday on the county’s proposed 2019 fee schedule.
The document details about 600 different charges and fees for everything from arena rentals to planning application charges.
Chopp and other council members want justifications for the major charges and cost increases and an explanation of how staff arrived at them.
“We need to see more detailed analysis to justify these increases,” Chopp said. “To me at this point, it just seems arbitrary.”
Chopp asked staff to flag fees and charges involving services that compete with the private sector. During her campaign, the mayor promised to get Norfolk County out of areas that compete with private business.
Several staff members suggested the task was bigger than Chopp realized. Norfolk’s fee schedule has taken shape over decades. Portions of it pre-date the creation of the new Norfolk in 2000.
“We have no problem coming back with fees and how we came up with them,” treasurer James Johnson said. “But we can’t come back with all 600.”
Chopp and other council members also took exception to a proposal to hire an integrity commissioner at a five-year cost of $160,000.
Chopp suspects the position can be filled for less money.
As well, Chopp wants to review the code of conduct the new council inherited from the former council. This is the document Norfolk’s independent integrity commissioner would be expected to interpret.
Clerk Andy Grozelle explained that doing without an integrity commissioner is no longer an option for municipalities. The Wynne government made the position mandatory. Grozelle said he will be forced to appoint a commissioner if council hasn’t approved one by next spring.
Chopp had her way on some issues but had to back-track on others.
Chopp proposed a resolution allowing all residential property owners in Norfolk – including those within urban boundaries – to keep a maximum of four hens in their backyard.
Had that gone through, backyard chickens in Norfolk would have been legal everywhere before the end of the year.
However, the mayor opted for a report on the costs and benefits of backyard chickens after staff explained that urban poultry requires a zoning change. As such, the process calls for public notification and a public meeting under the Planning Act.
Chopp also sought significant modifications to a resolution awarding the 2019 insurance contract to Frank Cowan Co. of Princeton. The terms of the deal are two years with a county option for three additional years. Coverage next year will cost $1.5 million.
Staff and at least one councillor told Chopp that a review is a bad idea.
Windham Coun. Chris VanPaassen said four applicants followed the tendering procedure Norfolk set out for them. As such, VanPaassen said Norfolk is obliged to finish what it started.
“This is what we asked for, this is what they bid on, this is what we got,” VanPaassen said. “I don’t think it’s fair to us or fair to the people who bid that we try to change it at this point.”
Loeb called for an in-camera session to explain the legal implications of following through on Chopp’s suggestion.
What Loeb said is private and confidential. However, Norfolk council has been told several times in the recent past that tendering is a good-faith process where municipalities are legally obligated to act once they receive what they solicited.
Case law has determined that there are consequences for municipalities that renege after encouraging suppliers to divulge proprietary information and cost calculations within a given set of parameters