By Chad Ingram
During a Nov. 14 meeting members of Minden Hills council expressed concern that too many township staff on the fundraising committee for the arena project is a drain on township resources and causing members of the public to quit the committee.
Struck during the summer the fundraising committee has had a few meetings throughout the fall. Its goal is to raise $750000 for “value-added items that enhance the project outcomes and to potentially offset some of the financing costs of the project” according to a previous report from community service director Mark Coleman.
The $13-million project which will include a new arena with NHL-sized rink six change rooms a gymnasium with elevated walking track and new office space for community services staff is scheduled to be completed before the 2020/21 ice season. The township will borrow up to $12.5 million from Infrastructure Ontario to cover the costs with any lending above $11.9 million required to come back to council table for approval.
The minutes from an Oct. 22 meeting of the community centre fundraising working group stated two residents who’d been members of the fundraising group had resigned and it was indicated during the Nov. 14 council meeting that a third member of the public would also be resigning leaving three members of the public on the committee alongside Mayor Brent Devolin and four of the township’s senior staff.
Those staff members include Coleman treasurer/chief administrative officer Lorrie Blanchard economic development destination and marketing officer Emily Stonehouse and deputy clerk Shannon Prentice.
Councillor Bob Carter said having four senior staff members dedicating time to arena fundraising was unacceptable.
“I can understand that on the project itself that we have staff involved . . . . but this is a fundraising group” Carter said likening it to a fundraising foundation for say the cultural centre or the hospital.
“It’s not made up of staff of those institutions.”
Carter said most township advisory committees have one member of staff attend meetings.
“I don’t understand why we would have four on this” he said adding it has meant taking staff away from other township bodies such as its housing task force on which he sits. “We had a conflict with this . . . we’ve had staff representation from Emily [Stonehouse] in this case and now this takes precedence. And I don’t believe this should take precedence over housing whatsoever.”
Carter re-iterated the fundraising group was supposed to have been community-driven.
“During the time of pre-approval for the arena we had cards and letters from folks who were all in support of this arena and businesses who wanted it and I hope that they play their role in this fundraising” he said. “We already are short staff. We already have issues with trying to get projects done and now this comes along and all of the sudden we’re hauling all kinds of staff into it. So I have a strong objection to this.”
Councillor Jean Neville said she thought it made sense to have staff involvement in fundraising advertising and social media activity “but I really don’t think we should be influencing any of the decisions made regarding the fundraising so I’m wondering how is that handled at this meeting? Is staff standing back and letting them the committee of our community members deciding on these fundraising activities and prices and that kind of thing because I don’t think our municipal staff should be interfering with that aspect.”
Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell said she agreed with Neville that outside staff taking care of advertising and social media “I would like to see this be a complete standalone committee of just community members.”
Schell chaired the meeting in absence of Devolin who sits on the board of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network and was away for a meeting. Coleman was also absent from last week’s meeting.
Blanchard said initially there was a requirement for six community members on the committee. “There were some challenges in you know attendance of everybody at the meetings” she said.
Blanchard added the primary push behind bringing in staffers as community members resigned was a public tour of the facility the township has scheduled for Nov. 26.
“In terms of decisions again it’s a very open conversation it’s about staff providing information and then it does go around the table” Blanchard said “It literally goes around the table and conversations are had. We can disagree with one another in the circle of conversation about everything.”
“We revisited the price points we talked about the brochures and the things that were all in draft form” Blanchard said of items discussed during the Oct. 22 meeting of the fundraising group.
“I can see being top-heavy with staff to make it possible for the initial kick-off” Neville said “but I’m really concerned that are we losing committee members because it looks like we’re top-heavy with staff. We’ve got to put out a call for more committee members because these decisions should be made by the community not have input in the actual numbers and that kind of thing [from staff].”
Schell noted that if meetings for the fundraising group are regularly being held at 4:30 p.m perhaps that’s the reason it’s losing community members. Schell also said she did not like the optics of staff members outnumbering members of the public.
“Speaking to the model the CAO’s talking about where everybody goes around the table and gives an opinion well if you’re down to four staff and three members of the public the members of the public don’t really have an opinion” Schell said.
Blanchard clarified that staff members aren’t voting. “Staff is just providing input” she said.
Schell said she pictured meetings of the group happening later in the evening at a time more convenient for members who may work and for the minutes of that discussion to then be brought back to staff. “That just doesn’t feel like this is how that’s gone down to me” she said.
Carter said the involvement of staff with fundraising efforts represented hidden project costs.
“My other point that I don’t want to lose is that you know if we’re using staff on this this is part of the hidden cost that we talked about right at the beginning how much is this arena going to cost us” Carter said. “And now we’re adding four staff to the project. This is real money. I know that your decision is affecting the housing task force and it’s got to be affecting other projects and other things in the community and there’s a real cost to that. … I strongly object to this. I don’t know where to bring it other than to the CAO but the fact that we’re losing an invaluable resource on something as important as housing for some fundraising . . . poor planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on our part.”
“Council needs to decide . . . if you are directing me to pull staff from this it will likely mean that we’re going to have to defer the event on the 26th” Blanchard said.
“In terms of how you go forward I’m for any direction you want to give me right now” she added.
“I feel that the project is sucking the life out of us as a community at this point with too many resources” said Councillor Pam Sayne. “We have a climate change action committee also as well as housing task force that hasn’t had staff.”
“We were told this was going to be community-driven fundraising” Sayne continued. “This is not community-driven fundraising when you have four senior staff. I would like to see a report on how much money we have spent on staffing on this to date I think we need to see that.”
“I just don’t see this as reasonable” Sayne said. “ . . . I just want to see a report back on this I think we’ve got to say this is a community committee if it’s in fact not a community committee and not driven by the community in the fundraising . . . then we’ve got another problem here and that needs to be addressed.”
The committee is currently chaired by the mayor and Schell said she’d like to see the committee chaired by a member of the public and wasn’t sure any member of council should be on the fundraising committee. Council members agreed they wanted to see the planned Nov. 26 tour go ahead.
“I just do not believe that we’ve painted ourselves into this corner which I don’t think that we have” said Carter. “But I’ll go with the majority and say that until Nov. 26 there can be four members [of staff] but after Nov. 26 absolutely not.”