Former mayor first female in Durham to hold regional chair
by Roger Varley
Uxbridge mayor Gerri Lynn O’Connor has been named chair of Durham Region to replace Roger Anderson, who passed away recently. O’Connor will serve as chair for the remainder of Anderson’s term, at which time she will be replaced by whoever wins the seat on the upcoming municipal elections.
The former mayor – (she officially resigned the position in a letter to Uxbridge council on Monday) – was unanimously appointed chair last Wednesday. She was officially sworn in by regional clerk Ralph Walton at a ceremony in the Uxbridge council chambers on Friday and then presented with the chain of office by regional Chief Administrative Officer Garry Cubitt. O’Connor explained she wanted the ceremony in Uxbridge so that township staff and local media could attend.
Following the brief ceremony, O’Connor received a standing ovation from the packed public gallery which included most of Uxbridge council, township staff, several regional councillors and area councillors, as well as members of the public.
There was little in the way of pomp and circumstance during the ceremony; at times it almost seemed like a roast, with Regional Councillor Jack Ballinger telling the assemblage “the old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” Chief Administrative Officer Ingrid Svelnis said the township is both excited and disappointed in the mayor’s elevation. She opined that perhaps O’Connor could hold both positions, but then added: “You can’t ride two horses with one ass.”
Deputy mayor Pat Molloy said the former mayor has been “a fantastic mentor and a great example,” while township clerk Debbie Leroux said O’Connor had the respect of staff and residents.
“It’s an amazing way to end 34 years of service,” she said.
Gerri Lynn O’Connor noted she had “shed a lot of tears [the night before]” at the thought of leaving her work family.
“We’re blessed with an excellent staff, with great camaraderie,” she said.
“I didn’t foresee sitting as regional chair,” she added, ” but things happen for a reason. We’ve accomplished a lot and we’re leaving Uxbridge in great shape.”
Following the brief ceremony, most of those in attendance took turns having their photos taken with the new chair.
In an interview with the Cosmos a day earlier, O’Connor said she had been nominated for the position by Mayor Steve Parish of Ajax at last Wednesday’s regional council meeting.
“I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I was totally taken aback. I gave it a lot of thought because this has been my home for the last 34 years. Walking away from staff is very difficult.”
She said council approved the nomination unanimously because she had already announced she would not be seeking to continue in public office after the municipal elections later this year. She said council preferred the chair go to someone who would not be seeking election to the office, because anyone else could be seen as having an advantage in the election.
“I will be doing everything that the region of Durham expects,” she said, but added that she will not sit on the Durham Region Police Services board as Anderson did. She will delegate that role to Kevin Ashe, regional councillor from Pickering.
“I didn’t feel the chair of Durham Region should chair the police service board, which has the biggest financial impact on the region,” she said.
However, she will take a seat on the Durham Regional Transit board.
Asked if she was ready to handle the contentious issue of how Durham Region deals with the legalized marijuana legislation that may come into effect this summer, O’Connor stated bluntly that she does not expect the legislation to come into force during the next six months.
She said the standouts of her career as mayor include the strong financial position of the municipality “especially when it comes to infrastructure. We’ve been able to build a lot without debentures, until the new fire hall.” She’s also proud of the amount of trees and trails that have been put in place.
“But everything we’ve achieved could not have been done without the total commitment and effort of our volunteers,” she said.
O’Connor’s first official public duty as chair will be to oversee the meeting of the committee of the whole on May 2.
by Roger Varley
Notes from the April 16 Council Meeting
Council looks to fill mayor’s seat: Uxbridge council will take steps over the next couple of weeks to fill the vacancy in the mayor’s chair left by the resignation of Mayor Gerri Lynn O’Connor after her elevation to regional chair.
Under the direction of deputy mayor Pat Molloy, council asked clerk Debbie Leroux to bring a report to the next council meeting on April 23 declaring the mayor’s position vacant and outlining the options before council.
The options will include appointing an interim mayor to serve the rest of O’Connor’s term, the most likely way council will proceed. In such an event, assuming the interim mayor is chosen from among the councillors, that would leave another council seat open. Council could fill that vacancy by appointing someone to serve until the next election or by holding a by-election. Leroux said that since the municipal elections are more than 90 days away, leaving the council seat empty until then is not an option.
After receiving Leroux’ report next week, council will likely revisit the subject at the first meeting in May.
“”We should get it resolved as soon as possible,” Pat Molloy said.
Debbie Leroux responded that the decision cannot be rushed too much because council has to give the public an opportunity to participate.
CIBC a heritage building?: In a letter to council, Robin Coombs, chair of Uxbridge’s Heritage committee, advocated declaring the CIBC bank building at the corner of Toronto street and Brock Street as a heritage building.
In the letter, Coombs noted the bank is celebrating its 100th anniversary. He said the building, which he described as an example of Edwardian style, was erected in 1917 and has stood the test of time, both in the retention of its original style and the condition of the building.
His request was referred to staff for a report.
End of rebates for empty stores?: Township tax collector Susan Straughan gave council a report outlining changes the Region of Durham has made to the Vacant Rebate and Reduction programs, which allowed owners of vacant stores or excess industrial space to pay lower property taxes.
Straughan’s report said the Vacant Unit Property Tax Rebate program, “available to eligible units in the broad Commercial (30 per cent rebate) and broad Industrial (35 per cent rebate) property tax classes” will be phased out evenly over the next couple of years, with elimination in 2019. The discount applied to property taxes on parcels “in the vacant and excess land subclasses of the broad Commercial (30% discount) and broad Industrial (35% discount)” also will be phased out with elimination in 2020.
Straughan noted, however, that the increased municipal property taxation resulting from the phase-out and elimination will be offset by the corresponding reduction in the industrial class property taxes.
New equipment for Elgin Park: Two more pieces of fitness equipment will be added to Elgin Park this summer to join the five already in place.
Facilities manager Bob Ferguson said a leg press and an air walker will be added, thanks in part to a $10,000 contribution from Pat Higgins of Canadian Tire. Higgins had already donated $10,000 to the original pieces.
by Roger Varley
St. Paul’s Anglican Church is joining with a group of five other Anglican churches in Pickering and Whitby to reunite a Syrian refugee family.
Rev. Mark Kinghan said the churches are raising money to bring a young woman, her husband and child to Canada to join the woman’s family who were sponsored earlier. Rev. Kinghan said the young woman married and had a child while she and her family were waiting to be approved to enter Canada. When the approval came, the young woman was no longer eligible to come with her family.
“So now we’re sponsoring the daughter so they can be reunited,” Rev. Kinghan said.
The minister said the young woman’s family now lives in Whitby and he expects she, her husband and child will also live in Whitby when they arrive.
Rev. Kinghan said the churches are part of a group called AURA (Anglican United Refugee Alliance). They sponsored the original family of a father, mother, grandmother and four children, who arrived in Canada about a year ago. Rev. Kinghan said the young woman and her family are now living in a shipping container in a refugee camp.
The group of churches is looking to raise $5,000 for the sponsorship; to help, St. Paul’s will be holding a Greek dinner on Friday, May 4, at 5:30 p.m. All tickets for will be pre-sold, with no tickets available at the door. Tickets will be $20, with the price halved for children under 12. Tickets should be purchased before May 1 and can be purchased by calling the church at 905-852-7016.
“13 Ways” Installment #12 – Playing the blame game
This is the twelfth and final “installment” in a series of columns and articles inspired by a book entitled “13 Ways To Kill Your Community.”
by Roger Varley
Addressing the final chapter in Doug Griffiths’ “13 Ways To Kill Your Community” as it relates to Uxbridge is difficult. In it, Griffiths claims the most powerful way to kill your community is to avoid responsibility. He says that avoiding responsibility is much like the game of hot potato: disavow responsibility as quickly as you can and pass it on to someone else, which will continue on and on because it is contagious. Griffiths, not a fan of the coffee shop crowd, says this crowd enjoys complaining about things but seldom offers solutions to problems because then those in the crowd would have nothing to complain about. It’s also called the blame game.
In some respects, he might be right. The Cosmos regularly has conversations with all kinds of residents who discuss (complain about) all kinds of issues facing the municipality. Some have, indeed, offered possible solutions to what they perceive as problems, but possible solutions never get expressed to those who could be in a position to put them in place.
Then there are those complaints that appear valid but over which the complainers have no control. One example in Uxbridge is the gravel truck traffic through the township, and especially through the downtown corridor. There seems little the average citizen can do to solve the problem other than complain to council, but those complaints are always met with the same response: it’s the region’s responsibility because the trucks travel on regional roads and the region has ignored the township’s entreaties for years.
The township council’s mandate is to provide good governance of the municipality, keep local services and roads in good order and to spend tax dollars wisely to the advantage of the population as a whole. On that basis, council appears to have done a good job. But over the years, local residents have taken responsibility for a number of items that also affect the township, such as the start of the trail system. It was started by volunteers who sought out landowners willing to allow a trail through their property, cleared and maintained the routes and sought linkages to other systems. Eventually, council came on board, organizing volunteers and persuading developers to create in-town trails through subdivisions. But it still is up to volunteers to do most of the work. Is this a case of council rejecting responsibility or of the community accepting it?
Talking of the trail system, it was private citizens John McCutcheon and Wynn Walters who led the charge to have the township’s historic trestle bridge restored after it had sat for years in sad repair.
The off-leash dog park and the skate park are two more examples of residents putting forth the effort to establish recreational facilities after years of foot-dragging by council. The dog park backers complained for years about having nowhere for their canine companions to run free and put forth numerous suggestions about a location. When council at last decided to allow the dog park, it was left to the backers to raise money for it. The same with the skate park. The skateboarders ran numerous fund-raising events over several years to get the project off the ground. Did council avoid responsibility or did the park backers take it on?
Then there are the countless volunteers who help run Canada Day, the Fall Fair, the Santa Claus Parade and any number of other community events. They have taken on the responsibilities of bringing those events to their fellow residents, but that doesn’t stop others from complaining about the job they’ve done.
Another frequent complaint about Uxbridge is the amount of litter on the streets and the piles of garbage left on the downtown streets for pickup. Is it council’s responsibility to be forever cleaning up the litter and fly-away garbage or is it the residents’ responsibility not to litter in the first place and to obey the set-out times for garbage?
If it is council’s responsibility to provide good governance and keep local services in good order, is it the responsibility of the township’s residents to make sure they do by attending council meetings? The opportunities are there – anyone can make a deputation to council, anyone can ask questions of council. Making a deputation or asking a question can be far more effective than writing a letter. A letter can simply be “received” – meaning “thanks, we’ll file it away” – whereas a physical presence has to be acknowledged and responded to. Council can be persuaded to change their stance on a given issue if faced with persuasive arguments.
We all have to accept responsibility if we want to succeed.
Doug Griffiths, author of “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” is coming to Uxbridge on Wednesday, May 23, 7 p.m., at Trinity United Church. Tickets are $18, and are available at the Cosmos office or at eventbrite.ca See ad on page 5 for more details. This is an evening you won’t want to miss!
Photos of food bank robbery suspects released
Police have released photos of two suspects who utilized stolen gift cards that were taken from the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank in St. Andrews Chalmers Presbyterian Church on March 13. The two suspects were observed using these stolen cards at grocery stores in Ajax, Oshawa and Whitby.
Police have released the surveillance photos of the two suspects who used the stolen gift cards. Surveillance images of the suspects can be viewed at thecosmos.ca or at drps.ca under Newsroom.
Anyone with new information about this break and enter is asked to contact D/Cst. Fisher of North Division Criminal Investigations Bureau at 1-888-579-1520 ext. 2674. Anonymous information can be sent to Durham Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or online at durhamregionalcrimestoppers.ca and tipsters may be eligible for a $2,000 cash reward.
Everybody wins with Catch the Ace
A new lottery is coming to town and it is designed specifically as a local source of prizes and fundraising for communities like Uxbridge. Every week a ticket sold locally will provide a cash prize for a lucky winner and ticket purchasers will also have a chance to win a progressive prize that could grow to as much as $50,000.
Catch the Ace is a lottery being presented by the Rotary Club of Uxbridge, the Uxbridge Legion and the Canadian Tire JumpStart program. Tickets cost $5 and, in addition to providing a chance to win one of the cash prizes, each ticket generates proceeds that will be shared by the three lottery presenters. All of these organizations are actively involved in supporting programs and activities in and around Uxbridge, and the funds raised through Catch the Ace will help them do even more. Anyone looking for an affordable way to help support veterans, retirees, students, or children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in local sports and arts programs can buy a ticket and also have a chance to win.
Every week, starting on Wednesday, May 2, a maximum of 1,000 tickets will be sold. Every Tuesday at 5 p.m. a draw will be held at the Uxbridge Legion and somebody will win 20 per cent of the value of all tickets sold that week. That prize could be worth as much as $1,000 if all tickets are sold during the week. Winners do not have to attend the draw to win their prize, and each ticket is good for that one weekly draw only.
There is also a progressive prize, which is where the fun and prizes can really add up. When people buy a ticket they also select a number from 1 to 52 – one for each card in a deck of playing cards. This is a blind pick; people don’t actually pick a card, they pick a number. At the beginning of the lottery a complete set of 52 playing cards is placed randomly into 52 envelopes. The envelopes are numbered from 1 to 52 and stored until each weekly draw. When the winning ticket is drawn the envelope with the number selected by the person who bought that ticket is opened. If the envelope contains the Ace of Spades that person wins the progressive prize in addition to the regular weekly prize. So that winner could actually win both prizes! Posters with envelope numbers still available will be posted at each sale location.
If the envelope does not contain the Ace of Spades it is removed from the pile of envelopes and that portion of the prize money is carried over to the next week. This is the progressive part. This portion of the prize money continues to grow each week until the Ace of Spades is found. Every week there are fewer envelopes available so the chances of picking the right one go up. The progressive prize is 30 per cent of the value of weekly ticket sales, so this prize can add up quickly. If the progressive prize grows as high as $50,000 there will be a guaranteed jackpot winner that week – draws will take place until the Ace of Spades is revealed. Once the ace is caught that progressive lottery is over and a new Catch the Ace lottery starts all over again.
No person under the age of 18 may purchase a ticket, collect a prize or participate in the lottery in any way.
Tickets will be sold at the Canadian Tire Store in Uxbridge and at the Royal Canadian Legion branch 170, on Franklin Street in Uxbridge. Ticket sales end on Monday night each week. No tickets will be sold on Tuesdays (draw day).
Watch the Cosmos each Thursday for exclusive coverage about winners, and the projected value of the jackpot for the next week.
To see the full rules of the lottery please go to www.uxbridgerotary.com/catchtheace