Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti crosses the thin blue line

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The York Region Taxpayers Coalition has been engaged with members of the York Regional Police and other front line police officers from other jurisdictions in Ontario regarding the controversy of Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who marched in Sunday’s Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Service Parade in Ottawa.

The 39th Annual Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Service was held in Ottawa on Sunday, September 25th. York Regional Police sent 30 senior officers and 50 front line officers, as well as 50 Auxiliary Unit members to participate in this solemn event. In recent years, York Regional Police lost two officers in the line of duty. York Regional Police officers continue to mourn the June 28, 2011 passing of Constable Garret Styles and the August 2, 2007 passing of Detective Constable Rob Plunkett.

Although he is appointed Chair of the York Regional Police Services Board, as a civilian, Mayor Scarpitti’s participation in the parade demonstrated a lack of respect for the men and women who put themselves at physical peril while performing their duties as police officers. Scarpitti’s proper place was on the sidelines along with the other dignitaries and members of the public, as our beloved York Regional Police officers honoured their fallen colleagues.

We’ve been told that the organizers of the Memorial Service had arranged a place for dignitaries to view the ceremonies.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition supports civilian oversight as an important part of our democracy. The York Region Police Services Board, with its appointed members, represent the civilian community in governing policing affairs. Members of the civilian York Region Police Services Board are not police officers and should never represent themselves at official events as such. Mayor Scarpitti would be wise to remember his place, as a civilian, at future official York Regional Police events.

 

How did York Region Politicians feel about Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean’s Visit?

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Last month, The York Region Taxpayer’s Coalition made the news about our push for transparency: http://www.markhamreview.com/More-transparency-wanted

We were thrilled when York Region Government urged their council to appoint an Ombudsman as a result of our advocating: http://www.yorktaxpayer.ca/pressreleases/big-win-for-taxpayers-today-as-york-region-government-staff-recommends-council-adopt-transparency-and-accountability-policies-after-york-region-taxpayers-coalition-proposes-the-idea/

Yesterday, we hosted a free event for our members presenting the City of Toronto Ombudsman, Fiona Crean.

Fiona was gracious to travel to Markham to speak about her role as Ombudsman for Ontario’s capital. Ms. Crean was poignant, articulate, and left no doubt in our minds that she put her job protecting the people as a priority. Our afternoon with Fiona was enormously educational.

Last February, our Toronto chapter hosted the equally gracious and passionate Ombudsman of Ontario Andre Marin, whose recent report exposing Hydro One’s practices illustrated his commitment as the public’s Number One Watchdog.

Fiona reminded us that the role of an Ombudsman was to “protect the citizen,” a principal our Coalition will continue to advocate for.

Our organization sent out email invitations to all members of York Region Council; including those of the local councils that make up the 9 municipalities of York Region.

Not a single elected official replied to our email; in fact, York Region member of Council John Taylor (Newmarket) and Newmarket member of council Jane Twinney, unsubscribed to our event posts almost immediately upon reading and receiving our invitation.

That’s sad, because our event was funded and entirely organized by our volunteers: hard working taxpayers.

Even Fiona made a quip asking where our elected politicians were yesterday.

On the other hand, we were thrilled that York Region Government expressed interest in our event and sent a lovely staff member – who also happened to be genuinely interested in learning about Fiona’s role and how York Region could benefit with her advice.

We’re glad we could make the introduction so that York Region could take up Ms. Crean’s offer and experience to help them implement their own Ombudsman.

Where is the accountability at York Region Government?

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When Toronto Mayor John Tory heard the news that the TTC spending on the new Spadina to Vaughan subway line was out of control, his response was unequivocal.

“We have lurched from one fiasco to another costing taxpayers … tens of millions of dollars,” Mayor Tory told the Toronto Star back in March.

“Accountability, includes people losing their jobs, it includes people being recognized in a positive way who bring projects in on time and budget, and I just don’t think there’s been a lot of attention paid to that over time.”

Meanwhile, back at York Region Council, there was no anger from any member. In fact the entire Council seemed rather nonplussed about York taxpayers being forced to hand over an extra $92 million (estimate) to complete the line.

Rather than talk of firing under achieving staff, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti went out of his way to praise the way York Region had managed this process. In Mayor Scarpitti’s view, the cost over runs were entirely the fault of the TTC.

After a short discussion, York Council voted unanimously to approve the additional spending based on very few answers on what the new money would pay for and even fewer answers about where the Region, (with a public debt approaching $2.7 Billion already) would get this money. Some members of council weren’t even aware our taxes were bailing out Toronto mismanagement.

In 2006, planners estimated it would cost $1.5 Billion to build the 8 km extension from Downsview Station to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. The extension was supposed to be complete in time for the Pan Am Games. We now have new estimates of $2.9 billion, and the line is delayed until 2017.

Add this project to the long list of billion dollar scandals that have plagued Ontario over the past decade. While Mayor John Tory seemed to understand taxpayers can no longer afford to foot the bill for government ineptitude, It was unfortunate that York Region Council hasn’t received the same message.

Back in March, members of the York Region Taxpayers Coalition spoke to York Council advocating for the establishment of an Auditor General to report on matters such as this one. We believe that the spending at York Region has been out of control as public debt has now outpaced reserves at the Region.

Without any oversight from an Auditor General, the public has been left in the dark about the money issues that this important level of government is facing. We need to maintain our roads, our policing, our safe water, and other import ant services. But unless a new attitude of accountability is adopted by Chair Wayne Emerson and the rest of Council, we’ll be seeing our region buckle under the immense weight of waste and debt.

Big Win for Taxpayers today as York Region Government staff recommends council adopt “Transparency and Accountability” policies after York Region Taxpayers Coalition Proposes the idea.

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 Last month, we issued a press release asking York Region Council to implement simple initiatives in order to increase transparency and accountability in light of Bill 8. And judging from council members reaction to our suggestions, we gathered they weren’t too impressed with the idea.

But it seems despite Council’s lack of interest with transparency, York Region staff took it upon themselves to recommend a “Transparency and Accountability” initiative that included our suggestions anyways.

“We’re thrilled”, said York Region Taxpayers Coalition president Maddie Di Muccio, “because staff did the right thing. This is a big win for taxpayers. Transparency is a big mandate of this organization.”

The recommendation was based on the province’s new Bill 8, introduced July 2014, that will give provincial Ombudsman Andre Marin more jurisdiction to hold municipalities accountable. Last February, we hosted a successful event featuring Mr. Marin which was attended by many local municipal councillors and staff.

Although the recommendation specifically encouraged the appointment of an Ombudsman, Georgina mayor Margaret Quirk asked for staff to include a Code of Conduct for Council members when she realized none existed.

Richmond Hill’s regional councillor Brenda Hogg made her feelings known when she explained staff’s recommendations to make York Region Council more transparent and accountable for taxpayers would “cost finances, time, and will make work come to a grinding halt.” Hogg went on to say the direction was “an overreaction” and that investigations by an integrity commissioner requested by members of the public would be used “as a political tool.”

York Region Taxpayers Coalition will continue to follow up with staff’s recommendation to implement more transparency and accountability at the Region and we will report back to our members in the fall, when staff’s report is scheduled to be brought to council.

 

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