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Library books causing donnybrook between Penetang, Tiny councils

New councils bring new direction to their municipalities, and sometimes that goes against assumptions made from previous administrations along with community spirit.

Take the Penetanguishene library board, for example.

During a routine evening of Penetanguishene council in December where many advisory boards and committees were appointed and named. Within the lengthy list, seven members of the library board were included; two council representatives of Deputy Mayor Dan La Rose and Coun. Bill Waters along with five community members.

In early January, a letter was sent by Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Rawson to Tiny Mayor Dave Evans with a request.

“The Town of Penetanguishene values the long-standing relationship with the Township of Tiny, and I look to build on this relationship over the next four years,” Rawson began in the correspondence.

He went on to state that upon reviewing a 2019 bylaw, Procedures of Operation of the Board, “...from a procedural and authority standpoint, there is no governance ability for the Township of Tiny council to appoint directly to a Penetanguishene board or committee” via a letter from Tiny council directly to the Penetanguishene library CEO.

As such, the town “respectfully request that you withdraw the nomination of the candidate” appointed, Rawson further noted.

Two weeks later, Tiny council met during a special committee of the whole meeting and discussed the letter.

CAO Robert Lamb provided background to the matter, explaining that a formal agreement was put in place at the time for budget “to formalize the budgetary process in how we allocate funds to the different library boards that we are in agreement with,” but since the letter’s arrival Rawson was “not recognizing our township’s appointment to the Penetang library board.”

He added that for roughly 30 years, Penetanguishene had asked Tiny council to provide a name “in exchange for the funding that we have provided.” A report to council at the meeting showed actuals from Tiny to Penetanguishene in the reciprocal library proposal averaging $58,000 between 2016 to 2019; neighbouring municipalities Midland and Springwater averaged $110,500 and $12,600 respectively.

“The agreement that was negotiated never contemplated the fact that there were no formal agreements in place; just the precedents that each of the municipalities have allowed us to name a representative to look after our interests,” said Lamb. “We have not had any issues in the past from any municipalities, this was a first and caught us completely off guard; (we) don’t quite understand how this has become an issue.”

Many on council echoed the same response, which was noted by Deputy Mayor Sean Miskimins that contracts need to be upheld.

“The negotiations have been done, we have abided by the contract, we have acted in good faith,” said Miskimins. “I just find it perplexing we would want to change… the nature and structure of a contract that, in effect, has been working over the last number of years since this agreement was entered into. We signed off, everybody signed off.”

Miskimins pointed out that contract renegotiations would be incoming on the current expiry date of this November, but quickly asserted that he wanted Penetanguishene to uphold the current contract. “So let sleeping dogs lie and allow us to continue our practice. If you want to change things up in the future then go for it, but to me if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Coun. Kelly Helowka, who noted that the request “came out of left field”, suggested that council follow staff’s recommendation to withhold funding. Coun. Dave Brunelle agreed and pushed to have an explanation provided for the request.

Mayor David Evans was to the point: “We have a contract. We have an agreement in place; and this is not collaborative or respectful to somebody that you share a community with. We’re being, frankly I think, maltreated.

“Same time as when somebody breaks a contract, I no longer honour that contract; so I can do what I want to do,” said Evans as his manner of speaking shifted to a more personal tone.

“I agree with council – the doors are open, the communication is there – but if this is how you treat agreements that we currently have in place, I’m going to take a step back.

“I operate for the Township of Tiny. You cannot make, if you’re making changes to our township, I’m going to stand up for this township.”

A motion was passed that Tiny council did not support the withdrawal of the Penetanguishene library board appointment, and that funding be temporarily withheld until Penetanguishene honoured the intent of the contract accordingly.

MidlandToday reached out to Evans, Miskimins and Lamb for a response, but none was received at the time of publication.

Rawson said Penetanguishene received its first direct communication from Tiny last Friday.

Rawson also noted that leading up to his January 10 letter, he had multiple conversations with Evans regarding his letter's content and intent.

“My outreach with Mayor Evans was done collaboratively to ensure he had an opportunity to provide input and to ensure he and his council were part of the solution,” Rawson said.

“As a background, my message and letter are intended to add clarity. Contrary to what Tiny Council has stated, there is nothing within their funding agreement and a contract stating that they have a direct board appointee to the Penetanguishene Library.”

Rawson said his town’s bylaws and rules governing its committees only provide that immediate appointment.

“Recognizing that Tiny Township is our partner, we made a formal appointment to the Penetanguishene Public Library by a Tiny resident, of which we had more than one member from Tiny apply to this board,” Rawson said.

“I communicated this to Mayor Evans. I have also mentioned on each occasion that we will revise and update the procedural bylaw.. For the first time, we will have a direct appointment process in the bylaw with clarity on the Tiny Township appointment.”

"I intended to follow what we have always done and ensure we have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The letter intended to confirm what Mayor Evans and I have discussed on multiple occasions while adding clarity for staff on the path forward.

Rawson was also asked by MidlandToday how he felt about Tiny representatives saying they felt ‘maltreated’ and ‘perplexed’ through the interaction.

“I was appalled when I heard the comments about the alleged 'maltreatment' and the non-collaborative approach taken,” Rawson said. “I remain committed to working through the process, and we have had open doors with Tiny to find the resolve that works for everyone. We focus on providing service to our communities and honour and respect access to the services our partners pay for and are part of the solution.

“This 'minor' issue became complicated when Tiny Township received my second letter from our council regarding the funding allocation to our arena operations. Mayor Evans called me on January 24 regarding this letter, and things became unfriendly and escalated.

“Again, we are looking at each issue in isolation and working through the problems and challenges while building a better future for all our community members to share, which I hope Tiny Township wants to continue collaborating with.

Rawson was also asked what would be the best-case and worst-case scenario for the two municipalities.

“Best case scenario - we continue as we always have, and as I have committed, we will update our procedure by-law in the coming few months, and there will be a clear appointment process for a Tiny Township representative,” Rawson said.

“Worst Case scenario: Tiny continues with their motion to cease funding. Even with this motion ratified, we will continue the path of amending our procedure by-law for the appointment process.

“This ceasing may cause some concerns within my community. We will then have to evaluate other means to assess recovering costs affecting each user. No one wins here, and we need to step back and work in the best interests of our combined communities, as we have attempted to do.”

The request letter from Rawson, as well as the reciprocal borrowing agreement between the Penetanguishene, Midland and Springwater public library boards, can be found on the agenda page of the Township of Tiny website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.

-with files from Andrew Philips

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,