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Midland council 'delays the pain,' defers decision on parking

'I just think we would be doing ourselves a great injustice on passing judgment on what’s best for parking in our downtown area without giving it more time, consideration, and consultation,' says Coun. MacDonald
2021-09-23 ap_134738
Parking metres like this one, found throughout Midland's downtown core, have not been widely embraced since being installed.

A highly-anticipated and long-awaited discussion on the one-year pilot project for Midland’s troubled downtown paid parking will have to wait for a few more weeks.

Nearly a year has passed since Midland council took office, with many having successfully won their election bids based on restructuring the paid parking issue as well as a ‘pause-and-rethink’ platform for Midland Bay Landing.

In that year, Coun. Catherine MacDonald has frequently interjected meetings asking for clarifications from staff on where certain agenda items were located, and slowing down proceedings at times for questions on policy.

Early into last night’s five-hour meeting, paid parking was finally to be addressed.

Parking is one of Midland’s few sources of generating revenue. The move from older coin-based meters to modern kiosks was decried by townsfolk and local businesses as difficult to use, which prompted previous council to make unique adjustments to the machines and look for a made-for-Midland solution.

Ultimately, changes were made and a one-year pilot project was approved with a report pending.

Its arrival on the agenda allowed residents to examine the made-for-Midland ramifications, which stated a projected net expense of approximately $250,000 in 2023. Problems noted in the report included difficulty using the machines, difficulty using its software, user disputes, excess staff time allocated to coin collection, and difficulty tracking seniors for free harbour parking.

Deputy Mayor Jack Contin barely had time to read the report’s recommended options – to keep the program as is, to remove pay-by-coin and the seniors’ free parking, or to increase the parking rates – and hadn’t even received a second to get the motion on the floor, when MacDonald interrupted with a motion to defer so that further consultation with the town’s BIA and surrounding businesses could be had; Coun. Sheldon East seconded the deferral.

20221116-macdonald-01-cropAs a caution, Mayor Bill Gordon advised council that the debate would be about deferral and not the merits of the parking report. MacDonald justified her deferral by stating she and Coun. Bill Meridis had received staff questions at 2 p.m. that afternoon, too soon to digest prior to the 4 p.m. council start time, and that the public couldn’t be consulted on those responses.

“I just think we would be doing ourselves a great injustice on passing judgment on what’s best for parking in our downtown area without giving it more time, consideration, and consultation,” said MacDonald, adding a request for council to support deferral “so we can do our homework.”

Gordon immediately listed reasons why not to support the deferral: with adequate notice it was up to council to read the reports before meetings and come prepared; if not deferred, council could narrow the list of options and have a shortlist report later.

“If we defer this tonight,” Gordon reasoned, “nothing new comes back to us; literally the same report comes back to us and all we’re doing is delaying the pain by three weeks.”

He pointed out that the public wouldn’t know what internal questions or responses were made until then, and offered council to vote down the deferral to discuss the matter at the meeting.

Other members of council stood by MacDonald, and a recorded vote of 6-to-2 in favour (with Coun. Jim Downer excluded due to conflict of interest) put the issue on hold.

CAO Rhonda Bunn commented: “The report will come back in the format as everything that exists today; there wouldn’t be additional consultation that would come back in any report, because it’s going to come back as is without any additional direction.”

With that concluded, the meeting continued. However, a later instance of the town’s alcohol policy prompted Meridis – in Greece and dealing with the pre-dawn time difference – to follow in MacDonald’s earlier example by putting up a motion to defer immediately, which had Gordon quickly responding that deferring halts all discussion as he learned with Midland Bay Landing.

When Coun. Beth Prost stated confusion as to when the best time to defer was so that council could make informed decisions, Gordon validated her concerns but reiterated that deferral was not the route. He later joked about the danger of using “the d-word.”

As Meridis retracted the proposed deferral, an hour-long question-and-answer occurred into the minutia of his knowledge as a bar owner over decades, and his perception that the town’s alcohol policy could generate revenue if reports contained small details.

The meeting was voted to extend past 10 p.m. and more matters were discussed, but MacDonald expressed hesitation on participating for being “chastised” further in her questions, as Contin had stated council ask staff easy and unrelated questions offline rather than take up council time.

Late into the night, MacDonald was asked to speak to her motion that would reschedule more frequent council meetings in summer. Facing away from MacDonald, Gordon unloaded the streamlined efficiency of the municipal procedural bylaw as a modern evolution over the outdated system.

Speaking of how council operates at the county level, Gordon said: “(It) puts the onus on us (to) come prepared to debate them at the meetings; not to hijack the meeting with silly questions that could have been answered in a quick email. Not to have our most expensive staff sitting around the table here answering mundane questions that could have been answered in a quick email.”

Council continued for another hour and adjourned shortly after 11 p.m.

The parking update and considerations report is available in full in the council agenda on the town of Midland website.

Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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