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Midland council ignores long-standing policy by naming thoroughfare after former employee

The lane between the town dock office and the Boathouse Eatery will now be named Rick Leaney Way
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Midland harbour was once the domain of longtime harbour master Rick Leaney. Eric Nisbet photo

Midland residents will soon be able to take a stroll down Rick Leaney Way.

Council Wednesday night defied policy to name a piece of road by the water after the former harbour master.

But the decision didn't come without lengthy discussion. Staff had rejected the request recommending that council look at alternative ways of honouring the ex-employee, such as placing Leaney's name on a list that the policy follows or to use the merit awards method.

Coun. Cody Oschefski kicked off the opposition.

"I am going to oppose the recommendation from staff only because I feel this is too good of a fit," he said. This has been a polarizing topic this week and discussed on social media. I've had some people reach out. I think the quick and dirty of this is to erect a $150 sign. I think the public has the appetite for it. I've heard he's accomplished a lot over the years."

Coun. Bill Gordon had come prepared with a letter to attest to Leaney's contributions to the town. 

"We actually hired Rick Leaney back in the '80s," said Gordon, who shared points from his conversations with Bryan Mackell, who was on the town's payroll for 23 years as the town's planner and administrator of the harbour, and other residents.

"Rick Leaney was hired as the harbour master initially on a part-time basis in the early '80s," said the councillor. "For decades, (he) was the face of greeting visiting transient boaters and administrating to the needs of the Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian naval ships, tall ships and tour ships alike. For 25 years, he was the town promoter at the booth at the Toronto International Boat Show for a week.

"Rick was well-respected by all the marina operators in the Severn Sound boating area," he added. "Additionally, due to his family background in the shipping arena,  he was often a point of contact for freighter captains while in port. Rick is a living ambassador for our community."

We've done this before, Gordon said.

"We have named non streets or thoroughfares outside of this policy in the past, such as the Adam Dixon Way," he said. "The $150 spend recognizes a multi-decade ambassador of our town at the very place he served and is best remembered. To deny this would be an insult and the fact that we are even having to debate this after we already voted for it months ago is very unfortunate."

Coun. Jim Downer agreed.

"We've already dealt with this in a council meeting," he said. "And my recollection was there was nine to nothing in favour of putting up this sign. So why are we wasting time? Let's put this sign up and let's move on."

But Deputy Mayor Mike Ross came forward in support of staff's recommendation.

 "Rick Leaney, from what I've heard about him, he's a fantastic person and a proud employee," he said. "I would highly recommend we put his name on the list and follow the process.

"I hate to bring this up but Mr. Mike Dubeau passed away recently and if his family came to us and have a laneway named after him, I can give as many reasons as Mr. Leaney," added Ross. "They're both well deserving of a laneway." 

He pushed council to pass a motion at the next meeting to add Leaney's name to the list and then suggested another option.

"Maybe we can name a beautiful park after him," said Ross. "I agree with Coun. Gordon that he's an asset to the town and I would like to name something after him, but I would like to go by process. That would be my suggestion and I would hope that's what we would do." 

He had support from Mayor Stewart Strathearn.

"I've met Mr. Leaney a few times and have had personal transactions with him," he said. "I'm not in any way shape or form disputing his worth. But if we keep messing around with the policies, then you just dissolve into anarchy. I would be happy to put his name on the list and then decided to act on it. But follow the process, for the love of Pete. There's no doubt the man is deserving the recognition, but follow the process, stop making exceptions."

Coun. Jon Main tried to offer a compromise.

"Are there any other policies, say a facility naming policy or other municipal programs that would reward a long-serving municipal staff?" he asked, adding, 

"That was just an idea, there's the harbour master's office right there."

David Denault, chief administrative officer, said he wasn't aware of something like that having been done before.

"I can appreciate that everyone feels strongly that this individual made a tremendous contribution to town and continues to do so," he added. "In some regards, I think, somebody in my position who doesn't have the history of the town, I was impressed by the backgrounds of the people on the (street naming) list. To join the list, is a tremendous honour. It shouldn't be considered a slight at all. We strongly feel the policy is there for a reason. It is to recognize people and those people are waiting their turn."

Gordon said to staff's credit, the report was not flawed.

"It's the technical interpetation of the naming policy, but like every policy it's subject to bypass when the appropriate circumstances present themselves," he said. "Discretion is in the hands of the council."

And indeed it was as at the end of the meeting all eventually voted in favour of renaming the strip of road Rick Leaney Way.