How did this happen? Mayor issues a statement - deflects rather than address the issue

By Pepper Parr

August 9th, 2023



The response to the article on the woman who had a garden at the front and back of her house  weed-whacked by the city has been interesting.

We will follow the steps that her legal counsel takes to right what many see as a serious wrong.

Our interest at this point is – how did this happen?

Brynn Nheiley, Executive Director of Community Planning, Regulation and Mobility

Kerry Davren, Director of Bylaw Enforcement .

Who made the decisions?

Where was the oversight?

Burlington’s bylaw compliance policy is – or was at one point, to respond to complaints. “We don’t go looking for situations where a bylaw is not being conformed to.  We get a complaint and we investigate and try very hard to explain to people where the problems is and what they need to do.”

The impression we got at the time was that the bylaw enforcement people look for ways to solve a problem assuming in many cases people were just not aware that they were not conforming to the bylaw.

Let’s follow that thread.

Someone calls the bylaw department and registers a complaint.  Someone in the department takes down the details (is there a form they use – some way of capturing the information?)

A naturalized area is defined as “an area or vegetation deliberately planted or cultivated with one or more species of wildflowers, shrubs, annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses, or combination of them, that is monitored and maintained by a person.

Then a bylaw officer is assigned the task of meeting with the person making the complaint.

Did that happen in this instance ?

At some point Kerry Devron, who at the time was the Manager of Bylaw Enforcement, has to make a decision.

There is little doubt in our mind that Ms Devron would have taken the complaint to the Executive Director of Community Planning, Regulation and Mobility  and sought some direction.

Back in October when the issue became real – by which we mean there was a complaint and some action was taken by the department and that at some point the Executive Director was brought into the loop.

We now know that the City legal department was in the loop as far back is as last October.  David Donnelly, a lawyer, who was very familiar with the issue – he had in the past defended, successfully we might add, provided the legal department with the existing case law.

All this happened before the beginning of August.

Why is that important?  On August 3rd, the City announced that Kerry Devron was being promoted to the position of Director of the newly created By Law Enforcement Department.

We the elected and the staff that serve the public are not punching bags. Tax payers – that’s a different issue.

So, everything Ms Devron did was as a Manager.

Managers don’t make decisions that advise a citizen that they could be facing a fine of $10,000 per day.

And Managers don’t advise a citizen that should they obstruct city staff from doing what they were required to do that they could be facing a fine of $100,000

So, if Ms Devron, a manager didn’t make the decisions – who did?

Move up the food chain to the Executive Director.

One final question?  Who decided to inform the company that holds the mortgage on the property that Karen Barnes might not be complying with the City bylaws?

Who sent that issue to the legal department – and why did the legal department accept the assignment?

That’s enough in the way of questions for today.

We expect to be moving further up the food chain on this one.

Mayor Meed Ward along with Councillors Nisan and Bentivegna issued the following Joint Statement:

Our offices have been receiving questions from residents regarding the City of Burlington allowing for naturalized gardens on properties, based on an article that appeared in the Toronto Star over the weekend. We appreciate the concerns members of the community have been raising regarding naturalized gardens and environmental protections in Burlington – we share them. That is why the City of Burlington updated our Lot Maintenance Bylaw in 2018 to allow for naturalized gardens and again in 2022 to clarify regulations that apply to naturalized gardens.

There are numerous examples of naturalized gardens in neighbourhoods across our City that are operating within our bylaw. Such gardens are regularly maintained and pruned, have no other non-conforming weeds growing, and no invasive species being grown. Examples of non-conforming weeds come from the definitions of noxious weeds that are set by the Province of Ontario under the Weed Control Act.

We welcome and support these gardens and appreciate residents who maintain them within City and Provincial standards.

We will do our best to continue to educate residents about naturalized gardens, invasive species, and lot maintenance responsibilities. Our bylaw allows for naturalized gardens and those gardens must conform to lot maintenance standards. Each complaint the City receives is investigated and treated the same under the terms of our bylaw. We will also defend our City bylaws in a balanced and impartial manner. When the City investigates a complaint, it provides the property owner with information regarding the requirements of the bylaw, where they may not be in compliance, and continues to work with them until compliance is achieved within reasonable timelines.

Only when that process fails, and as a last resort, would charges be filed with the court. Fines, up to a maximum, established by the Province and adopted by the City, may be imposed by a Court on an owner of any property found in non-compliance with the bylaw. The amount of the potential fines is included in all notices for transparency.

The recent Star story listed a property that does not comply with our bylaw for naturalized gardens. It has been under formal and extensive City of Burlington bylaw investigation and enforcement since 2015. The City has attempted to work closely with the property owners to bring their property into compliance with our bylaws. In doing so, the City consulted with experts in naturalized gardens. This matter was recently before the courts and the ruling was in the City’s favour.

We invite Burlington residents to review our bylaws and provide feedback and suggestions, if they have any. We also recommend the community reviews the Province’s Table of Noxious Weeds and shares any suggestions they have regarding those regulations with their local MPP.

We appreciate the opportunity to engage with the community on this important environmental matter, to reassure residents that naturalized gardens are welcome in Burlington and to share information about how residents can ensure these conform with our City’s bylaws.

The Joint Statement doesn’t appear to suggest that this issue can be worked out amicably.  Karen Barnes is going to need financial support.  She has created a site where the environmentalist can help.

Click on the image if you think you want to help.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

10 comments to How did this happen? Mayor issues a statement – deflects rather than address the issue

  • Caren

    P.S. to my previous comment:
    Names can be redacted before posting the Court Decision for privacy.

    • Jim Thomson

      Court Decisions are public record.
      There is no privacy concern.
      Justice must be seen to be done.

  • Joseph Gaetan

    According to a source, I am to understand this is not the first time the naturalized plants at this address have been “trimmed” and that in the past, at least, the owners were give ample warnings before action was taken by COB. I am also to understand COB has a generous naturalized gardens bylaw. So, the plot thickens.

  • Caren

    The Legal Department at COB would have a copy of the Court decision our Mayor refers to in her “Joint Statement”. She only needs to post a copy of it here or provide the decision number for CanLII so that our residents can look it up themselves.

  • Lynn Crosby

    What a joke statement. As is typical, in the usual and overly long and overly defensive “statement”, the Mayor chooses what to respond to and what to ignore. No explanation explains away the complete over-the-top actions of the city staff. An apology for sending a small army to hack away everything in sight, for making ludicrous threats of huge fines, and contacting the homeowner’s mortgage company is missing. But then when have they ever apologized or even acknowledged that they could ever have acted better? Never.

  • Jim Thomson

    “This matter was recently before the courts and the ruling was in the City’s favour.”

    Really? Maybe the Mayor should provide more details. What exactly did the court rule?

    • Joe Gaetan

      Regarding ”Weedgate”. A quick search of Canlii, revealed 39 cases and 12 “commentaries, that included the words, “Burlington”, “City” and “weed”. The 39 cases found in CanLII that were, “weed” based, indicates they came in both the vegetation and smoking variety. Perhaps COB could prove the alleged case number, referred to by our Mayor.

  • Ps perhaps the Gazette can enlighten us about the decision before the Court that went in the City’s favour. Statements like that are usually accompanied by the title of the case, but the three who issued the statement failed to give the proof.

    Editor’s note: we will ask the Mayor if she can provide the case she was referring to. Don’t expect an answer in the near future. The Mayor didn’t send the Gazette a copy of her Joint Statement.

  • Just listened to the only media interview we know the Mayor has on CHCH which is not an interview at all. It is our Mayor doing what she has always done boasting about the good things they are doing to keep up appearances. She is Chair of a very influential municipality committee and yet admits they do not have a definition for the number one problem, affordable housing.

    When is she going to get before a real media interview and answer the tough questions. Never, when our local TV, CHCH and Halton News are not prepared to ask the tough questions we read every day in the Gazette comments. It’s time to resurrect ECOB, we need you, but this time perhaps you should be called Enraged Citizens of Burlington. There must be plenty of us right now that understand taxpayers of Burlington should be enraged at the standard of Governance we now have at a very high and unacceptable cost.

  • Liam Fearg

    It’s fairly obvious to anyone who has worked in a bureaucracy, particularly a public one, that senior staff and the politicians were aware of the situation and, at the least, condoned the aggressive action taken. The culprits were at all levels of the organization.

    As for the joint statement, it has all the earmarks of the Mayor’s personal touch. It is overly lengthy, it avoids the primary issue at hand (i.e. the completely inappropriate treatment of a citizen by the City) and it admits no fault. There is no apology, no ‘nos culpas’, no indication that bylaw enforcement, under her watch, was misguided and misdirected. I find the Mayor to be not only flawed but very, very tiresome. I find that her administration is equally flawed and failing. And lest I forget the one individual, the City Manager, who should be ensuring the effective operation of City services and functions – it’s time to stand up and step forward.