It is getting nasty out there: City manager threatens citizen group with legal action over wording on their web site

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 17th, 2018



It is getting nasty out there.

ECoB – Engaged Citizens of Burlington make no bones about their dissatisfaction with the way information from the Planning department gets to the taxpayers who cover all the costs.

There is a section on their web site offering pointers to people who want to write the politicians.

Here is part of what is on the web site now:

ECOB logo

Do you need some help putting your thoughts into valid points for your letter to City Hall? Here are some ideas for you!

Questions you should be asking. Points you can be making.

Why is council not following its own current official plan?

How can a new Official Plan be passed when so many master plans have not been completed?
How can proper decisions be made when these other master plans aren’t completed? It is like building a house on a base of sand.

Council is not defending its own official plan at the OMB- why not?

Is council so quick to allow planning staff to determine what our City will look like because they don’t want to spend the money in the event that they could lose? Is that a good reason to allow for poor planning?

There seems to be money to spend on “legacy projects” – like the Joseph Brant Museum but not to defend the current official plan.

The residents elect council to represent their needs not the needs of Staff and the Developers.

This council seems to forget this. What is happening in the downtown core is happening in all of Burlington- this needs to be an election issue. Presently 9 new development applications have been received by the City since Christmas – 5 in Ward 2- If we don’t stop what is happening now it will be too late. We should be questioning the legality of how certain areas were designated.

As someone said “Can you imagine that former Mayor Hazel McCallion would allow staff and the developers to dictate what was happening in Mississauga? “

It is the Mayors job to lead his council to do the right thing for the residents. I think residents have been very clear about not wanting over intensification. We need to stress that residents are not against development- but the right kind of development.

Where is our mayor? Why is staff dictating to Council it’s like the tail wagging the dog?

ECoB got a letter from the City Manager in which he said:

James RidgeTo Whom it May Concern:
On your website, in the area of letter writing campaign, you set out questions to be asked of the letter recipients. Among them is:

How can staff in the planning department be pushing these amendments when they know that they are not following The Professional Code of Practice of the Ontario Planners Institute which requires members to serve the public “to provide full, clear and accurate information on planning matters to decision makers and members of the public”?

This directly alleges that City staff have committed professional misconduct, and is categorically untrue. Staff have met or exceeded all requirements of their professional codes of practice, and have far exceeded the requirements of the planning act and other legislation in terms of consultation and provision of information. The fact you don’t like their recommendations does not mean they have acted unprofessionally.

I would like an immediate removal of these comments from your site, and an apology, or I will take all necessary steps to hold you accountable for these defamatory comments.
James Ridge City Manager

It appears that ECoB wasn’t prepared to meet the threat and removed the wording that offended the City Manager and sent the following letter to the City Manager in which they, ECoB said:

January 16, 2018
Sent by email to:
To Whom it May Concern:

It has been received that on the website, in the area of letter writing campaign, the questions to be asked of the letter recipients including:

“How can staff in the planning department be pushing these amendments when they know that they are not following The Professional Code of Practice of the Ontario Planners Institute which requires members to serve the public “to provide full, clear and accurate information on planning matters to decision makers and members of the public”?

at the request of the City of Burlington City Manager has been removed,

Members of Engaged Citizens of Burlington (ECoB) however rescind the request to issue apology.

It is further argued that the statement “The fact you don’t like their recommendations does not mean they have acted unprofessionally” infers a personal intent and is itself a defamatory comment which cannot be substantiated.

ECoB Dec 13 #2

ECoB attracted close to 100 people to a community meeting on a cold winter night with fresh snow falling. How will they take to the threat from the city manager?

The defensive tactic to silence this group through legal threat of a defamation case would quickly find evidence in the November 30th Planning and Development ECoB deputation that there is no defamatory intent and that this is a matter of responsible communication on matters of public interest.

It was identified on public record that following the November 30th Planning and Development meeting that the position of ECoB is to Request to Planning and Development to defer submission of the planning and building department report PB-50-17 regarding proposed new official plan (November 2017) regarding proposed downtown mobility hub precinct plan and proposed official plan policies until no sooner than June of 2018.

This will allow invaluable community input to understand the impact of the various planning instruments and initiatives. This will align with the provincially recognized Downtown Mobility Hub Area Specific Plan expected for delivery in June 2018. There are 7 requests in total per the deputation.

ECoB’s review of the Professional Code of Practice requiring members to serve the public interest hinges on planning staff bringing the new OP forward for approval without several significant studies (Transportation Master Plan, Transit Plan, Mobility Hubs study, etc). These have not been completed.

The question is simply: Does this action by the Planning Department, knowing that important information is missing, meet the requirements of the above Code? Do they believe they have provided all the required information?

To ECoB the facts are very clear. Do Council and residents have “full, clear and accurate information?” The answer is No.

This issue must be raised in view of the significance of this matter for all residents and the council of Burlington. How can a decision be made without full information? If we cannot agree, perhaps the Discipline Committee at OPI (Ontario Planners Institute) should decide if the document should have been brought forward at this time. We think this is a fair compromise solution.

Engaged Citizens of Burlington
cc. Mayor and Council Members

Somewhere along the way polite, civil, and transparent communication got lost.

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7 comments to It is getting nasty out there: City manager threatens citizen group with legal action over wording on their web site

  • Rick

    Its very unfortunate that it has come to threats of a lawsuit. I think its time to dial back on some of the rhetoric and focus on a political action plan for the next election. I agree with Mr. White we need to replace most of the people sitting on city council, after all they are the decision makers.

  • Concerned Citizen

    So this is what is has come to? This is the only response a City Staff Member has in his arsenal to reply to citizens? Did the City Manager not think even once that a better route might be to meet with the citizens group and really listen to their concerns, then tell them his thoughts as to why he felt their words may have been inappropriate regarding his staff? But that is the trouble with almost all City Staff and the majority of Councillors in Burlington now – don’t listen to the public, make autonomous decisions even when there is public outcry, then slap a lawsuit on a citizens group who is not only having to pay out of their own pockets to fight City Hall, but also who pay the plaintiff’s salary. Was this really necessary? What happened to good old conversation? What are these people afraid of, hiding behind their citizen-paid lawyers?

  • Hans

    While Ridge has a duty to try to protect his staff, he didn’t need to use such an aggressive method.
    I wonder if he phoned first, to explain his position and to try to find a compromise?

    As William wrote above: “The divide between city hall and the public is growing”.
    Tactics such as this will only increase the public’s frustration and anger. Soon there will be lawyers involved and that won’t end well for the City, IMO.

  • Stephen White

    Like Ken, I will be at Thursday’s ECoB meeting, and I too will be bringing my cheque book and taking a lawn sign. However, let’s stop wasting time with letter writing campaigns and delegations to Council. Clearly, they aren’t interested and they aren’t listening. Mr. Ridge has his agenda which he is vigorously pursuing with no regard to what ECoB or others think. Similarly, neither the Planning Department nor Council are much interested in what ECoB or other citizens have to say.

    That being the reality, focus should now aggressively shift towards identifying candidates in each ward to take out incumbents in Wards 1, 3, 4 and 6. (I’ll exclude Marianne Meed Ward because she works tirelessly and fearlessly on behalf of her constituents. I live in hope that my own Councillor, Paul Sharman, who I earnestly believe is forthright, conscientious and pragmatic, will “come into the light”). Let’s identify prospective candidates, secure agreement on a common set of principles, and start planning for the October election. Let’s also focus on ending vote splitting with multiple candidates running in each ward running. That’s how incumbents got in the last time.

    Control the Council and you control the agenda….it’s as simple as that. After October we can then focus attention on junking the OP, and a litany of long overdue personnel changes at City Hall.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Well Ridge has just ensured WAY more support for ECOB and has aptly displayed their point that citizens feel badly treated by the City and like it is an us vs. them scenario. I find it incredible that Ridge would have done this. Did he write that letter on his own or would the Mayor have known about it? Both scenarios are disturbing.

  • Ken

    Factually speaking, by the time you’re delegating in front of council or commenting on blogs you’re just screaming in the woods. This war is going to be won with money and votes. I’ll certainly be attending Thursday’s meeting with cheque book in hand.

  • William

    Wow – Ridge is heavy-handed and thin-skinned. ECOB legitimately raises the concern that the city has not provided “full, clear and accurate information on planning matters”. Let’s remember, Planning’s original intent was to ram through the downtown plan for approval this month without the public knowing.

    Ridge is no Jeff Fielding. The latter was imperfect, but at least he got out of city hall and connected with people and groups to find common ground. Ridge hides in city hall – emitting threats that’s backed up by tax-payer funded legal resources.

    The divide between city hall and the public is growing.