Berry picks fight over flight, while Jordan to bring openness, transparency back to town hall
By Mike Williscraft
In a Casablanca Inn grand ballroom which had more people standing than seated, the two candidates vying for Grimsby’s mayor’s seat squared off in what is expected to be the only opportunity for the public to hear their exchange of views.
Jeff Jordan, a Grimsby native who has served three terms on council in the past, and Steve Berry, an 18-year veteran and current member of Grimsby council gave those on hand a taste of what their overall platform is and answered a host of questions put to them by moderator David Brown.
Berry let the crowd know right off the bat in his opening comments he was standing by his record on council.
“If it’s better to fight than flight, I’ll fight,” Berry said, adding all the decisions made, “Council did as a team.”
Saying support for Berry would only signal a commitment to a “flawed blueprint” of council, Jordan said the manner in which council and town hall conducts itself has to change.
“Open dialogue is key,” said Jordan, citing heritage issues, lack of transparency and ongoing planning problems as examples where the Town has been lacking in its communication, adding matters related to Grimsby’s hydro utility are “a tangled web”.
To a question relating to the current hospital corridor study being undertaken by the Town, Berry said the initiative is in keeping for what council is being told it should be ready.
“The province wants to see partnerships,” said Berry, adding that with planning or any other initiative, “It’s not just going to happen.”
Again, Jordan noted that initiative is great, but how projects are communicated to taxpayers remains
an ongoing challenge.
He cited the issue of anyone wanting to address council as a delegation. Council has a rule that delegations can only speak to an item on the agenda and they must apply to get on a Monday night agenda by noon on the preceding Friday.
“But often the agenda is not available until afternoon,” said Jordan, pointing out the impossibility of getting on as a delegation in that circumstance.
“The people want to know what is going on at Town Hall. I think that we should livestream our meetings or put them on YouTube.”
When Jordan cited issues of secrecy and mentioned one of the Ombudsman reports which chastised council’s operational practices, Berry admitted that was his issue.
“I’ll take the full blow for that,” said Berry, noting there are only so many opportunities for council to communicate and they are “dealing with a private business they are trying to make run.”
At several points there was an audible stir in the room. The first one came when Berry made an admission which seemed to surprise many.
When the disclosure of the release of information related to the biodigester and hydro’s financials arose, Berry said of the biodigester, “I don’t believe it is a business we should be in.”
He went on to explain that he opposed the project when it first came in but said the Town is now in a situation where officials must figure out a way to make it viable.
“You can try to make it work or let it go for 10 cents on the dollar,” Berry, adding not $1 of taxpayer money has gone into the project.
Berry said hydro officials are seeking development of alternative revenue streams as a means to get the project into a profitable state at which time he would entertain selling the Sobie Road facility.
Jordan shot back.
“Is it $12 million? $10 million (to build it)? We don’t know…The taxpayers deserve to know. I don’t know,” said Jordan.
“If I’m elected mayor, I want to open the books and have a full audit on the biodigester.”
A loud round of applause ensued.
Jordan said council and hydro officials should have backed off the program as soon as anticipated one-third/one-third/one-third government grants from the federal and provincial governments failed to materialize.
“You should have stopped right there,” said Jordan.
Berry said hydro has returned $8 million to Town coffers – since ownership in the utility was re-aligned – by way of interest on a promissory note.
While that was all well and good for Jordan, again it came down to a communication issue.
Noting when Grimsby Energy board chair Shafee Bacchus came to council in July he made only a verbal report and would not provide council with a written copy.
“If that’s not secrecy, I don’t know what is,” said Jordan.
A wide variety of questions were covered over the one-hour debate.
Regarding traffic, both acknowledge it is a major issue and noted they would be willing to work with the Region or any other body to improve the situation.
On development, Berry said he stands by what he and council have accomplished, citing the waterfront trail as a major feather in the Town’s cap.
“We are a creature of the province,” said Berry when it comes to limitations of what council can and can’t do with development, adding he believes the Town has pushed matters to the OMB 15 times in his tenure and “lost every one.”
Jordan, who noted heritage is a passion of his, said the Town should be doing more on the designation and protection of its historical assets.
On planning in general, “We have already hit our Regional target. Going over and above our Official Plan makes no sense,” he said.
Similarly, he said the Town is premature planning a hospital corridor program when there is not commitment for a hospital rebuild as yet.
On transit, Berry said accurate information is needed before any decision can be made.
Jordan said he supports the model employed in Innisfil – an Uber-based system – has proven effective and economical.
When the question of leadership ability came up, Berry cited his campaign brochure which lists all the members of council, except Dave Kadwell.
“I am humbled by their support,” adding his experience has him “well versed” on every issue. He noted that his 18-year commitment goes back to a “made- in Grimsby solution” when the school board was going to close one of the east-end elementary schools.
Jordan said his leadership approach at council and in the community would be decidedly different.“As mayor, I would want to exchange ideas, not insults,” said Jordan, adding he would make being mayor his full-time job.
“I have the ability to give it 100 per cent of my time.
After that, Berry noted he may retire from his Hamilton fire department job soon and take the “cut in pay” to dedicate his time to being mayor.
In summation, Berry spoke against the A Better Grimsby group and tied in Jordan with his comments alleging there is “party platform” at play.
Voters would be sending the Town in the “wrong direction” if they support the challengers to council, all of whom except one who have attended or will attend ABG’s all-candidates meetings.
Jordan denied there is any hidden agenda.
“If accountability and access is a hidden agenda, then I have a hidden agenda,” Jordan retorted, adding he would implement an ‘open mic’ aspect to council meeting allow public access.
Later he said, “we have a town hall that is dysfunctional. One or two make the decisions and the others just follow. Ald. Kadwell is the only one who….” The rest of his comment was drowned out by applause.