By Mike Williscraft
For a single topic meeting, West Lincoln’s June 16 special meeting called to deal with fallout from a request for the municipality to raise the Pride flag covered a lot of ground.
Part of the conversation also centred around comments made by Mayor Dave Bylsma in a radio interview, which several councillors took serious exception with and urged the public to recognize Bylsma’s personal view does not reflect them or how the municipality sees itself.
Council approved raising the Pride flag at town hall as soon as possible for the remainder of June and to have a staff report drafted to deal with further flag requests.
The motion, with four parts in all, was approved 5-2 in a recorded vote with councillors Cheryl Ganann, Jason Trombetta, William Reilly, Mike Rehner and Christopher Coady voting for. Bylsma and Coun. Harold Jonker dissented.
The meeting included one member of the public, Enzo De Divittis, board of directors chair of Pride Niagara.
The meeting, conducted via Zoom, was chaired by deputy mayor Cheryl Ganann who took over after Coun. Jason Trombetta “challenged the chair”. Council voted 5-2 to replace Bylsma for the meeting.
Through well over three hours of at times heated debate, Ganann ran a tight ship to keep control of the proceedings.
De Divittis opened the core procedings by providing some background for council members.
After clerk Joanne Scime read emails and letters into the record for more than one hour, De Divittis said, “Something has to come out of it in a positive and progressive way because the majority of letters that were just read are a prime example of why there should be something done. The majority of the opposing ones strictly spoke about their religious views or their personal views which should not be part of the decision. It is not what the Pride flag represents.”
Answering a questions from Ganann, De Divittis said West Lincoln would not be overly late in raising the flag this year as Thorold raise it for the first time in 2019, Wainfleet was two years ago and Lincoln three years ago.
This year, part of the issue, Bylsma has contended, is the request came to him directly in the midst of upheaval caused by COVID-19 impacts as opposed to going to town hall.
At several points in Bylsma apologized for missing the email request and not forwarding it to staff.
De Divittis also noted that similar requests have been made for eight years to West Lincoln with 2020 being the first time the flag will get raised.
“In the last two weeks I have learned a lot. I would like to find out more. I would take up that offer and have a more fulsome discussion. I understand the challenges with Zoom but I would like to sit down and learn more,” said Bylsma of De Divittis’ suggestion council go through some sensitivty training on the LGBTQ topic.
While the meeting, was for the most part, professional, during the “other busienss” portion of the meeting comments got considerably more personal with several members of council saying the mayor should resign.
Special meetings of any council have specific rules and, given the intensity of feelings in the meeting, Ganann recognized the volatility of the situation.
After Reilly, Trombetta and Coady suggested Bylsma resign, Ganann tried to regain some control as the meeting had veered significantly away from its agenda item regarding the flying of the Pride flag.
“I did ask our clerk, if it came to this point, where we would be in terms of needing to go into confidential, so there is an awareness,” said Ganann.
“This was to be an opportunity to discuss how people feel about how things have been treated. I think we have done that.”
Bylsma did not agree.
“I am seriously objecting to this section. I can appreciate the councillor’s view and he could have called me at any point, too.
He knows my number. We have had countless conversations and I receive them all as I have with all members of this council. Every single member of this council, I’ve had open and honest discussions with. I have never turned anyone aside or ignored them,” said Bylsma, noting he would have the proceedings reviewed by the Integrity Commissioner, adding, “There are ways and means that people can express their views about my opinion, but this is not it.”
Coady challenged the mayor’s view that comments directed at him were inappropriate.
“He went on the radio as Mayor Dave Bylsma.He spoke as the representative of this township. I have no idea how it could be inappropriate for us to speak to how our top representative portrayed himself, this council and the people in this township,” said Coady.
“I will find it very difficult, from this point forward, to work with the mayor in any capacity. I think it will be very difficult for this township to move forward with the mayor in any capacity and I, too, would prefer he resign for the benefit of the municipality.”
Ganann said council needs to be able to work through issues.
“I think we need to listen to all sides of what people have to say to truly become better educated and make better collective decisions,” said Ganann adding all are elected to 2022 and “we have to find a way to move forward.”