Chelsea, Quebec planning veteran Robert Chaffers kicked off committee

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by admin on February 9, 2011

Robert Chaffers on a happier day

Robert Chaffers on a happier day

Click to read Robert Chaffers’ letter

Click to read Paul St-Louis’ letter

He served nearly 20 years on the Chelsea, Quebec planning committee, has an extensive planning background and has been openly critical of recent development projects.

Now Robert Chaffers has been kicked off the Planning and Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (PSDAC) as council investigates “serious allegations.”

“The absurdity is mind-numbing,” said Chaffers. “I am an ordinary citizen of Chelsea like any other, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.”

Chaffers, who has served as a volunteer member of PSDAC since the early 1990s, is demanding an apology from council.

In a confidential letter dated Dec. 13, Director-general Paul St-Louis accuses Chaffers of acting “in a manner that might be contrary to the interests of the population.” It goes on to say that council has decided to suspend him “effective immediately while these allegations are verified.”

In his email response to council dated Jan. 18, Chaffers says the claim “is an extremely serious charge against my personal integrity, ethics and reputation in my community, that I have served in many ways since settling here in 1976.

“Such a charge must be supported by very clear evidence, or be unequivocally withdrawn and a public apology offered to me,” the email states.

Chaffers addresses the charges as outlined in St-Louis’s confidential letter dated Dec. 13. Among them, Chaffers is accused of speaking to consultant Patrick Deoux without permission from the municipality, threatening to terminate Deoux’s contract and of inviting non-PSDAC members to a meeting about Chelsea’s centre village development plan (PPU).

Nearly a month later, Chaffers is still waiting on a response from council.

While St-Louis could not comment on the investigation, he said he doesn’t “think it’s acceptable” for citizens to contact consultants directly.

“If a citizen wants to obtain information about a mandate that has been given to the consultant, he must address himself to the municipality beforehand, not the direct consultant,” he said, referring to Chaffers’s interaction with Deoux, the AECOM consultant contracted to oversee the drafting of the PPU. “The consultant should answer to either staff or council.”

When asked what policy this rule falls under, St-Louis said there is none.

“It’s just common sense,” he said.

Chaffers calls his suspension is unfair. He said he never threatened Deoux’s contract, but met with him privately to offer a “professional critique.” The two are friends and often discuss municipal affairs, he said. As for the PPU meeting, Chaffers said it was not clear whether the meeting was open or by invitation only.

“All of my actions have been carried out as an informed citizen with relevant expertise,” Chaffers writes in his letter. “They have absolutely no connection to my volunteer membership of the Committee that deals only with land use requests from citizens.”

Over the years, Chaffers has been outspoken against the 80-acre Chelsea Creek development for Old Chelsea Road, both in his role as PSDAC member and privately. Prior to its municipal approval, he received a warning letter issued by the lawyer of Chelsea Creek developer Mark Shank.

When asked if he thought he was being punished for his outspokenness, or if the municipality’s actions were meant to send a message, Chaffers refused to speculate.

“As I recall, I posed a lot of questions about the development that I believed were important for the citizens of Chelsea, if they were to understand the real implications of the development for the future of Chelsea,” he said. “But they were not answered.”

To read the letter of suspension, or Chaffer’s letter in return, please go to www.lowdownonline.com.