Robert Chaffers’ letter to Chelsea, Quebec planning committee

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by admin on February 9, 2011

As I have been away in Toronto for medical tests and limited by a health condition, I have not had the opportunity to respond to your letter in detail until now. I hope that his has not proved an inconvenience to you or the Committee.

The whole purpose of my voluntary service on the Committee for the past decade or so, (in response to a request by  Mayor Judy Grant to contribute the experience and depth of knowledge in planning and community development acquired over my professional life-time), has been to promote the “public interest” before all other interests, and to look to the future as well as the present well-being of the community of citizens of Chelsea.

I have tried to the best of my ability, to apply that professional experience and knowledge to the requests that have been presented to the Committee by my fellow citizens, in meeting after meeting over the years, with all of the insight I could muster, as well as fairness and professional objectivity – as my colleagues and many of those who have sought the assistance of the Committee, would attest.

To suggest that I may have “conducted (my)yourself in a manner that might be contrary to the interests of the population of the Municipality while (I)you were a member of the Chelsea Planning and Sustainable Development Advisory Committee.” 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 Such a charge must be supported by very clear evidence, or be unequivocally withdrawn and a public apology offered to me.

As you know, I have taken a particular interest in the “Professional Code of Conduct for Municipal Committees” since it was first proposed last February by yourself. On reading the rough draft given to us for our signature to a “solemn oath”, I asked for clarification of the many ambiguous paragraphs.Having signed other such documents for various positions requiring the highest possible levels of trust with other senior governments, I was concerned about its clarity and thus its effectiveness.  Without such a clarification, I suggested relying on wording already developed with all the legal resources and experience of senior governments for similar applications. This idea was accepted, but unfortunately despite the best possible efforts of the Chair of the Committee, the matter has still not yet been finalized and the issue remains unresolved.

As to the specific allegations, even if they were true and not frivolous, none of them support the the charge of “…..conduct contrary to the interests of the population…”, or have any relevence to my membership of the Planning Committee.

1) There appears to be a misunderstanding with respect to the status of the meeting on the 24th of November. This was a consultant’s meeting, the first of several in their work plan. Its purpose was to obtain feedback on their initial PPU concept from a relatively small group of people, including members of the Planning Committee and members of the citizen’s committee that organized the community visioning exercise, and others. They had asked a member our administrative staff to send out an invitation. It was NOT a formal meeting of the Planning Committee called by the Chair as was amply clear from its conduct and documentation.

Given the vague wording of the invitation, I was most careful to determine the nature of the meeting and its objective, beforehand. Without a response to my persistent telephone enquiries for clarification from the sender of the invitation I received on 17 November, I communicated personally with two members of the consultant’s team as they had previously invited me to do so, and on the basis of my personal friendship with Patrick Deoux. I understand they have spoken privately with other individual citizens.

On 23 Nov, they (the consultants), explained the purpose of the their meeting, as I then informed a few others who I know have a deep interest and knowledge of the community and the issues involved in the PPU :
” They have told me this afternoon that their meeting is NOT restricted in any way because they want to be fully “transparent and inclusive”. Their intention in not issuing an open invitation, was to focus on those of us who are interested in contributing positively, and on those who are likely to know something about the issues involved so that the discussion can be as productive as possible within the short time available. This is NOT a general information session designed to educate the generality of the population. Apparently other meetings are planned for that.” Several of these people showed up as a result and were able to contribute.

2) I have known Patrick and his wife for years, during which I have communicated with him at his office as often as at his home. The nature and content of my communications with him, whether at home or his office, is NO business of the Municipality. I will continue to communicate with him as we mutually agree.

3) I have NOT “openly criticized his work and threatened to have his contract terminated”. How absurd! I offered him a “professional critique” privately, directly, one-on-one, as I would expect he would offer me, and as is the practice between professionals, especially those who are friends. Again my relationship with Patrick is NO business of the Municipality and I shall continue to offer the best of my professional insight based on my detailed knowledge of the planning and engineering issues, culture and history of my community, as a concerned and informed citizen, to whoever. As you already know, Patrick insisted that I present my comments in the presence of Maria Isaza, which I readily agreed to do on the next business day, in the privacy of her office just between the three of us. As you already know, I presented my professional comments in writing addressed to him and Maria, and offered to explain and/or support every word. None were challenged.

As a fellow professional employed by the Municipality, Maria asked for an elaboration. (My advice has been extensively sought by the last three Municipal planning professionals over the past several decades, so this is nothing unusual). I remain willing to provide a detailed technical critique of the work that AECOM  has carried out for the Municipality. As an informed citizen with expertise in the technical field and extensive experience on both sides of the the contracting of professional services, I have already mentioned to you that I strongly believe that quality of the work of AECOM  should be carefully examined by a third party with the necessary expertise, to ensure that tax payers money has procured full and proper value. (This expertise is readily available in the community). I am so concerned with what I have seen so far and the reaction to my questions, that I am tempted to take the matter to the appropriate professional/industry Associations.

As to “threatening to have his contract terminated”, why should such an improbable accusation be given any credence, given my total lack of authority as an individual citizen? In fact, all of my actions and communications, (including the technical critique), have so far, been aimed at the opposite. It was my belief that AECOM had the opportunity, if they chose, to provide a truly independent, professional service to help the citizens of Chelsea define the future of the community that they want to live in, and I have clearly expressed that.

All of my actions have been carried out as an informed citizen with relevant expertise. They have absolutely no connection to my volunteer membership of the Committee that deals only with land use requests from citizens, not “planning”, for which it lacks the technical competance. The Committee or my membership has never been mentioned in any communication I have had with anyone, at any time, on this or any of the previous PPU exercises over the past two decades, or any public consultations, or the many private conversations I have had with elected officials and municipal staff over the decades on planning and engineering matters, whether I happened to be a member of the Committee or not. It is my clear understanding  of the Law, that citizen membership of the committee implies absolutely no restriction on the freedom of a citizen to act like any other.

In view of the need for the judicious use of public resources, I am surprised by the process adopted for such a simple matter. Perhaps next time you have a question, it would be more in the “public interest” to simply pick up the phone and call me as a trusted and well known member of our community. I would have been happy to answer any relevant questions and, as I always am, to fully justify with documentary evidence, any of the professional opinions I have offered for the benefit of my community.

I expect this matter will be quickly resolved without any more unnecessary expenditure of time and effort by municipal officials.

sincerely,
Robert Chaffers
819 827 1036

PS Our community is so rich in human resources. There are many of us who would welcome the opportunity to volunteer their professional expertise to enhancing the well-being of our community – as was demonstrated by the committee that organized the visioning exercise. ‘Citizen participation’, the goal of all democratic governments, has the potential to save an enormous amount of Chelsea public resources as well as contributing to our Municipal Mission. To be successful however, it requires a commitment of all officials, their respect of the capacity of sincere, capable citizens to promote the public interest over narrower interests, and real transparency. Anything less results in, lack of trust, cynicism and civic lethargy. We in Chelsea are capable of much, much more.