Chelsea residents cry foul over master plan process
The Ward 2 Residents Association has filed an official complaint against the Municipality of Chelsea over a recent registry vote, arguing that the process had “serious irregularities” and prevented several residents from casting a ballot that would have triggered a referendum on the master plan.
Chelsea passed the master plan at its October meeting and launched a registry on two bylaws soon after. Residents were given one day to sign the registry on Oct. 24, and despite widespread confusion, 545 residents managed to sign the registry — 50 votes short of the 595 needed to trigger a referendum.
President of the Ward 2 Residents Association Jacques Michaud pointed out a number of problems with the process, including documents not being available in both official languages, absent council meeting minutes and other “deficiencies” with the process. His ward association is calling on Mayor Pierre Guénard to either reopen a registry or launch a referendum on the master plan.
“The Ward 2 Residents Association’s board believes that the registry has not been conducted in a manner that is optimal under the referenced legislation,” wrote Michaud in a stamped letter that was delivered to the municipality on Oct. 31 and obtained by the Low Down. The letter argues that, had residents been given more time and more information regarding the bylaws in question, as well as technical details on the master plan, the 595 votes needed for a referendum would have been reached.
A main concern is that the documents in question – zoning and subdivision bylaws – were not translated into English before the registry was opened, and anglophones had no choice but to review French documents before deciding whether to sign against the master plan.
“Even some of the French documents were missing,” Michaud told the Low Down. “So, the anglophones had no documents and could refer to some French documents. It’s a mess.”
Many residents also expressed concern over the amount of time Chelsea gave residents before signing the documents. Council approved the master plan at its Oct. 4 meeting and launched a registry vote for Oct. 24 — 20 days later. Michaud said many residents were unaware of the registry, as the municipality did not send any notices home and only published some of the documents five days before the vote.
“The municipality never put references to the referendum in the most obvious places in their website, namely, the calendar and the master plan pages,” said Michaud. “Instead, the information was published on the municipal Facebook page one week prior to the date of the registry. Very few people saw this notice. In addition, no notices were published in the local news media.”
Farm Point Coun. Rita Jain shares similar concerns and told constituents this week that, had residents been given more time to understand the changes to the master plan, including the process of the registry vote, the 595 votes needed for a referendum would have been reached.
“It was impressive to see so many Chelseaites rally to a call to action and sign the register in order to request a referendum on the zoning and subdivision bylaws,” she wrote in her monthly newsletter. “Five hundred and forty five signed the register, missing the target by 50. But let’s face it, the target could have easily been reached given more notice.”
Additionally, minutes from the Oct. 4 council meeting were not made available to the public prior to the registry vote. Michaud and Chelsea resident Linda Landry argue that the registry process violated the Municipal Elections and Referendums Act.
Section 541 of the Act states: “The clerk or clerk-treasurer shall be in charge of the registry unless he or she specially designates a person for that purpose. That person shall, before entering upon his or her duties, take an oath that he or she will perform his or her duties in accordance with the Act.” According to several residents, there was no “sworn person in charge of the registry” and the task had been delegated to the receptionist.
“When residents arrived at city hall during the first 30 minutes of the registry having been opened, there was a great deal of confusion,” added Michaud. “The director general of the municipality and the person in charge of the clerk’s office were not on site.” Michaud also pointed out that one of the bylaws in question – Bylaw 12-15- 22 – was missing several pages when uploaded to the municipal website on Oct. 22, two days before the registry. The document, seen by the Low Down, was missing detailed annexes and maps.
Ward 2 Coun. Dominic Labrie told the Low Down that there were problems with the documents posted online, but clarified that he believes the municipality still acted within the law, as there were paper copies available at the municipal offices.
Guénard told the Low Down last week that the municipality followed all the required procedures, but has since refused to answer questions on the master plan or the registry process.
The Low Down has repeatedly asked for a technical briefing on the master plan, but nobody at the municipality has responded to our queries.