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Mayor, councillor share heated exchange

'I’m used to being the team of one' says Joe Campbell
2018-05-07 Timmins City Hall MH
Timmins City Hall. Maija Hoggett/TimminsToday

A heated exchange at Timmins council had the mayor threatening to ask a councillor to leave.

Last night, Schumacher Coun. Joe Campbell presented a report on the reasons he was pushing for what he sees as a more transparent and accountable budget process. 

That led to further conflict between the councillor and Mayor George Pirie.

The tension started at the Oct. 14 council meeting.

A resolution from Campbell calling for changes to the budget process was defeated before it made it to the floor. Unable to speak to the resolution at that meeting, he asked for a report on the item at this week's meeting.

In a 20-minute presentation last night, Campbell said he was "somewhat disappointed" that no one seconded the previous recommendation or reached out to him ahead of the meeting for clarifications.

“But I’m used to being the team of one,” he said.

For the 2021 budget, Campbell said there were two public budget meetings before the document was approved at a council meeting. He noted there were other meetings that the budget was discussed, such as when the water and wastewater rates were approved.

Councillors are given a detailed budget binder, which Campbell said taxpayers don't have access to, nor do they want to. He argued people want to see a page with items such salaries, legal or consultant fees, and the actual budget figures. He'd also like to see city departments present at a public budget meeting, as well as representatives from the agencies, boards and commissions whose budgets impact the city's bottom line.

Last year, the public document, he said, was one-line, high-level summaries, as well as a list of achievements, challenges and projects for the year.

“Many residents don’t trust council to spend their money wisely, talk to them,” he said. “Public transparency lessens the likelihood of that happening."

Coun. Andrew Marks refuted Campbell's presentation. 

Marks is confident in the budget process and current administration, and said he welcomes feedback from residents.

“I support us moving forward, not backwards. Under this treasurer and this council’s budget process working around a COVID-19 pandemic last year … the process has been clearly defined, understandable, transparent and I am accountable,” Marks said.

He explained that the budget binder council receives includes every department and every expense line. With the comparisons of numbers highlighting increases and decreases he can reach out to the CAO or treasurer for clarification or ask questions at a public meeting.

"And I do get answers to my questions. When I can see that a wage line has increased dramatically that implies potentially either our union hikes have gone to a certain point or there’s additional people that are being hired within that department and I can read in between some lines and understand some of these things without being a chartered accountant,” he said. 

Marks said taxpayers will ultimately have the say in next year's municipal election.

The mayor did not allow Campbell to respond to Marks' comments.

"There is no respond, this is a presentation and you do not have an opportunity to respond. This is your presentation and this is your opinion on how this budget runs. This is Coun. Marks opinion and he’s responded and it’s a perfect summary," said Pirie.

As the clerk started to read the next part of the agenda, Campbell commented that he wasn't surprised.

“Coun. Campbell, keep it up and I’ll ask you to leave the room,” said Pirie. 

Campbell responded that he said nothing.

“That’s right, that’s exactly what you say,” responded Pirie.