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Saturday, July 13, 2024
EXCLUSIVE: Mid-term approval rate for NOTL council is extremely low, survey finds
Niagara-on-the-Lake's 2022-26 town council.

If a new online poll is any barometer, Niagara-on-the-Lake residents aren’t happy with the way town council is performing. Not at all.

The Lake Report quietly launched an online survey last week, asking people how they felt about council’s performance halfway through the 2022-26 term.

There was only a QR code underneath a letter which had suggested we do a poll on how residents feel about a hotel planned for the former Parliament Oak property on King Street.

We also posted the story online Thursday.

The survey, hosted by SurveyMonkey, only allows one response per device, based on IP address, in an effort to prevent people from filling it out multiple times.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, 639 people took the time to fill out the survey — and the results aren’t positive for town council, and especially not for Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa and Deputy Lord Mayor Erwin Wiens.

Responding to a question about the overall satisfaction levels with council, 266 residents said they were extremely dissatisfied, another 168 said they were dissatisfied, five said they didn’t care, 50 said they were satisfied and 18 said they were extremely satisfied. Another 132 people skipped the question.

That means out of the 507 people who answered the question, 87 per cent are in some way dissatisfied with Niagara-on-the-Lake’s current leadership.

We also asked people to rate each councillor’s performance individually from 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely dissatisfied and 10 being extremely satisfied. The results showed people aren’t happy with Zalepa and Wiens in particular. The next highest disapproval ratings were Couns. Adriana Vizzari, Maria Mavridis and Wendy Cheropita.

Couns. Sandra O’Connor and Gary Burroughs had the highest approval ratings.

BREAKDOWN OF RESULTS

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa: 501 people answered the question about satisfaction and 292 gave him the lowest possible score, with 23 people rating him the highest possible score. In total, 86 per cent of respondents (430) rated him a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 14 per cent.

Deputy Lord Mayor Erwin Wiens: 499 people answered the question and 292 rated him the lowest possible score, with 25 people giving him the highest possible score. In total, 85 per cent of people (423) rated him a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 15 per cent.

Coun. Tim Balasiuk: 458 people answered the question and 60 rated him the lowest possible score, with 34 people giving him the highest possible score. In total, 56 per cent of people (258) rated him a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 44 per cent.

Coun. Gary Burroughs: 458 people answered the question and 60 rated him the lowest possible score, with 86 people giving him the highest possible score. In total, 39 per cent of people (190) rated him a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 61 per cent.

Coun. Wendy Cheropita: 489 people answered the question and 188 gave her the lowest possible score, with 13 people rating her the highest possible score. In total, 80 per cent of people (393) rated her a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 20 per cent.

Coun. Maria Mavridis: 483 people answered the question and 197 rated her the lowest possible score, with 12 people giving her the highest possible score. In total, 81 per cent of people (393) rated her a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 19 per cent

Coun. Sandra O’Connor: 482 people answered the question and 53 gave her the lowest possible score, with 127 people rating her the highest possible score. In total, 37 per cent of respondents (176) rated her a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 63 per cent.

Coun. Nick Ruller: 457 people answered the question and 55 rated him the lowest possible score, with 22 people giving him the highest possible score. In total, 57 per cent of people (259) rated him a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 43 per cent.

Coun. Adriana Vizzari: 458 people answered the question and 140 gave her the lowest possible score, with seven people rating her the highest possible score. In total, 82 per cent of people (374) rated her a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 18 per cent.

We also asked about regional Coun. Andrea Kaiser. For Kaiser, 455 people answered the question with 99 giving her the lowest possible score, with 13 people rating her the highest possible score. In total, 73 per cent of people (333) rated her a 5 or lower, for an approval rating of 27 per cent.

This chart shows the complete breakdown of votes as of June 25 at 10:43 a.m.

WHAT PEOPLE SAID

We asked people to leave brief comments to explain how they’re feeling with council at mid-term. There were 399 responses, and not all can be published in this story, but some of the top reasons for disapproval were council’s approval of hotels on King and Queen streets, “aggressive, bully-like and juvenile (eye-rolling)” behaviour during council from Zalepa and Wiens, not following the town’s official plan, lack of staff oversight and making decisions that will damage the character of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Here are some answers:

“I’m basing my comments only on a couple of situations currently happening in the town, and the impression I’m getting from some of the councillors is that these town meetings are for “show” only and that, somehow, the decisions have already been made. I was also very unimpressed with the unprofessional behaviour of Mayor Zalepa and councillor Weins recently … aggressive/bully-like and juvenile (eye-rolling). There are official plans in place to move this town forward (with, understandably, some expected tweeks here and there). However, it feels like these plans are viewed as vague “guidelines” that are easily trampled. The town has a look and feel and that is what sells it to the visiting public, but it appears that we are unconcerned with that and a chipping away at the very reason people come here to visit and or live.”

“I honestly believe this is the worst council we have ever had. Lived here 50 years and never experienced anything like this. We need more councillors for the residents and less for the developers.”

“They are not acting in the best interests of the town or the people they represent. They pander to developers in such a way that it’s sinister. It’s pointing to outright corruption.”

“Our PART-TIME Lord Mayor is working full-time with others to destroy NOTL. This council does not listen to the NOTL residents!”

“The lord mayor and deputy lord mayor are acting like they run the entire town and show no respect for their colleagues. Erwin Wiens is a bully and both have started to berate any other councillor who dares to disagree with them. Development is out of control in town and instead of being strategic about it, they are spending money to throw a party for Trisha Romance. I expected better governance from Gary Zalepa, who is now having hissy fits like a toddler when things don’t go his way. Also no news on Regional issues like avoiding a roundabout in St. Davids. Expected more of the new councillors too, many who have young kids, who should be using their roles to make connections with the DSBN to build a high school in NOTL. New councillors just need to speak up more. Already looking forward to election 2026!”

“I feel it is a hard-working council that inherited a lot of challenges before they could even begin to make positive changes.”

“Dissatisfied with councillors that were elected based upon pre-election promises, but now have done a 180 and are pandering to developers at the expense of the residents whose quality of life will be reduced and who will be subsidizing the cost of the infrastructure improvements required to support new developments in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

“Not listening to constituents. Not following the official plan. Too many close door meetings. They are not following what they said to get elected. First cousin developer and not recusing on his applications. Can’t be trusted. Wiens, Zalepa and Cheropita should be forced to step down.”

“Many councillors are definitely not voting as they said they would during run up to election. The character of our Town is being offered to the developers to do as they please for their own financial gains. Every bylaw change request is being supported by the planning staff and passed by council. The council has raised the white flag of surrender to the will of the OLT.”

“I like that this group of councillors is very diverse so they also vary in their opinions — this is democracy live! However, I don’t really like that when a request is presented that doesn’t quite meets the ‘rules,’ they just change the rules! If you’ve developed a plan then stick to it please!”

“I am concerned that the council is supporting developers against the wishes of the community by voting for two large hotels in Old Town. These developments are not in line with the official plan and are architectural outliers that will negatively impact the Old Town in many ways. These developments should be rejected by the town council. The mayor and the councillors who support him need to represent the wishes of the community rather than the developers.”

“They do not listen to the residents and kowtow to aggressive developers who are not following our official plan nor our bylaws. They appear to ignore our Old Town and it’s history.”

“There is clearly a ‘gang’ who vote together. They have an agenda. They are not out to represent the best interests of the town — only their own developer agenda. LM Gary Z is lazy. He admits he treats it as a part-time job, fobbing off stuff to staff that he should lead on. Betty Disero didn’t need a highly paid assistant, but she wasn’t working in real estate like Gary. Mr. Burroughs and Ms. O’Connor truly understand their constituents and what it means to govern responsibly.”

“Thought Councillor Cheropita’s comment that NOTL needs a five-star hotel was a slap in the face to the Vintage Inn group.”

“They’ve all given up on fighting/opposing egregious development projects in the town. They inherited some of it but the newer projects just seem to get more and more outrageous and detrimental to the town.”

“Not truly representing the residents that elected them.”

“The current council has no respect for the historical heritage of NOTL nor its residents. Once the charm of town is destroyed and NOTL is just like any other over developed town the golden goose is dead and there is no going back. WHY? Where is the vision for our town? We are fairly recent residents and have already witnessed so much change. NOTL will be a charmless town with Dairy Queen and their ilk downtown and ticky tacky houses and monstrous hotels everywhere. RIP NOTL if the current council and their backers prevail.”

“Mayor Zalepa told us before being elected that he would be a part time mayor. I’m not sure which part of the time he works for the people of NOTL! Did he take only a part of the raise Council voted themselves? This Council does not listen to their constituents, does not uphold the tenets of the Official Plan and Zoning Bylaws. Generally….a big disappointment. Those who voted for Zalepa, a realtor, who is totally conflicted in many Council decisions, are you satisfied with his poor performance?? Betty….are you listening? Come back, Betty.”

“Weins isn’t a cop anymore. He should stop acting like one. Dissent is responded to with vitriol particularly from the mayor and Weins. Mavridis is there seemingly for her family business interests: prove the public wrong on that (don’t worry, she won’t). O’Connor is a one truck pony who won’t stop talking about trees but lives in a condo so doesn’t have the responsibilities of tree ownership. Kudos to Burroughs and Bala for representing old NOTL (what’s left of it). Won’t be much left of town’s uniqueness in another generation at the rate we’re going. Hard to see a mayor from the real estate industry standing acting as a bulwark against ‘progress.’ ”

“Overall I am really disappointed in the performance of most of the councilors. They have broken promises, have short sighted perspectives and have provided disrespectful responses to the public that they represent.”

“The council is just ignoring the valid, urgent concerns of the majority of residents who are realistic in noting that what makes our town so desirable and attractive as a destination, is being sold off to meet unrealistic and inappropriate development in key areas of town that will be irreversibly impacted. The 5 star tourist will react by finding more desirable destinations to spend their money. Disappointed, disgusted, disillusioned and frankly fed up with their attitude and disrespect of fellow citizens.”

“Their interests are focused on promoting local developers with no concern for the wonderful heritage, architecture, quaintness, and community life. They are ready to forsake these aspects of our life in NOTL for the sake of the almighty dollar.”

“The mayor has no vision for the Town or leadership skills. Councillors shun citizens and do whatever they can to stifle their voice. Most councillors’ actions run counter to their election promises and that applies to the Mayor as well. They are unable to separate NIMBYism from legitimate concerns regarding the Town’s future viability. They show little strategic ability and no backbone when it comes to developers. They have created a free-for-all for developers and like to claim that their hands are tied or that they have to avoid litigation when, in truth, they simply aren’t able or willing to provide leadership or direction. This is probably the worst Lord Mayor and town council we have seen for some time. It is unfortunate given the significant issues that need to be addressed. NOTL is unique and highly attractive to businesses, developers and visitors. Council can be assertive in laying out the ground rules that will protect the Town’s future without concern that it will be abandoned by the business and developer communities. Council does not seem to share this positive view.”

“This council is destroying our town. Development is good, but thoughtless development ignoring the character of the town and its needs is irresponsible and short-sighted. We need affordable housing that fits the architectural character of the town. We don’t need another hotel in old town. Large scale hotels should be built closer to the highway and have easy access to all Niagara. And what happened to the official plan?”

“Honestly Gary Zalepa will, I hope, remain mayor for decades. But the why is important. He cares so deeply for NOTL that it shines through everything he does. He attends every meeting he can, every public event offered, he remembers names and details and he always, always cares. Not many mayors would be seen cheerily hauling ketchup and mustard refills at the Cherry Festival! And not many mayors get home late almost every day from work. We’re spoiled to have such a dedicated mayor who cares so deeply that he knocked on every door in the region when he was campaigning, and answered any question asked. He’s also been able to navigate the thorny issue of the Rand Estate with the delicacy of any expert negotiator. Not everyone is thrilled he isn’t blindly suing Solmar like the last mayor, but by being smart he’s saved us far more money!”

“Too many closed door decisions, not taking resident concerns seriously.”

“I was very careful in the last election to vote for those contenders who made promises to maintain the integrity of this small historical town. These same contenders who said they cared about residents and not just tourists and tourist dollars. Some I even spoke to privately and who vowed to protect the rights of the less affluent. Those same councillors I elected have broken every promise. It’s shameful.”

One disgruntled respondent, who voted 10 on satisfaction for Zalepa, Wiens, Cheropita, Mavridis and Vizzari — all of the voters who approved the Parliament Oak hotel — and voted 1 on satisfaction for the rest, except for a 5 for Kaiser, wrote: “Your paper is a rag mag. All you do is trash the same family and encourage the terrorist of the town to do the same. You have no dignity or compassion for your fellow man. Shame on you.”

A full list comments will be released Thursday.

 

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