As a former police officer, I know that at one time there were more than 350 police departments in Ontario. Now there are less than 50.
Most of those 350 departments were small, ineffective, poorly trained and rife with nepotism, corruption, favouritism and unprofessionalism.
They were governed by part-time politicians (known as police committees), who had no training in administration, law enforcement or otherwise and usually did what the police chief directed them to do, out of intimidation and ignorance.
After several scandals, miscarriages of justice, accounting discrepancies and public inquiries into these and other ongoing problems, the province’s solution was to amalgamate these small forces into larger departments, thus creating a more professional and accountable police service that was governed by police commissions comprised of full-time politicians, judges, lawyers and qualified citizens.
No police officer lost their job involuntarily, but a number thought it best to leave the new larger, professional forces of their own accord. Nor did anyone take a drop in pay, but many higher-ranking officers were demoted to a level that more matched their ability.
To break up the good ol' boy networks, mass transfers were initiated, so it was not a case of simply putting on a different uniform and going to work as usual. It was a whole new ballgame!
With the larger entities and thus, a larger pool of talent, came some exceptionally talented administrators who implemented clear procedures, strict promotional standards, comprehensive training systems, accountability, complaint procedures and cost-effectiveness.
Why this history lesson of policing in Ontario and why is this the first time I have ever written to a newspaper? Because of a recent interaction with Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake staff and an unanswered letter to every town councillor (except one who did reply), I have reluctantly concluded small town administrations, and in particular Niagara-on-the-Lake's, should go the way of the small police departments. And for a lot of the very same reasons.
Over the previous 10 years we have had to deal with town staff on four or five different occasions and were dumbstruck at their level of incompetence, inefficiency and unaccountability.
It is not this present town council’s fault alone. Previous councils have all known of the problems, but kept kicking the can down the road.
We are all aware that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, so hiring a new CAO is not the answer. We have had a few in the last while and for one reason or another, they all seem to do the NOTL Town Shuffle out the door, with a few holding on to Cash for Life winning tickets.
Who do you complain to when town staff, after being notified of a potentially life-threatening situation on town property, does nothing to rectify it for over three years?
Or, undermines town council’s authority and fabricates their own definitions for town bylaws, putting the onus on the citizen to lay their own charge?
Or, as we conservatively estimated, wastes over $100,000 cutting down trees that were the property owners’ responsibility, not the taxpayers'?
Or attempting to illegally enter residential buildings by way of threats and intimidation?
Further, how can anyone have any confidence in a staff that proposes a $150,000 pool bylaw enforcement unit when every other municipality in the civilized world has been using Google Earth (for free) to locate pools and hot tubs for the previous 18 years?
Sadly, as my wife and I found out, complaining to town staff is an effort in futility. They circle the wagons, become insulted and lash out at any suggestion of wrongdoing and impropriety (same thing happened with the small police departments, except you usually found yourself behind the pipes on a trumped-up charge). Town council is not in control and in all likelihood is afraid of and intimidated by town staff.
When the newly elected conservative government initially sent up a trial balloon for the amalgamation of municipalities within the Niagara Region, I was opposed to it. But we have seen our taxes going up, services becoming more dysfunctional and dwindling, we are picking expensive fights with developers, bylaws are so poorly written, they are virtually unenforceable, and town staff is blowing through money and appears to be accountable to no one.
Amateur hour has to end before our real estate values begin to take a hit!
It is my opinion that the citizens of Niagara-on-the-Lake must be proactive and form a committee to explore the best scenario for our town before the provincial government legislates a marriage that renders NOTL powerless.
The most popular and I think the most workable idea is to have Niagara-on-the-Lake amalgamate with Fort Erie and Niagara Falls for a whole host of reasons, with the most important one being a balance of power between the two smaller municipalities being equal to the larger municipality. I do not know all the complexities involved, so there may be better ideas.
The number of dedicated, talented and conscientious town employees are by far in the majority and will no doubt succeed beyond expectations if given a larger, more professionally managed and structured environment to work in.