By John Swartz
Orillia council may need a second wind for their 6 p.m. committee meeting Monday night because they will have had 3 hours of closed session beforehand.
There are 7 items on the closed meeting agenda. They have update reports on the garbage collection contract negotiations, a legal issue regarding 70 Front Street North, and the transit terminal study. They also have discussion on the temporary use by-law as it applies to Forest Avenue (at Lake Simcoe), a covenant regarding 74 Victoria Street, a lease at City Hall. and appointments to committees to discuss.
We can expect more information on those appointments when the public meeting begins, as is usually the case, and some of the closed session items are also on the public agenda for the evening.
Who Is On First?
When the committee begins, council has 10 items to deal with. Most interesting is the last report of the evening. As reported in SUNonline/Orillia two weeks ago, department alignments and reporting structures are changing. While the initial indication was it will take until the end of the year to shuffle everything, here we are with the first major move.
The Clerk’s, finance, IT and real estate departments are being rolled into a new corporate services/legal department. There are only two positions the Municipal Act dictates a municipality must have and those are the clerk and the treasurer. Traditionally the clerk is the head of administration and in Orillia’s case Gayle Jackson is formally the CAO/Clerk, as have the previous holders of the office been since Bruce Bayne. Jim Lang is the current treasurer.
The deputy clerk is not a required position, but most municipalities have one and they have all the powers of a clerk. Since the clerk is typically the head of administration and everyone reports to the head, functionally a deputy clerk maintains the department of clerk just as heads of other departments (parks, planning, etc.) do theirs.
Now however, the position of general manager of corporate services/legal is being created. Nothing in the report outlines whether such a manger will serve a function as a coordinator, or the reporting structure and authority of the current department heads is being changed.
The same report also calls for the creation of a director of business development, communications and strategic initiatives. The director title suggests a reporting structure position is being created, but the report does not say what happens to the existing directors of the various departments (economic development, communications, marketing, tourism and strategic initiatives) being reorganized.
It’s important to note, the new positions do not exist yet and the report is only asking for creation of interview panels and a process to hire. The target date to have candidates for council to consider is the March 23 meeting.
Interestingly, another report on the agenda relates to office space on the ground floor. It may, or may not, be tied to the closed session item on leasing at City Hall and hiring new staff. The report asks for permission to use main floor space and have a $50,000 budget for renovations. Tatham Engineering moved out of its first floor offices at the end of December. The space has been advertised as available, but it appears administration wants to use it. The report suggests current employees will be relocated, rather than installing offices for the new employees outlined above.
A discussion sure to take some time is a report back to council following a request to amend the vehicle for hire licensing by-law, specifically to remove the vulnerable sector screening (VSS) check requirement for taxi and transportation network company (e.g. Uber) drivers.
Ottawa and Windsor are the only municipalities in Ontario requiring a VSS when a driver is initially hired and only then (rather than annually). As SUNonline/Orillia outlined here, the VSS goes well beyond the standard Criminal Record Check and identifies anyone who has had any kind of contact with the legal system including those not convicted of any crime (though they may have been charged) or suspected of a crime (though they may have been eliminated from a suspect pool). The use of the VSS has been documented to ruin careers and lives of those who didn’t even know they were noted anywhere in police records (as can be the case for giving evidence, being interviewed or put on a suspect list).
The staff report ignores those points and is tying changes to another real problem, availability of taxis, usually in the late evening hours (which many downtown venues have been complaining about) and recommends not requiring VSS for drivers who would be working with companies like UBER, or for taxi drivers who do not carry anyone under the age of 18. A criminal record check is still required.
UBER made good on its promise not to be available in Orillia if VSSs were required, and the change in policy effectively would open up the City to service by Uber or other companies who, like Uber, do not allow transporting those under 18 unless accompanied by an adult. Taxis however, regularly transport children, so effectively taxi drivers will still have to go through the VSS process, even though the City is giving an out to them.
Also included for change is a 20% reduction in license fees, removing a prohibition for drivers who have certain Highway Traffic Act convictions, and changing requirements for proving safety checks twice a year.
The report also includes, as an option to changing the taxi by-law, Orillia Transit service have extend evening hours Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays all year.
A third option is to suspend administration and enforcement of the taxi by-law for two years. This would allow both taxis and Uber-like services to operate without having to fulfill any requirements of the existing by-law, to be followed up with a report in 2022 about the experience. Some councillors have asked previously why Orillia even bothers to regulate taxis, and this might be a step in that direction.
The argument for deregulation is the market already enforces standards of service (imagine the requirements to get insurance) and there are other laws to fill in any gaps (Highway Traffic Act, etc.). Not in the report is the consideration there are many commercial delivery vehicles on the road and businesses catering to children which do not face municipal regulation as taxis do.
The Rest of The Agenda
If council passes favorably, expect roads around the waterfront parks to be closed to traffic during the February 27 opening ceremonies for the Ontario Winter Games. There is also an afternoon reception at the Opera House and 20 parking spaces in Market Square lot will be reserved.
One of the more successful programs the City runs is the Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan The 2019 report shows 27 new residential units have been created and 41 new jobs will have been created (16 already filled). Staff is asking council to approve $240,000 for the 2020 grant program.
Development services is asking for approval to begin a design and cost estimate for a transit building at 66 Peter Street, the current home of the Orillia OPP. Three other sites were evaluated with the Peter Street site scoring higher on a number of criteria.