Sundridge councillor quits – blames Strong council's behaviour for his decision

·6 min read

With only months to go before October's municipal elections, Steve Hicks has quit as a councillor with the Village of Sundridge.

Hicks cites ongoing difficulties he's had with the Township of Strong council involving two committees that fall under a shared services agreement between both municipalities.

The former councillor told The Nugget the two committees are the medical centre committee and the fire board committee, which Hicks both chaired.

Hicks said when people sit on a municipal council “there are expectations on how you need to act and communicate.”

“Strong council has become very good at obstructing and obfuscating,” Hicks said.

“The fight I need to have with them, can't be as a councillor. For me to say what I need to say, I can't do it as a representative of the municipality of Sundridge.”

Hicks claims Strong council deals with issues by “just saying no” and “refuses to hear information even when it's new.”

Hicks says when Strong refuses to move forward on issues, it impacts Sundridge and in some cases the Township of Joly which also shares some services with the other two municipalities.

Hicks says the fire board committee is a perfect example of trying to move forward on issues.

The fire board is made up of two Sundridge councillors and two councillors from Strong.

Hicks says when the members of the fire board agree on a matter and take it back to the respective councils for ratification, Sundridge council approves the matter but Strong council defeats it.

Hicks claims this has happened numerous times and the vote is a fairly consistent 3-2 decision.

He says what’s more, of the two Strong representatives on the fire board, Hicks has seen a pattern where one member continues to support a fire board resolution at council but the other votes against it.

“So at the fire board meetings the Strong representatives are either silent or they agree,” Hicks said.

“But when it goes back to the Strong council they do a complete about face on what they said they were going to do and it gets voted down.”

Hicks says the fire budget is an example of this.

He says first there’s an agreement at the fire board level on the numbers but when Strong council votes against it, the proposed budget goes back to the board “and we keep shrinking the numbers until they are small enough that (Strong council) agrees to them.”

Hicks adds this ongoing approach to the budget is a concern for him because he believes it impacts the volunteer fire department's ability “to properly look after the service and the residents.”

Hicks says Fire Chief Andrew Torrance is the only paid member of the fire service and he is on call 24 hours a day every day.

Hicks said whenever Torrance is scheduled to be away it’s a juggling act to see who can step in and replace him because all the other volunteers have full-time jobs.

Hicks said sometime back Sundridge council tried to alleviate this by suggesting the creation of a full-time Fire Prevention Officer (FPO) and for the first year the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation would have paid for a portion of the FPO's salary.

Hicks said the Strong council opposed this and when Sundridge tried hiring the FPO on its own and paying the full municipal share, it was blocked because of the fire services agreement both municipalities share.

Hicks says Sundridge council has tried numerous times to update the fire board's terms of reference under the shared services agreement but those attempts are consistently delayed because he says Strong council “refuses to discuss this.”

Hicks also said the numbers show that Strong accounts for two to three times more fire calls than Sundridge does.

Hicks says the terms of reference aren't as bad with the medical committee because each municipality has two members on the board including Joly.

He says the terms state as long as two of the three councils on the committee agree on an issue, then it can move forward.

But Hicks says the Strong council at times makes decisions knowing it's counter to what the two local doctors want.

He says the most recent case involved Strong council debating to align itself with the Nipissing Wellness Ontario Health Team rather than the Muskoka and Area Ontario Health Team.

He says there was already an agreement among the Almaguin communities who belong to the Almaguin Highlands Health Council to join up with the Muskoka and Area OHT. Hicks said somehow Strong got the impression that being part of the Muskoka team would prevent its residents from accessing the provincial government's Northern Ontario Travel Grant.

He said this is not the case and Strong residents would still be able to tap into the grant for medical necessary travel.

Hicks said the AHHC advised Strong council not to pursue admission to the Nipissing group.

The Nugget contacted Strong Mayor Kelly Elik to comment on Hicks’ allegations.

“I don't believe in bashing,” Elik told The Nugget in a phone interview.

“That’s not productive and we have to work together and get along. I don't want to add fuel to the fire.”

Elik said on the matter of the health teams it was never Strong’s intention to upset the local doctors.

“We were just considering another option,” she said, adding that Strong will remain with the Muskoka and Area OHT.

Elik added regarding the claims Hicks made overall, she believed it was best to remain quiet on the matter because nothing was accomplished in dealing with his opinions on a point-by-point basis.

Elik did say that when members of the Strong council sit on the various committees, they bring resolutions back to the council that they believe are best for the constituents.

She adds not everyone is going to agree all the time “but we have to get along.”

Sundridge council accepted Hicks' resignation.

Council opted to fill the vacant council seat and interested people had until June 1 to send a letter of interest to the town hall.

As for Hicks, he says he enjoyed his time on council.

This was his first term.

But the public may not have seen the end of Hicks' involvement with municipal politics.

Hicks told the Nugget it wasn't his intention to quit council and then run again for a Sundridge seat this fall.

“I think that would make me look like an idiot,” he said.

But in making the claims he’s made, Hicks hopes area residents are watching and realize that there is something wrong with the system.

With that said, Hicks said if someone started a petition asking him to run in the October election and the petition gets 500 names then that’s a game changer.

Hicks said if that many residents are ready to sign a petition, it tells him many people are watching what's going on, are concerned about curre

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget

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