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City backs away from hard stance with Downtown BIA, agrees to work more collaboratively

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh described the approach as ‘a handshake not a hammer’ 
downtown sudbury aerial photo
A debate that spanned two city council meetings wrapped up on July 7, with council voting in favour of a more collaborative approach to working with the Downtown Business Improvement Area.

The move comes in the wake of the auditor general's audit of the Downtown Sudbury BIA, which was presented in September 2019.

The auditor general recommended that, among other things, the city update its relevant bylaws to identify activities of the BIA that fall outside of the board of management's legislated mandate.

This audit came on the heels of some contentious times between the city and the BIA after council voted to move the downtown arena to the Kingsway Entertainment District, with the BIA joining a legal appeal to the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal as well as the Superior Court, which the BIA eventually pulled out of.

Under the Municipal Act BIAs may be established to oversee the improvement, beautification and maintenance of municipally owned land, buildings and structures in that business improvement area, and to promote the business improvement area as a business or shopping area.

Council has the authority under the Act to dissolve a BIA in their entirety under section 214 of the Act or change the board or continue with the boards as they exist now.

Rather than take the most extreme measures, staff recommended a pair of resolutions, the first will amend bylaws that will require both of the city's BIAs — Downtown and the Flour Mill — to report annually to city council.

The reports are to include a detailed review of the activities undertaken by the BIA during the previous year as well as a detailed overview of the BIA's proposed activities for the coming year, as well as how the activities align with and advance council’s strategic priorities and annual work plan.

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh introduced an amendment to the second resolution that she tabled as "a handshake instead of a hammer", rewording the resolution that initially directed staff to present a bylaw to amend the bylaws governing the BIA and to include requirements to govern the operation and activities of the Board of Management.

Instead, McIntosh tabled an amendment that instructed the City of Greater Sudbury to work collaboratively with the Boards of Management to develop a memorandum of understanding that would include requirements to govern the operation and activities of the boards.

Further, McIntosh's amendment instructed the city's director of economic development, Meredith Armstrong, be authorized to execute the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the city.

Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland is the city's representative on the Downtown BIA board of management and thanked McIntosh for her amendment.

"I think that this is a wonderful amendment that looks at the more collegial path forward between the city of Greater Sudbury and at least the Downtown BIA," said McCausland. 

"There's been some really great work done in the past year. We've worked together on a bylaw pilot to look at enhancing security in our downtown; we've looked at enhancing street lighting across the downtown in a collaborative work between the city of Greater Sudbury staff and funded partially from the BIA. 

“This is just the beginning. A memorandum of understanding will allow us to co-define this relationship and this will help us make sure that everything is clear about the relationship and ensure we're working together and that there's clear paths to work together."

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc wasn't so sunny on the amendment, unable to look past the history between the BIA and the city, specifically the recent past.

"I won't be supporting this amendment because of the past history with the BIA," said Leduc. "Putting money aside to take us to Superior Court, to support an individual that has delayed the process of moving this city forward, so for that reason I won't support this. As the auditor general pointed out, resolution two is what he first recommended and I think that's what we as council have to go by."

Al Sizer, the councillor for Ward 8, admitted he had struggled with the original recommendation that would all but muzzle the BIA when it came to questioning the decisions of city council.

"I struggled with this right up until this afternoon. I had a hard time tailing or silencing the people's right to question our decisions. Sure it left a sour taste in my mouth when the original news was there that they were part of the action to bring us to court, but I'm glad that Coun. McIntosh brought this forward because I didn't want them to lose that ability. We live in a democracy and they have to have the ability to exercise their right," said Sizer.

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti echoed Sizer's comments, stating that "anybody has the right to appeal any decision."

Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo weighed in from both sides of the debate, recognizing the recent successes of the relationship between the Downtown BIA and the city, while adding a note of caution that the city be aware of friction that has occurred in the past.

"The 13 of us sitting around this table are first elected by our constituents in our ward, not by a BIA and we must first owe a duty to the people who elected us and have the whole city's best interest at heart," said Jakubo.

"BIAs will change over time … and we have the history of how one BIA morphed into a being that it is not designed to be. It is not designed to oppose and bring city council and the city to a Superior Court hearing,” the Ward 7 councillor said. “I fully want to recognize that the BIA did back away from that and I want to recognize the collaborative effort that has seemed to take hold in the last little while, but that's not to mean that it couldn't slip back. 

“I really need to be sure, whether you want it to be a bylaw or a memorandum of understanding, and there does need to be some conflict resolution built into this memorandum of understanding because we can't go back to where we were two years ago, it's simply unacceptable."

Full report can be read here.

Matt Durnan

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