Posted below is a letter sent to Mayor Miller by a local resident who was at that meeting. Aside from being a fine example of the time and care many people have spent to send in their comments on the meeting, it is probably a much more accurate account of what happened last Thursday.
Dear Mayor Miller
I live in south Etobicoke, and last Wednesday I read a notice in the Etobicoke Guardian announcing a public meeting the following evening (June 5) concerning a proposed ice skating trail at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. I decided to attend. Last year, a projected skate boarding area in the park was met with such strong objections from the community that the idea was dropped so I was somewhat taken aback, and very interested in finding out more about the new plans.
When I arrived I found the meeting extremely well attended and there were several calls for more chairs as things were getting started. The skating trail issue is obviously something that resonates within our community. I was quite shocked when I noticed two police officers in body armour standing at the back of the room beside Mark Grimes, our Councillor. It was intimidating to say the least, and made me, along with many others, feel very uncomfortable. I have never encountered armoured police officers at any other community meeting, and can see no justification for their presence.
A company called LURA was hired to facilitate the meeting and sheets bearing the company logo were handed out at the door including the following information:
"AGENDA - Preliminary Concept Ice Trail - Community Consultation for Colonel Samuel Smith Park." "PURPOSE - To introduce an alternate preliminary concept for an ice trail for Colonel Samuel Smith Park;
To seek community feedback on the pros, cons, and changes to the preliminary concept; and To address questions about the ice trail from the community."
Mr. Steven O'Bright, Project Coordinator, Policy and Development, Parks Forestry and Recreation Division led the meeting. He began by discussing the proposed skating trail in glowing terms and invited questions and comments from the floor. It became abundantly clear almost immediately that practically every member of the community who was in attendance opposed the skating trail. Speakers were very polite and asked a series of reasonable questions - everyone of which was cavalierly deflected by Mr. O'Bright. He was particularly vague about questions of cost. He could not or would not give us the exact dollar amount needed to build the trail and he would not even suggest a "ballpark" figure for upkeep. He could not give specific answers as to supervision of the trail, possible public liability problems or insurance costs. He could not explain how the City can consider spending nearly two million dollars plus yet to be calculated operating expenses for a skating trail in a neighbourhood that already has more outdoor skating rinks than any other area of the city, particularly at a time when there is not enough money to keep existing rinks open, and user fees are being introduced and there is no money to pay for supervision of children's wading pools in summer, etc. etc.
Nor could Mr. O'Bright explain why our community, which for years has been begging for a much needed community centre for our young people, is being entirely ignored by an almost frantic drive to put some kind of skating facility in an out of the way park area where if someone has an accident there's a dam good chance no one will be around to help - but, just maybe, someone might be hanging around with no good at all in mind! Could it be because of the potential money to be made by the owner of the food and beverage concession proposed to open near the skating trail?
When concerns were raised about environmental problems arising from the skating trail, which would require a large concrete pad and Zamboni access in addition to tree removal and ground level changes, once again Mr. O'Bright simply brushed them aside offering no explanation but insisting that the effects would be minimal.
All in all however, next to Councillor Grimes, Mr. O'Bright's behaviour was exemplary. Near the end of the meeting, a gentleman asked Mr. Grimes to meet with him and the local environmental group he represents to discuss their concerns. At first Mr. Grimes, still flanked by the armoured police officers I mentioned earlier, just kept silent. There were more and more requests from those present for an answer. Finally Mr. Grimes mumbled: "No, not with your group." Some people didn't hear clearly and began to ask him to speak into the mike - which eventually he grudgingly did, stating that the community group was "too political". The group in question is the "Friends of Sam Smith Park".
Almost everyone from the community who spoke during the proceedings strongly opposed the skating trail. The few in support (you could pretty well count them on the fingers of one hand) mainly stressed that it was a wonderful idea because it would attract visitors to the area.
It was at this point that I had an opportunity speak. I suggested something which happens regularly at meetings, particularly if a contentious issue is being discussed - a show of hands for or against the proposal on the floor. You wouldn't believe how fast the microphone was taken away form me. Despite a strong show of support and much repeating of my suggestion throughout the room, we were told it was "inappropriate". I would have thought that at a meeting claiming to "seek community feedback" on a local project, a show of hands would have been welcomed.
Thursday evening's meeting has left me upset, angry and very disappointed in the City of Toronto government. I was offended to find that the meeting was run by an outside organization paid out of my tax dollars, rather than chaired by my Councillor who, for some strange reason, seemed to feel he needed visible police protection. Supposedly the meeting was to be an exercise in democracy government paying attention to the will of the people - but, sadly, it was more about intimidation and manipulation.
What is your position on Councillor Grimes' behaviour and on the skating trail in Colonel Sam Smith Park? If a Councillor were unwilling to speak with his or her constituents about legitimate community concerns, what would you suggest they do? Please reply. Your answers are important not only to me and my community, but to everyone who lives in the City of Toronto.
Moira Jubinville Etobicoke, Ontario.