Many local residents say they’re in the dark when it comes to their municipal council, with clear indications of a rift at town hall.

Within the last month, the Ignace council has had at least one meeting cancelled due to a lack of quorum, and communication from the township and members of council suggest there is a divide.

This new term of council represented sweeping changes for the municipality, as no incumbents were returned to their seats during last fall’s municipal election.

This week, the township issued a statement from council which referenced three members — Jodie Defeo, John Taddeo and Kim Baigrie — saying they “have stepped in and taken a stern position to protect and enforce their obligations to protect employees, ensure a safe and healthy working environment, and protect the rights of those individuals.”

“Ignace will remain consistent in its collective efforts to ensure democracy remains at the forefront of every decision it makes at Township Hall,” it stated. 

The statement also called for a closed session for all five members of council to initiate training by professionals about the role and responsibility of council. 

“Although, we all have our own personal opinions on different matters, we are a collective five votes to represent this entire community,” the statement reads. “We must decide by majority on how to move forward with initiatives and sometimes also make difficult decisions that inherently protect our rights and those who are employed by the Township.” 

When visited in Igance by Dougall Media reporters on Thursday, interim clerk Rhonda Smith said they township could not make any comments on advice of legal counsel.

Ignace Mayor Bill Gason, who did not respond to requests for an interview, had earlier addressed the situation in a Facebook post this week. 

“I do not believe that all councillors are doing their due diligence so they can make proper decisions that are in the best interest of the residents of this community,” Gascon said in the post. “Over the past months we have been moving forward and have the possibility to make positive change in our Township for opportunity and investment.”

In the statement, he also put out a call for residents to reach out to individual members of council. 

“I am asking councillors to reach out to me personally so we can work together and get back to the business at hand. If Councillors decide they do not want to reach out then I believe we are putting our community at great risk.”

In another post, Gascon said a council meeting scheduled for March 20 had been cancelled due to not having quorum. The municipal webiste noted that the meeting was cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Earlier this month, on March 10, provincial police responded to a call for service at the Ignace municipal office, but no charges were laid and no further information was provided.

These incidents and a deluge of discussion on social media has left residents concerned about not knowing what’s going on with the municipality.

“We’re all in a standstill right now. We’re all divided,” said Lorraine Inkster, who lives with her grandson in town. “We don’t know where to go or who to even turn to. Who’s going to listen to us?”

Donald Wagar, a retired post master, said there’s so many stories out there and residents don’t know whether half of them are true.

“I read Facebook every day and it’s interesting. All these these comments. But I’m just saying that this present council, they got to get back to the table. They were elected by the people. So they should not be avoiding meetings, unless there’s lawsuits involved or whatever,” he said.

“I don’t know. It’s just, everything’s up in the air right now, but we do need funding for a lot of things and the sooner they can get at it, the better.”

Naomi Peters said she tries to stay out of politics, and she doesn’t care who’s sitting at the table, but she just wants council to do its job.

“That’s my view as a taxpayer. They have a responsibility to the citizens of our community to make sure that they get this right,” said Peters, who is retired from a career in the mining industry.

“It makes me upset that that it’s dragging and I’m sure that the integrity officer that oversees this needs to be involved to make sure that happens and that those fail safes are put in place and followed rigorously.”

Peters said the situation creates tension within the community.

“It’s concerning because of that tension, it puts the people who are vulnerable at even more risk of feeling more isolated, I mean, we’re isolated as it is. So anything that our town can do to reduce that is, is commendable,” she said. “But when you have a council and a mayor that are fighting and that’s in-fighting, it really sets people on edge. They don’t want to engage. That’s what really hurts our town and hurts the progress of our town.

“I’m looking forward to having those people start demonstrating regardless of their political stripe, regardless of how they feel to put those aside and say this is the business of town that we are tasked with and move that forward. So I’m looking for that for that fight to be done and over with and move on.”

Joanne Armstrong, who works at a local childcare centre, said there is concern in the community, but she’s hopeful people will learn from it as they have in the past.

“I really feel Ignace is a great place to be and we all got to remember that as we’re moving forward,” Armstrong said. “I think as a town we’ve been through different times and things and we’ve always managed to move forward and I’m hoping this will happen again and everyone will realize that we all have to work for the betterment of the community.”

Jackie Smyk, whose late husband Dennis was the publisher of the now-closed Ignace Driftwood newspaper and was a mayor, said people have no idea what’s going on.

“The mayor and the council ran on accessibility. There has not been a public meeting that doesn’t go right into camera, so we’re not getting the answers at all,” she said. “Everybody doesn’t know what’s going on. They’re confused, you know, we got rid of one whole council because the public thought there was corruption and there wasn’t.”

She said for a while the town was putting out a monthly newsletter called the Bulletin. 

“But it’s gone now too,” she said. “And yeah, there’s a desperate need for communications.” 

All of this seems to be getting too much for Rene Nadeau, a small business owner in the community.

“I grew up here. I love my little town. The last council was, to me, going the wrong way. I really pushed for this new council to come in and obviously, it’s going the wrong way and I feel so bad. Put it this way, Monday night, I was almost in tears, barely slept,” he said, adding he’s considering selling his house and moving away.

“We’re all questioning, we’re crying for help here actually and nobody’s coming. I mean, don’t even know where to start for help.” 

His wife, Nikki, echoed those comments. 

“I don’t think it’s right. It’s not why we voted this council in. We were promised transparency and all of that,” she said.

By Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 31, 2023 at 13:48

This item reprinted with permission from   Thunder Bay Source   Thunder Bay, Ontario
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