An ill wind blowing

By Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press
Crowds no longer come to the general store Joe Wood’s grandfather built 107 years ago.

Most of its products are gone too, the rural locale west of Strathroy too far from suppliers. Now, Wood is surrounded mainly by guns and ammo at the store.

Mayor David Bolton still stops by mornings to share gossip and drink a diet Pepsi. So Wood knows something about the kerfuffle at the township office of Adelaide-Metcalfe, a provincial creation that joined two tiny hamlets and farmland into a new municipality with only 3,000 people.

This week, more than 100 residents came to council — that’s 1 out of every 30 residents, akin to 12,000 Londoners showing up at city hall.

Some carried signs and shouted for Bolton to resign.

Others carried generations of ties to the area and spoke of their concerns diplomatically.

All were there to fight for democratic rights that in recent weeks have come under question:

  • Bolton twice phoned police to stop citizens from videotaping meetings. Police threatened an arrest the first time, but stayed out the second.
  • Deputy Mayor Adrian DeBruyn voted to set fees for wind turbine permits, even though his son has signed 32 leases with a wind company.
  • The township hired the mayor’s kids to shut off lights of a park and take away a few garbage bags.
  • The husband of the township’s administrator threatened a woman snapping his picture outside a private meeting between Suncor Energy, members of council and landowners who have signed leases for turbines.

Wood isn’t comfortable with the protests. He knew Bolton’s father, also a local politician, he respects the mayor and he doesn’t put much stock in the views of people who don’t own land in the township.

“Most of them are just renters,” he says of the protesters, “or they are getting on the bandwagon and trying to stir the pot.”

It’s not just that Wood knows every man, woman and child in the township — he also knows names of their parents and grandparents. It’s through that prism he sees the firecracker behind the videotaping — Esther Wrightman.

“Esther Wrightman — she’s Harvey and Irene’s daughter,” said Wood.

For a while things looked grim for Wrightman, a mother of two kids ages 6 and 9. Threatened with arrest by Ontario Provincial Police for taping council meetings, frightened by the confrontation with the administrator’s husband, she was nearly resigned to defeat as the mayor pushed to change a bylaw so that no citizens could videotape meetings.

The change would be sweeping. No one would be able, without the mayor’s blessing, to applaud, speak, use a cellphone, hold a sign or wear a messaged-button.

So Wrightman went to a council meeting this week with a video camera in her hand and a lump in her throat.

“I was prepared to be charged with trespassing,” she said.

But this time there was no call for police, not even when some in the crowd confronted Bolton and demanded he resign. A councillor had resigned a week earlier.

Removed from the proposed bylaw were the bans — all that was left was a mayor’s authority to enforce decorum, a power that’s there regardless.

Bolton explained the township had hired two of his kids because other options had fallen through and the work needed to be done.

There, by invitation, were provincial officials to explain rules for when council member should sit out votes and debates because of any conflicts of interest.

“It was unexpected. It felt good,” Wrightman said later.

The pressure of generations was brought to bear.

“All the farmers in the room knew (Bolton’s) father,” she said.

The councillor who resigned, Nick Stockman, didn’t return a phone message left with a family member. Also not returning a call was the clerk’s husband.

Bolton couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but last month told The Free Press his council was used to deliberating with no citizens attending its meetings — Wrightman’s camera had left some fearful of sounding stupid.

His defenders say he’s no power-hungry Boss Hog but rather a farmer unfamiliar with scrutiny at council for a township with just three churches, a post office and Wood’s general store.

E-mail jonathan.sher@sunmedia.ca, or follow JSheratLFPress on Twitter.

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Posted on June 9, 2012, in Adelaide Project- NextEra, Adelaide Project- Suncor, Ethics, Government, London Free Press, Municipalities, Napier Project, Take Action, White Pines Project. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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