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OPINION: Kiwanis ball field - transparency?

Elliot Lake city council is poised to decide tomorrow, to remove a ball field important to a youth recreation program serving over 200 local youth

Yup. It’s the stuff of a movie script: A small city council with a reputation of being the ‘business boys’ decides to take a well-used ball field away from the ‘little guy citizens’ to build a pump track.

With no plausible explanation from council, I’m just gobsmacked at how blatantly wrong this looks.

A council explanation?

Yesterday Elliot Lakers were informed that club reps were given a reason during a closed-door meeting on Friday. We’re informed the meeting was held with three members of council and the interim CAO.

But when ELT asked the council members and interim CAO to verify the information given to the club, well, ‘mum’s the word.’ And then other information came to light as we waited for their response that didn't arrive.

“Why does it feel like this has been a done deal from the beginning?”

I’ve been following this since it first came into public view at a rec and culture committee meeting almost a year ago, March 6, 2023.

And from that meeting until now, I’ve had the same nagging question that ball club spokesperson, Stephanie MacLeod gave voice to in the council chamber last week as she asked, “Why does it feel like this has been a done deal from the beginning?”

A year ago

Let’s go back to March 6, 2023, where it all began for the public.

The Director of Recreation and Culture brought a staff report to the committee. Her report began, “So, basically, we have a memorial skate park right now located at Kiwanis Park, and it’s just in need of renovation. There’s some safety concerns, lots of liability concerns, and the condition of the court itself that it’s placed on in the tennis court is not in good condition. And, so, there’s just a need to do something about that park.”

“Basically, it all revolves around the tennis court location that it's in, and that there's just an opportunity to get corporate funding right now. And we just need direction on if this is something that this park should be.”

After the rec director’s report, the committee chair, Councillor Rick Bull, read from a statement expressing his disappointment that a memorial park had come into such disrepair.

“It's basically my backyard.”

Councillor Charles Flintoff spoke next. “I have firsthand knowledge of that park. When it was first built- it's in my backyard. It was used, and it was skateboarders, and it was families, and it was fantastic. In the last few years. I hate to say it, it's just a hangout.”

At a council meeting a week later, Flintoff repeated the location, “It's basically my backyard.”

And then there’s the matter of pickleball courts.

The rec director pointed out that if the former tennis court is not used as a skate park, it could be used for pickleball courts. Although there was no funding for the estimated $250,000 cost, that suggestion too, found favour.

Flintoff: “I see the popularity of pickleball. We have to share it with our Elliot Lake tennis club. We give up a court two or three times a week.”

Last week - some reassurance

Last week the rec director provided some unsolicited reassurance. A question about a location change brought two answers. One question hadn't been asked.

Councillor Luc Morrissette asked, "Have we asked the question to BHP: If we find another location, would they still support us with that $250,000 grant?"

The rec director responded: "I can. We've had some discussions. That was definitely part of the application process, was part of the location ensuring that it wasn't benefiting any member of council, or there's no conflicts there, so we could reach out and ask their committee to review that. But we also don't want to, um, we would have to have that conversation with them to see."

This needs a fully transparent and accountable process.

And that casts no dispersion on anyone. It's just that Elliot Lake taxpayers know all too well, the high cost that can come from even the appearance of anything less.

This needs a fully transparent and accountable process

Here are ten questions the process should answer:

1. Why would the director of recreation not recommend an option that increases recreational infrastructure rather than diminish what is already working well?

2. Has the project been properly considered by the accessibility committee? What were their recommendations?

3. What is the cost to install lighting at Burley One? Kiwanis already has lights.

4. Where did the idea of a pump track come from? Did someone or a group of people approach council or staff to ask for it? The pump track idea has few if any detractors, but for transparency and accountability, this should be known.

5. Why are we taking away a low-cost recreation opportunity to replace it with one that’s higher cost? Some families can’t afford this and skating around on “an old pair of inline roller blades” can be humiliating to a youth whose friends are riding past on $500 to $1,000 pump track bikes. It seems like there hasn't been much consideration for cash-strapped working families.

6. What was the competition process for the contract? The proposed contract is with the same proponent whose marketing information was the only marketing information supplied to the committee at the first committee meeting.

7. Is the project subcontracted? If yes, is that our best value? A Google Street view of the contractor’s business address is a house in a residential neighbourhood.

8. What happened to the discount? On March 12, the rec director described an upper limit of $350k. On March 27, the City of Elliot Lake joined a buying group. One benefit of joining the group is a 7% discount. The contract is still for $350k. It notes the discount is included. Please explain.

9. Could the old Rio Den location be used? The Rio Den structure makes it unsuitable for use other than storage. Now that the museum archives are moving from an environmentally safe room in that building, could the structure be taken down and the pump track located there?

10. Why has the ball club still not been given its say? This should probably be question #1.

Citizens of Elliot Lake

Tomorrow, the citizens of Elliot Lake can show the council they care about the youth of Elliot Lake - and their own future - by filling the public gallery.

Members of the public who wish to speak to council about any matter on the agenda must register with the clerk by noon on Monday for an up-to two-minute speaking opportunity. Email the clerk at: [email protected]

Council Meeting – Monday, Feb. 12 - 7 p.m. at City Hall. Open to the public.


Stephen Calverley

About the Author: Stephen Calverley

Stephen loves the outdoors and municipal life. He writes to inform readers and encourage citizen participation.
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