‘We must speak with one voice’ is just another way to say ‘you must be silenced.’

The politics of the City of Windsor is in a dismal state. In Windsor, it is not good enough for the status quo to keeping on winning. Those who voice criticism or exercise their legal right to challenge decisions must be silenced so that the city can speak in a united voice.

Those who suggest that it is essential that we need to speak with only one voice are not those opting to take a vow of silence. They are those already speaking and don’t want anyone else to interrupt. We should be deeply concerned that the mayor and some of our city counselors repeatedly choose to try to gag the voices of residents elected to speak to and work for our interests.

Last year, the Integrity Commissioner stated that Councillor Rino Bortolin publicly made a false remark and he was rebuked by City Council for criticizing City Council decisions, in contravention to 16.4 of the Code of Conduct [pdf] that the City of Windsor revised in 2014.

(Council’s interpretation of the Code of Conduct is being challenged through the process of Judicial Review. It is absolutely normal and necessary that the law allow for decisions to be challenged. That is how our legal system works.)

This year, the Mayor held a press conference and made the false remark that Windsor BIAs cannot use their funds “to fund a third-party appeal of a city decision” for their own interests. When the BIAs being targeted sought legal counsel they found precedent from other BIAs in the province that proved the Mayor wrong. Eventually the matter was resolved informally.

However, when the budget approval of the Windsor BIAs were brought to council, Councillor Irek Kusmierczyk asked to amend a forthcoming report from the City Solicitor on BIA governance so that it would include the possibility of bylaw language from the City of Toronto that states that BIAs cannot take a position that contravenes the decisions of City Council.

While it may not be possible that this sort of restriction on language can be adopted as the City of Toronto has powers, outlined in the Toronto Act, that are greater than the other 443 municipalities of the province, whose governance is described in the Municipal Act, it is still shameful that Kusmierczyk is pursuing legal language to curtail the activities of concerned business owners and operators in the City of Windsor. It also feels strangely out of character that he is seeking to eliminate the speech of entrepreneurs while simultaneously being employed as Director of Partnerships at WETech Alliance whose purpose is to develop new and existing businesses in the Windsor Essex region.

And yet, despite the fact that the city is only supposed to act as the conduit by which BIAs can receive and distribute the levee funding of all the businesses in the designated area, the Windsor City Council has a history of over-stepping their responsibility of overseeing the budgets of our local BIAs. Last year the previous Windsor City Council threw away hundreds of hours of labour, tens of thousands of dollars, and extinguished much goodwill when it refused to fund a streetscaping project of the Wyandotte Town Centre that had been in the works since 2013. The reasons given why the project could not go forward were flimsy at best. Perhaps the BIA’s plan would interfere with the mayor’s visions for districts in the city. According to reporting, the Wyanotte Town Centre’s BIA’s members wanted their area to be marketed as a World Marketplace whereas the mayor wants it to be districted as Middle Eastern.

Why is the mayor’s office setting up a separate system to invest in various areas of the city to create themed districts when BIAs already exist to do this work? Don’t the people who work and invest in these neighbourhoods have a better understanding of what their needs are? I can think of no better reason why the mayor’s office involvement in theming neighbourhoods should be minimized than the fact that the mayor wants to add ‘Asian’ flair (presumably pagodas and dragon gates) to the other end of Wyandotte Street and call it Asia Town. As someone of Asian flair, I find this proposal ahistoric, cartoonish, and othering.

It is very telling that when the mayor called a press conference to threaten three Windsor BIAs with dissolution, he referred to both a silent majority and a loud minority.

The mayor and some of our city councilors would rather silence the hundreds of entrepreneurs and business people who volunteer their time and contribute their hard earned money to make Windsor a more attractive place to shop, work, and live, rather than allow BIAs to act independently of the city, as they were intended to by law. They would rather curb all future speech of BIAs because they take issue with the BIAs in the present, who are supporting legal action that is in the interest of their membership.

And that might happen, unless we speak up.

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