Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Aurora Cultural Services Agreement Approved, Cllr Abel

By Cllr John Abel, Aurora ON. On January 22, 2013 during the Town of Aurora Council meeting Council unanimously voted to support the Final Report on the New Agreement for the Provision of Cultural Services at the Aurora Cultural Centre. Most comments around the table were positive. During the meeting, Cllr Abel delivered a speech that provided a brief history of the events and controversy that surrounded this new Aurora Cultural Services Agreement.

For those that have not been following the topic, it is clear that Council, Aurora Cultural Centre Board of Directors, Aurora’s cultural community and citizens all wanted to move forward on the subject of cultural services. We think that Cllr Abel’s speech is worth noting not just because it states his support of the new agreement, but because it provides some insight into how he made the decision to support the new Cultural Services Agreement. It was honest and risky and it didn’t burn bridges. It emphasized his constant intention to act in the best interest of the Town of Aurora and its culture. We asked Cllr Abel to share with us his written scriptthat he prepared for the meeting; he explained that it may not match word-for-word his actual speech since it was prepared as a guide only. That being said, we thought it would be appropriate to share the script with the Aurora community.

Cllr John Abel [Cultural Services Agreement, Town of Aurora Council Meeting, January 22, 2013]

The issue of the Cultural Services Agreement is one of the most controversial issues of this Town of Aurora Council’s term.

It has been one of the longest.

There’s a small group that passionately believe that there is no need to do anything with the current Cultural Services Agreement. That the Town of Aurora and councillors like me should butt out. That we’ll somehow destroy culture. This group believes that the Town should fund cultural services. The return on investment are plenty and obvious.

There’s another group, just as passionate that believe the Church Street School should be for the museum, only for the museum, and that the cultural services should be sent packing. That all community facilities and services be completely sustainable, at no cost whatsoever to the taxpayers. Period.

Both are extremes. There is little or no middle ground. Politics.

In my opinion, both are unsatisfactory. I believe most residences enjoy the Church Street School, the cultural services provided, unaware or don’t care to get involved in the politics. Waste and lack of oversight will not be tolerated, but some funding should be provided to invest in social infrastructure. Much like our many other facilities in the Town of Aurora, the library, arenas, soccer fields, senior centre, trails, parks and so on.

For these facilities, there is a funding model to sustain our facilities and programs for revenue recovery. Fees, memberships, fundraising that can minimize the cost burden to the taxpayers.

Taxes provide services like snow plowing, garbage pick up, policing, fire protection. Taxes provide for infrastructure; roads, sewers, facilities. Taxes also provide for social infrastructure, as we invest a small percentage of our resources in programs for our Youth, seniors, and culture. It’s what makes a community attractive. It’s provides a quality of life. It increases the value of our homes. Social infrastructure is very important and there is a Return On Investment. No question.

But all of this has to be manageable.

There is one underlying fact. We must as Council do what is best for our community. We cannot and must not waste taxpayers resources.

The museum, the Church Street School, the Aurora Historical Society and the Town share a long and storied relationship in this whole matter.

Residents brought their concerns about the museum frequently during our election campaign. I was committed on seeking a resolution. Initially, upon being elected, I spent a great deal of time researching and becoming familiar with all the background. There is so much to digest.

Cllr Buck knows in far greater detail far more than any of us at this table. I think I’ve put considerable time gaining information and still, I believe Cllr Buck has forgotten more than I will ever know.

I put forward the first motion to address the Cultural Services Agreement in June, 2011. That’s over 18 months ago.

I changed my first motion before it was voted on in Council, because the Aurora Cultural Centre Board of Directors voiced displeasure with the wording.

Instead of getting Staff’s feedback on the Cultural Services Agreement as was my goal, I unwittingly asked for an auditor’s report on compliance. That was a mistake.

Months later the auditors report came forward. The Aurora Cultural CentreBoard were in full compliance of the Cultural Services Agreement. The Board took the position they did not have to do anything with the Cultural Services Agreement.

I felt stymied. I was new at being a Councillor. Cllr Buck knew exactly what to do. She knew last term Council gave direction for the Town Solicitor to report on the Cultural Services Agreement. Nothing ever materialized.

And so Councillor Buck moved for a report from our Town Solicitor, Mr Warren Mar, to be undertaken on the Cultural Services Agreement. This report is now referred to as the Mar Report. This is very important.

The Mar report went clause by clause through the Cultural Services Agreement. Identified dozens of concerns and made recommendations for each. The problem with the Cultural Services Agreement was it did not serve the best interest of the Town.

Another Motion was brought forward.

This time I partnered with Cllr Pirri.

We worded this Motion very carefully, so not to offend anyone’s sensibilities.

Well, led by Cllr Ballard, the Board launched a furious campaign to quash the motion. By misleading supporters that the Culture Centre was about to be “ shuttered” a mass of upset artists descended upon Council to “Save The Cultural Centre”. Without going into detail, it was like a scene out of Steven Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches “Saving the Mariposa“.

It did intimidate some councillors, though as they amended the motion to appease the Board. In the end, even Cllr Ballard agreed to negotiate a new Cultural Services Agreement.

I was not convinced the Board would negotiate. I was of the opinion we should not have an agreement, and therefore no lease would be required. The Town could take on the facility and Town of Aurora Council could appoint its own Board.

However the next day the president of the Board Mr. Layton fired off a letter to Mayor Dawe stating 2 Councillors could be added to the Board, and no funds would be given to the Cultural Centre for 2013, until a budget request was presented to the Town of Aurora Council for consideration at Budget. Due to circumstances out of Mr. Layton’s control, neither of these concessions came to fruition.

I remained unconvinced.

Something happened. Two things actually.

The Board did come to the table to negotiate. They adopted the Mar report as a template and addressed each and every concern with the recommendations.

Recently The Board came to the Town of Aurora Council and presented an in depth strategic plan. There was a new executive.

One question still remains. Why do we need an agreement with a non-profit organization?

A non-profit organization can issue tax receipts to private individual donors. That is above and beyond sponsorships and other fundraising endeavors. This was not a huge priority under the last agreement’s funding model. But Mr Pulumbarit has convinced me that priorities have changed.

So I say to the Board, for that reason I will support the signing of a Cultural Services Agreement with this organization.

Quote this: My role is to serve the municipality, to make decisions in its best interest. To build bridges, through consensus taking. To collaborate and through cooperation to work for the community to make the right decisions.

This may not be the best for every single person, but I believe this new Cultural Services Agreement is in the best interest for the Town of Aurora and the taxpayers.

In closing Mr. Mayor, I would like to acknowledge Town of Aurora Council for giving the direction to renegotiate a new deal. I would like to thank the Staff and Board members on the ad hoc committee – Craig Mather, Bonnie Kraft and Frank Pulumbarit, and to you Mr. Mayor.

I recognize in October there was a significant change in the Aurora Cultural Centre Board of Director’s makeup. A new executive with a total of six departing Board Members.

I would like to publicly acknowledge their contributions and thanks for their dedicated countless volunteer hours given to the Aurora Cultural Centre and our community. To the past president of the Board Mr. Robert Layton, Vice-President Tracy Smith and the four other Board members that have just departed. And to all previous Founding Board Members. Thank you.

I will support this new Cultural Services Agreement.

Cllr John Abel [Cultural Services Agreement, Town of Aurora Council Meeting, January 22, 2013]

Anna Lozyk Romeo
Aurora, ON

[1] Aurora Cultural Services Agreement Comment by Cllr John Abel, Town of Aurora Council Meeting, January 22, 2013.


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