Norfolk mayor brought 'sh-t sandwich' picture to meeting with provincial minister
Warning: This story has language some might find offensive
Norfolk County's mayor says she was being humorous when she showed Ontario's municipal affairs minister a photo of a "shit sandwich" in a meeting, while the local Tory MPP says it was inappropriate and disrespectful.
Kristal Chopp, Norfolk's plain-spoken and sometimes controversial mayor, met with Minister Steve Clark at a Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) last month.
Chopp showed the photo to "make a point about Norfolk's poor financial situation," the county said in a statement, and the difficult budget decisions council had to make.
"The minister and mayor have a good relationship, and it was meant as a humorous way to make the point."
Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, who wasn't at the meeting, said he isn't impressed.
"That's not how we do business in Norfolk County," he said.
Barrett said he's chaired multiple meetings between ministers and municipal delegations at ROMA. They're all "conducted in a very business-like, respectful and time efficient way," with municipalities often having five or 10 minutes to make their cases.
As for whether it impacts Norfolk's relationship with the province, "of course it does," he said. "You don't bite the hand that feeds you. That's pretty simple."
Norfolk council has made some tough decisions around its 2020 budget. Previous councils, Chopp has said, mismanaged resources and depleted reserves. From 2015 to 2018, the county says, Norfolk's expenses increased an average of $6.2 million per year, and its revenues are only increasing about $4.4 million per year.
Council voted for an 8.4 per cent tax increase on the average home, as well as cutting about 22 staff positions, and $210,000 from its tourism and economic development department. It also wants to sell off some of its own land.
Council also voted to close a pioneer museum in Teeterville. On Feb. 6, the county closed the Norfolk Arts Centre (NAC), a gallery at the Lynnwood national historic site in Simcoe, and is offering the site to a volunteer board. The NAC art, the county says, will be moved to the nearby Eva Brook Donly site. The museum at the Eva Brook Donly site will close and its artifacts will be distributed to other museums.
Council also closed an ice surface at the Simcoe recreation centre, and will look for community groups to run its five arenas. If at least one viable group isn't found, another arena will close in September. The facilities, the county says, have millions in required repairs.
Some citizens support council and say the cuts need to happen, while others are upset, particularly in Norfolk's west end.
'Please find another way'
"Please find another way," said Wanda Backus-Kelly in a letter to council Tuesday.
She would be willing to pay higher taxes, she said, "if those services help youth to be involved in sport and will go toward preserving the rich stories and history of historic Norfolk County."
Barrett said his office has received numerous phone calls about the decisions. He's directing people to Clark's ministry and the Ontario ombudsman. The latter wouldn't say Tuesday whether it's fielded requests.
Barrett says he doesn't intervene in council decisions. It does bother him, though, that people are upset.
"I just think of the way people in Norfolk County operate," he said. "We have a certain way of interacting with people and doing business. [And] we certainly cherish our heritage and culture."
"I'll just do whatever I can to try and make things better."
At a council meeting Tuesday, Chopp said Barrett has been publicly critical. She introduced a notice of motion — meaning it will be debated at the next council meeting — that she meet with Clark to clarify in light of Barrett's office directing people to the province.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement that it's "aware of the recent staffing changes and municipal financial and budget discussions at Norfolk County."
"The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing had a meeting with a Norfolk County municipal delegation at the 2020 ROMA conference where the mayor raised a number of matters related to the county's budget deliberations."
"Ministry staff will continue to monitor the situation and provide advice to municipal staff at Norfolk County as requested."