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Video: Municipal Affairs minister can’t take over Vaughan, he says

VAUGHAN – Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson says he isn’t the one to fix city hall — you are.

“There’s this sense that I can go in and basically take over Vaughan and act as mayor,” Watson told an editorial board of reporters from Vaughan Today and its sister publications last week. “Well, I don’t have that authority and I suspect even if I did, I wouldn’t be riding on a white horse into Vaughan to take charge.”

Instead, he said, change for the better will come at the ballot box on Nov. 8, 2010.

Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson discussing the situation at the City of Vaughan.

“At the end of the day, those (council members) have to go back to the people and the people will decide whether they’re satisfied with their representation from the previous four years,” Watson said. “My hope is that once the election is over we can get back to stability and rowing the boat in the same direction so that Vaughan can continue to be a great community.”

He’s got a point there, city hall watchdog Gino Ruffolo concedes, but that just isn’t good enough: Council is a problem, he said, but it’s the unelected administration of the city that troubles him more.

“It’s pretty telling, the remark . . . that he’s not going to ride on a white horse into Vaughan,” Ruffolo said Tuesday. “That tells me that he actually thinks that there’s somebody needed on a white horse to come into Vaughan.

“If he believes there’s problems and not doing anything, well that’s a dereliction of duties.”

Ruffolo is one of a chorus in Vaughan that has asked Watson to step in and clear the cloud of controversy that hangs over city hall.

“There’s a core of about five to seven people that email me a lot, they tend to be the same people and it’s almost, some of them, on a weekly basis,” Watson said. “There’s a level of frustration amongst some of the citizens in Vaughan and I understand that frustration.

“I think some of the actions that we’ve seen and that have been written about by the council and the mayor are obviously disturbing to those taxpayers.”

Since the 2006 municipal election, city hall has been mired in controversy over election recounts, lawsuits, campaign finance audits, leaked emails, office expenses, awarding of city contracts and a failed council revolt to oust the mayor.

On May 8, West Woodbridge Homeowners Association president Nick Pinto launched an online petition aimed at convincing Watson to delve into Vaughan’s books back to 2003 and appoint a provincial administrator for the city if necessary.

Fifty-four people had signed the online petition by press time.

Watson said that members of his staff met with officials from the city in May.

“They’ve reported back to me that everything is in order from a financial management point of view,” he said.

Ruffolo remained unconvinced.

“The ministry’s staff is satisfied (but) what did they see to satisfy themselves that the financial circumstance of the city is stable and is well?” he asked. “Was it just a mere: ‘How are things going, (city manager Michael) DeAngelis? Good? Oh, okay.’ ”

Ruffolo recently sent a letter to Watson raising the issue of legal proceedings against the city that carry hefty potential price tags.

Watson steered clear of talking about matters before the courts.

“I would be ripped up and down in the legislature if I ever started meddling in the court process and offering gratuitous advice in the midst of a matter that’s before the courts,” he said. “I would lose my job and I’m not prepared to lose my job.”

And, Watson said, it’s not his role to micromanage an elected council.

“The public may not like some of the actions of their elected officials but if they’re illegal, there are processes in place to take care of those: through the police, through the courts,” he said. “If they’re unhappy with the goings-on of decisions, then again, that’s the great strength of democracy.”

In print: July 31, 2009, page 1.

Vaughan Today
In print: July 31, 2009, page 8
Online: July 30, 2009 [link]
Video: Edited by Philip Alves