Jarvis: Who do they think they are?

Anne Jarvis, The Windsor Star

They’re not elected.

They’re volunteers.

They rarely even meet.

Yet Windsor’s property standards committee just defied city council, an established bylaw and a Superior Court judge and told the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge that it can demolish a swath of the historic west end.

Who the heck do these committee members think they are?

Council’s position on the 114 houses owned by the bridge has never changed.

The city will not allow the bridge to demolish the houses because it doesn’t want a massive truck plaza or a new, six-lane twin span in the middle of the neighbourhood. It passed a demolition control bylaw to protect historic Sandwich.

And when the bridge sued the city, the ruling by Justice Richard Gates was unqualified. The city’s job is to protect the community’s interest, and the bridge is not acting in the community’s interest.

But the committee, all of four people who are supposed to handle appeals of city orders to fix things like broken eavestroughs, turned around and told the bridge Monday it can demolish the 69 houses that don’t have heritage designations. It also deferred the city’s orders to repair the rest.

Not only that, vice-chairman John Middleton had the gall to introduce a motion to award the bridge the cost of its appeal over the orders. Astoundingly, he claimed that it’s the city, not the bridge, that has acted in bad faith by allowing the houses to rot before ordering the bridge to repair them.

Has he been living under a rock? Or has he been co-opted by the bridge?

This was a bizarre and outrageous circus, I’m told.

“It was very clear two members (of the committee, Bill Van Wyck and Mark Stephen) did not understand what was going on,” said Coun. Ron Jones, who was in the audience. “After they had already voted (to demolish the houses), they asked, ‘What are we voting on?’”

And get this: “Lawyers for the CTC (Canadian Transit Company, which owns the Canadian half of the bridge) were helping in the framing of the motion,” Jones said.

A bridge lawyer said he was happy to help the committee formulate a motion — if that was acceptable to the committee, confirmed Coun. Drew Dilkens, who was also in the audience.

Yeah, happy to help. That’s the Ambassador Bridge.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he (Middleton) was reading from somebody else’s playbook,” Jones ventured.

Whose?

“Who else would have an interest?” he replied.

Mayor Eddie Francis didn’t mince words.

“It’s clear they (the committee members) were influenced by the Ambassador Bridge,” he said. “The Ambassador Bridge had a hand in it.”

Middleton refused to comment Tuesday.

“I think it’s highly inappropriate to make a comment to the press as this committee is quasi-judicial. I think it’s highly inappropriate even for a reporter to call me,” he said, mistaking himself for the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

He suggested I go to the committee’s next meeting, and the chairman would rule whether or not I can ask a question. The committee meets two or three times a year.

The Superior Court of Justice addressed the same issues in the bridge’s lawsuit against the city.  Jones sat there Monday wondering, “Why are they discussing these things?”

Not only that, confusion reigned, he said. It was like a “free-for-all.”

“They (the committee) were totally out of control,” he said. “People in the audience were saying, ‘This is a circus.’ As far as I’m concerned, it was an embarrassment.”

Dilkens, too, watched, disbelieving.

“It was incomprehensible,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to describe it.”

Middleton, who owns ABC Signs, introduced the motions and dominated the meeting. How did a guy like him get on this committee? He’s suing the city after he was kicked off the crime prevention committee in 2008. It’s alleged he bullied and belittled municipal employees for several months, violating the municipality’s workplace violence and harassment policy. It was the first time council had ever removed a citizen volunteer from a committee. He’s suing for $1 million for loss of reputation and business.

Middleton was also vice-chairman of the property standards committee at that time. Incredibly, he was reappointed by council again in 2010.

“How the heck did he get back on?” Dilkens asked.

That’s a good question, councillor.

Dilkens said he doesn’t remember seeing Middleton’s name when the committees were established.

“Had I seen it,” he said, “it would have been a red flag. Let’s make sure we’re getting the right candidates.”

By the way, this committee differs from most council committees in one very significant way: it doesn’t just make recommendations to council. Its decisions are final. If the city disagrees with its decisions, it has to appeal to the Superior Court of Justice. You want to pick the members of this committee carefully.

But Middleton alone wasn’t responsible for what happened Monday. The motions were passed unanimously. Where were chairman Jim Evans and committee members Van Wyck and Stephen? Not saying much.

The bridge contingent must be laughing so hard they’re crying. After all this, could it really be so easy? Oh, the irony.

The Three Stooges? More like The Four Stooges. Except now the city has to fight the same issue in the same court all over again. It cost $2 million the first time. And if the court upholds the committee’s decision, but council refuses to grant the demolition permit, it could end up at the Ontario Municipal Board. The only sure thing is that it will be long, it will be expensive, and those houses won’t be fixed.