Isn’t this where we came in?

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Hudson’s public works crew scrambles to close off part of Cameron after discovering the culvert draining Brookside has collapsed. The full extent of the damage isn’t known.

Today, Friday, at mid-afternoon, Hudson’s blue collar crew was scrambling to block off part of Cameron after discovering part of the shoulder had collapsed into the culvert that drains the pond opposite what used to be Pine Lake.

Closer inspection revealed a two-foot hole in the the concrete culvert.

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Water from Black Brook is visible rushing through the culvert under Cameron.

As of 3 p.m. the crew had reduced Cameron to a single lane, forcing traffic to alternate. A traffic light has been set up.

The culvert collapse is the latest development in the four-year saga that began shortly after this administration took power. Sometime over the 2013 winter, water began flowing under the Pine Lake dam. By this time that spring, the Viviry had undercut the dam, causing it to slump and threatening to wash both it and Cameron downstream.

The town dumped a few truckloads of stone to stabilize the dam (and placate an angry Pine Lake resident) while the three-year debate got moving to determine what should be done. Two surveys and an advisory committee recommendations later, the town is no closer to a solution than it was when the dam break was discovered.

Last week, the mayor told a local paper the environment ministry no longer considers Pine Lake a lake. It’s now a wetland, with a whole new set of rules regarding what can be done.

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Pine Lake is back, at least for now. Shows we need a retention basin.

Ironically, Pine Lake is back to being a lake after several days of rain and a fast melt in the Viviry watershed. As of this afternoon, water is pouring over the dam for the first time in months as well as underneath it. The possibility that the dam could be washed out was what brought public works to check on it regularly.

Among the proposed solutions, this was the closest to what was there before and would satisfy the environment ministry’s requirements that less than half the current lakebed could be dredged. Council chose to do what it has done for the past four years.

The Pine Lake dam fiasco has become a hallmark of the Prévost administration’s inability to get things done. A consultant’s study concluded that the dam could not stay the way it was and needed remediation, replacement or removal, with costs ranging from $200,000 to $600,000. Another expert’s report concluded the town needs a retention basin to buffer the growing annual volume of water heading into Hudson from upstream. Pine Lake residents threatened lawsuits. A citizens’ advisory committee proposed several scenarios. One of the least expensive was the proposal above. Why wasn’t it acted upon? Ask the mayor and council.

This is where we came in, folks. The current council spent four years and something like $100,000 to arrive at today’s sorry mess. If anyone on council has re-election aspirations, they’ll have to explain this abysmal failure to prioritize.

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Come Hell or high water

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April 3, 1974: The late Percy Cregan filling his  oil truck at the Wilson C. depot on Halcro, where the Jack Layton Park parking lot is now. (Hudson Gazette archives photo courtesy Rod Hodgson)

There’s nothing like a strong spring flood on the Ottawa to clean things up and expose weaknesses. This year’s melt is stronger than it’s been in a while, with every river, creek and stream between here and Lake Timiskaming draining meltwater from the Laurentian Shield to the Ottawa’s intersection with the St. Lawrence. The Ottawa’s flood will continue until every watershed has drained its snowpack, usually by mid-June. According to experts like Norm St. Aubin, we can expect several crests depending on the depth of the snow and the intensity of spring rains. I’m not referring to here and now.

Wikipedia: The Ottawa River drains into the Lake of Two Mountains and the St. Lawrence River at Montreal. The river is 1,271 kilometres (790 mi) long; it drains an area of 146,300 square kilometres (56,500 sq mi), 65 percent in Quebec and the rest in Ontario, with a mean discharge of 1,950 cubic metres per second (69,000 cu ft/s).[2]

The average annual mean waterflow measured at Carillon dam, near the Lake of Two Mountains, is 1,939 cubic metres per second (68,500 cu ft/s), with average annual extremes of 749 to 5,351 cubic metres per second (26,500 to 189,000 cu ft/s). Record historic levels since 1964 are a low of 529 cubic metres per second (18,700 cu ft/s) in 2005 and a high of 8,190 cubic metres per second (289,000 cu ft/s) in 1976. 

Before the Carillon Dam was completed in the early ’60s, this area flooded up to where Halcro and Wharf roads join. Since then, Hydro Quebec has recorded five years in which the flood crested above the 25-year mark and one year (1976) when it stopped inches short of the 100-year mark. When Tom Mulcair was Jean Charest’s environment minister, he enacted legislation which made it illegal for municipalities to allow construction of any permanent structure within the 25-year line and no permanently inhabited structure within the 100-year mark. Since then, the province has walked it back to allow areas between the 25-year and 100-year lines to be backfilled once a developer is able to satisfy the ministry’s wetland-flipping requirement.

Yesterday I walked Sandy Beach. I stood where Nicanco proposes to build townhouses. It’s squishy soft underfoot, with the Viviry feeding dozens of freshets through the wetlands Nicanco now has permission to backfill.

Nicanco may have obeyed the letter of the law but I’m curious to see if it will be able to satisfy the more exacting, implacable rules of nature. Will the storm sewers in the proposed 100-door townhouse development be above high water? (I’m assuming every one of these structures will be built on concrete slab without a basement, finished or otherwise.) Will Pine Beach occasionally resemble Pincourt’s rue Duhamel, with makeshift walkways, diesel pumps and sandbagged manholes? Will the sanitary sewers be able to continue pumping sewage into the collectors?

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Pincourt’s rue Duhamel. The town has invested heavily in storm sewers, but nothing can drain the combined floodwaters of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the project can’t be built, but Hudson’s taxpayers need to be reassured they won’t be on the hook every time the Ottawa River demonstrates it doesn’t care where the bureaucrats draw their little red lines.

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Hudson council April 2017

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Take a number: Hudson residents with complaints about damage may have to wait until the town’s legal fight with André Leroux is settled.
Hudson’s disastrous snow-clearing experiment with low bidder Transport André Leroux is headed to court. Council adopted a resolution notifying Leroux it is in breach of contract and the town reserves the right to take further action.

The contract pays Leroux $399,500 plus taxes in four instalments of $103,348.15. This winter, Leroux used close to $200,000 in salt, which the town buys separately from Cargill and let Leroux decide where and when it’s spread. Leroux also charged the town over $87,000 for sand.
A Fairhaven resident produced photos of her chewed-up front yard and demanded that the town take action only to be told the contract is headed for court, putting citizen complaints on hold.

The town has hired infrastructure analytics firm Maxxam to help conduct an examination of the town’s roads, sidewalks, aqueducts and other infrastructure to draft an intervention plan required by the province as a basis for grant applications. As I reported earlier this year, (First buy a ticket, WordPress) the town learned to its dismay there was no point applying for grants and subsidies under various federal and provincial subsidies until the intervention plan had been carried out. Total cost: $19,700.

Whether it’s Leroux’s doing or not, the town will rebuild Ridge Road without having to wait for the intervention plan. Public works will rent the equipment, the town will acquire the gravel and asphalt and get at it. Estimated cost: $23,000.

A developer seeking a zoning change in response to the shifting real-estate market received a confusing message from this council Monday night. Less than three months after approving them, council voted to withdraw the zoning bylaws which would have allowed 24 semi-detached homes instead of 12 single-family dwellings on Mayfair, near the entrance to the Hudson’s Valleys development off Harwood Blvd.

The town had the option of putting the bylaws to a referendum after a register drew more slightly signatures that were required. The town had adopted Bylaws 679 and 680 on Dec. 5 to allow smaller homes on smaller lots.

On Feb. 24, 91 residents of contiguous zones signed a register to force the bylaws to a referendum or their withdrawal. Following the register, mayor Ed Prévost told the Off-Island Gazette many residents were out of town for the winter and were thus unable to give their views on the zoning question but if he favoured a referendum, he was outvoted by a council majority. On Monday, he noted that 91 voted against, 83 for. “No further comment,” he added. Did council tally the numbers and conclude a referendum was moot? 

The meeting was well attended, with the audience including a gratifying* number of young residents as well as returning snowbirds and the usual council regulars (*adjective courtesy of Jim McDermott). Mayor Ed Prévost opened the meeting with congratulations for the St. Patrick’s Parade organizers (“probably the best, certainly the longest”) and a reference to “misguided” opposition to Hudson Heartbeet, the new name for the Hudson Food Co-operative. “To put everybody’s minds at rest” the co-operative will be making a presentation May 1 to explain what they’re about. It has been suggested the town, by donating the use of agricultural land and promising water to a part of the west end not supplied by the municipal water system, is subsidizing competition to local food-basket producers and Farmer’s Market regulars.

The mayor also served notice to non-residents that while they would be free to ask questions, “it’s logical that they should be last in line. […] This is a Hudson town council meeting for the residents of Hudson, not for any other town.”

Finally, Prévost offered an explanation why the current administration had reinstated a policy paying its managers overtime. (The policy was adopted during Louise Villandré’s time as town manager and clerk, rescinded by the previous council following Villandré’s resignation, then quietly reinstated by this council in March of last year.) “Not only was the original policy not adhered to but was somewhat not conforming and that was the reason we went back to what we have now,” Prévost said. Asked to explain further, director-general Jean-Pierre Roy said the overtime ban as written did not comply with the Conseil des normes du travail and is being redrafted. “I can guarantee you that in that time, I did not authorize any overtime.”

Ramblers Association co-founder Terry Browitt wanted to know the status of the trail network in the Viviry Valley Conservation Area, the 32-hectare wetland the town acquired from the Whitlock Golf and Country Club as a result of the Whitlock West subdivision.

“It seems a shame that we have this opportunity with this beautiful piece of land the town owns down by the Viviry River ,” Browitt said. Other trails in town are being maintained and improved but the trail named in honour of the late councillor Bob Parkinson exists in name only in summer.
District 5 councillor Deborah Woodhead offered the same excuse as the previous administration. “The land the Parkinson Trail will go through is a wet area and the ministry of the environment has to be part of any structural or paths or bridge or anything we do on the Parkinson Trail.”

“It’s been three or four years now, Browitt noted.

Woodhead said she was aware of it. “We put it in the budget for 2016 and now for 2017…we’ll get to it before the end of our term, hopefully.”

Later, Jamie Nicholls noted that he had produced a preliminary report on the Parkinson trail network for Sentiers Vaudreuil-Soulanges while working as a landscape architect and biologist and has a good idea of the challenges of pushing a trail through a wetland. The town has had a copy since 2009. “If you have any questions about the directions to take, I’d be willing to talk with you about this.”

The trail is has been used as a winter snowshoing and back-country ski trail since 2005 but has led to disputes with landowners encroaching on town land negotiated as a trail right of way as part of the Hudson’s Valleys development.
Mount Pleasant resident Austin Rikley-Krindle asked why he’s having no luck finding the 2017 Plan trienniel d’investissement (PTI) on the town website or obtaining a copy through an access-to-information request. The PTI was handed out at the budget meeting but thus far it’s not available online (I’ll post it here). Rikley-Krindle also seeks the town’s total well capacity and plans to meet future demand. Town clerk Cassandra Comin Bergonzi and director-general Jean-Pierre Roy assured Rikley-Krindle he would be getting both.

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Hudson’s PTI, undiscoverable on the town website. Sorry for the mess. 
Quarry Point resident Helen Kurgansky suggested that the town adopt the the practice of adding a descriptive paragraph to each resolution so residents can decipher the code on the order paper. The mayor seemed to think it was a good idea.

Several residents expressed concern at the $555,000 cost of renovating the Community Centre for the second time in five years. District 4 councillor Barbara Robinson explained that the entire cost is half that and will be borne by the federal Canada 150 infrastructure program. The town has to borrow the amount to pay for the improvements before it can be reimbursed, she explained. The kitchen doesn’t conform to workplace health and safety standards, the roof needs replacing and other work is required.

The town is still looking for a treasurer following Serge Raymond’s abrupt departure last fall, director-general Roy said in response to a question. It’s not easy to find someone this time of year, he explained. He admitted there is a schedule of reportings due, beginning with the Comparative Statements of Revenues and Expenditures due April 30. This is an early warning to residents of potential budget problems.

Footnote: The fire department has acquired a used 1995 Spartan aerial ladder for $94,990. This saves the town the cost of almost $1,000 an hour for mutual-aid assistance calling in ladders from adjacent municipalities.

Sandy Beach: Hudson, Nicanco dealing

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Trilliums in bloom in the woodland between Sandy Beach and Royalview. Hudson’s mayor Ed Prévost indicated Monday the town and developer Nicanco are looking for compromise based on discussions following February’s public consultation. (Jim Duff)

Mayor Ed Prévost revealed Monday his administration and Sandy Beach developer Hans Muhlegg have been working on a proposal both sides are hoping will move the project forward.

Details will be made public, Prévost assured the meeting. Nicanco’s representatives had no comment.

The news came at the end of a 10-minute snarlfest between members of council and save-the-beach activist Richard Grinnell.

Grinnell, back from several months out of country, asked council whether it would honour its undertaking to hold a referendum on whether the town should try to buy all or part of the 60-acre wetland from the developer.

“Last fall, I came before the council and asked how many signatures it would require before you held a referendum to see about purchasing part of the Sandy Beach property,” Grinnell told council. “I was told 500. So I’m happy to report that I have 1,273, of which 543  are residents of Hudson. We desire to have a referendum held to see about purchasing part of the Sandy Beach property. Where do we go? I’ve done my part.”

Other than Grinnell’s first petition in December, Prévost said he wasn’t aware of Grinnell’s continuing efforts to sign up residents.

“I told you my policy is ongoing petitioning,” Grinnell fired back. “The director said I needed 500 and I now have more than 500.”

District 5 councillor Deborah Woodhead volunteered that she had put out the number, “not for a referendum, but to open the subject….Because there’s no issue, the town’s not going to hold referendum on an issue that doesn’t concern the town, there’s no reason to have a referendum, the last time there was a referendum it was about a bylaw change that went through. The land is not for sale, Mr. Muhlegg’s vision is that he’d like to build the land.”

Grinnell said he understood Muhlegg’s position and hopes Muhlegg understands his. “Over 500 residents of Hudson have signed the petition knowing that it means there were tax dollars to be spent and there’s a negotiation to be had. And I think there’s a deep concern there, that people would like to preserve that, and they’re willing to spend the money. The only way to find out is to have a referendum.”

Woodhead countered by noting that nobody has offered to donate their own money. “No one has come forward and said ‘Here’s $500. Let’s get the ball rolling so we can buy this land. Not one person in Hudson has come forward with any proposal.”

Grinnell persisted. “I’m saying that there is a desire in this town for this property to be purchased. In order to do that you have to sit down with Mr. Muhlegg and discuss with him…”

“There was one occasion when we’ve done that,” Woodhead interrupted.

“I wasn’t involved in that discussion but somebody else, I don’t know how they got permission but they were allowed to present him with an offer that was unacceptable.”

“Nobody was representing the town,” Prévost interjected.

“I was told that they were…it was in the paper,” Grinnell said.

“You shouldn’t go on hearsay all the time, you know,” the mayor snapped back.

“If that’s what’s in the paper, that’s what we have to go on.”

Woodhead chimed in: “You know that the paper is full of untruths. Full of untruths, every day.” (The room gasped.) “There are errors in the paper, and misquotes and that’s just the truth, the fact of journalism.”

Grinnell was on a roll. “I just want to know what to do with this. I want to know what to tell over 500 people in Hudson who are passionate about it? That nothing will happen, that the town doesn’t care? What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Deposit it, someone on council said.

“I will deposit it but we have to move forward,” Grinnell replied. “I have done my part. I have the signatures. People have signed it. They have said ‘this is the desire that I have.’ That’s a lot of people, over 500 signatures, and they have expressed this desire knowing that it will cost them money. Where do we go?”

Woodhead tried to change the focus. “Mr. Muhlegg has done everything the town has requested of him for the past 15 years while he tried to get his project to…uh some kind of fruition and completion. Everything and more.”

Grinnell wouldn’t be kissed off. “I understand that. I have no argument with Mr. Muhlegg. I like him and I enjoy sitting with him and talking with him and I’d like to buy his property. Whether he’s done everything right is not the point. The point is that…”

“If you and the citizens of Hudson would like to buy his property you have to negotiate with him,” Woodhead interrupted. “You and those 500 other people.”

District 2 councillor Ron Goldenberg waded into the fight. “Excuse me. While you were away, we discussed this several times over the last few months and just to fill you in, in case nobody else did, we questioned the veracity of your question.”

Goldenberg accused Grinnell of deliberately misleading people, scaring them by suggesting they would lose beach access.“It was non-legal, because first of all you didn’t mention that the town would have basically the same access to the beach area itself, which was terribly misleading and secondly, you didn’t mention anything about what the purchase price was or what Mr. Muhlegg had even asked for it. The question should say ‘would you like the town to buy the beach?’Yeah, of course I would like the town to buy the beach!”

“That’s what the question said,” Grinnell replied. “That was the direct question and people signed it, knowingly.”

“For council, it is not a legal question,” Goldenberg continued. “It’s biased, not valid. So how can we hold a referendum on that? It doesn’t make any sense. I understand everybody’s passionate about it. We know that, we understand that and that’s what we’re working on.”

Grinnell repeated his question about what he should do with his petition.

“We did not ask you to put this signature thing together. You presented them to us. We said well, get some signatures and then we’ll talk. We’re talking.”

By this point Grinnell was losing his temper. “No you’re not. You’re dictating.” He quoted a newspaper article citing Goldenberg as saying he had nothing to do with it.

“How can you tell me what I said when you weren’t even here?” Goldenberg barked.

“You’re getting way off base,” Grinnell snapped back. “Ron, get it back under control.”

Goldenberg got it back under control. “We’re not doing exactly what you want but given the situation we’re dealt with, we’re doing the best we can. You might not like it, you may not agree with it…”

Finally, after 10 minutes of increasingly irrelevant exchanges, Prévost exercised closure. “This discussion has gone on long enough. We had a town council meeting and we had a public presentation as well. We have a lot of comments and suggestions, modifications — you name it. We took all these and we met with Mr. Muhlegg and his associate and reviewed all issues to see which ones could fly and which ones couldn’t fly.”

The mayor said the town wouldn’t be bound by anybody’s expectations or timetable. “I have to say you’d be quite pleased the way we had a rapport in terms of give and take…we will of course be reporting on that – it’s not a closed agenda. We’ll be making it public.”

Grinnell reminded the mayor that he, Grinnell, represents 543 residents who are passionate about it. “It’s not just me. You’re an elected official. They’re telling you something.”

“Our responsibility is to the Town of Hudson,” Prévost replied. “Sandy Beach is a part of it, but only a part of it. It has to be scheduled into our other priorities.”

After the meeting I asked Muhlegg and urban planner Marc Perreault whether they had come to the meeting expecting a notice of motion for their latest proposal. They had no comment, so I asked them in whose court the ball now rests. “You could say in both courts,” said a third associate.

I’m on thin ice here, but I think Prévost realizes the razor’s edge his administration is walking on the Sandy Beach project. He should politely ask his councillors to abstain from opening their mouths before putting their brains in gear. From Prévost’s comments and Nicanco’s response, I also think both sides recognize the need to give to get. There’s another factor as well. Neither man is well, with time running out on Prévost’s term and Muhlegg’s ability to keep going.

That doesn’t mean the wily businessman is a pushover. Prévost told me in the past Muhlegg has a good legal case against the town. Muhlegg’s last words to me: “If we can’t build, I’ll sue!”

Words that no Hudson taxpayer wants to hear.

Time for a little honesty

I see my friend and accomplice Peter Ratcliffe has been dabbling in local politics in my absence. I had delayed posting this in the hope that a wider public discussion would have taken root at this point in the election cycle. I was fooling myself.

Two people have assured me they’ll seek the mayoralty. Half a dozen others have told me or told people who told me, that they’ll seek election or re-election as a councillor. At this point, I would say not one has shown themselves to be qualified, but my rule is not to name names until they’re posted on the DGEQ website. As of today, Saturday, April 1, nobody from Hudson is a registered candidate, either for mayor or for one of the six council seats, so as of this moment it’s all talk.

I commend Peter and others for initiating any kind of process leading to naming candidates. What depresses me is that none of this is happening in public. There’s a Facebook group that meets over beers. Another would-be candidate has initiated something called a design charette, a process whereby a consensus on planning and development is arrived at. There have been several private meetings where potential candidates put out feelers to gauge whether they had any support. I appreciate the invitations but neutrality is important to me. If you attend one, you have to attend all and be universally mistrusted as a snitch. In Hudson, local politics has been a secretive process for as long as I can remember.

From the conversations on Facebook as well as on this and other sites, there seems to be general agreement on the problems and challenges facing Hudson — ageing infrastructure, rising overhead as a percentage of fixed costs, economic stagnation. Every budget, there’s less money available for discretionary spending without raising taxes or incurring debt. There’s also a sense of gridlock, of being trapped in a downward spiral that I think leads so many of Hudson’s citizens to throw up their hands in frustration and despair. Frustration and despair lead to talk of possible mergers, feeding into that negative dynamic. Just stop it and as Peter says, Just Fix It.

The major disagreements are over priorities. Shouldn’t safe streets, with protected spaces for pedestrians and cyclists, take precedence? Why isn’t the town taking a more proactive role in shaping and controlling development? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on quality of life and the survival of Hudson’s natural, architectural, cultural and recreational environments? How can we think about densification and development when there is not enough drinking water to fight fires and supply peak demand? Why would we need a new town hall and refurbished public facilities when all we’re doing is incurring debt and providing offices for full-time staff?

And that list hasn’t begun to scratch the surface.

As another election cycle approaches, the growing hubbub suggests this is the most important election in Hudson’s history and our fate as a functioning community is at stake. Bullshit. Quebec has designed and engineered municipalities to function on autopilot, with minimal input from its elected bodies. As long as Hudson pays its bills for policing, public transit and regional governance and harmonizes its bylaws with those of the three layers of government above it, Quebec doesn’t care how residents feel. Quebec feels it has discharged its responsibility by ensuring we have an adequate quantity of drinkable water, fire and police protection and waste management and nobody is stealing from the public purse. Everything else is our problem and the town has the discretionary taxation power to deal with it. Most of Hudson’s wounds, real and imagined, are self-inflicted First World problems.

Since it came into being in 1969 as the result of a referendum, Hudson has a history of alternating bitterly contested elections with acclamations. Taylor Bradbury was elected and re-elected because he vowed to keep taxes down. He kept taxes down by refusing to invest in infrastructure. By decreeing 30,000-square-foot lots the town avoided having to invest in sewers. Bradbury carries the curse of having refused to buy Sandy Beach for $275,000 but residents supported him at the time.  Bradbury’s legacy:  chronic parking problems, sewage-filled ditches, collapsing streets — but no public debt.

Mike Elliott was elected twice (1989 and 2009) because nobody else wanted the job. He and his first council were tossed out in part because a group fronted by Steve Shaar was pissed at Elliott for having spent town money to enact the pesticide ban, which would cost the golf clubs. They organized behind closed doors and paid for a bunch of attack ads in the Hudson Gazette to convince voters the Elliott administration had to go. (In the end Quebec’s golf clubs end-ran the pesticide ban by cutting a deal with the province that made them self-regulating, which they are to this day.)

Shaar twice won re-election (1997, 2001) because he had a shrewd sense of timing that would have gotten him a lot further in politics. Steve dealt with things when they needed to be fixed and often rolled up his sleeves to do it himself. He was masterful at forcing residents to accept compromise, even if it resulted in zoning aberrations. The 1998 Hudson’s Valleys/Alstonvale subdivision agreement gave the town the Cirko Trail and resulted in an entire sector of town that had to drive through Vaudreuil-Dorion to get to the commercial centre. Shaar’s 2001 deal with Nicanco resulted in another enclaved community. Nonetheless, Sandy Beach would have been built had it not been for Nicanco’s stubbornness when it came to conforming to fast-changinging environmental demands on developers. Shaar’s legacy: Hudson’s Valleys/Alstonvale, Sandy Beach (legally, the town can’t prevent development to the 2001 bylaws) Community Centre, Bradbury Park (and by refusing to finance any part of it, the Hudson Village Theatre, by forcing the arts community and its backers to mobilize).

Shaar’s untimely death due to cancer in January 2004 resulted in councillor Liz Corker taking over as interim mayor for the next 18 months before being acclaimed mayor in 2005. Shaar had already begun the grant and subsidy application process to pay for the sewage treatment system and water filtration plant/aqueduct upgrade but Corker had to get the loan bylaws approved by residents. I realize now we weren’t asking the right questions when the bylaws were presented, but who knew that LBCD, the town’s consultants on the project, had underestimated the total cost by a third? There was no public outcry when Corker explained the principle that a third of the town would pay two-thirds of the cost and vice versa. The first hiccup was Corker’s announcement in early 2008 that there was no money left for the $1M water hookup to the west end. Then there was a revolt by downtown landlords and property owners when they got their tax bills, prompting the first of many readjustments.

I suspected something was wrong with the way the town was dealing with its long-term debt but readers told me I was barking up the wrong tree. I wrote a series of stories in 2008 and 2009 adding up what Hudson owed and questioning why Louise Villandré, Hudson’s town manager and clerk since Bradbury’s time, wasn’t rolling the sewer and water loan bylaws into long-term debt. Instead, she was using the town’s line of credit to cover the interest and carrying charges on the bridge loans. When I asked Corker about it she told me to ask Villandré, who told me it was because the town was expecting grants from Quebec and Ottawa and there would be no point in transferring more of the bridge loans into long-term debt than was needed to cover the actual cost to the town. Villandré also said the town’s external auditors had signed off on the deal.

Corker’s legacy: Hudson’s sewer treatment system, water filtration plant, Sandy Beach Nature Park, the deal that gave us Whitlock West and another enclaved development in exchange for the Viviry Valley Conservation Area, the Perreault Point development in exchange for cash instead of a waterfront greenspace, Oakfields and the new medical centre.

Elliott was acclaimed mayor for the second time in 2009, after Corker decided her health wasn’t up to another term and Tom Birch, her heir apparent, had to make more time for his venture capital projects in the wake of the 2007 economic collapse. I detest acclamations so I called around to discuss possible candidates. Prévost’s name came up in a conversation with a fellow University of Western Ontario grad. Prévost declined for personal reasons. Along with Elliott, four of six councillors were acclaimed with a 40% voter turnout. (Tim Snow and Diane Piacente won their seats.)

Elliott wasn’t long on the job before he began feuding with Hudson’s fire chief Peter Milot. The fight was over a used ladder truck the department had purchased. It barely fit into the 50-year-old firehall and prompted the threat of a CSST shutdown Elliott himself engineered. It was part of a larger boys-with-toys issue Elliott had with the fire department’s independence, which he saw as a challenge to council’s authority.  He forced a showdown. Both Milot and assistant chief James Campbell walked and Elliott began the process that culminated with $7M in loan bylaws to build a new station and re-engineer the public works yard, something the Corker administration had long discussed. (The Halcro Cottage relocation was a $300,000 byproduct.) Elliott took on the town planning advisory committee, replacing tenure with five-year terms with a new member named every year. Thus Hudson’s activist TPAC was declawed.

Mike is no fan of mine (I blew the whistle on his unpaid taxes) but I credit him with an intimate knowledge of the town and a real concern for its institutions. I’ve had arguments aplenty over his legacy but nobody, not even the SQ, MAMOT or UPAC found a shred of proof that Elliott enriched himself at public expense. Did he turn a blind eye to what Villandré was up to in exchange for her silence on his tax bills?

2013 was Hudson’s annus horribilis. Villandré was gone by April after treasurer Sylvain Bernard uncovered her fake billing system and her abuse of her signing privileges on the town’s line of credit, all covered by resolutions legally adopted by the Shaar, Corker and Elliott administrations. Elliott resigned by June, citing health issues after the SQ opened an investigation into Villandré’s defalcation. “Hudson has to bend a little,” he told me the day he resigned. A month later, we reported he owed approximately $65,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. Since then, we’ve come up with our own motto for Hudson. Bend a little, spend a lot.

The leadup to the November 2013 municipal election was anticlimactic, with a lame-duck council led by interim mayor Diane Piacente hiring a new director-general, Catherine Haulard. It also rescinded a Villandré-era resolution that paid managers overtime. Otherwise, council’s hands were tied by the police investigation and a forensic accounting probe. Every fraudulent cheque Villandré signed had been co-signed by a member of council, so it was initially suspected that the rot was worse. The external auditors had signalled their concern in their annual report about certain ongoing practices they found irregular or questionable. Through four administrations, those statements never made it out of Villandré’s office and into the hands of the mayor and council. This is why the Prévost administration ended up having to pay Bourassa Boyer’s bill.

I’m told the Prévost administration thinks I’m too tough on them, unfair in my criticisms. In response I’d say no more so than with the Elliott, Corker and Shaar administrations before them.

Seven months away from the election, what have Ed Prévost and his council accomplished? On the plus side, they’ve cleaned up a mountain of garbage, though not without incurring considerable expense to the taxpayers. They managed their way through the SQ, UPAC and MAMOT probes. On a personal level, Ed came out clean after renegade councillor Rob Spencer let fly with a bucket of unsubstantiated shit about Ed’s dealings with developers.

The negatives? Analysis paralysis. Hiring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expertise to tell them what to think about everything from Pine Lake to a strategic plan. They were elected by more than 70 per cent of the turnout to fix the town. One of the first things they did? Turned around and ask the town for everyone’s strategic priorities, then spent the next two years and approximately $100,000 to draft an absolutely useless document. Why did we elect you if you needed us to tell you what to do?

Meanwhile, this administration still hasn’t adopted a conservation plan that will allow them to adopt a master plan that meshes with the harmonized master plans of the Montreal Metropolitan Community and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC. Surely to God somebody would have picked up on this at the MRC meetings and municipal federation workshops? They wonder why people mock them for the Fair Trade Zone, the eco-trolley, the performing arts centre and a third skate park in 20 years? It’s this finger-up-the-nose daydreaming that loses voters, not hard, decisive actions.

I confess to a bias against candidates with no record of attending council meetings before they were elected. Over the years, I’ve seen what happens when people with no clue of how things work try to cover up their cluelessness by spouting bullshit. None of the current council seems particularly embarrassed when they show their ignorance in not knowing how things are supposed to work by turning the floor over to Jean-Pierre Roy, Cassandra Comin Bergonzi or Natalie Lavoie to explain what the council should be able to explain. It makes me think they exhibit that same cluelessness in caucus meetings where it’s decided how much of our money is spent and on what.

It demonstrates why Quebec ensures that every municipality has a bureaucratic autopilot that can take over when les elus are too clueless to be allowed near the controls. Four years in, the current mayor and council keep making rookie mistakes. The level of transparency is abysmal, the worst I’ve seen since Jean Drapeau and Lucien Saulnier ran Montreal. My most recent discovery: last March, they restored the Villandré-era policy of paying managers overtime. Wasn’t this the same crew that carried on endlessly about town employee entitlements?

Ed Prévost wasn’t the best candidate in 2013. What Ed had going for him was that his opponent had done business with the town and was therefore suspect. I confess to having been the conduit for the facts used as ammo in Ed’s drive-by smear campaign against Jacques Bourgeois. I wish I could take it back. Jacques knew how municipalities are run, how the bidding system works, how the MRC and MMC regional governments operate. He knows Hudson far better than Ed ever will and had several excellent candidates on his slate. None of that would have made a bit of difference in November 2013 because Hudson voters wanted someone to punish. All Prévost had to do was point the finger and the witch hunt was underway. Shame on us all.

“Best election you ever lost,” my Louise likes to joke with Jacques when she runs into him. I remember another side of it, the time I got a call from Jacques’ granddaughter. She had heard me talking about Hudson’s scandals in front of a room of Westwood Senior students. She had asked Jacques if he was the person I was referring to. He called me, pleading to tell her what I knew. I left her a message telling her that I had no reason to doubt her granddad’s honesty. I hope she got it.

Some issues are bogus, like the development-versus-greenspace straw man being set up prior to this year’s election. In Quebec, development is an administrative process. It should not be a political debate. A municipality adopts a master development plan (in harmony with all those above-mentioned political considerations. A developer presents a project to the urban planning department. If and when it satisfies the zoning, subdivision and density bylaws laid out in the master plan, it goes before the TPAC, which suggests alterations or major changes depending on whether it is being proposed as an infill development or new subdivision. Once it makes it through the TPAC funnel, a recommendation is made to council. Council determines whether it should be approved or rejected. If it requires a zoning change, it is subject to approval by referendum unless the municipality and MAMOT agree it should be a PPU and therefore exempt.

Bottom line:

– Forget slates. The voters decide, not the candidates. The only time slates work is when a cohesive, coherent team of like-minded people can convince the voters they have the know-how and discipline to make a real difference. Hudson is a community of cliques, silos and competing personal interests. There is no cohesion, as we’ve seen in the endless squabbles over who should pay what for water and sewers. It will take leadership to unite all those warring factions. I don’t see any evidence.

– Forget election slogans. Back to Proud?  Elect Competence? Team Transparency? In Hudson, what matters is why we shouldn’t elect someone. Prévost demonstrated that to perfection in the last election.

Noble principles and grand visions have their place, but not right now, not in Hudson. Most taxpayers will settle for four years of peace, order and good government. For me that translates into safe, maintained streets and sidewalks, people and dogs under control, enough good water, competent garbage and snow removal and the lowest possible tax bill. Anyone who can guarantee me that gets my vote.