Merulla reaches into his bag of tricks
No-nonsense approach to twin problems of Albion Falls and ‘Hamilton’ sign at City Hall
If there was such a thing as a bull-by-thehorns award, Coun. Sam Merulla deserves it for his no-nonsense approach to a couple of hot back-to-back city issues.
Faced with growing concerns over dangerous behaviour at Albion Falls and some underlying discomfort with the privately funded “HAMILTON” sign at city hall, Merulla swiftly cut through the noise with some decisive motions. First Albion Falls. Rather than simply posting “No Trespassing” signs at the popular 19-metre high waterfall where nose dives and rope rescues have almost become the norm, Merulla argued for cracking down on people who ignore warning signs through “aggressive proactive enforcement.”
By that he means police and bylaw officers regularly patrolling the area and laying charges as soon as the new “No Trespassing” signs are posted.
Arguing that there’s no point in having laws on the book if they’re not enforced, Merulla called for an enforcement blitz to deter transgressors who’re acting irresponsibly and putting themselves in danger.
Councillors endorsed his get-tough strategy but not before Merulla and licensing director Ken Leendertse had a, shall we say, philosophical disagreement.
Leendertse, a former deputy police chief, cautioned that aggressive ticketing may cause trespassers to flee, which could be dangerous around Albion Falls.
“If you proactively enforce, the last thing you want is people running away from you. There’s been occasions in others parks that have led to some very serious incidents.”
Leendertse suggested the “perfect opportunity” to lay a charge is when someone who’s had a fall is being rescued by firefighters.
Merulla, whose animated facial expressions tend to make him an open book, was openly scornful of Leendertse’s suggestion. He branded it “nonsense” and rhetorically asked “where do you draw the line” if you’re going to take that hands-off approach to enforcing the law.
“I’m trying to proactively enforce a bylaw to prevent someone from falling; he’s suggesting waiting for someone to fall and then charge them, which is nonsensical,” Merulla said.
Merulla was also on the muscle, albeit more diplomatically, over the sign issue.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, through intermediaries in the business community, is raising up to $300,000 from the private sector to build and install a large illuminated “HAMILTON” sign in front of City Hall for the Canada 150 celebrations.
Though most councillors profess to love the idea, concerns have been raised that the project didn’t undergo the usual community consultation and competitive bidding process.
Eisenberger counters a public process would have bogged the project down and prevented the installation from taking place in the sesquicentennial year.
The sign got a unanimous green light from the public works committee, but so did Merulla’s proposal for staff to draft a policy on how to deal with similar privately funded donations in order to head off future wrangling.
When the matter went before council, Donna Skelly raised concerns over the lack of community engagement while Matthew Green asserted the city needs a “eyes-wideopen” policy to vet private donors in situations like this in case they have awkward links to tobacco, alcohol or adult entrainment companies,
“It could be a very well-intentioned, wellmeaning project and turn into an absolute PR nightmare,” Green said.
Merulla cut through the anxiety by proposing the city’s integrity commissioner vet both the sign process and potential conflicts arising from the private donors, who have yet to be publicly identified.
Lloyd Ferguson was the only councillor to oppose the motion.
He contended the role of the integrity watchdog is to oversee council’s code of conduct not policies and processes.
Regardless, if it’s true that the best cure for most problems is taking decisive action, Merulla clearly had the right potions to hand in his big bag of tricks.
Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel