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Councillors spar over PA system spending

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It would seem that one councillor’s trash is another’s treasure.

During the second day of budget deliberations, councillors got into a heated debate about spending $250,000 on a PA system for city hall, with one councillor becoming so frustrated she felt she was in a “parallel universe.”

The item in question, according to the city’s budget document, would provide a PA system for Rundle Tower, the council chambers, parking garage, mechanical rooms, art resource centre, as well as the outside squares with the $250,000 coming from the city’s equipment replacement reserve.

“This PA system would be utilized to project emergency messages and general high level messages,” the city report reads. It’s noted the intent would be to provide valuable information in the event the building needs to be evacuated or an intruder is in the building.

However, Councillor Nancy Diamond labelled the purchase as a “waste of money,” adding that an “email blast” may work just as well. For that reason, Diamond put forward the motion to remove the item from the budget.

The cut had Councillor Amy McQuaid-England upset, and she argued that there wasn’t enough information on the value of this system and its necessity in order for council to make a decision.

“There’s risk involved there,” she said.

McQuaid-England attempted multiple times in order to push the item to a later time and have staff provide further information, including attempting to go into closed session to obtain legal advice, defer the item until the end of the meeting and referring the item to a later council meeting. And while Councillors John Neal and Doug Sanders did show some support for these motions, they all failed.

“I’m quite concerned with this council,” she said. “I am not sure how as a council member I am supposed to be able to meet my statutory requirements.”

Councillor Bob Chapman shot back, noting that McQuaid-England’s very argument was exactly why council shouldn’t approve $250,000 of spending.

“I think there needs to be much more detail,” he said. “I think some policy has to be developed around it.”

Councillor Rick Kerr said much of the same.

“We need more information of a broader nature outside of a closed session as well,” he said.

The response had McQuaid-England baffled.

“I sometimes feel like I’m in a parallel universe,” she said. “I am baffled at this process to delete an item that could directly relate to the safety and security of our building and our staff.”

The motion eventually carried with the item being removed from the budget.

Speaking after the meeting, Mayor John Henry said he understood the concerns of councillors, but noted that safety precautions are already in place.

“We do have safety concerns and processes and ways to deal with that now, but I don’t want to make that public because it jeopardizes the individuals here,” he said, adding that more information and discussion would need to take place.

“There needs to be a little bit more dialogue on the expectation.”