Mass Resignation of Alnwick/Haldimand Township Heritage Committee

In Local

By Cecilia Nasmith

What to do now that the Heritage Alnwick-Haldimand Committee – representing widely respected expertise and award-winning volunteer service – has lost six of its seven members is on the agenda for the township’s May 14 council meeting.

A mass resignation took place over the first couple of days in May, with six members leaving after receipt of an e-mail from Township Clerk Emily Cartlidge informing them that they no longer have after-hours access to municipal buildings (and no access to the staff-only portions of the buildings, including the Heritage Room), and that “township Staff have been directed by Senior Management to not engage with any members of the Heritage Committee and to halt all work requested for the Wicklow Park event until further notice.”

This would be the July 28 celebration of the Wicklow Baptist Church’s bicentennial.

Only their newest member remains, Chairman Robert Deane said – Trish Groom, past president of the United Empire Loyalists for Canada. Though she feels maligned as well, she is sticking around out of curiosity to see what will happen next.

That means the loss of Deputy Chair Liam Cragg, Eva Leca, Jean Wilson, Gary Mossman and Scott Falconer, along with Deane.

Deane said the clerk began efforts to make sure the committee operated in a different way, with an open format and a more orderly meeting schedule set well in advance and no more meeting in members’ homes.

He insisted that the Ombudsman Act gives volunteer committees no legal standing, so open meetings are not required. And he prefers to schedule meetings to meet the requirements of members, many of whom have other commitments such as farm, employment and family obligations. For example, he points to one meeting Cartlidge scheduled for which a quorum was expected but, in the end, only one member attended by Zoom.

Deane provided a number of e-mails that, as he put it, show trouble brewing as far back as March 20, including an e-mail from council liaison Mary Catherine O’Neill referring to “an issue of trust” and vouching for Deane’s willingness “to be part of the process.”

She also offered “two key observations. First, Alnwick Haldimand is very lucky to have such dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers who professionally complete various heritage related projects. Secondly, the work of this group flows back and forth between items that link to the Township business and items that are outside of the Township business. I am certain that through respectful dialog the two sides will effectively sort this out to our mutual benefit.”

Deane sent his own e-mail to the township explaining his interpretation of the Ombudsman Act, adding that “the projects we work on are Minuted and reviewed by Council and we only proceed if they don’t reject the project. 

“May I remind you that a heritage committee responds to all heritage inquiries that would otherwise go to administration. The Township has had good value to money over decades. HAH has produced two heritage books and sales have exceeded the Township’s up front costs and given a profit back to Township treasury. We are now part way through a major heritage event for the Township.”

Deane sent a letter to the committee reiterating the need to focus on their work leading up to the July 28 Wicklow event, and sent one to Logel with an olive branch – “After the event we can meet twice a year in open form in the Council Offices.”

Cartlidge began pushing to have the members undergo training in Heritage and Municipal Act provisions. Three meeting dates were offered, and it was determined that a quorum could be present for April 16. Then, by the meeting date, last-minute emergencies (including a sudden injury) sidelined all but one member.

A meeting was arranged among Deane, Cartlidge and Mayor John Logel (Cragg had been invited to attend, had last-minute business on his farm and had to cancel). The mayor asked to go first, and led with a statement he hoped would calm the waters. Deane went next and reiterated his position – but saw he was getting nowhere and left.

The training Cartlidge wanted was slated to be part of their May 2 meeting. They had an estimate from Councillor O’Neill – who had undergone the training with another committee – that a half-hour would suffice. It was all the time they could devote to it, Deane decided, with the Wicklow event looming. 

He sent Cartlidge the meeting’s agenda and pointed out the half-hour set aside. 

“Please do not include the Heritage Act,” he requested.

“We are well versed on it and expect advice is easily available should it be needed.”

He checked the agenda later and saw that his half-hour estimate for training was removed, though the item for training remained and almost 50 pages were added to the agenda. He tried to protest that, with the Wicklow event coming up, they didn’t have unlimited time for training, but got no reply.

O’Neill was at a conference and had designated Deputy Mayor Joan Stover to attend the May 2 meeting in her place. As it had been designated an open meeting, Stover urged the committee to avoid a major confrontation. Between that warning and the open time frame for training, Deane felt he had to cancel the meeting.

He had hoped to gather the committee at the Wicklow church for a gathering to focus just on the work there. He got the letter, however, telling him that the committee was to halt that work.

They had been in touch with the Baptist Moderator about representation, with Eddystone Baptist Church about arranging a blessing, with MPP David Piccini about being present. They had completed such tasks as a plexiglass-protected photo display of significant events. They had even begun planning to get the cairn replaced and updating the gardens. Now, if he reads Cartlidge’s letter correctly, nothing is being done.

This committee has never had trouble with previous clerks, Deane said, nor have any of them played an active role in the committee. 

Deane said he hasn’t previously encountered any issues and in fact the township nominated him for the 2020 Province of Ontario Volunteer Service Award for 20 years of service to the township – an award of which he was not aware until it was announced.

In fact, he estimates the township has lost some 65 years of volunteer experience with this turn of events.

Deane was surprised by Cartlidge’s request in the e-mail to “return your keys to the building immediately” and her warning that “you have been removed from the security access panel and any attempt to access the building after-hours will result in the alarm being triggered.”

Deane says he has no such keys, not since he turned them in early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was pointed out in Mossman’s resignation e-mail, as well as a list of committee awards.

“Mr. Deane has been honoured as Alnwick/Haldimand Citizen of the Year. In 2023, I was similarly honoured, for the book that was, in fact, a joint effort of all the talented and dedicated members of the Heritage Committee. In March, another member of our committee, Liam Cragg, who is also the Town Crier, was honoured with the Northumberland Central Chamber of Commerce Chair’s Award. These are the kind of citizen volunteers that you are discarding.”

The township will be poorer for this loss, Mossman added.

Cragg, the first member to resign (and the only one present at that April 26 meeting), found the tone of the letter troubling. His first reaction was to wonder what they had done wrong, with the e-mail’s references to “the negative treatment and harassment of staff” and violation of the township’s Zero Tolerance Policy and Code of Conduct.

“You are dealing with a committee that is well regarded provincially,” he stated.

“For someone to come in and dictate, ‘Here are the changes that must be made’ in a way that is pretty much, ‘I have a big hammer, and you all look like nails’ – probably a better approach would have been contacting the chair and saying, ‘You are doing a wonderful job. Here are some changes that I would like to implement. How do you feel we should do this?’ Asking for buy-in.”

They felt pushed, he said, adding when pushed, one’s instinctive response is to push back.

“As far as I can tell, we had not been given what the new clerk felt was mandatory training that should have been given to us a year and a half ago as members of the committee. 

“It’s been a year and a half – does it have to be now?”

Their accomplishments just over the past few years include the books Building a Township and Township Tales, full of heritage anecdotes, remembrances and mysteries. There have also been such events as the one planned for Wicklow Baptist Church.

“The heritage committee is project-oriented,” Cragg stated. 

“We want to get these projects accomplished. It’s unfortunate a productive group of people have now disbanded.”

Contacted for comment, Cartlidge said the matter will be brought forward at the May 14 council meeting.

“Until such time, there is no further comment from the Township.”

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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