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Morales replaces fellow councillors on Downtown Barrie BIA board

'They are not there to control the agenda of an independent business association,' says recently resigned BIA chair Denise Tucker in deputation to council

The shake-up of the Downtown Barrie Business Improvement Area (BIA) continued Monday night at city hall. 

At last night's city council meeting, it was decided to remove Councillors Keenan Aylwin and Clare Riepma as the city's appointees on the BIA board and replace them with Coun. Sergio Morales.

Councillors went in camera (behind closed doors) for about a half hour before returning to the council chambers to announce their decision, which sees one councillor replace two members on what has been, up until recently, a 12-person board.

The BIA board has been beset by controversy following several resignations in recent weeks, leaving just six members, including Councillors Aylwin and Riepma, up until last night. 

"I just think we need to move forward and council made a decision to clean the slate with a fresh start," Morales told BarrieToday after Monday's meeting.

In a deputation to city council Monday night, past BIA chair Denise Tucker, who recently resigned from her post, outlined how she thinks city councillors should proceed in dealing with the board's make-up. 

She urged council not to appoint new members to the board, but rather to let the BIA take care of its own affairs. That included having the two city councillors removed from the board to "depoliticize and depolarize" the environment, she said, while also asking the city to provide guidance and financial support for a third-party governance review. 

Tucker said it's "not about politics, but serving and acting in the best interests of the BIA membership," adding councillor representatives on the BIA are supposed to act as a "bridge" to council. 

"They are not there to control the agenda of an independent business association," she said. "Many on the board already felt that the agendas had been politicized, but the prospect of having council appoint two more directors, with three years worth of voting privileges, was disheartening, disrespectful and de-motivating."

After the meeting, Riepma said he accepts the will of council regarding his removal from the BIA board. 

"Council has made their decision and I wish the BIA well," Riepma told BarrieToday. "They're great people."

When asked if he was surprised by what transpired Monday night, Riepma responded: "Hey, it happens."

Coun. Keenan Aylwin told BarrieToday that it was he and Riepma who initially brought governance concerns to council, "as we were very concerned that the BIA, which has a significant taxpayer-funded budget, did not have formalized policies and procedures, such as a purchasing policy."

Aylwin said there was an opportunity to improve transparency and accountability.

"Unfortunately, our fellow councillors chose to oust us rather than hear us, but I will respect council’s decision," he said. 

With the removal of Coun. Aylwin from the board, the BIA no longer has representation from its ward councillor. 

"I am hopeful Coun. Morales will be diligent to ensure this board is transparent and accountable to the membership," Aylwin said. "I also hope that the board will elect the appropriate and competent people needed to ensure that the levies of downtown property owners are safeguarded and used for the betterment of our downtown."

Morales says he looks forward to working with the BIA and says he wants to bring his political and business knowledge to the board. He attended the University of Saskatchewan to study commerce, before transferring to the University of Guelph to complete his degree. Morales graduated with a bachelor of commerce, with a concentration on economics.

"The downtown is the soul of our city, it's the heartbeat," Morales said. 

The Downtown Barrie BIA board has been cut in half in recent weeks after six members stepped down, including its chair and vice-chair. There had been talk around the council table about the city appointing new members amid turmoil on the BIA board.  

Council decided last night to allow the BIA to elect new members following the recent resignations, while also modifying the rules around quorum — the minimum number of members necessary to make decisions — so that the board can conduct business in the interim.

Earlier this month, Wayne Hay and Tracey Baker were the first BIA members to resign their positions from the board, which is one year into its four-year term. Just a few days later, Tucker and vice-chair Tom Ambeau, as well as members Jason Ing and Paul Lynch, all signed a joint letter dated Oct. 11 announcing their resignations from the board.

Tucker said she believes the two city councillors "betrayed the confidence of the board" regarding the selection process at a BIA meeting to fill the Hay and Baker vacancies, which included looking inside the BIA membership at-large for possible replacements.

Shortly thereafter, Tucker said the BIA was informed by city officials that there would be a council motion to appoint two new directors through a city selection process, which she characterized as "complete disrespect."

At that point, Tucker said she made her decision to resign.

So why so many resignations?

"There have been reports of chaos and toxicity at the board level," Tucker told council in her deputation. "I would suggest rather mistrust and lack of respect better describes the climate of the board and the main reason for the six resignations, including four second-term members and two first-term board members. This has weakened the board tremendously." 

Following the resignations, the remaining six board members, including Councillors Aylwin and Riepma, issued a joint statement Oct. 17 declaring they would work through "governance challenges" in order to become more accountable and transparent.

Also signing the letter of solidarity, which was directed at the BIA membership, were secretary-treasurer Michelle Huggins and board members Chad Ballantyne, Teresa Woolard, and Randy Aylwin.

"The remaining board members will have a challenging road ahead," Coun. Keenan Aylwin told BarrieToday. "I wish them the best and am thankful that they chose to remain on the board."