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NTAG issues report card for Newmarket council
Feb. 17, 2016
By Chris Simon

Most of Newmarket council gets a mediocre to failing grade, according to the results of a “report card” released by the Newmarket Taxpayers Advocacy Group.

The document, which attempts to use a combination of rankings from residents and performance measures based on meeting attendance, email responses and a question about fiscal responsibility, gives insight into what some residents perceive is the performance of all nine members of town council.

The attendance figures were provided by the town and are based on individual participation at 2015 council, committee of the whole, closed session, workshop, sub-committee and board meetings. Mayor Tony Van Bynen had a 97 per cent attendance record, followed by Regional Councillor John Taylor and Ward 6 Councillor Kelly Broome-Plumley (96 per cent), Ward 2 and Ward 7 councillors Dave Kerwin and Christina Bisanz, respectively (93 per cent), Ward 1 Councillor Tom Vegh (90 per cent), Ward 4 Councillor Tom Hempen (85 per cent), Ward 3 Councillor Jane Twinney (82 per cent) and Ward 5 Councillor Joe Sponga (66 per cent).

“Everybody will make their own decision on how well they feel they’re being served by council and staff of their municipality,” Van Bynen said.

Sponga said a minor health issue affected his attendance record during the spring and summer.

“I’m hoping I still bring value to the residents,” he said. “I respect whatever findings they have. It is what it is.”

Residents were also asked to offer a grade based on a number ranking - one being the lowest, five the highest - and they could also provide comments, though many chose to use solely first names or pseudonyms.

The resident voting took place for more than two weeks. Taylor scored the highest ranking, an average rating of 3.9, after 55 votes. Hempen averaged 3.8 (on 42 votes), Van Bynen received 2.9 (51 votes), Kerwin got 2.6 (27 votes) and Twinney and Bisanz averaged 2.5 (27 and 24 votes, respectively). Sponga (2.3 on 30 votes), Broome-Plumley (2.1 on 30 votes) and Vegh (1.8 on 30 votes) all received what could be technically considered a failing grade.

NTAG also asked councillors, via email, what they have done to curb spending within the town.

“NTAG wanted to provide residents with completely objective, measurable and fact-driven criteria to grade their town council,” NTAG president Teena Bogner said. “This is a small yet effective way to measure performance in 2015 without using subjective data.”

Council was asked to respond to emails sent by NTAG in June, September and October. Most declined to respond to a majority of the emails.

Van Bynen says it’s fairly common for only one member of council, or a staff member with more expertise on a particular subject, to respond to resident inquiries.

“As an organization, we strive to ensure there is always a response to resident inquiries,” he said. “With over 86,000 residents, inquiries and responses are not always handled directly by the mayor or an individual councillor. Often it is more appropriate for a subject matter expert to respond. As an organization, we stand well above most and we stand toe-to-toe with any other municipality. Council is very focused on responding to inquiries.”

Newmarket’s customer service team receives nearly 110,000 contacts each year, with 89 per cent of issues resolved on the first attempt. Newmarket’s most recent town-wide survey showed 88 per cent of residents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received, Van Bynen said.