Megan Mitton has formally resigned her seat on Sackville Town Council to pursue a new career as the Green Party member of the legislature for Memramcook-Tantramar.
In a letter read at the October 9th council meeting by Councillor Andrew Black, Mitton promised to use her experience in municipal politics to serve the people of Sackville at the provincial level in Fredericton.
She added it had been a pleasure working with the mayor, councillors, town staff and community members.
“Everyone is working hard to make Sackville such a special place and I will miss working with you at town hall,” Mitton’s letter said.
Black also moved a motion that received unanimous support accepting Mitton’s resignation and declaring a vacant seat on council.
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, who was filling in for an absent Mayor Higham, explained that the next step would be to inform Elections New Brunswick of the vacancy so that a by-election can be called.
Normally, a by-election would be held in December, but uncertainty at the provincial level will delay things.
Paul Harpelle, who speaks for Elections NB, says the by-election will be held on May 6, 2019.
“This was not a decision taken lightly by the municipal electoral officer,” he said in an e-mail, “however, given the resources required to prepare for the next provincial election where the date is uncertain, this was the most logical course of action.”
Splendour in the grass
Also, at Tuesday night’s council meeting, it finally became clear that Sackville will not be enacting a bylaw to control the height of grass and other vegetation on private, residential property.
Councillor Joyce O’Neill read a motion that would have directed town staff to draft such a by-law, but the motion died when no other councillor would second it. (Councillor Phinney, who has supported O’Neill on this issue in the past, was not present at the October 9th meeting.)
“I feel strongly on this,” O’Neil said, echoing concerns she first raised during a council meeting in August about long grass at a property on Bridge Street near her home:
“Our biggest fear out that way is that with all this dead grass, all you need is a cigarette flicked into that and the house is old, the grass has grown in underneath the verandah and to me it’s such a chance of that going up, catching on fire,” O’Neill said in August, adding that the lives of three small children are at risk in a house next door.
Few complaints, little support
After an 18-minute discussion during the August meeting, CAO Phil Handrahan promised that staff would look into the feasibility of such a bylaw and report back to council.
At its meeting on October 1st, council then heard from town manager Jamie Burke who gave a six minute report on the pros, cons and costs of such a bylaw.
He also reported that in the last two years, the town has received three complaints about long grass. However, during recent publicity about whether Sackville should follow Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe in enacting a by-law, Burke said the town received no letters in favour and four against.
To listen to Burke’s full report, click on the media player below:
Councillor Bill Evans seemed to sum up the opinions of the majority of councillors at the October 1st meeting:
“Do we really want to get into what is essentially an aesthetic rule about the appearance of people’s property?” he asked.
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken along with Councillors Andrew Black and Michael Tower spoke against a grass bylaw with only Councillor Phinney speaking in favour citing concerns about fire safety. (Councillor O’Neill was not present at the October 1st meeting.)
So, Sackville residents will remain free to let the tall grasses grow and the wildflowers wave as long as their vegetation does not interfere with visibility at intersections. (To read what the town’s zoning bylaw has to say about corner sight lines, click here.)
NOTE: It appears that the town’s dangerous and unsightly premises bylaw doesn’t apply because the provincial local governance act does not appear to include vegetation under its dangerous and unsightly provisions. (To read what the act does include, click here.)
New bylaw officer
At the October 9th meeting, council also appointed Corey Springer as the town’s new bylaw officer effective October 29th.
Springer will no doubt be expected to take into account council’s decision not to enact a tall grass bylaw.
In August, Springer’s interim predecessor threatened a Sackville homeowner with a minimum $1,000 fine unless the homeowner chopped down vegetation on the property within 11 days.
The homeowner had been cultivating a permaculture garden with a variety of plants such as giant kale, wild strawberries, lupins, violets, wild evening primrose, clover (to attract bees), periwinkle and skirret, a type of heritage vegetable dating back to medieval times.
The homeowner’s property does not border on a town intersection.
The homeowner, who asked not to be identified, complied and chopped the plants down. Here is the hand-delivered letter the homeowner received with name and address removed:
It has come to our attention that the property at XXXXXXXXXXXXX, Sackville, New Brunswick, has become in violation of By-Law 209 “Maintenance and Occupancy Standards“, this has occurred by allowing the grass to grow past the point where animals and creatures could begin to inhabit the area.
Failure to maintain the grass and tidy the area will result in a fine not less than $1000, but not exceeding the maximum fine set by the Provincial Offenses Procedure Act for a category “F” offense multiplied by the number of days during which the offence continues, as well as any expense the town incurs to have the property maintained.
This letter is to notify you of the issue and to have the issue corrected by no later than September 7, 2016. [Sic]
I thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter. If you have any questions about this letter, or By-Law 209, you may contact us at (506) 364-4930.
By-Law Enforcement Officer
Town of Sackville, NB
Brooke Wilson’s defence
During a telephone interview, Wilson said she issued the letter after one of her summer student bylaw officers received a complaint from a “concerned citizen” about the homeowner’s property.
She added that town Bylaw 209 mentions that grass should not be allowed to grow past the point where animals and creatures could begin to inhabit the area. (I could not find those words in the bylaw.) Wilson suggested that the dangerous and unsightly premises bylaw also applies.
Just before our conversation ended, she said, “I shouldn’t be talking to you about this. I report to [Treasurer] Michael Beal.”
During the question period at last night’s council meeting, Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said there is no bylaw regulating tall grass on residential properties other than the zoning one that refers to corner sight lines at town intersections.