Watching a five-hour shoreline preservation bylaw meeting Jan. 17 somehow reminded me of that story of a Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park.

The city said he should have waited for a $65,000-$150,000 city project to handle the problem. The city subsequently tore down the stairs saying they were not built to regulation standards. 

Retired mechanic Adi Astl took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park in Etobicoke. His neighbours chipped in on the project. 

Astl said at the city price, he thought they were talking about putting in an escalator. So, he hired a homeless person and they built the eight steps in a matter of hours. 

At the time, Mayor John Tory said his staff had been asked to revisit the project and come up with a more realistic estimate, as the last one was based on projects in other parks.

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It’s about common sense.

In the case of the shoreline preservation bylaw, one thing that became abundantly clear is County director of planning, Steve Stone, seemed to know as much or more than the expensive consultants on the project during the meeting this past Monday.

Stone is the former director of planning for the Township of Seguin. He told council that while there, his department was responsible for three bylaws dealing with shorelines: blasting, tree removal and filling.

He then went on to provide numerous examples of how the township handled the bylaws. In one instance, it became very clear how someone attempting to do minor landscaping would be separated from someone doing hardscaping.

Some councillors commented they had no idea that Stone used to be with the planning department in Seguin or that he had such a good working knowledge of its shoreline bylaws. They should have.

It was pointed out by the consultants that they had reviewed the Township of Seguin but with the volume of paperwork on the portfolio, it’s easy to see how it could have been overlooked by councillors. 

It left me wondering why County councillors didn’t first have a chat with Stone about the draft, and then bring in the consultants at a later date. Perhaps Stone could have answered a lot of their questions and saved a day of consultants’ fees.  

In general, I think County council and the lower-tier municipalities are often too quick to go to consultants. In this case, one of the missing pieces of the puzzle was that the consultants were unable to get community comparatives. Stone was the only one to provide that type of context during the meeting.

I’m not anti-consultant. In this case, County councillors felt it prudent to hire an independent, third party since the process was turning downright ugly. In addition, the directors of various departments at small municipalities are very busy. 

However, I sometimes wonder if the expertise these directors have – not to mention local knowledge – is being missed.

In the same vein, I’m pondering a County committee of the whole decision last week to proceed with a request for proposals to hire a consultant to create an economic development strategy. Bits and pieces of this work have already been done. Why hire a new director of economic development and tourism only to have that person field out what some would argue is his job to an expensive consultant?

It might be argued the new director doesn’t have the local knowledge, and has enough on his plate. It could be argued a consultant won’t have the local knowledge, either.

I urge County and lower-tier councils to be a bit more stingy in future when going out to consultants and to turn a bit more to in-house expertise. Not only will it save us money, it might help to keep good staff around a little bit longer. 

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