‘Ottawa’ Carleton Place Business Leaders worry bad Publicity Could Hurt town Image
Prominent members of the Carleton Place business community agree with Mayor Louis Antonakos that recent negative media attention could damage the town’s image and long-term marketability.
But Chamber of Commerce chair Donna MacDonald and Business Improvement Area director Rob Probert don’t necessarily agree with the mayor when it comes to where to place the blame for the bad publicity.
“The current controversy involving our mayor and town council is not helpful to the image of the town of Carleton Place,” said Probert, BIA director and founding chair of the business group, who also has an intimate knowledge of town hall’s inner workings as a former councillor.
“It brings into question the complete integrity of our town management and how elected officials and staff, in a small town, are expected to work together towards the community good.”
Controversy hit Carleton Place last month when an integrity commissioner report dismissed several complaints lodged against the mayor and a fellow councillor, but ruled the “toxic relationship” between Antonakos and Coun. Doug Black was “damaging to the town.”
Antonakos has made no public comment in direct response to that determination, despite numerous requests from the Citizen and local Carleton Place press.
On Tuesday in council chambers, in response to a motion calling for improved media relations to quell the controversy, Antonakos angrily denied accusations he “willfully ignored” media and demanded councillors produce evidence, while dismissing recent media reports as either “flawed” or “fabricated.”
Following the mayor’s statement Tuesday, all six of his council colleagues voted to appoint deputy mayor Jerry Flynn as council spokesman, a role traditionally held by the town’s mayor.
Antonakos told councillors and the press to “seriously consider the damage that has been done to the image and long-term marketability of our community through these questionable acts and flawed newspaper articles.”
MacDonald said neither she nor the Chamber of Commerce has enough information to comment on the turmoil at council.
“I know what the papers say and I know what people say, but I don’t have enough accurate information to offer an answer,” MacDonald said.
“The chamber is somewhat concerned with the recent information that’s been hitting the media, as it applies to the business community. But we remain committed to working with council – all of council – to promote a healthy business climate.”
After lashing out at his accusers during a 25-minute speech this week, as council colleagues pleaded with the mayor to stop veering into territory that didn’t address the media relations motion, Antonakos listed some of the highlights of the first two-plus years of his tenure as mayor, saying, “There have been a record number of new businesses in Carleton Place.”
But MacDonald said the pace of business “is not progressing at the rate the chamber would like to see it progressing, adding there are a number of variables at play.
“We would really like to see an economic development officer be part of our municipal office and we’ve maintained that for several years now.”
The town’s former economic development co-ordinator, Jasmin Ralph, left abruptly in March 2015, and her position has not since been filled.
“A lot of the progress that could be made would fall to that office,” said MacDonald. “But that role is a decision council needs to make and I don’t believe it’s on their radar now. But we will continue to advocate for that.”
MacDonald said while Carleton Place still presents an attractive opportunity for new businesses and residents, she acknowledged, “The bad publicity doesn’t feel good for anybody.”
Probert suggested the publicity may eventually root out what he called the “real issues” facing the town.
“I have to guess that with all of the investigative work being done by the media that we will eventually have a clear picture of what the real issues are,” he said. “I do not believe that it is all simply about a personality clash between the mayor, one member of council and now the entire council. Real issues must surely be at the root cause of this controversy or else we are all a victim of a huge unproductive waste of time for the sake of an ego.”