The appointments fiasco was not the only example of petty personal politics at the last council meeting. There was also the matter of naming a street-just a little one- that had become separated from its parent, Trafalgar Road, as a result of the building of the Hale-Trafalgar overpass. That left a cul-de-sac of 12 houses dangling without an identifier.
The naming of streets is subject to the City’s Street Naming Guidelines. There is a Municipal Addressing Advisory Group (MAAG) composed of representatives from Planning, the City Clerk's Office and Environmental Services, and Emergency Service providers, which receives suggestions for street names and reviews them to ensure there are no duplications or similarities likely to lead to confusion for the public or emergency service providers. In new subdivisions, the developer may choose names for the new streets subject to the guidelines. If a street is being re-named, council and the public get into the act.
There are a number of criteria for naming streets: the name can’t be too long; it shouldn’t be too similar in spelling or sound to an existing street; the name shouldn’t change from one block to another.
Additionally, there is a “Streets of Honour” policy which encourages the adoption of names to honour war veterans, those who lost their lives serving the city or the country as a member of the armed, police or fire services, or long-serving retired or deceased members of city staff or council, or recipients of the Mayor’s Honour List. Organizations can make submissions which then are incorporated into an approved list of names maintained by Planning.
Naming a street is not something that you get to do every day unless you are a developer. The 12 residents who were disconnected from Trafalgar Road were contacted by planning staff and offered a choice of three names drawn from the list, the first two honouring members of the armed services, and the third commemorating a policeman who was shot while attempting to arrest a chicken thief. While there was no consensus, 4 of the 8 who responded picked the police officer represented by the name Waddell Place. This became staff’s recommendation to the Planning Committee, of which I was a member when the matter was first being considered in November 2010.
The cul-de-sac in question is in Ward 2 and represented by Councillor Bill Armstrong. Armstrong saw this rare opportunity as one to recognize a local hero who met all the criteria of the “Streets of Honour” policy, Trooper Mark Wilson, who had served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD) and had been killed in action in Afghanistan on October 7, 2006. And unlike the three candidates presented by staff, Mark Wilson had grown up in the area. Armstrong had managed to talk to nearly all the residents on the street, got their support, and then presented his idea to the Planning Committee.
Despite some discussion that the name might be confused with Wilson Street or Mark Wilson Park in the Sunningdale/Wonderland area, thereby confusing emergency services, Planning Committee recommended that the potential for renaming the stub to Mark Wilson Street be referred to staff for a report back at a future Built and Natural Environment Committee (BNEC) meeting. Its recommendation was supported by council the following week. No member of the public had come forward to address the issue although all the residents had been advised of the public participation meeting before Planning Committee.
One person who vociferously opposed the name was then Controller Bud Polhill.
Polhill and Armstrong have long been political rivals, even enemies. Five years ago, Polhill announced his intention to found a political dynasty by encouraging his son, Steve, to run for council and his daughter, Sheri, to seek a trustee position. In fact, the latter abandoned her married name in order to benefit from the Polhill brand. Steve sought to unseat Armstrong. The race was intense, with rumours of dirty tricks. In the end, Armstrong won, but not as comfortably as he might have wished. Sheri was successful in gaining a seat on the Thames Valley Board of Education.
With the loss of the Board of Control, both Polhill boys had to find seats for 2010. As a member of the Governance Taskforce, Bud Polhill had done his best to have the ward boundaries redrawn in order to have his son’s residence included in ward 2 but unfortunately he missed a couple of meetings at which the boundary issues were being debated and was unsuccessful in reintroducing the proposal later. Although he speculated about seeking the mayor’s chair, when Councillor Caranci announced he would not be seeking re-election,
Polhill happily settled for Ward 1. That left Steve Polhill to go a second round with Armstrong.
If anything, this one was nastier than the previous one. Polhill Senior made no effort to conceal his wish to see Armstrong defeated.
An issue that the Polhills have claimed as theirs is representing the concerns of veterans whether it’s free parking for vets or cleaning up Veteran’s Memorial Parkway. Allegations about use of city resources for political purposes figured in one such cleanup effort, with Steve accusing Bill of complaining to staff about the Polhills’ use of city-owned garbage bags.
“So screw Bill Armstrong, We will buy our own garbage bags. I’m sure the veterans will love to know how you feel about them BILL!” tweeted Steve Polhill, according to the London Free Press.
Bill Armstrong denied the accusation.
Still, Controller Polhill was not thrilled with the prospect of Councillor Armstrong getting credit for the naming of a street after a war hero in the ward that his son wanted to represent. And even though the election is now over and Armstrong is back in his council seat, right next to Polhill, it’s clear that there is no love lost between them.
The matter of the street name came back to BNEC at its last meeting. There, all members of the committee save Polhill, the chair, supported the Mark Wilson Street name in preference to the staff recommendation of Waddell Place.
However, at Council a week and a half later, the matter was again referred to staff.
By this point, all 12 households on the street were in support of the name as were the Royal Canadian Legion Victory Branch and the parents of Trooper Wilson. Polhill professed to not be opposed to the name but the process by which it had come about. He wanted to follow the appropriate procedure, which included a public participation meeting. The fact that such a meeting had been held in November and no one came, and the fact that Armstrong had signatures in support from all of the residents didn’t suffice. Polhill wasn’t convinced that everyone was in support. He had been doing a little door knocking himself.
That drew a sharp reproach from Armstrong, who questioned the appropriateness of a councillor from a neighbouring ward interfering in the business of Ward 2. And yes, what was Polhill doing there?
Polhill got support from several others, including Orser, who opined that naming a “dead end” street after Trooper Wilson was insulting.
Calling the performance on this issue “embarrassing”, Mayor Fontana said he wanted to set the process straight. “We have a policy...thrown out of the door or window.”
Armstrong was clearly frustrated. He had the support of the parents and the legion. He had consulted with every resident. “How many hoops do you want me to jump through?” he asked.
So in the end, the matter was referred back to staff and the street is still unnamed. But it’s interesting that on this matter, councillors were so concerned about protocol and process when, a few minutes later, they would completely ignore it in dealing with a citizen appointment.
But I have a recommendation for the council. Perhaps they could go back to the street naming guidelines and name the street in question after a recipient of the Mayor’s Honour List.
May I suggest Barry Wells Place?