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BIA chair quits over archway arguments at council table

'I continue to have no faith that the town councillors will support any major initiative of the BIA,' wrote the BIA chair in his resignation letter
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Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

The chair of the Collingwood Downtown BIA has resigned, citing recent council discussions about the proposed archway sign have left him with "no faith" council will support BIA initiatives. 

In a letter sent to BIA general manager Sue Nicholson on April 20, Chair David Conning expressed dismay over conversations that occurred between councillors concerning the BIA at their April 19 meeting. The letter has not yet been officially received by the BIA as there were not enough members available to make quorum for Thursday’s scheduled meeting.

“Following last evening’s council discussion, I continue to have no faith that the town councillors will support any major initiative of the BIA, even when presented with expert documentation recommending the project,” wrote Conning in his letter. “I hope that the board, moving forward, will prove me wrong.”

Conning is calling it quits after seven years as a member of the Collingwood Downtown BIA board. 

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to invest in championing projects that will ultimately fall to political decision-makers,” he wrote.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, councillors discussed the controversial downtown archway proposal, which would see an archway erected at First and Hurontario Streets as early as the summer.

After an update on the project made to council in March, comments, emails, and letters flooded into town hall, council and local media opposing the archway, and expressing particular disdain for the design – a black metal arch with white font reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side, and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood” on the other.

During the meeting, council voted to implement a fast-tracked public consultation process through Engage Collingwood that would take place over the next month.

As part of that discussion, councillors posed questions about the nature of the BIA and its role.

“The BIA does a lot of great work for our downtown...but I feel what’s happened here is they’ve driven out of their lane,” said Coun. Yvonne Hamlin during the Tuesday meeting, adding that the role of the BIA is to support businesses and oversee the beautification of the town-owned infrastructure.

“Oversee means supervise. It doesn’t mean go off and come up with plans and build them. I think we’ve strayed from what the traditional role of the BIA is,” she said.

Mayor Brian Saunderson disagreed with some of Hamlin’s assertions.

“I don’t think the BIA left their lane,” he said.

During the meeting, Coun. Chris Carrier also made reference to another letter received by council written by Conning but not included on the agenda.

“The BIA Chair had sent us an email saying he had submitted his resignation to the clerk and the board,” said Carrier. “In his email to us, he did, in-eloquently, say that we needed to research some of the background materials.”

“Mr. Conning has been a long-serving board member, most recently serving as chair, and has guided the board through one of the most challenging times experienced in our lifetime,” Acting Mayor Keith Hull, who also serves as the council representative on the BIA, told on Thursday regarding Conning's resignation.

“For his time, expertise, passion and commitment to the betterment of the BIA Board and the constituents they represent, I extend my thanks,” he said.

“This council and the BIA board have made strides this term to improve the working relationship between the two entities and although recently tested, I am confident that collectively we will be able to regroup and move forward,” said Hull.

Hull noted that a new Memorandum of Understanding has recently been put in place which seeks to clarify the relationship between the town and the BIA which should help make responsibilities more clear moving forward.

“The relationship between the Town and BIA's staff has never been more collaborative and work continues on a number of projects that will not only be to the betterment of the downtown but the community as a whole,” he said.

The Downtown BIA has now seen five of eight board members resign over the past six months. BIA Director Penny Skelton’s resignation was accepted by the board on March 10. Other board directors who have resigned include Meghan Berofsky on March 15, Cassie MacKell in February and Brandon Houston in October.

When reached for comment by on Thursday, Houston, MacKell and Berofsky all confirmed they resigned for a variety of personal reasons.

Skelton said she resigned over concerns about the 2022 BIA budget.

"Recent events, including the budget preparation, have lead me to this decision. I can no longer in good conscience continue with this volunteer position," wrote Skelton in her resignation letter dated March 8.

Four new members, Chris Brakel, Mike Sloat, Sarah Pennel and Shay Riordan were appointed to fill in those positions.

“I believe the resignations, received over a period of time, are independent of each other and for varying reasons,” said Hull. “Within any entity there will be change and as we move forward I have full confidence and look forward to continuing my work on behalf of council with the strong board in place."

Conning also acknowledged the new members in his resignation letter.

“The current board is engaged and impressive and I have no doubt that it will go on to do good things,” he wrote.

Multiple attempts by to reach Conning for further comment were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach Nicholson were also unsuccessful.