Mayor Mike Bradley resigned Monday from Sarnia’s Police Services (SPS) board, saying the board is approving too much spending and having too many closed meetings.
Bradley has sat on the SPS board for at least 35 years, most of those as chair.
Last fall, the mayor was clear that he did not approve of an unprecedented 11.3% budget increase for SPS, but both the SPS board and Sarnia city council approved it.
In February, Bradley seconded a nomination for local educator and provincial appointee Paul Wiersma to become chair of the SPS board, and Wiersma was acclaimed to the position. Bradley, as mayor, remained one of four other members.
But he told The Journal today his relationship with Wiersma became strained when the board began having more closed meetings – commonly called in-camera meetings.
Bradley said he rewrote his lengthy resignation letter numerous times in recent weeks and debated whether to submit it, but an incident on Saturday made up his mind.
“Twice in the last month or two, I was told by the chair they were looking at a Code of Conduct (complaint against Bradley) because I voiced my opinion (publicly),” the mayor said.
“Last Saturday I received an email from the chair of the board saying he didn’t like comments I made in public session at Sarnia council (on May 8) when we were talking about spending and I…said to council, ‘I want to just warn you, there’s nothing in here about future capital spending and debt of the police in the next ten years. I’m just warning you now that that is going to be a big issue.’
“They didn’t like that.”
The SPS board is comprised of three civilians and two municipal politicians.
As mayor, Bradley said, “We’re the ones who have to go out and raise the money to pay for the police. To be told we cannot comment on that….”
He said he also strongly objected to a lengthy in-camera meeting, which he refused to attend, that related to the 2023 budget.
“I tried to work with it for the last four to five months, but when I got (Saturday’s email), and was told it would be discussed at the next police board meeting…it was totally inappropriate.”
Bradley said stress “from being on that board, because of the nature of the climate of that board with the civilian members” is impacting his mental health.
“I couldn’t continue this way,” he said.
SPS Chair Wiersma said today he wishes Bradley “well” and thanked him for his lengthy service on the board.
“We respect his decision,” Wiersma told The Journal.
Asked if there is open conflict between the mayor and the board, Wiersma said the mayor has “expressed a dissenting opinion in open meetings” but that, as chair, Wiersma encourages what he calls “healthy and respectful debate.”
“I think since I’ve been chair, I’ve tried to have meetings that are more open and more accountable to the public.” He said he also moved the SPS meeting room at police headquarters to make it easier for members of the public to attend.
“Our meetings are much longer than they used to be. We have many more reports and…hold the administration to a higher level of accountability,” Wiersma said.
As an example, he said Sarnia’s Police Chief Derek Davis and several board members took the unprecedented move to present the 2023 – 2025 SPS business plan at seven public meetings attended by hundreds of residents.
Sarnia faces “security and wellness” issues that require more policing, as well as funding for a new auxiliary and more MHEART resources to deal with mental illness and addiction in the community, Wiersma said, defending the 11.3% budget hike that was ultimately approved by city council in a 7-2 vote. Mayor Bradley and Coun. Terry Burrell were the two votes against.
“I think the community is willing to invest more to respond, not just in a reactive way,” said Wiersma. “For a long time, we’ve been very reactive and now…I think we’re being much more proactive in terms of responding to community concerns.”
Bradley’s resignation letter says a new police station is proposed and indicates that is one of numerous factors for his resignation.
A new building would require city funding and “take the city deep into debt at a time we are about to become one of the few debt-free cities in Canada,” he wrote.
But Wiersma said there has been no decision about police facilities at the board level. He said a new long term plan is necessary that includes “deficiencies” in existing facilities. Discussion about that could take place as soon as May 25 at the next board meeting.
“But it’s not even a confirmed agenda item,” he said.
Bradley’s letter of resignation leaves the door open for his return to the SPS board at the end of 2024. As mayor he is able to rejoin the board without an appointment. Meanwhile, a city councillor will be chosen to serve in his place, along with Coun. George Vandenberg who already is an SPS board member.
The mayor’s resignation letter also says he intends to write a letter to the Solicitor General suggesting changes to the Police Act as it relates to police services boards.
“This is badly needed, based on my own experiences and experiences across the Province of Ontario,” he wrote.