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Tempers flare as Puslinch mayor accuses resident of 'personal vendetta' (UPDATED)

In response, resident Bruce Taylor is calling for change or Mayor James Seeley's resignation

Editor's note: A follow up email from Helmuth Slisarenko explained that he spoke out of turn during the delegation because he is hearing impaired and wanted to point out that he was having trouble hearing council discussion.

PUSLINCH – Boreham Park is at the centre of what Mayor James Seeley called a personal vendetta against Puslinch council. 

The contentious Arkell park has undergone several transformations over the last few months in response to The Boreham Park Committee of the Concerned Citizens of Puslinch's longstanding safety concerns about risks associated with the storm drainage ditches framing the park's playground. 

Represented by group member Bruce Taylor during a meeting Wednesday morning, the group is now asking the township to look into the feasibility of installing culverts on either side of the playground and accusing the township and council of making the "unconscionable" choice not to make children's health and safety their highest priority. 

Past concerns about the park include a drainage ditch, potentially poisonous plants and lack of consultation.

"You have an option. You actually have a moral and legal duty...Even years after your term on council, you would never want to risk being told ... you could have done better," said Taylor, quoting former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and pointing at councillors during his delegation. 

"I am very comfortable in staff's recommendations to leave the ditches 1,000 per cent," said Seeley, during the meeting. "The analogy of you can do better and pointing this direction, I am comfortable in my decision ... I'm very comfortable with the layout of that park, I don't feel it poses a risk to our children any more than a roadside ditch." 

When interim CAO Courtenay Hoytfox attempted to move on, things devolved into a shouting and pointing match when another member of the group ,Helmuth Slisarenko, spoke out of turn from the gallery, repeatedly saying "I object" and "this is a disability issue" before leaving council chambers alongside Taylor after Seeley informed him if he continued to speak out of turn the OPP would be called to remove him. 

Slisarenko was invited to participate in Taylor's delegation but turned down the offer at the beginning of the meeting. 

"My perspective is we don't need any of it. This is Bruce," said Seeley, during a follow-up discussion in council on whether to address these new safety concerns following the incident. "This is just a personal vendetta against this council and this park."

Using the example that a child could crawl on a grate and hurt their wrist or get their hand stuck in a hole, Seeley said he felt it's "not appropriate" to spend more money to inundate staff with reviewing the ditches again.

In addition to complaints about Boreham Park, Taylor has delegated multiple times for the group since 2021– bringing forward issues like railway-related noise and speeding.

Most recently, the township planted a yew shrub barrier along the Bareham Park ditches to address the group's concerns about children drowning but was forced to remove them again after the group pushed back with toxicity concerns about the plant variety. 

"This individual just keeps attacking every component trying to trash it in any part that he can ... so at some point, we just need to stop and just realize this is a vendetta from this individual," said Seeley. 

However Coun. John Sepulis said he felt it's important for council to do its "due diligence" to address these concerns and successfully moved a motion to investigate the feasibility of placing a grate over the ditch and conduct a safety review of the concerns brought forward.

"I don't need this coming up every so often that we're accused of endangering children," said Sepulis, addressing Seeley directly. "I agree with you that it's sensationalism on one part but on the other part if there's any semblance of potential we need to dispel it or do something about it. As simple as that."

In an emailed statement following the meeting, Taylor said the mayor's "negligence" regarding children's safety in Boreham Park should be investigated under the section of the Occupiers' Liability Act for "negligence, even gross negligence, recklessness, wilful blindness, and a lack of both due diligence and duty of care."

"It's clear the mayor's words, actions, and inactions are in violation of the Occupiers' Liability Act and that he needs to change. If not, he should resign immediately," said Taylor in his email. 

"All the mayor had to do was give Slisarenko one minute to explain his concern. Instead, the mayor’s response was heavy-handed, disgraceful, and with risk when inflicted on a senior citizen. And to a senior citizen like Helmuth Slisarenko, who is a stalwart among us in Puslinch," said Taylor. 

Taylor also said Slisarenko deserves a written apology from the mayor immediately, calling the exchange "heated" and "poorly managed." 

As of Thursday morning, Seeley said he hasn't heard anything about an apology but did communicate with Slisarenko this morning and considers the discussion concluded. 

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.


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About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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