Communities in Bloom committee retiring, chair says program’s value dismissed

Germain Park Communities in Bloom (BlackburnNews.com photo by Dave Dentinger)

Sarnia council’s entire six-member Communities in Bloom committee is retiring at the end of its term December 1.

In a letter to council October 13, Chair Anne Marie Gillis highlighted the group’s successes since the program was reintroduced in 2006, but claimed there was a “deliberate effort by the city to dismiss the value of the underlying principles of the CIB program” this year.

“It is with such dismay, we witnessed the destruction of the unique gardens that permeated the park system, in 2020,” Gillis wrote. “Gardens that played a pivotal role in Sarnia’s success with the CIB program. The sacrifice that was borne by the Parks and Rec Department to offset a deficit early in the fiscal year, was very shortsighted and disproportionate, in my opinion. It took decades to design and build the mature gardens that once graced our city, but just a few months to unravel those years of work.  A reality that clearly was not and has not been fully comprehended.”

Speaking with Blackburn News Sarnia, Gillis said the committee wasn’t asked for any input when city operations shut down in March due to COVID-19.

“You didn’t really have to do that, you really needed to, I think, listen to your committees of council and ask their opinion before those pivotal decisions, but none of that was done,” she said.

It would appear Gillis found the grass was greener in other communities.

“When I went out and looked at Lambton Shores, I looked at Point Edward, I looked at Petrolia, I looked at St. Clair Township, in their downtown core and some are very small, to even go down their downtown strip, it looks maintained and it looks inviting,” said Gillis. “When I would go downtown in the spring and summer [in Sarnia] this year, weeds were everywhere, they were all around city hall. There was nothing, nothing to invite people to come down, nothing.”

Anne Marie Gillis.

Gillis said experts have indicated it will take at least five years to bring the gardens back to the standard they were pre-pandemic.

During Monday’s virtual meeting, city Councillor Terry Burrell suggested the city leave the committee open to applications.

“Hopefully we can get people to jump back on board with us, but I think if we just leave it as is and if people want to come forward, even if they want to change the name of the committee, I think we should leave that to the people,” said Burrell.

His motion was unanimously supported by the rest of council.

After losing $700,000 in revenue from waiving Sarnia Transit fees, cancelled events and paying unforeseen expenses, Sarnia council implemented cost-saving measures on April 21.

The city’s park amenities were closed until about the end of May under the provincial government’s pandemic orders.