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As views go, Mayor James R. Young enjoys an enviable one from his office in the East Gwillimbury Civic Centre, which sits next to one of Ontario's most prized architectural sites: the Sharon Temple, an architecturally rare frame structure erected more than 175 years ago, and now a museum.

The view became all the more clear on Oct. 24, when a town works crew - aided by a chainsaw-wielding Mr. Young and a council colleague - cut dozens of trees from the national historic site north of Newmarket without clear permission.

At a council meeting yesterday afternoon, a contrite Mr. Young apologized to outraged members of the museum's board, including former Toronto mayor John Sewell, before they had a chance to unleash their ire.

"I'd like to offer a full apology for what took place," he said, explaining that "a little bit of a rush and a little bit of a miscommunication" led to the felling of far more trees than the museum's supervisor had agreed to allow.

Still, the pugnacious Mr. Sewell, 67, had some pointed words for the fresh-faced 32-year-old mayor.

"We think this is a very serious matter," Mr. Sewell said, adding that he is afraid museum donors will pull their support if they think its board can't protect it from overzealous tree-cutters. "If we're in a position where we're suffering financially because of something you have done ... we would like an agreement of indemnification from the town."

Mr. Young agreed to Mr. Sewell's demand to have a temporary fence erected around the property immediately, and assigned a councillor to meet with the board over the next two weeks to work out a plan to replace the trees and resolve recent communication problems between council and the museum.

That councillor, Jack Hauseman, used to be the town's political liaison with the museum board until last June, when Mr. Young took over the role. He has long been pushing to improve the visual link between the town hall and the old temple, as part of a plan to make the area the civic and cultural focus of a municipality that is expected to grow substantially in coming years.

The mayor's fondness for the old building next door is self-evident, judging by the numerous framed pictures of it that line his office walls.

"It's not like I'm a bad guy," he said before the council meeting, adding that most of the trees removed were scrubby, invasive Manitoba maples. "We thought we were doing something good."

The communication breakdown happened on the morning of Oct. 24, when John McIntyre, the museum's director-curator, arrived at work to find the mayor, Councillor Marlene Johnston and a town work crew getting ready to start cutting.

They asked Mr. McIntyre to mark trees that could be removed, and he marked "about six trees in total," including some large ones that were dying and a few Manitoba maples that were crowding out other trees.

The mayor "was wearing a helmet, protective goggles and had a chainsaw," Mr. McIntyre said. "When he first came up to me, I didn't recognize him."

Mr. McIntyre left, then returned a few days later to find "they had cut almost everything."

In an interview outside the council chamber, Mr. Sewell said he hadn't heard of such hands-on mayoring since Chicago's Richard Daley mounted a bulldozer to help demolish the downtown airport.

The damage done, the board now hopes to replant the area and cultivate a better rapport with the town's political leadership.

"I would like to be hopeful," said Jenny Carver, the board's president.

As for the mayor's apparent zeal for logging, "I honestly wouldn't try to understand it," she said. "I don't know what he was thinking."

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