Our new mayor denied the existence of the Fontana 8: “I have not put a team together,” he claimed at the beginning of the committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, noting that he had met with every member of council individually in preparation to lead a Team of 15.
Notwithstanding this assertion, at 9:30 the previous Sunday morning, Fontana emailed councillors from his blackberry a heads up that he would be providing them with a list of his preferences for committee membership and appointments sometime late Monday or early Tuesday afternoon.
“I have looked at your preferences and taking broad city wide representation into account as well as ecperience (sic) and expertise,” he wrote. ”And recognizing this is a 4 year term and all will have to rotate during the course of the term - I believe we can come very close to satisfying your number 1 or nuber (sic) 2 choices.”
In fact, the actual list was not distributed to councillors until just prior to the meeting.
Why the delay? Why give notice of an intention that was not yet completed? Were meetings with individual councillors still being conducted to ensure full consultation? Or were some members being deliberately left in the dark?
One person who certainly was not consulted was Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe.
Branscombe had indicated only one choice for standing committees: the Finance and Administration Committee.
This is a natural choice for Branscombe. It was her initiative and her motion that got the Services Review Committee up and running in 2008. She worked with staff in all departments to get this going; she chaired it for the next two years, for a total of more than 25 meetings, most lasting two to three hours each. As a result of the work of this committee and her leadership, the format of the budget for 2011 will transition from department-based to service-based, providing greater transparency and opportunities to identify efficiencies and cost savings.
Six councillors had indicated Finance and Administration Committee as their first choice: Steve Orser, Nancy Branscombe, Paul Hubert, Dale Henderson, Denise Brown, and Judy Bryant. Since the Mayor is automatically the chair of this committee and total committee membership is five, two councillors would not be able to get their first choice.
And what about qualifications? Nancy Branscombe and Judy Bryant had both served on the Services Review Committee. Paul Hubert had served on the Audit Committee for the previous four years, part of it as chair. All three had also attended most of the Board of Control budget meetings.
Orser had shown no interest in any of these meetings during his first term.
With this in mind, Baechler had recommended that Nancy Branscombe, Paul Hubert, Dale Henderson, and Judy Bryant be appointed to the FAC as part of her original motion, and suggested that Orser and Denise Brown be given their second choices of Community and Neighbourhood Committee (CNC).
It sounded reasonable. The people with the best experience go on the committee and those left off get their second choice.
And yet, the Mayor had left Branscombe off his list of choices, preferring Orser. After his bid to replace Baechler’s motion with Fontana’s suggestions was ruled out of order, VanMeerbergen called for Branscombe to be replaced by Orser. When this motion failed, Fontana made the unprecedented move of leaving the chair to suggest that perhaps Bryant could make room for Orser. Clearly, Orser, who had been his sign chair in past election campaigns, was his boy.
As Joe Swan observed, “It’s back to the old ways of ‘Who’s your buddy?’”
Fortunately, commonsense won out and both Bryant and Branscombe remained on the committee.
But the questions remain: How do you create a Team of 15 when such blatant favouritsm is shown? How do you justify attempting to replace dedicated, hardworking, intelligent, experienced councillors with political cronies? And just whose interests are being served?