Welcome to London Civic Watch

"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paying the Piper

Last night I spent more than seven hours in the public gallery at city hall watching a new council scramble for position. It was brutal.

Although the Mayor denied it, from the outset it was clear that a voting block has been formed. In response to Joni Baechler's (Ward 5) enquiry "Who are the Fontana 8?" reported in the London Free Press, Fontana said that he expected to lead a Team of 15. He stated categorically that he had not met with groups of any size but had met with every individual one at a time. More about this later.

Stephen Orser (Ward 4), who had been referenced in the Free Press article, interjected that after talking to most of the councillors, he had concluded that “there are eight on Fontana’s side”.

Fontana then indicated that he had distributed a list of suggestions to aid the council in its deliberations. When Nancy Branscombe (Ward 6) characterized the list of suggestions as “presumptuous at best and manipulative at worst”, Fontana retorted that by choosing to eliminate the Board of Control the previous council had opted for a “strong mayor” system and he was simply exercising his prerogative.

The list was not distributed at the meeting but its contents became clear as the meeting progressed.

Built and Natural Environment Committee (BNEC)

The “Fontana 8” revealed itself early on in the selection of the Built and Natural Environment Committee and its chair. Baechler, always quick off the mark, proposed Polhill, Swan, Matt Brown, and White with herself as chair. Instead, following some fancy footwork by Matt Brown, the committee lost Matt Brown and gained Armstrong, then, at the behest of the Mayor, Armstrong was replaced over his objections by Denise Brown and Bud Polhill became the chair.

The significance of this cannot be overstated. Joni Baechler is widely recognized as an expert on municipal planning. She has both a broad and detailed knowledge of the Planning Act, the Official Plan, the Provincial Policy Statement, the Zoning By-law and other related legislation that is unparalleled on council. She pointed out that a number of major area and secondary plans (the Southwest Area Plan, the Downtown Master Plan, Meadowlily, etc.) would be coming forward this year and she has both the background experience to deal with them and the impartiality needed to smoothly conduct the public participation meetings that will be held.

Bud Polhill objected to what he perceived as the implication that he would not be impartial. Having worked with both of them on Planning Committee, I would say that he is bang on: he would not be impartial. Polhill’s chief qualification for Planning is that he never saw an application or a development proposal that he didn’t like. And no wonder. Although he has not yet released a list of his campaign donations for the 2010 election, a review of his past contributors shows that the vast majority are from those in the development industry.

Most applications that come before the committee are not controversial; 97% are supported with few objections or questions. But a small number are very controversial, especially where important environmental, aesthetic, or community concerns are at stake. This is where it becomes important to appreciate the importance of the professional staff’s recommendations and to remember whom you have been elected to represent.

The outcome of the vote revealed the identity of the Fontana 8: Bud Polhill, Steve Orser, Matt Brown, Dale Henderson, Paul VanMeerbergen, Denise Brown, Sandy White, and, of course, Joe Fontana himself.

Matt Brown
Of these, Matt Brown has proved to be the greatest disappointment. Touted as a fresh, new moderate, it is clear that he has political masters to appease. The circuitous way in which he removed himself from BNEC replacing himself first with Armstrong and then, with the help of Fontana, Armstrong with Denise Brown, and supporting Polhill over Baechler suggests that he too has to pay the piper.

More about the standing committees tomorrow.


Scott said...

Gina - so happy you're blogging about Council this term. I'll read with great interest!

- Scott Courtice

SC said...

Echoing Scott's comments, looking forward to your perspective on things Gina

Kimber said...

Keep the info coming Gina, thank you for taking time out to keep us informed.

Dean Sheppard said...

Great blog Gina. I will be a regular reader without a doubt.

I hope some of the 'Fontana 8' quickly start using their own judgement and intellect instead of merely following the mayor.

Anonymous said...

It's so refreshing to finally see one of the major losing whiners whine in public. I've been waiting a long time for this kind of pathetic entertainment. You're a very large part of the problem Gina?

Elizabeth C. said...

So proud of your opinion yet you hide behind "anonymous". Your remarks are as empty as your "name".

Anonymous said...

Another shining example of a pot calling the kettle black eh 'C' ;-) This the best defense you can offer?

Elaine Murray said...

Now isn't that interesting, Branscombe running for the nomination for the Conservatives in London-Fanshawe. Not that she has a chance, her political ambitions are just that, ambitions, without any conscious behind them. Branscombe has proven she will go whichever way the wind is blowing at any given time,if she believes it will get her one step closer to the throne, any throne will do. That, and being labelled as part of the socialist cabal block sort of knocks her chances down to the bottom rung. If by some very odd freak phenomena, like conservatives in the area having a brain malfunction and putting her in as the candidate, that leaves Greg Munro. Greg with a whopping 816 votes could make it a Fontana 9. Even if Branscombe stays, she will fold like a cheap lawn chair when she figures out the socialist cabal have lost their power on council.

Elaine Murray said...

Correction, London North Center is the area Branscombe is eyeballing. Mercy! forgive me,in between my fits of laughter at the chaos that I know will ensue, I put in the wrong area.