So what was finally accomplished at the first Committee of the Whole meeting?
Prior to the meeting, all councillors had been requested to submit their first, second and third choices for standing committees and to indicate if they were interested in being chair. The preferences were then distributed to all members of council.
Six councillors expressed a preference for the Finance and Administration Committee. Since the Mayor is the automatic chair, only four at most could get their first choice.
Six councillors also expressed a preference for the Built and Natural Environment Committee. Only five could actually get their first choice. Two of them wanted to be chair.
Finally, only two selected the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee; both wanted to be chair. Clearly, the best possible outcome from the perspective of the councillors was that three of them would have to settle for second choice.
This was the proposal put forward by Councillor Baechler: all would receive their first choices except for Armstrong, Orser and Denise Brown who would move to their second choices.
Mayor Fontana had his own ideas on how to populate the committees. His proposal, although not placed on the floor, would have involved moving Armstrong and Swan to their second choices, and Henderson and Branscombe to their least favourite choices.
The wrangling between these two proposals lasted more than two hours. In the course of it, members felt undermined and insulted as their mayor publicly attempted to remove them from committees and as new members challenged the presence of experienced members on committees and in leadership positions. It was indeed a spectacle.
In the end, how much was achieved?
Orser, Armstrong and Matt Brown ended up with their second choices. Denise Brown was relegated to her third choice. The mayor succeeded in getting Bud Polhill as committee chair and acting mayor but lost his bid to put Paul VanMeerbergen in the same positions. He also lost out on the opportunity to develop a Team of 15.
I cannot recall a similar scenario from my years on Board of Control. Although there was always some “to and fro” in making committee appointments, these were usually reasonably civilized as members negotiated with each other to work out differences. These negotiations were encouraged by the mayor who generally did not publicly “take sides”.
Only once do I recall an embarrassing battle when Orser wanted to be on planning and there was little support for him. I recall Mayor DeCicco-Best saying at Board of Control that she would leave it to the members to work it out before the Committee of the Whole. Orser made a fuss in the media and we were all worried about what would happen at the meeting. But when the matter came forward, Paul VanMeerbergen offered to step aside to accommodate him.
I don’t think the difference lay in the presence of the Board of Control; rather, it was the underlying premise that we started with the choices of the members themselves, making every effort to accommodate them, having confidence that the members themselves appreciated their strengths and weaknesses, and that they would consult and negotiate with each other in order to accommodate those strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s hope the new council can arrive at a similar understanding. We don’t need to spend another night like this.