When you apply for a committee position you are advised that appointments are a public process. You are not warned that the process may also be humiliating.
For sometime now, Council has ostensibly been concerned about engaging the public in activities and issues at City Hall. In fact, the mayor was recently critical of the public for not showing up to speak out about a controversial development at the corner of Dundas and Clarke Road which staff had recommended be refused. Council, helped by the vote of the mayor, approved it anyway.
There are a number of ways in which citizens can become involved in decision-making at City Hall. You can call or email your councillor; you can ask for delegation status before a committee; you can watch the debate from the public gallery; you can speak during a public participation meeting. There are also surveys and open houses through which residents may have input.
And then there are citizen advisory committees. Members of these committees are volunteers who receive no compensation although, if they meet during the lunch or dinner hour, they will be provided with coffee and sandwiches. Parking in the underground garage is also covered.
At present, there are a dozen advisory committees which report to one of the three standing committees (Finance and Administration, Built and Natural Environment, Community and Neighbourhood Services). Members are appointed by council for a four year term to coincide with the term of council. The current crop has had their appointments extended while governance issues are being resolved. The plan is to have an independent body make recommendations on appointments to Council starting sometime this fall.
As well, there are a number of special committees and taskforces which include citizen appointments of varying duration. These are established on an ad hoc basis as the need arises to deal with some immediate issue or concern.
Two of these special instances came before Committee of the Whole at its last meeting: appointments to a sub-committee to deal with finding a home for the Guy Lombardo Hydroplane Tempo VII, and a steering committee to devise a neighbourhood improvement plan for Old South.
The first of these came out of a recommendation from the London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH).Following a controversy over ownership of the speedboat earlier in the year, I had asked Council to refer the issue of the Tempo VII to LACH which would in turn hold a public participation meeting. Council endorsed the motion and LACH followed through. Its recommendation for a sub-committee consisting of three members of the LACH, two members of the public and a member of Museum London was endorsed by Planning Committee and then passed by Council on November 15, 2010.
In March, the appeal for applications for the members of the public was posted in the London Free Press Civic Corner. On May 10, the names of two applicants were placed before the Committee of the Whole: Barry Wells and Doug Flood.
Both of these applicants have excellent credentials for the task at hand. It was in fact Barry Wells who alerted Council to the concerns about ownership of the boat which in turn had spurred my motion. Board of Control had been all set to hand over the boat to a private citizen. Wells was also named to the Mayor’s Honour List for Heritage a few years back. His interest in and knowledge of the heritage aspects of local popular culture are impressive. He had already done a bit of legwork on this issue, approaching owners or managers of a number of potential display venues, including the London City Music Theatre run by Councillor Dale Henderson. Doug Flood, a retired city police officer, had for many years run the Guy Lombardo Museum until its closure a couple of years ago. Both men have made submissions to Council with respect to the Tempo VII over the past few years. Dealing with these appointments should have been pretty simple.
Both also, however, carry a bit of baggage.
Doug Flood has lived up to his surname in his dealings with council on the matter of the closing of the Guy Lombardo Museum, filling up councillors’ email accounts with forwarded messages from Guy Lombardo enthusiasts from Canada and the United States expressing their disappointment over the closure. Then too there was the incident a few years ago when council granted his next door neighbour a variance to the fence by-law, allowing a fence higher than the standard six feet to ensure privacy from the intrusive activities of Mr. Flood.
And Barry Wells, well, that’s another story.
Barry Wells operates an alternative news website, www.altlondon.org devoted to baseball (and other sports), crime reports, and City Hall. His articles are by turn outraged or outrageous; he likes to take the pomp out of pompous. City councillors are a favourite target and a source of amusement.
Among those who have frequently captured his attention are Councillors Stephen Orser and Sandy White, and it was Orser and White who strenuously objected to Wells’ appointment as proposed by Councillor Joni Baechler, noting that Wells is a “political commentator”. Only a few months earlier they had attempted to bring forward a motion to censor citizen appointees from committees for being critical of councillors. That effort was aborted when the city clerk informed them that council has no control over the lawful behaviour of its appointees in their personal lives. All the more reason to block them before they are appointed, these councillors seem to have concluded. The motion to appoint Wells failed.
Orser had an alternative proposition. He noted that there was someone in the gallery, someone who had not applied for the position but who had indicated to him that he would be willing to serve if the position were offered to him. That person was Derrick McBurney. Since he had not made an application, I didn't see a list of his qualifications. A Google search reveals that he has worked on issues of poverty and homelessness in the city and Sandy White’s campaign, neither of which, although worthy endeavours, seems particularly relevant to heritage or likely to provide contacts for the storing of the Tempo VII.
But then, when it comes to appointments, it’s more a matter of whom you know than what you know. Orser’s motion that “Notwithstanding the normal appointment process, the following individual BE APPOINTED to the Guy Lombardo Tempo VII Hydroplane Sub-committee: Derrick McBurney” was supported by Councillors Bud Polhill, Denise Brown, Paul Van Meerbergen, Dale Henderson, Sandy White and Mayor Joe Fontana. Although that is only 7 votes, it was enough to carry the day since Councillor Bill Armstrong had not attended the meeting and Councillor Nancy Branscombe had left early.
Barry Wells was especially hurt by the lack of support from Henderson. “I am surprised at Dale Henderson because he and I (before the election) were on the same page regarding the Lombardo speedboat. We talked about it extensively,” he pointed out.
For myself, I am more concerned that the mayor, as chair, has chosen to allow the policies and procedures of council to be hijacked in this way, indeed to endorse the violation. Overriding the recommendation of an advisory committee and a decided matter of council, and embarrassing members of the public in the process, is not the way to encourage the public's participation. We need more citizen involvement, not less. Why bother to advertise if volunteers are not welcome? Why not just pick your friends and avoid the sham and the cost of advertising?
The second case was one in which two people were vying for one position on the steering committee of the Old South Neighbourhood Plan. The contenders were Craig Linton (proposed byWard 11 Councillor Denise Brown), a land development bank project manager and Jean Ramer, a real estate agent, both members of Old South Community Organization (OSCO). Ramer in particular seems to be very active in the community, serving on the Wortley Village Business Association and having previously served on the School Council as well as being a member of the London and Middlesex Historical Society.
This time the process was reversed; instead of choosing neither applicant, at the behest of Councillor Joe Swan, they chose both, without worrying about a notwithstanding clause. A more inclusive outcome.
Whether anything on the Tempo VII appointment will change when Council deals with this issue on Monday night remains to be seen. With Councillor Bryant away in New Zealand, it may be difficult to get a clear majority vote. A tied vote always loses.