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"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."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What to look for in Monday's council agenda

It was a little tricky to find the agenda for Monday’s council meeting as there have been some changes to the website. But find it I did, and looking over it, I noted that there are a lot of items, some of them back for the second and third time.  It can be pretty confusing when you stumble across an item that you thought had been resolved and lo and behold here it is again. So here’s a bit of a guide to get you through the mound of paper or the electronic version thereof, whether you watch from the public gallery at city hall starting at 5 p.m. or from the comfort of your own home on channel 13 stating at 9 p.m. You can access the full agenda here.

There will be two big differences that face the viewer for this meeting: the mayor is on vacation which means that acting mayor Bud Polhill will be in the mayor’s chair, and it will be the inauguration of the electronic voting system.  What impact each of these factors will have on the votes of council members will be interesting to note.  It will mean that councillors will have to pay closer attention to the wording of the motions. No more playing follow the leader when deciding whether to vote yea or nay.

Before it begins

For those of you in the public gallery, take note that you are expected to stand as the (acting) mayor and council members are ushered in. Once the mace is put into place, the mayor will sit and tap the gavel twice. Then everyone is seated.


First on the agenda are the recognitions which the city bestows or which are bestowed upon the city. Tonight the city will bestow the 2011 Queen Elizabeth Scholarships to Amalia Cong, Central Secondary School and Ryan Gauld, Saunders Secondary School for their high academic standing.  Then the city will receive the Urban League Green Brick Award to the Stoney Creek Community Centre-YMCA-Library. It should be interesting to watch acting mayor Polhill accept this award as he has recently been publicly quite disparaging of the Urban League. For clarification, see my blog A league of our own.

Disclosures of pecuniary interest

It is up to each councillor to determine whether an item on the agenda involves a decision from which he or she or a member of his or her family would stand to lose or gain. If that is the case, the councillor must declare it and refrain from voting or entering into a discussion on the item before and after the decision or attempting to influence any member of council about it. Donations to political campaigns are not considered in law to represent a pecuniary interest, nor do personal non-familial relationships count.

Minutes from previous meeting and additional communications

This will be followed by some housekeeping items: approving the minutes of the last meeting, identifying items of a confidential nature that ought to be considered in public, and receiving additional communications and petitions which give the public an opportunity to comment on matters coming before the council. There will be several letters and emails on Monday including some on the Green Bin issue and on the issue of internet filtering at the library. Additional communications are accepted until 11 o’clock of the morning of the meeting. The late comers are referred as “added communications” or simply “addeds”. Each communications is assigned an item on the agenda to which it relates and is considered when that item is dealt with by council.

Motion of which notice is given

If a member of council wishes to bring forward a motion directly to council rather than addressing the issue to a committee, she may do so by giving advance notice of a motion. On Monday’s agenda Councillor Sandy White is requesting an explanation by the library board of its decision to close the Glanworth Library. A drive through the village of Glanworth suggests that the community is not happy about losing its tiny library which is open one-half day per week. Almost every home in the village sports a sign pleading:”Don’t close the book on our library.” Councillor White, however, is also a strong proponent of freezing taxes and there simply isn’t any room in the budget for the $250,000 renovations needed on a building which is patronized by only a handful of London taxpayers, especially when there is a well-equipped, heavily used and fully staffed library only minutes away in White Oaks.

Committee reports

Most issues are dealt with first  by a committee of five councillors plus the mayor ex officio which means that the mayor may attend or not, as he wishes. His absence doesn’t affect the quorum although he can, of course, speak, make motions, and vote, which may affect the outcome of a vote on any issue before the committee. The committee recommendations constitute the bulk of the decisions before council.

Community and Neighbourhoods Committee

There will be a number of fairly non-contentious items on the agenda. Recommendations on these will be presented to and debated by council simultaneously.  They include approving a waste management agreement, endorsing a position paper on housing for low-income families, a social housing agreement. These may have few speakers to the issue. In all likelihood, some councillors will not have read the background on these issues but will endorse them as part of a package deal. Some more contentious items are likely to come forward, however. They include:
•     Megan Walker’s pornography issue. Walker wants to shut down what she refers to as “pornography sponsored events” and eliminate the “culture of pornography”. To accomplish this she is demanding that the city not rent any of its facilities to certain groups and that the public library install filters on all computers in the library including patrons personal laptops while in the library. A similar effort was made by Walker in league with then councillor Cheryl Miller (now a provincial PC candidate) last year. Following a censored but sensational visual presentation about the evils of pornography, Walker was unanimously supported by the committee, although it had not heard a word from the library which it funds but which is operated at arm’s length.
•     Changing governance at Museum London.
Executive director Brian Meehan is proposing a governing body which is hand-picked by a committee of the board which includes himself. Currently a number of organizations pick their own representatives. Particularly upset are the artists of the city who would prefer to choose their own representative. My guess is the library too would like to select its own representative since the museum houses millions of dollars worth of art owned by the library. An interesting clause added to the referral at the last minute by Councillor Dale Henderson would allow council to remove from boards and agencies any member council isn’t happy with.
•    The mayor’s antipathy to the Green Bin.
Staff and the committee agreed to put the pilot project on hold again. The mayor seems convinced that there are better technologies out there if we just wait a while. The community seems to think it’s  time to get going. Let’s see what council thinks when the mayor is away.
•    The backyard chicken debate.
All but Stephen Orser opposed a pilot project for London despite the fact that most of the 200 members of the public who came out to the public participation meeting supported the concept. Most of the objections came from the animal welfare/rights community who worried about the treatment of chickens in backyards and recommended veganism rather than free range eggs. Few householders came out to voice their opposition to neighbours keeping backyard hens. 

Finance and Administration Committee

•    The big issue is the committee’s reconsideration of giving the mayor an extra $50,000 with which to engage the community. Only Councillor Nancy Branscombe opposed it saying she had seen only “a wish list”, not a business plan. Since it is a reconsideration, it will require a two-thirds vote (nine votes) just to get it on the table. Could be tough to get.
•    At the “jobs summit” held a few weeks ago in response to the recent unflattering unemployment statistics, the mayor committed to getting his Economic Prosperity Committee up and running right away. Six members of council plus the mayor ex officio are to be recruited. I wonder who they will be. 

Built and Natural Environment Committee

•    Should council approve extending wastewater services to the mayor’s home town of Arva, even if it means forgoing much needed revenue from development charges and taxes at a time when it needs every cent it can get to break even on the taxes and expenses? And what about pressure from the homebuilders and developers who are the main funders of the campaigns of many of our councillors?
•    Adjustment of the components of water and waste water rates to ensure more predictable revenues. With a usage based system, the city gets less revenue in wet summers and more in dry ones although capital requirements remain relatively fixed. This is intended to level out the revenues.
•    CN wants to put advertising banners on two overhead passes. Painting is too expensive, it claims. It needs to get revenue from advertising. Council turned this down in 2006 but it’s a new day at a council which wants to be business-friendly. CN agent John Matsui seems to be a frequent visitor to city hall these days. And getting a sympathetic ear. He was also sitting beside the developer who wants the services extended to Arva at a previous meeting on that issue.

Committee of the Whole

•    A lot of resignations from advisory committee members, and who can blame them? They have received scant recognition or respect in the last year.
•    Council’s wish list for the city. Fasten your seatbelts; this could be a wild ride. Expensive, too. The priorities include sprucing up downtown, a new city hall, a performing arts centre, developing major gateways, developing along the 401, the SOHO plan, a Veteran’s Park freeway, the Southwest Area Plan, expanding public transit. There’s more. And that is just the short list! $$$$$$$$$.

Emergent motion

Sometimes you don’t have time to bring something before a committee; you need to act on the issue right away. Council received one from Councillors Polhill and VanMeerbergen for this agenda. They want to overturn a previous decision of council initiated by Fontana and Polhill  to award $6,000 to a local developer to compensate him for alleged delays in dealing with a stormwater management issue. Now they want to give him $32,000. This is the second time this matter has been brought forward as an emergent motion; it is becoming difficult to know what the emergency is since the original request was dealt with at the end of June.

These are just a few highlights. Be prepared for a long night


Anonymous said...

Great summary on Monday's meeting, should be interesting to see what happens. Lots of potential stories for the media if they stay for it all.

ema said...

The "right" guard seems persistent if nothing else.

Victoria said...

Re: Glanworth Library

Instead of just "closing the book" on us, they should have given us the opportunity, at the very least, to put forth our ideas and workaround solutions or allow us to investigate other avenues and sources of funding.

I think everyone is missing the point entirely. Actually, there are two points: this is a heritage library that has served this community for almost 100 years and long before we were annexed, and it is used by the community today, especially our kids. No one seems to be bringing these considerations to the table at all. Just the numbers, which we can refute and replace with alternative numbers that are nowhere near the sum that every media report seems to cite with horrorified glee, sadly encouraging our fellow taxpayers to agree with the closure.

Well, guess what? We Glanworthians are taxpayers to your city too! And we are simply asking for a chance to put some figures and some options forth, as any group in a democratic society should have the opportunity to do.

Thank goodness we have a councillor in our ward who is fearless and passionate about social justice issues. She "gets" it. Why is it so hard for the rest of London to sympathize with our position? Surely if a key service were to be removed from your wards there would be some loud backlash I'd wager.

As for no money in the budget? Funny how there is always money for what others want. How about all that money that our mayor wants for a new office? Or this half-backed visual identity notion of revitalizing and rebranding London with a new logo? That will be a huge expense.

But it is far easier to say no to a few rural kids who depend on this little library.

The thought of all the money that will be spent on this logo redesign is particularly galling. Mostly because it matters very little how nice the logo is for a city where mediocrity, short-term thinking and lack of vision rule the day.

Finally, since the annexed area gets very little in return for the "honour" of being part of London, I think the amount of money that the library needs in renos is owed to us. It's pittance really.

Open thine eyes, fellow Londoners.

Anonymous said...

Typical stuff. The Mayor wants other technologies as he is still involved with an energy from waste company (no wonder he is on holiday so he doesn't have to declare his conflict of interest) and the zero tax increase councillor looking for cuts somewhere outside of her own ward.

Nadine said...

Have you ever driven to Glanworth? It is not minutes from the White Oaks library. Try a 12-15 minute drive which is absolutely impossible to get to without a car. How are teenagers and children supposed to access a library? Walk 5+ kilometres down an 80km/hr road?

Barry Wells said...

Outstanding post, Gina.

Victoria said...

Gina, I see you didn't post my comment, the one I wrote yesterday. Too bad. I think some people in London need to understand that we in Glanworth are London taxpayers too, so we do have a right to have some say in how city money is spent. Happily, this point was brought forth by a few councillors last night.

Gina Barber said...

Victoria and others: I did publish your comments but there seems to have been a glitch in the program. I do apologize. It was a very busy day and I didn't have time to double check to see if the publishing of the comments actually occurred. There was no intent to censor them.