A year ago, Councillor Sandy White raised the issue of whether council should be making grants to organizations or related individuals that are critical of councillors. One has only to look back at what transpired at that time to see that there might be a connection to the events of the previous week when White called the employer of a critical blogger, an employer who happened to be in receipt of some city funding. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote on February 3, 2011.
Pillar Nonprofit Network has also, for all the years I was on Council, requested support for its work educating and assisting other nonprofits in the City. I would describe Pillar as the mother of all nonprofits. Under the leadership of executive director Michele Baldwin, its membership has grown from 100 nonprofit organizations in 2007 to more than 230 today.
Pillar offers professional development for the nonprofit sector. There are over 1,000 nonprofit groups providing services to the community, much of it through the efforts of volunteers. It is estimated that volunteer services in London are worth approximately $672 million per year whether through giving rides to cancer patients, delivering meals on wheels, or staffing the Library Store.
Members of Council were clearly sympathetic to Pillar’s request for $50,000 to deliver governance and leadership training, giving Baldwin leading questions which allowed her to showcase its strengths, including its ability to partner and fundraise.
Then Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White took the discussion in a whole new direction. Noting that there were more than $5 million in nonprofit funding "asks" (these include all community groups eligible for ongoing funding) she suggested that the process has become too political and perhaps Pillar could take over the granting process. She would be prepared to make a motion to that effect because, and here she became quite agitated, leaders of some nonprofit organizations were asking for or receiving taxpayers’ money while engaging in “unprofessional behaviour” by criticizing councillors and “even you Mr. Mayor” on the internet, in the paper, and in blogs and “yet we’re giving them money”. “Take a look at it,” she urged. “Should I make a motion right now?” That suggestion was dismissed.
Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe pointed out that Pillar is not a granting agency and expressed regrets that Council had not been able to fund it the previous year. She hoped that Council would be able to assist this year and to “find a more permanent way” to help Pillar do its work. Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert pointed out that funding Pillar is an investment, not an expense. However, as the Executive Director of Pathways which I believe is a member nonprofit, he probably should have declared a pecuniary interest.
White tried one more time to make a motion that Pillar become part of the grant awarding process but was advised by the Mayor that any motions should be postponed until a future meeting rather than presenting them at the public participation meeting.
On Twitter, White denied that she was suggesting that nonprofits in receipt of City funding should not be allowed to criticize members of Council. Nevertheless, several other observers in the public gallery had the same understanding. If that was not what she meant, “you have a communications challenge,” tweeted one.
Update: Here is the actual transcript of Sandy White's remarks, thanks to Greg Fowler and Phil McLeod:
“I just want to state I have a pet peeve about the fact some of the (non-profit) leaders in this city and certainly we’re entitled to free speech but the way that they conduct themselves, and yet we’re handing them money from the city, you know they’re in the paper, they’re on their blog. I mean they’re, you know, after councillors, they’re after you Mr. Mayor. I mean these kind of professional, ah non-professional behaviour needs to be addressed. I mean it is the taxpayers’ money we’re giving out, and yet this kind of behaviour is acceptable? These are some of the things in terms of professionalism that we look at and I don’t want to be accused of whining it’s just a fact. If I did that at my job they would say, you know, there’s the door what’s your hurry, here’s your pink slip and don’t look back, we’ll get you a box and see you later. These are some of the issues we need to address in terms of the standards that we set in our non-profit sector in London. Thank you.”
Need I say more?