Although there were a lot of items on the agenda for this week’s council, I didn’t see much that should have generated a lot of discussion. If council focussed on the task at hand, it shouldn’t take all night. But it did, the better part of it, anyway. It was nearly ten when the council embarked on the in camera portion of the agenda.
One factor that creates this problem is the tendency of some members to revisit matters already decided.
It’s always a temptation, of course, to look for ways to get what you want, or get rid of something you didn’t want. And for everyone on council, there are at least a few of those items. It’s especially tempting to try to reverse decisions coming out of a meeting where not all members were in attendance, or to reverse a decision of full council when a shortage of members changes the balance. And although a reversal normally requires a two-thirds majority, sometimes an opportunity presents itself to avoid that requirement at least to have another look.
That was the case with the matter of the $600,000 light show proposed as part of the World Figure Skating Championships coming to London in 2013. Despite a strong appeal from the mayor and Tourism London, council had said no to the contract, it wasn’t prepared to fund it. Find the money elsewhere.
But a letter from Tourism London appealing to councillors to reconsider that decision made it to the list of added correspondence on the agenda for this week’s council meeting. The tone was somewhat ominous, suggesting that Skate Canada had warned of repercussions for London’s prospects for hosting future events and that the city’s reputation and credibility were at stake.
Councillor Nancy Branscombe was quick to respond to a motion to refer this request to the Finance and Administration Committee. She didn’t want it referred; council had said no. She especially objected to the suggestion that that an earlier motion of council had made the light show a “done deal.” “Not until the contract is signed,” she said.
A number of members reminded the council that the original plan had been to look for alternative sources of funding. “Are there other sources of funding?” Councillor Bill Armstrong wanted to know. He wasn’t in favour of using tax dollars on this.
Councillor Paul Hubert asked Tourism London to “provide some comfort around the whole fundraising thing.”
He was assured that there would be continued efforts to raise funds from the community, but Councillor Sandy White pointed out that a fundraising committee was supposed to have been formed. But that hadn't happened. That made it, and here she floundered for words, just “a craw stuck in the hat”. For her, it was just a lot of “horse pucky”.
The latter is not an expression with which I am familiar. However, a Google search for a definition provided 1,740 results, none of which could be construed as complimentary.
Councillor Denise Brown added that since they were dealing with a worldwide event, why limit fundraising to the community. She wanted to cast a wider net.
Councillor Matt Brown reiterated that direction had been given to look for other sources of funding. 'We have been at this since September," he complained. He wanted to know if this light was show a requirement of bringing the event to London. He was assured that it was not.
“Which other cities have done a light show like this?” he asked. It was acknowledged that there were none.
“We are potentially deferring life cycle maintenance," he pointed out in reference to the fiasco at the capital budget meeting, "and then in the same two weeks we're considering giving $600,000 for a party for [what the letter referred to as] ‘meaningful buzz’?” He wouldn’t consider it.
However, seven of his colleagues would. The motion to refer to FAC passed 7 to 6, with Councillors Joe Swan and Judy Bryant absent.
But even some of those supporting the motion to have FAC deal with the letter indicated that they were only interested in proceeding with the light show if the costs could be covered outside of city coffers. They weren't interested in signing the contract.
So unless there is a very large shift of opinion, any recommendation from FAC to reverse the original decision is likely to get short shrift when it goes back to council where it will need a two-thirds vote.
In the meantime, a lot of time was spent rehashing old information and opinions generating lots of heat but little light.
"Is it always like this?" a spectator in the public gallery asked me.
Well, not always, but too often.