I have a leisurely style of writing. When I open a new page, it seems as if there is all the time and space ahead of me. Whatever will I do with it all? And so I write the first sentence. But before I know it, I have typed a thousand words and there are so many more in waiting.
That happens over the week as well. There are so many stories in the meetings, each clamouring for time and space. And suddenly, the week is over and a new cycle of meetings begins.
Tuesday’s council was unusual, of course, in that there were so many issues that engaged the public.
At the end of the first debate on the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, there was an appreciative round of applause from the gallery from spectators in T-shirts with the message STOP CETA. The mayor suggested that, although they were welcome to stay, there were others waiting to get in for the next issue, Reservoir Hill.
As it turned out, everyone was asked to leave the gallery. Before proceeding with a debate about the recommendation to approve the site plan for a 12 storey 165 unit building on the wooded hillside, council wanted some advice from its solicitor.
Fifty minutes later we were back and the debate began.
The outcome was clear from the first speaker, Bill Armstrong. He was very sorry, he couldn’t really say too much, but they had gotten some legal advice and he had to support the developer’s site plan. It wasn’t this council’s fault, it was the fault of those councillors years ago who had neglected to protect the land when they had the opportunity.
Orser and Polhill made the same argument. It was too late, there was the threat of litigation, they had no choice. Usher, who had voted in opposition to this point, now also succumbed. When council had given the green light to the developer in September, it had committed itself, he believed. Reversing that now would surely result in litigation. Those who had turned on that green light remained silent.
But others agreed with Joni Baechler. "I will never support this plan until it meets the spirit of the Rosenberg decision,” she announced as she traced the history of the application through the Ontario Municipal Board and the courts. When people began to applaud, she asked them not to; she needed every second available to explain this and she had only five minutes. She took 10.
She was supported by Nancy Branscombe, Paul Hubert, Judy Bryant and, surprisingly, Matt Brown. He had voted with the “go ahead” contingent in September. He had changed his vote.
It was too little, too late. The motion to approve the development passed 10-5. And although some hopes had been raised about a possible land swap, necessitating another in camera discussion at the end of the evening, I didn’t stay for the outcome; it was clear that was wishful thinking. and the Reservoir Hill debates, especially among the members of the audience, that was nothing compared to the booing and interruptions of speakers in favour of continuing fluoridation. I was pretty sure this wouldn’t go through; the anti-fluoride literature was too alarmist, its proponents too single-minded. There had been a barrage of emails and internet links from a few people. And they were badly behaved. Had I been a councillor trying to come to a decision, I wouldn’t have been favourably impressed.
There were two good arguments to be made on the anti-fluoride side: the lack of toxicology tests demonstrating safety and the lack of choice for the resident when you point something in the water. Although some councillors did their best to make them, the booing, the undiscriminating applause, the hurled accusations from the gallery made rational decision-making all but impossible.
The next day, I received a copy of an email sent to council from one of the members in the gallery. It read:
Dear Council Member
I apologize for my behavior in the gallery last night during the fluoridation vote. Unfortunately in my passion to get safe water, I took the advice of a member of council who advised our group to be loud and heard in the gallery.
It also was too little, too late.
As for which council member would have advised such a tactic, I can only guess. But it was no excuse. Any adult should understand that rudeness is never a winning approach. The motion to continue fluoridation passed 10 to 5.
The tactics of one of the members of council in support of eliminating fluoride also backfired. Steve Orser had placed a copy of a propaganda poster linking Hitler to fluoridation on each councillor’s desk. Joe Swan had held it up for all to see as he chastised the members of the audience for their behaviour and tactics, at which point Orser took responsibility arguing that it was his way of trying to find out about what happened to his father when he was a prisoner of war.
It was an insultingly weak excuse. He did it for the shock value, just as he has done with other issues, whether it is bringing his child into the debate or displaying diapers for chickens. He has no respect for boundaries and his behaviour is becoming increasingly outrageous.
During the previous council term, we passed a resolution to obtain the services of an integrity commissioner, an independent person who could assist council with setting standards of conduct, investigating allegations of misbehaviour and making recommendations on appropriate disciplinary action. We even put money in the budget to make this happen, but it hasn’t. And so there appears to be little recourse.
Even though there is not much to be done about the behaviour of council, the motion about decorum in the public gallery was still up for debate. The motion had already been significantly revised, with no reference to laughter, applause or eating and drinking in the public gallery. Denise Brown thought applause should be prohibited; it just takes up too much time. Despite the fact that it had been a pretty hectic night on that score, Paul Hubert, who was presenting the Finance and Administration report suggested that it would be overkill. His response earned him a smattering of applause from the gallery.
The final item was the request from Swan and White to re-jig the meeting schedule. The meetings went on too long and there were too many, White complained. She had no time to meet with her constituents or answer their calls.
Denise Brown concurred. She had taken this on as a part-time job. But they were meeting past midnight and she had another meeting at 8 the next morning.
Swan pointed out that they were a smaller council with only 15 members, no Board of Control. The workload had increased significantly.
But Branscombe and Baechler disputed that; they had not noticed an appreciable increase in the workload; it had always been a heavy workload. “It’s not a job, it’s a calling” said Branscombe.
Steven Orser said, “Full-time.” He had given up his business to do this and now he had to take calls from constituents of other wards because their councillors, having other employment, weren’t available. He didn’t name names.
Fontana felt bad for all of them. These long meetings were hard on all the councillors.
And so they are. But why are they so long? Would the fact that they are re-visiting the same issues again and again have anything to do with that? And what about the role of the chair to maintain order and move things along? And why do councillors have to ask basic question of staff at meetings? Can’t they contact them in advance of the meeting? It’s called, doing your homework. And why, if they are so busy, are they taking delegated authority away from staff or other agencies?
Bryant agreed that the load was heavy, but she was also concerned about the load that long meetings was placing on staff who had to be back in the morning, bright and early.
Nobody expressed concern about the members of the media, the TV and the press, the bloggers and the tweeters.
The motion to ask staff to solve this problem for them was passed 13 to 2 with Branscombe and Baechler opposed.
So to whom can staff complain?