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Monday, November 26, 2012

Hanging together

Denise Brown, Councillor for Ward 11, must be feeling dizzy after her 180 degree turn and back again on the matter of whether Mayor Joe Fontana should step aside until the criminal charges laid against him have been dealt with by the courts.

Denise Brown
Certainly members of the media were reeling; they had been assured by Brown, even from her vacation destination in California, that she would be supporting a motion for the mayor to step aside, this after she had previously helped to block any discussion of the matter at the last council meeting. She had received huge headlines for her supposed change of heart after the criminal charges were laid. But alas, it was just a teaser; a founding member of the Fontana 8, her support for the mayor remains unwavering.

It doesn’t auger well for the support of Councillor Joni Baechler’s motion when it goes to council on December 11. Baechler acknowledged as much in a media scrum after the Finance and Administrative Services Committee meeting at which the motion had been passed, with Councillors Paul Hubert and Nancy Branscombe supporting Baechler’s motion. Mindful of what had happened to Toronto mayor Rob Ford an hour or two earlier, Mayor Fontana decided to play it safe and recuse himself while Hubert took over as chair. It also meant that he didn’t have to answer any media questions after the meeting.

So the motion asking Fontana to take a paid leave until the charges have been dealt with passed by a vote of 3 to 1, a solid vote. But the critical one, the one that would signal a change in support was missing.
Brown had her reasons, she claimed. It wasn’t that she didn’t think that the mayor’s problems were becoming a distraction, generating an inordinate amount of emails and phone calls; heck, half her time on council business was spent on dealing with these. I would hazard a guess that, given her vote on the issue, her workload isn’t about to go down anytime soon.

But listening to city solicitor Jim Barber weigh in on the motion had given her pause. Barber had asked the committee to determine whether the motion was in order and was it constitutional and legal. The committee could, if it wished, get legal advice either in public or behind closed doors. He suggested that they might want to turn to the city clerk for advice on the criteria for holding office and how one becomes disqualified. And it mattered whether the motion was simply symbolic or did the mover expect it to be acted upon by the courts?
Baechler assured him that it was purely symbolic. There was no intent to assess the guilt or innocence of the mayor. She herself had sought legal advice before bring the motion forward.

Acting chair Paul Hubert then asked for the deputy city clerk to provide advice on the matters raised. She advised that the matter could be considered but it was up to the chair to rule on the admissibility of the motion.

At that, Hubert rules the motion in order and Branscombe quickly seconded it.

Baechler had read her prepared statement; she didn’t want to al lib on such a serious matter. Every word counted.

Denise Brown was the first to comment. She pointed out that the past few weeks had not been easy, listening to constituents raise concerns “fuelled by media”. She had planned to agree with the motion but now, with questions raised about the legality of what they were doing, she couldn’t support it.

Steve Orser is not on the committee but this self-appointed guard dog for the mayor was there at his post. The motion was illegal, he declared; it wasn’t in the Municipal Act.

This was an interesting observation. It calls to mind the quote from T.H. White in The Once and Future King: “Everything not forbidden is required”, the corollary of which is, no doubt, “Everything not required is forbidden”. In this case, in Orser’s interpretation, if it wasn’t provided for in the Municipal Act, it must be illegal.

Besides, he added, “He won’t do it (step aside). We have to move on to other things. It’s in the courts. Move on.”

Branscombe pointed out, lest anyone get the wrong idea, that councillors have been back to work. “Only, it’s more difficult,” she pointed out. The motion didn’t have the force of legislation but she wanted to be on the public record.

And that indeed was the gist of Baechler’s motion; it was not to require the mayor to step aside but to give voice to all those constituents who had phoned and emailed their representatives. They had an obligation to address the matter in the only forum they had, an open debate and vote at a council meeting.

This may be the last opportunity to hear those voices. After the beginning of the new year, the committees will be stacked by the mayor to have a preponderance of his supporters. Only the Community and Protective Services is not so constituted; its business, not dealing with issues of development or handing out dollars, is not seen as being that significant. And besides, all of the chair positions will be held by Fontana’s 8.

Why did Denise Brown back off? 

That’s anybody’s guess. It's not the first time she has flip-flopped. She did the same thing on the issue of the integrity commissioner, going along at committee but then voting against it at council.

Whatever the reason for her about-face, it is clear that despite the allegations and charges facing Fontana, his supporters are hanging on. They have taken to heart the famous expression by Benjamin Franklin in 1776: “We must all hang together or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.”


Alan P. Aboutown said...

Denise Brown has stated publicly on the radio (today) that she met with a "lawyer friend" for about two hours apparently convincing her the motion was somehow illegal.

Draw your own conclusions or do I have to spell it out?

Barry Wells said...

Far from being a waste of time (irrespective of the outcome), Joni Baechler's motion asking Mayor Fontana to step aside pending the outcome of his criminal trial, provides a perfect barometer or litmus test to determine the value each member of London city council places on integrity and public accountability.

PREDICTED OPPONENTS OF BAECHLER'S MOTION AT COUNCIL: Cllrs. Polhill, Swan, Orser, Henderson, Van Meerbergen, D. Brown and Usher (7).

PREDICTED SUPPORTERS OF BAECHLER'S MOTION AT COUNCIL: Cllrs. Baechler, Hubert, Branscombe, M. Brown, Armstrong and Bryant (6).

WILD CARD: Coun. Sandy White.

Anonymous said...

I can now see who on city council has integrity, accountability and who really cares for the people of London and it is NOT Fontana and his 8. It is really sad to see that these people including the mayor do not care about Londoners. One would hope that come next election that they are shown in a really big way how Londoners feel about what they are doing or maybe before. I can't trust anything that goes on at city hall anymore.

Charmoose said...

Last week I was cheering Denise Brown for doing the right thing. This week I find she's spineless (all legalities aside) and she's lost my vote. Leave Fontana in place? The next election is a long way off and a lot more damage can be done to this city by then.

Do we as citizens have to take over city hall? Do we have to riot in the streets to be heard? And I was just starting to like London again. Now can't wait to get out and stop bashing my head against the wall.

Anonymous said...

In an email to a friend of mine on Saturday, Denise said she was not a member of the Fontana 8 and that it was just a media invention. Denise said she had voted against Fontana several times. Because Denise voted against Fontana, the city hall was not given to Western.

Denise's words just before her signature were "I will ask Joe to step down".

With yesterday's vote, Denise is clearly in the Fontana 8 in my opinion and certainly runs the risk of no re-election if she stays there according to my friends who live in her south London ward. I think the next election is going to be very interesting to see how many of the Fontana 8 get re-elected given the polls we have seen in the London Free Press. I think that the fact that they all agreed to the pre-planning of the committees by Polhill and Fontana to give the Fontana 8 control, shows the lack of integrity in them all. Birds of a feather flock together. The 2014 election will be something to look forward to. Will Londoners forget how they were not respected or listened to?

The Ghost of Joey Smallwood said...

Ms. Brown is a classic example of the famous mugwump, with her mug on one side of the fence and her wump on the other.

Note to Denise: it can be a politically dangerous, as well as awkward stance.

Barry Wells said...

Regarding Fontana, the honourable thing for him to do would be to step aside until the conclusion of the trial. After all, he's our mayor, chief magistrate and budget chief facing three serious money-related crimes.

Some Londoners have also completely misunderstood our legal concept of "innocent until proven guilty." It's to ensure a full and fair trial for the accused.

Once an individual is arrested and charged, while they're still not convicted in a court of law, their rights are often comprised somewhat.

Ask those suspects languishing in the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre while awaiting their full and fair trial, to get my drift.

JLS said...

Hello London and Miss Gina,

I would like to share some correspondence that I had with one of OUR Council Members...You may want to start at the bottom and work your way up. You decide!!!

Ms. Brown,

You out and out LIED TO ME.

You said,in the attached emails (below) that you where going to ask Fontana to step aside/down/out...WHAT HAPPENED???

It makes no sense to me...I feel like and have been betrayed. No Trust, No Morals, No Back-Bone!!!

You have NO integrity and neither do most (8) of our present City Councillors. You know who you are.

Leadership comes from the Top...Arrogance and Egotism have no place. Wishing everything would "just" go away...Well it's not. You ALL have left such a bad taste in our mouths. If I had my way...I would call for a By-Election tomorrow.

The people of London are speaking, do you not hear them...85+% are asking Joe to step aside/down/out so this broken City can get back on track and start to recapture it's past glory.

Do you really think that it can be "business as usual" with this heavy, heavy dark cloud hanging over our and this City's head.

The people of London will remember ALL of this the next time they walk into a voting booth and mark an X by the name of the person that they want to represent them.

Lord knows, it's been SO SORELY misrepresented on this go around!!!

Good Luck and Goodbye!!!



Sent: Saturday, November 24, 2012 2:36 AM

Subject: Re: I would appreciate a response!

There is not and there was not any Fontana 8. This was a media comment and nothing more. I have often voted against Joe. You could hear his voice change when he realized he was not getting the support.

If Fontana 8 was real, I would not be facing a methadone clinic in my Ward, Joe would have received the votes to give City Hall to UWO, etc.

I will be asking Joe to step down.

Denise Brown

Sent: Friday, November 23, 2012 12:58 AM
To: Brown, Denise
Subject: Re: I would appreciate a response!

Hello Ms. Brown,

So how do you feel in regard to him finally being charged with 3 Criminal Offences, etc.

How can the Council and Fontana 8 still function.

Denise, Fontana 8 is OVER!!!

Are you going to vote against Fontana,

The man has to step down!!!


----- Original Message -----

From: Brown, Denise

Sent: Thursday, November 22, 2012 1:39 AM

Subject: Re: I would appreciate a response!

I spoke to him last week about this issue. I will be asking him to step down.

Denise Brown

Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 12:45 AM
To: Branscombe, Nancy; Armstrong, Bill; Swan, Joseph; Orser, Stephen; Brown, Matt; Polhill, Bud; Usher, Harold; Brown, Denise
Subject: I would appreciate a response!

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I recently sent you an email regarding...The 30 days are up...what are you going to do in regard to Fontana stepping down!!!

I would appreciate a response.

I feel we're in limbo, waiting as though the decision is Fontana's alone to make.

Fontana's supporters say it's his decision and we - who endow the office with power, credibility and trust - have no say.

It would seem the title of London Mayor, once gained, belongs to the incumbent as though he were Pope of the Vatican and cannot be removed. He is ordained perhaps with divine authority and we, the common mere mortals who purportedly entrust the title of Mayor to someone temporarily, based on certain criteria, have no say. We lose all manner of input, once the candidate ascends to the holy throne.

We've waited long enough. Even if Fontana has proof he paid back the money - he had no right to take it in the first place.

Fontana is not worthy of the title of Mayor and he disgraces the office and the people of London.

Simply, Fontana needs to step down.