Welcome to London Civic Watch

"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."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So now what?

Given the build up in the media over the last weeks and months, the charging of London’s mayor with fraud related criminal offences should come as no surprise. The London Free Press had hinted that the RCMP had concluded its investigation and something would be happening soon. Given the evidence already before the public, most observers would have been far more surprised had the investigation resulted in an exoneration of Joe Fontana.

 The mayor himself seems to have given up on claiming that he would be vindicated in this or other allegations of unethical if not strictly illegal behaviour. There has been some stepping back in this, as in other matters.

In response to the reports of his involvement in running a sham charity, he responded that his charity “operates under the guidelines and regulations of the Canadian Revenue Agency" and that he “sleep[s] well at night”. A lawyer representing the charity even threatened to take LFP and a couple of bloggers, myself included, to court for our reports on the charity and its organizers.  Nevertheless a few months later that same charity, according to his son Ugo who manages the day-to-day operations, had decided to sever its connection with the tax shelter that encourages it to issue inflated tax receipts. This after the Canada Revenue agency advised that it was investigating all charities connected with tax shelters.

On the matter of his stepson Michael’s wedding reception, he likewise expressed confidence that “a thorough and fair review will clearly demonstrate all transactions were proper and valid.” Not quite a denial of wrongdoing, but still a far cry from yesterday’s statement on his website that the allegations are serious but that he will not allow them to distract him from the task at hand. No hint of “I didn’t do it” or “I will be vindicated”. Just a simple, I’m not going anywhere. “I will not step aside.”
It is doubtful that, when he wrote those words, he did not know that charges would be laid against him. What he said, in effect, is that regardless of how bad it gets, he will not leave until someone makes him do so, that someone being the criminal courts. No vote of council, no public opinion poll, no media headlines will cause him to step down.

And why should he? Apart from being concerned about the reputation of the city and its government, that is. Apart from doing the “honourable” thing. There appears to be no legislative means of hurrying him along to allow the council to heal and the citizens’ concerns come first on the agenda.
The RCMP investigation took one month. The courts are to act much more slowly. A court appearance is not scheduled until the new year.

The current council has almost reached its halfway point. Should the mayor do the “honourable” thing and step down, as two mayors in Quebec have done even before charges were laid, there would still be time to hold a by-election for the top position. Two years is a long time; not that many years ago, that was the usual council term, an extension of the original one year term. If the federal and provincial governments are able to select governments in four weeks, there is no reason why Londoners could not pick a replacement mayor who, after all, is a local person, in that same time frame. It could all be decided at the end of January or earlier. 

In fact, in the early years of the last century, municipal elections were held annually on New Year’s Day. I don’t know about sign crews in those days, but surely there wouldn’t have been any robocalls, or radio and television advertising. Some town hall meetings, but definitely not  online.

But it is unlikely that Fontana, despite referring to himself as the Honourable Joe Fontana, is likely to do the honourable thing.  He will probably stay put until the next election or a court conviction, whichever comes first.

And if he were to step aside as a temporary measure, with pay of course as long as he has not been convicted and is presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise, what then? He would leave a much divided council, one he has so cultivated preferring to rule with eight votes rather than try to work toward cooperation and consensus. He would also leave the remaining seven allies in control of all but one standing committee and his favourites in charge of all of those committees. 

Currently, for short absences by the mayor, a monthly rotation of councillors act in the mayor’s stead, a day here, a couple of days there. Up next is Sandy White, followed by Bud Polhill. Neither one is fit to do this on an ongoing basis as a few hours of watching council will reveal. Sandy White as budget chief? Bud Polhill handling a meeting of council?

The alternative would be council selecting someone from among themselves but on whom could a divided council agree. For budget chief, you couldn’t do much better than Nancy Branscombe or Joni Baechler, but I can’t imagine either one getting the nod from Fontana’s remaining seven. When it comes to chairing meetings, both Matt Brown and Paul Hubert have shown themselves to be remarkably adept, good-humoured and even-handed, but they too would have difficulty winning the support needed. On the other side of the great divide, Joe Swan is good at chairing, but seen as more self-serving than interested in what’s best for the city. And even on the committee he chairs, he hardly point to a record of achievement.

So, although a rotation does not seem like an ideal solution, it may be better or at least more workable than any alternative. And if any of the incumbents have longer term leadership aspirations, it may make them a little more conciliatory just to get some cooperation to make them look good.

But this is all academic; the mayor will (probably) not step down. There are too many critical decisions coming up. Landowners and some developers may be happy with their “enterprise” and commercial zones all along Wonderland Road from Hyde Park to the 401, but there are other hopes and dreams to be realized—anti-aging resorts on city-owned property and more agricultural land to be turned into shopping centres and housing developments. Seven votes won’t make that happen.

Fontana’s statement from his lawyer’s office on Thursday at 1 p.m. will be interesting, but don’t expect any surprises.

Fontana’s eight needs Fontana.


Anonymous said...

I think it's safe to assume that Joe subscribes to the view that "You dance with the ones that brung you."

In his case, of course, that would be your friendly neighbourhood developers, large and small.

So there's no way Joe will step aside voluntarily and disappoint his dance partners.

Too bad for London.

Charmoose said...

So if he decides NOT to go, we the voters just have to sit on our hands and watch him push through his own agenda for the next two years? Then at the end of his term he walks away and says, screw you London, I got what I came for? I'm 63 but I'd be willing to riot to get rid of the SOB.

Anonymous said...

How can we trust this "mayor" who is up on three very serious charges to make right decisions for the City and the people of London? I for one, cannot trust Joe Fontana or any of the councillors if he is allowed to stay as Mayor. The people of London need a mayor who can be trusted and this mayor can't be trusted. How do we know he has not "screwed" the people of London also. There are too many unanswered questions.

Rick Odegaard said...

Whether Mr. Fontana steps aside or not, this council ought to be focused on changing the rules that allow a member of council to hang around when clearly not wanted.

Now council is limited to moral suasion in encouraging this brash mayor to step aside. The electorate has no say whatsoever. We need to make a structural change that permits either group to act.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but wondering if the conservatives recent past explicite desires to spend more money on policing and building new jails may have been a purcusor to these charges, based on prior knowledge.
I wonder how our Mayor Joe Fontana is holding up under the stress...I mean I really want to know how. Think of all the money we could save on mental health care if we knew his secret to success. Personally, I doubt if he is mentally fit enough to maintain power of attorney over his own lunch ticket...but who am I to talk...his discretionary benefit department gives me vouchers businesses can redeem for services unrendered, cause apparently I might use the money to buy drugs instead of glasses or teeth or water.

Anonymous said...

wish you would stand for Mayor G

Anonymous said...

also dreading the next couple of months if he DOES stand down...

ordinary citizen said...

As fed up and sickened as I am at Fontana, emphasis on sickened, I am just as sickened by Joe Swan. What on earth is this guy up to? He seems to be playing some kind of very nasty game with his continued support for Fontana. Is he lining up to be the next developers lapdog when Fontana is gone? If the developers lose their errand boy Fontana they will need a new one. Stephen Orser would probably want to be their new lapdog but he is not as smart as Swan so the other Joe seems like a better choice for the developers who really run the city. Nothing can break the stranglehold on our city that the developers have. They own us and they run us and it looks like Joe Swan is getting ready to be their new yes man. Please don't let the other Joe be the interim mayor. Please.

G. Babbitt said...

Although highly unlikely, I actually hope he stays on. There has been an ongoing problem with the Fontana 8 making decisions which will bring in a few dollars in the short run, but will have devastating consequences for the city in the medium and long term. Fontana hanging around will be a signifier exposing the ethics of his "team"

Anonymous said...

Gina, your analysis speaks clearly to the core problem here: an impoverished sense of the meaning of leadership. It isn't playing sides, it isn't playing favorites, it isn't managing political capital. Fontana does not lead, all he does is lobby on behalf of pet projects by manipulating process and, worst of all, his colleagues. Is this Council teaching the next generation of prospective leaders that they need to do the same? I'm convinced it is.

Fontana is certainly teaching developers that they can manipulate process! For example, the proponent of the "anti-aging resorts on city-owned property" recently told the Community Association they will come to speak IF people "only ask questions about the development". Ridiculous, but not a surprising fall out of the crippling of Council (read 'civic leadership') by cronyism!

UU4077 said...

Well, it's official. Joe's staying. No surprise there. I just wonder what he owes to who that he has to hang on at all costs to get his ajenda through. If he was not enjoying the support of at least 7 other councillors to get his wishes passed I wonder if he would hang around.

Anonymous said...

Why would he have chosen to step aside, he has too many fingers in too many pies and too many friends to make happy to step aside now. IT doesn't matter what the citizens want since this council has made it clear from the get go with the chicken issue and some other issues, that citizens are NOT a priority in their decision making. They simply pat you on the head and say too bad for you and go back to their ways. I just hope next election we have the intelligence to throw the entire herd of Fontana and his 7 out the door and get some fresh faces.