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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Unfortunate choice of words

London has again received attention from outside its urban growth boundary and beyond but not in a good way. Company is about to arrive and yet, our dirty laundry is airing online for all to see.

Sandy White has been the centre of attention this week, a place she likes to be, but unfortunately it is isn’t giving her the respect she craves and demands.

By now, you have all heard the story, I’m sure.

White had resigned from the London Transit Commission to which she was appointed by her colleagues. She had had a difference of opinion with the management and the board about an advertisement on the bus; she believed it to be sexist and inappropriate for a city bus. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here it is.

The LTC has been down this road before. A few years ago there were complaints about an ad questioning the existence of God. Some people tried to shut it down but doing so would have gotten them into difficulty with the charter. The LTC uses a private contractor to handle advertising on its buses, an important source of revenue that allows the city to reduce its share of the costs.

When the LTC board refused to remove the ad, White resigned from the LTC. For the benefit of the media, she cited objectification of women and abuse of children as her reason for taking this stand. She felt passionately about it. It was a matter of principle.

Her resignation was received by the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee on Monday. White, following her allegations of racism by the Ontario Ombudsman, was absent.

Councillor Paul Hubert had a problem with receiving this resignation. He appreciated and respected the Councillor’s opinion in this matter but was concerned that if people quit over a difference of opinion, what happened to the dissenting voices. He recalled that there had been strong differences on the issue of computer filtering at the London Public Library, but nobody had resigned. The issue for him was one of performance; there wasn’t any performance review for the appointments that council made. How could they be sure of getting effective representation on boards and commissions?

The discussion was making the mayor uncomfortable. White wasn’t there but her resignation was. It was her choice. They might be able to look at a mechanism for performance review at some other time.

At that, Councillor Stephen Orser attempted to provide a defence of her resignation, to explain why she had done this but he was told by the mayor that, in her absence, discussion of her reasons would be inappropriate.

That left Councillor Bill Armstrong to weigh in. He had a problem. If she just got up and left, who would take her place? It was a matter of workload. Who was going to take up the slack? He certainly couldn’t take on any more. Had anybody done an analysis of the workload that these appointments engendered? Was anybody volunteering?

There was a conclave in Rome, the mayor joked. Maybe they could send up some smoke signals here.

Councillor Bud Polhill muttered that perhaps he could take it on in a few months. He had something on the go that took him out of town but that would be over in May. He was quickly nominated.
It turned out that the mayor had some interest in it too, but he didn’t want to run against Bud. The two began to offer the position to each other.

Then Councillor Nancy Branscombe chimed in. She had been talking to Councillor Joni Baechler who had expressed a willingness to take this on. Immediately the mayor backed off saying that Baechler would be excellent, Baechler was the one. A vote was quickly taken and all agreed. End of story.

That was Monday afternoon.

The recommendation went to council the following evening. This time, White was in her usual seat.
When the issue of her resignation came forward, she couldn’t hold back.

She had resigned on a matter of principle, she was a social worker, she had spent years counselling victims of abuse. She had a master’s degree, not some arts diploma. She knew what she was talking about. And she had received a lot of support, not only in her ward but across the city and even across Canada. People were applauding her. But on this council, certain councillors—Hubert and Armstrong—had violated her Human Rights. She had consulted a lawyer. She had a case. She wanted an apology from them.

But no, they didn’t get it. Perhaps if she had used (the N word) or painted a penis on the side of the bus, then it would have made sense to them. She wanted them to show some respect.

Armstrong objected. She had named him and he wanted to speak on a point of privilege. She hadn’t even been here; if she knew what had been said, she was going on hearsay. He had only talked about workload. It had not been directed at her. But White kept yelling although she no longer had the floor.
Councillor Matt Brown interjected. He had never expected to hear that word uttered at council. It didn’t have a place in our society. The mayor wondered what or who he was talking about.

White was back on her feet. She was the one. She had used the word. She had done it deliberately, for shock value, she said. Her daughter had empathized with her frustration that people weren’t listening, that she wasn’t getting respect. Maybe she should say something to shock them. Her daughter had suggested something even worse.

What that could be one can only imagine.

White is not a racist. Despite the offensiveness of the word, it was not said in the heat of passion or out of conviction. It was a weapon, to be used as a last resort, deliberately, to make people understand, to make them pay attention to her. To make them respect her.

It’s a juvenile behaviour. It’s throwing a temper tantrum. It’s to make people sorry that they didn’t listen to you. It’s to get your own way.

We’ve probably all done it at some point in our lives. Mostly when we were younger and a little less public.

Extremes of language, including profanity, can be effective in drawing attention to extraordinary situations. In rare cases.  And rarely when the extremes involve racism or sexism. Mostly, that just results in a loss of respect.

From White, these meltdowns, these episodes of anger, these incidents of chastising and berating are becoming all too frequent and commonplace. Her threats and tirades are becoming tiresome for others and exhausting for her. She needs a rest.

As for the mayor, it’s yet another blow on the eve of the World Figure Skating Championships. Until then, the meeting had been going so well, most motions had passed unanimously with little discussion. And now this.

He would review the minutes of the meetings, he said, and the code of conduct. He just wanted to “restore harmony” to the council.

That too was an unfortunate choice of words.

Note: Since this latest episode, White has apologized on television and radio for her use of the offensive word. She is calling a press conference on Thursday afternoon to do another apology. The mayor has reviewed the notes and code of conduct and decided she needs to apologize to the full council too, the next time it meets.   I would advise her  to write it out, keep it short, and leave her daughter out of it.


Pot-Bellied Pig said...

She also needs to fire her chosen political strategist, Steve Orser.

Orser has about as much political sense as a brass door knob.

Anonymous said...

From meddling to mudderings!

This so-called City Councilor is masking an overture of misconducts.
And must resign!

Anonymous said...

And, somehow, we elect them.

Anonymous said...

“The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.”
Pink Floyd

Veteran Observer said...

This latest fiasco at City Council demonstrates once again how Mr. Fontana is a total failure as the Chair of meetings, as Mayor and as any kind of leader.

The old credibility needle is on EMPTY JoJo.

Time to give the city a break and move on.

Elsie Rider said...

Councillor Sandy White finally had an issue of substance. Sadly, she lost the opportunity to advance it. During the budget debates this observer predicted she was on course to a melt down. Stress from another ombudsman’s inquiry may have triggered these unfortunate events. The Honorable Mayor Joe Fontana rests on very shaky ethical ground. He and his ate are out to lunch. The Honorable was asked to step aside for everyone’s good. He refused. Council’s tone is set from the Mayor’s chair. There is worse to come.

Anonymous said...

No such thing as bad publicity when you are looking for attention.

Anonymous said...

There are two issues in play. The Councillor is overworked and under socialized. The chair of the meeting has the responsibility to control speaker and to evict those who cannot behave appropriately.

Been There; No Done That!

Vicki Van Linden said...

This latest example of unwise behavior by Councillor White seems to have been in the works for a long time. The Mayor has frequently allowed behavior that has no place in council chambers such as heckling by councilors while others are speaking. And so here we are.

It has sometimes been quite troubling to watch the disrespect that Councillor White and others have shown to their fellow councillors, including histrionic outbursts and heckling while another has the floor. Yet the Mayor has not seemed willing to address these actions.

As disturbing as this recent choice of words is, (and it is very disturbing) I recall another evening when Ms. White's actions were most discouraging. During a contentious committee meeting where complex issues were being discussed, Councillor White continued to make comments and laugh while other councillors had the floor. She disagreed with their continued discussion and said so in mocking tones, even while another councillor was standing and speaking. This included laughing out loud and making snickering remarks.

It was very troubling to watch.It seems unlikely that Ms. White would have tolerated similar actions if they had been directed at her.

Let's hope that this will finally be the catalyst for an end to heckling and other rude behaviors that have been tolerated far too long on the council floor.

And to the many hard working council members who have continued to maintain their own composure in a difficult environment, I hope that you are not too discouraged. Thanks for your efforts.

Lynne Swanson said...

Do I have this right?

Our mayor is facing criminal charges for fraud, forgery and breech of public trust. An organization where he is or was Chairperson had it's charitable status revoked by CRA for a possible tax shelter scam (now reinstated pending appeal).

This same Mayor is going to review Council's Code of Conduct.

Why does that not instill confidence?

Lily Tomlin said...

I'm no fan of silly Sandy, but the idea of that pillar of rectitude, J. Fontana, ordering her to apologize gives new meaning to the pot calling the kettle black.

Take a look in them mirror, Mr. Mayor.

Rod Brawn said...

I have to say that I believe people who would jump all over Sandy White because she used this word are missing the point. The advertisment is offensive. The word ditties in the advertisement is one letter short of a word some might find offensive. White didn't call anyone,an n-word using the racial slur, it was just an illustration. Raising the alarm to such an extent is one of the methods of the very correct in our world to deride people who would use such illustrations, and by those purists do draw attention to their own purity. In this case it could be an attempt to change the channel on the part of other councillors who have done things of which they are not proud.
To use a biblical illustration the word pharisee comes to mind for those who would proclaim their own relative purity.