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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Henderson's big day

When Dale Henderson was first elected, even before he was officially installed as the councillor for Ward 9*, he had a burning question: How could he get a motion passed at city council?

At the time, when I heard about this, I thought it was unfortunate that he hadn't actually witnessed a few committee and council meetings to see how this works. But Henderson is an impatient man; he likes to do things now; he wants stuff to happen right away. The way he puts it, he doesn't want to spin his wheels.

Of course, if you don't want to spin your wheels, you need to check your terrain and tires before you step on the gas. However, although he has been on council for nearly three years now, that message has seemingly been lost on Henderson. He just lets 'er rip and hopes for the best.

That's why he was all smiles at the beginning of Tuesday's Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee. He had a smashing idea for the committee, one that just couldn't fail. He had tried to put it forward at the previous meeting a couple of weeks earlier but he had been told he couldn't just add things to the agenda on the spot. These are public meetings and the agenda is circulated to the public in advance. There is a place at the end for inquiries, but that's not the time nor place for doing a one-eighty on council policy.

And he did have in mind a doozie—he was suggesting that he and the mayor put their heads together and devise a plan for a performing arts centre. Between them, they could come up with a business plan that would knock your socks off. He had been at the two public consultation meetings when representatives of the Grand Theatre and Music London (a.k.a. Orchestra London) had put forward their proposals and it was clear that, despite the wish of the public for these two organizations to get together on a plan, it wasn't happening. He wanted an alternative ready to go by Christmas.

The other committee members were clearly taken aback. Chair Joe Swan, also the executive director of Orchestra London, quickly declared a conflict of interest leaving Matt Brown to hold the ball. There could be no vote on this suggestion, Brown declared. If Henderson wanted to put forward a motion, he would have to do so in writing and get it on the agenda in time for the next meeting.

And here it was the next meeting, and here was Henderson's proposal.

It was the last item on the agenda which, considering there was nothing controversial on it, had taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Henderson had been beaming throughout. Gone were all memories of past motions which had failed to find a seconder; this time he had a winner. Who could fail to support it?

In the written request attached to the agenda, Henderson had outlined his idea. He wanted permission come up with a draft proposal for a performance centre. He would provide a summary, objectives and function of performance centre including a design and development plan and opportunities, a financial forecast with proposed revenue streams, funding opportunities and expected profits, and an operating model and partners. He would do it in three weeks.

He had left the mayor out of his plans this time, and a good thing too. Acting chair Matt Brown recognized Fontana to allow him to speak first.

"We're in the middle of a process here”, the mayor pointed out, noting that they not yet had a report back from the civic administration on the two proposals that had come forward already. Inserting another proposal into the mix would confuse the public.

"Dale has great ideas,” he said, and he was excited to hear them. But they were in the midst of a process. The process should play itself out. Maybe, if nothing came of the proposals already before them, that would be the time to look at an alternative. But they needed to go through the process first.

The chair agreed. This committee was based on process. It had developed stringent criteria for the evaluation of proposals and given them to staff to apply. The criteria would act as a funnel for the proposals that were presented to them. They should follow the process.

Stephen Orser was chomping at the bit while the chair spoke. After all, he had had his hand up and he wanted to be recognized, not pre-empted by the chair. Brown indicated that he could speak next, followed by Henderson.

Wasn't their normal procedure to let the person who had a request speak first? Orser demanded. He wanted clarity on that.

It's up to the chair,” Brown replied briefly.

But that wasn't Orser's only issue. He wanted everyone to be clear on his position on this issue. They couldn't afford a performance hall, he wasn't elected to get people a performance hall, nobody was banging on his door to get a performance hall. No point in spinning their wheels. They should end it TODAY.

Several staff members stood up to be recognized before Henderson could get in on it. Brown spotted city solicitor Jim Barber among them. He prudently called on him to have his say.

Oh no,” groaned Orser.

A debate on something analogous to the procurement procedure at this point is problematical,” Barber warned. City council policies did not allow for councillors to become involved as draftspersons of proposals at this stage. Doing so could be seen to prejudice the decisions that came out of the process. Although there was not much jurisprudence on the matter, he referenced the Toronto city council computer leasing scheme of a few years ago. The judge in that case had been clear that councillors should have no involvement WHATSOEVER in specific procurements. They got to review the staff recommendations and to make the choice in the end. That was it.

They have the strongest ethical observation to refrain from seeking to be involved,” the judge had written. They should NEVER intervene in active procurement.

Jim Barber wasn't mincing his words. “It would be unadvisable (sic) for you to delegate involvement in a procurement to a councillor.”

Thereupon, Fontana quickly moved that the request be received, meaning no discussion, file it in the circular file. His motion was quickly seconded by Brown and a vote taken before there could be any other discussion. Both Swan and Henderson recused themselves and Paul VanMeerbergen was nowhere to be seen. The three remaining members of the committee—Brown, Fontana and Orser voted to support the motion and the meeting abruptly ended, with Henderson looking glum.

Whether he knew it or not, it was an embarrassing experience for Henderson. He had pinned his hopes on being able to show off his special skills and expertise. After all, he was the only one who had actually run a music hall, the one that, after a million and a half dollars of private investment, had ended as rubble on the Western Fairgrounds. Although he had deemed it a great success, the board and management of the Western Fair Association has begged to differ. It didn't bring in enough people and revenue. His lease was not renewed.

Still, he was an engineer and a businessman; he could have brought a business perspective to the endeavour, he felt. But now, he doubted that there would ever be a performance centre.

It was hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for him. What had he done wrong?

But it's what he didn't do. He didn't check the policies governing such situations. He didn't consult staff who could have advised him. He didn't even consult his colleagues to see if they would support him.

After three years, he should have figured it out. He should have done his homework. He should have checked the rules. He should have asked for help.

He did none of those things, and when people try to tell him, he ignores them or insults them.

Everybody loves what I am doing except those who want my job,” he recently wrote to a constituent who had registered a complaint.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

*Full disclosure: I ran against Henderson in 2010 and lost by a couple of hundred votes.


Mike Sloan said...

A neighbour of mine has known Dale for 30+ years. He says that Dale was a brilliant engineer, but is wondering if he has dementia or something similar. What Dale is saying, and has said, is simply crazy.

Roderic Brawn said...

I suppose it speaks to where certain people live that certain people are elected to council.

Solid Gold Casino said...

Believe it or not, there's a mad-cap feature movie in the works called "Dale goes to City Hall."

A zany film about his quest to find a washroom in the building and then discovering they're in the same location on every floor except the 12th, where the cafeteria is located.

Also starring Pee-Wee Herman.

Release Date: April 1, 2014.

Anonymous said...

I often feel sorry for Dale Henderson. He appears to be a very nice man, and it is no small thing to be an engineer. But he does not seem to be really well and I do not mean that in an insulting way.

He has a daughter and I wonder why she does not take her dad aside and tell him that being a councillor is not for him at this time. Doesn't he have friends who care enough to help him to understand that he is not his best self these days?

People often have to take away the car keys from people who are no longer well enough to drive safely even when the person thinks that he is doing just fine. It is a shame that there are not people in Dale's life that can help him to step out of the spotlight.

Even though he seems to be a nice person his conduct on council is not a good thing. His vote really matters an he clearly does not have a grasp on how a city runs at all.

Anonymous said...

If he was like this in 2010, it suggests some people voted with little knowledge of what they were voting for. If you vote please do your homework. With the technology the city has, you can watch a council meeting and see the incumbents perform part of their job. Please go to at least one all candidate meeting to hear and speak to those running.