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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Selecting a new mayor: Day 1

Joni Baechler is London’s new mayor.

The words are music to my ears. How fortunate we Londoners are!

Many people have over the years encouraged and entreated Joni to seek the position. She would be a natural, we argued. Smart, knowledgeable, respected. Each year that she has run in her ward, she has improved her performance. Competitors become discouraged; with a stellar reputation such as hers, it would be impossible for someone new to get a toehold. In the last election, she received 7,318 votes, more than any other councillor, representing 82.47% of those voting in Ward 5.

Not that she doesn’t have her detractors. You hear from them in the comments at the end of articles in the London Free Press. All anonymous, of course.

And some developers as well. They shouldn’t be. Joni plays by the rules. That brings predictability and stability to the industry and a level playing field. But it doesn’t give you that special treatment, the willingness to bend the rules, that have become a hallmark of the former Fontana 8.

Former Fontana 8. Also music to the ears. First, there was the defection of Ward 11 councillor Denise Brown following the Harmony Grand Buffet fiasco. Then the conviction of Joe Fontana on charges of fraud, forgery and violation of the public trust.

So now there are the Former Fontana 6, down, but not necessarily out. Time will tell.

Certainly, the gang credo was in full effect during the selection process for the new mayor.

And what a process it was, too! Plenty of jockeying for position and posturing for the media. Names were bandied about, names of councillors and outsiders alike. Thank heavens for the calm, measured approach of the city clerk, Cathy Saunders, to bring some order to the chaos that followed the resignation of the former mayor.

This was a meeting I couldn’t miss. Watching it livestreamed wouldn’t cut it.

The actual process took two days. Joe had resigned on the Thursday. It was to have been a media conference but all the journalists and commentators received was a copy of the letter of resignation. Joe, no doubt, was too busy drumming up other letters of character reference against the sentencing date, letters that couldn’t be created with a bottle of white-out and an eraser.

Now it was Monday, and the matter could be hashed out at a special meeting of council following the meeting of the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee, a.k.a. Committee of the Whole. The gallery was filled, not only with those who had come to witness these historic proceedings, but also those who had arrived earlier to weigh in on the London Plan.

The clerk had previously prepared and circulated a report, drawing on the Municipal Act, which regulates the filling of vacancies, and the experience of other municipalities in dealing with these situations. Basically, it was up to the council but the rules specify that the seat has to be declared vacant and must be filled within 60 days. Because the time was short—the election was only five months away—a by-election would not be an option. Beyond that, they could choose one of their own or someone not on council to take over the job.

So that would be the first order of business, declaring the seat vacant and determining from which pool to select the next mayor. Joe Swan, who had the honour of being the acting mayor as part of the standard rotation, chaired the meeting. It was a fortunate happenstance since he is a good chair—dignified, articulate, focussed. A few days more, and it would have been Stephen Orser.

Harold Usher took the first plunge. They should limit nominations to members of the current council, he believed and most agreed with him. The time was short, the learning curve steep, the matters important. Only Orser disagreed. It was not democratic, he argued, to limit the choices to themselves. And Bill Armstrong, while in agreement with limiting the choices to those already on council, wondered if there was not some kind of rule about offering the position to the runner-up in the election. It seemed not. That practice had been abandoned some time ago. As for his suggestion that the field be limited to those who would not be seeking office for the next term, that also fell by the wayside.

There was a brief dust up when Paul Hubert urged that they move ahead quickly and “bring back honour to the position of mayor”. Sandy White took offense, complaining that members of council shouldn’t be sitting in judgement on each other and criticizing each other in the media. Hubert quickly moved to make amends. It was not his intent to criticize any particular person, but the many emails they had received showed that the public was pretty upset about what had been happening, not only with the office of mayor, but with council as a whole. The sooner things could be settled down, the better.

So with few histrionics, the matter was resolved. One of them would be the next mayor.

The clerk then presented a method for obtaining nominations. She would ask each councillor in turn if he or she wished to be nominated for the position. Those saying yes would form the list, no seconder required. Once the list was established, an elimination process would be used. Each member would be read the list of nominees and respond with “yes” when the name of his or her choice was read. The nominee with the fewest yeses would be dropped from the list until a clear winner was established, that is, someone who had a clear majority of the votes. In this case, since there were 14 members, 8 votes would be required to win.

Usher liked the process for nominating but he was not enthusiastic about the voting. It sounded far too cumbersome and confusing to him. Why couldn’t they just pass around a sheet of paper with the nominees on it and tick off their choices?

That wouldn’t be legal, he was told. You have to vote in public.

There had been talk in the media and among councillors themselves that a condition for putting yourself forward as a nominee should be a commitment to not seek a position on the new council. Was it true, Stephen Orser wanted to know, that you couldn’t do that? That you can’t bind someone not to seek office?

That was true, the clerk agreed. There was no legislative support for enforcing such a condition.

“We are who we are,” noted the chair, himself pretty adept at changing positions and votes on a dime. They could discuss such conditions among themselves but no one could be held to them.

That didn’t satisfy Orser. He wanted to hear it from the lips of city solicitor James Barber. Could they contractually bind an appointee?

“No,” said Barber. “He or she will be the mayor” with all the powers and privileges of the mayor.

Orser wanted a supplementary. Could the person who became mayor call a meeting everyday with 24 hour notice, thereby making councillors FULL TIME?

Laughter ensued, but Nancy Branscombe was not amused. For her, that was a real deal breaker. She didn’t want the office of mayor being turned into an election platform. She wanted some commitments.

You have 60 days, Barber reminded them, to have people make speeches or platforms if you want to do that.

Dale Henderson thought that was a great idea. It could be the legacy of this council.

Denise Brown, however, begged to differ. She didn’t want this to get too complicated. She had an early meeting the next morning that she was hoping to get to on time, she noted dryly.

In any event, no motion was made. They would have to rely on moral suasion.

The motion for the process passed unanimously. One of them would become mayor the following day.

1 comment:

Louise Hollingsworth said...

I cannot wait for the next bit of the story - thanks for putting this down on Selecting a new mayor: Day 1