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"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."

Friday, January 9, 2015

A nice Corporate Services Committee

They campaigned on citizen engagement; they campaigned on cooperation and respect. They had a group hug.

It was all very refreshing after four years of bickering and insults.

But when is enough enough? At what point do you cut to the chase? Is it possible to be too nice?

I’m referring, of course, to the new council. To date, most of its votes have been unanimous, especially the contentious ones. Despite a lot of public pressure to help out Orchestra London, councillors heeded the staff recommendation and said no. Every last one of them.

But not without first a lot of reassurances to the Orchestra and its supporters of their love of the arts and their recognition of the value of classical music. The only jarring note came from Ward 6 Councillor Phil Squire who exhibited some embarrassing rudeness to the orchestra board chair. Squire was quietly but firmly reprimanded by Mayor Matt Brown.

That was before the Christmas break.

Now, the meetings have resumed. First up was planning. Again, unanimous votes. Again, Squire took the opportunity to ridicule staff, referring to its views on intensification and city-building as “quaint notions”. But still, he voted yes with the rest of them.

Then came the next day. Corporate Services Committee was up to bat, chaired by Ward 5 Councillor Maureen Cassidy.

There wasn’t much on the agenda: a couple of non-controversial consent items, a request by the chair to consider the nutritional needs of people in the public gallery, and a request for delegation status.

The request came from Aaron Kaplansky. He wanted to revisit the council decision to give $9M to Fanshawe College to purchase and renovate the Kingsmill building to accommodate 1600 additional students in hospitality and performing arts programs.

Kaplansky’s concerns were outlined in a letter that he had submitted to the city clerk back in the fall. He had wanted to address the previous Corporate Services Committee but had missed the deadline for making the request.

He had also spent the previous spring, summer and fall campaigning to be mayor. He had made it clear that he didn’t like the deal and wanted it cancelled.

However, it is doubtful that many citizens had taken note. He managed to eke out 700 votes, less than 1 percent of the total, losing to Matt Brown who had walked away with 57.75% and who had not only supported the Fanshawe College agreement but taken the lead in ensuring it was passed by a majority of council.

So now, Kaplansky wanted an opportunity to re-state his opposition to a new audience.

What would be the point? I wondered.

But Chair Cassidy, despite pointing out what she perceived as errors in the detailed letter containing the request, apparently thought the applicant needed to be humoured and stated her support to grant him an opportunity to address the committee.

Ward 9 Councillor Anna Hopkins wondered why he hadn’t been heard in the fall. It was his choice to delay the request, she was told.When he had learned that he had missed the deadline he had decided that he would rather make his pitch to the new councillors.

Hopkins supported his wish for an audience as did Ward 14 Councillor Jared Zaifman who felt it would be fair since he had missed the earlier date.

Only Ward 8 Councillor Josh Morgan sounded a skeptical note.

This was a decided matter of council, he pointed out. Would they be setting a precedent? Would they end up holding the equivalent of a public participation meeting after a decision had been made?

Deputy city clerk Linda Rowe assured him that each request for delegation status is considered individually; it was not tantamount to a public participation meeting. Any other requests of a similar nature would be dealt with individually.

Morgan was anxious to assure everyone he wasn’t opposed to granting delegate status but maybe since, as Cassidy had pointed out, some of Kaplansky’s allegations were misinformed, it would be appropriate to have him sit down with the city staff first, to straighten out any misconceptions.

City manager Art Zuidema said he had no problem with that but, he pointed out, it was a decided matter of council and agreements with Fanshawe College had already been signed. Staff continued to support the decision. Strongly. There was no turning back.

They didn’t take the hint. They voted unanimously to grant Kaplansky an audience AFTER he had talked to staff. Even Morgan.

Hearing from the public is important. But what does the committee think can possibly be gained by granting this request?

The decision has been made; it will not be re-visited. The agreements have to be honoured.

The complainant made his views known during the election campaign and in the detailed letter to the committee. He is not about to change his opposition.

Is it just to be agreeable?

Is it just to be nice?

Do we really want a “nice” Corporate Services Committee?

Note to readers: Since last December, I have been writing a column for Scene magazine, a bi-weekly publication. You can find it throughout the city, free of charge, or you can access it at http://www.scenemagazine.com/ . Have a look.

1 comment:

Elaine Rickert said...

Phil Squire was grandstanding when addressing the Chair of the Orchestra London board. It was embarrassing. Reminded me of Orser in tone and manner.

Any points that Squire wanted to make could have been made without the blow-hard bluster. Other councilors like Helmer, Park, Salih and Turner made important points but in a more professional way.

OL is a mess and that board has a lot to answer for but city council is not a segment of 'Law and Order' where rousing speeches are made to satisfy an audience.

There was nothing amiss with Squire's concerns but he was unnecessarily rude. People tend to answer questions more honestly when they have not been insulted at the very beginning so don't see what was gained except it puffed Squire up. His style satisfied AM radio hosts so maybe Squire is looking to position himself as the new populist hero.

Thankfully, on this council there are enough people with better manners to get things done with a minimum of posturing.

Mayor Brown handled things well and made it clear that this council will behave like grown ups. Good to see. Council is not like hockey. If you want rough and tough action go to the Bud and not City Hall.