Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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What’s a lame duck council to do

TODAY’S REPORT #991: On Sept. 12 your city council will achieve lame duck status because one-third of its members won’t be part of the next council. This will limit the decisions they can make. It won’t necessarily impact the new Official Plan, but perhaps it should.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 – London

Since about last June, except for the two months spent wrestling with the 2014 budget, your city council has been comparatively unproductive. Recent meetings have been record setters in their shortness.

But now, with six months to go in the four-year mandate, that is about to change – and in opposing directions.

On the one hand, a clutch of important issues will soon be coming before council and its four standing committees. In fact, so much is about to break the city clerk’s office is having trouble scheduling.

On the other hand, come Sept. 12 which is nomination day, this council will attain lame duck status because more than one-quarter of its current members won’t be part of the next council. Councillors Joni Baechler, Nancy Branscombe, Judy Bryant and Dale Henderson have already announced their intention to retire; Councillor Matt Brown is seeking election as mayor, meaning either he or incumbent Joe Fontana, or perhaps both, will not be part of the next council either.

So that’s five, at least, for sure gone from a group of 15. Ontario’s Municipal Act says come nomination day at least 12 of the 15 would need to be nominated to retain full status.

Being a lame duck council means after Sept. 12 this group can’t hire or fire anyone, and can’t buy or sell property or make any binding contract worth more than $50,000.

Now given their current performance that probably doesn’t matter much, except for the fact all these major issues are rapidly ripening.

One of the biggest is the new Official Plan, a.k.a ReThink London, in which thousands of Londoners have had their say in what is being described as one of the largest public engagement exercises in Canadian history. The new Official Plan sets out a vision for how London should evolve over the next two decades. It requires council’s assent to become law.

The final draft of the Official Plan was due for presention to city council’s strategic priorities and policy committee on Monday, May 5. Whoops, too much on the agenda, the mayor announced this week.

He suggested delaying the presentation until later in June. Whoops, that would mean trying to organize the relative final public participation events for some time during the summer. So the new date is a special meeting Thursday, May 22.

Even that date is a whoops. It means the final version of the Official Plan won’t reach the strategic priorities and policy committee until September, probably around the time council becomes that lame duck.

Although in concept the Official Plan will be the master guide for the spending of billions of dollars, it is not itself a financial document. It does not spend money, it simply suggests how it should be spent.

Cathy Saunders, the city clerk, said this yesterday: “Because the Official Plan is a policy document and does not provide for specific expenditures or liabilities, then in my view council would be able to adopt it.  I am not a lawyer however.”

Could lawyers get involved and challenge council’s authority? Seems unlikely, but then nthe mayor and his buddies were warned once about having lunch together and they did it again anyway and stuck us with the bill of $97,000. So who knows?

What we do know is that many of the proposals of the new Official Plan will be contentious. Rather than trying to water it down, perhaps the best thing these lame ducks could do is gift wrap it for the next council.

An election fought over concepts for the London of tomorrow would be a perfect vehicle to gauge and gain public support.

Did they know what they did?

    Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into city council’s surprising 14-0 decision this week to refuse paying the 2013 London Police Service deficit of $268,795.

The request had been previously turned down 4-1 at a meeting of council’s corporate services committee after some energetic debate. When that recommendation came to the regular council meeting this week it appeared on the agenda as 2013 Operating Budget Status – Fourth Quarter Report.

To understand exactly how that surplus was being spent, council members needed to read accompanying documents, the actual minutes of the committee meeting. Not everyone routinely does that.

So did some members of council pass item 3 of the 11th report of the Corporate Services Committee without knowing what was involved? Quite possibly.