Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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

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Mayor’s endorsement ill-advised

TODAY’S REPORT #1,033: There is nothing in the rules that says a member of city council can’t endorse someone for political office, as Joni Baechler did this week. But as interim mayor she promised to work to bring council together, not by implication to dis one of its members.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 – London

When city council recently discussed hiring an integrity commissioner to adjudicate its new Code of Conduct, Stephen Orser complained that would only lead to more frivolous complaints from the public.

On that he was correct. And as long as he continues to sit on council, many of those frivolous complaints will quite possibly be lodged by him.

He was at it again this week. A few hours after the news broke that Mayor Joni Baechler had endorsed a candidate for Ward 14 other than the incumbent, Mr. Orser filed a complaint with the city clerk’s office.

Her worship broke Rule 5 of the Code of Conduct, Mr. Orser crowed on Tuesday as he made the telephonic rounds of the morning and afternoon talk shows. Her behaviour “was toxic in nature,” he told CJBK’s Stephen Garrison.

Well, hmmm.

For starters, let’s be honest and say it is not unusual for members of city council to endorse other candidates in upcoming elections. Mr. Orser, in fact, endorsed his buddy Je Fontana when the latter ran successfully for mayor in 2010.
And, indeed, while on the airwaves Tuesday, Mr. Orser went on to endorse Steve Polhill in Ward 2 over the incumbent Bill Armstrong.

Afterwards, Mr. Orser told CJBK: “Let the chaos begin.” As probably just about everyone in London knows all too well, there’s nothing Mr. Orser enjoys more than causing chaos which results in the spotlight shining on him and he doesn’t much seem to care how it gets there.
But this issue isn’t about Mr. Orser. Should a member of council feel free to endorse others? Should the mayor?

Certainly there’s nothing in the Municipal Act, the bible of council activity, that says they can’t. Beyond that, we have in this country a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech. So, yes, council members should be able to endorse anyone they want.

This mayor, though, is an entirely different creature.

Mayor Baechler was appointed by council after Mr. Fontana resigned in disgrace. The motion that put her in the job passed with the traditional 8–6 – the remnants of the Fontana Eight on the losing side, the Progressives winners at last – illustrating once again the sharp divide that has rendered this council dysfunctional for much of its term.

In accepting the job she vowed to do her best to bring the group together, And quite frankly, that is part of her job as our top civic leader.

In taking over Mayor Baechler told Craig Gilbert of London Community News that she intended to reach out to her colleagues and build consensus. “We all have to work together if we’re going to resolve this divide.”

In this case she failed to do that.

Whatever the merits of Jared Zaifman – and as a bright young mind with a background in political science he would be a huge improvement on city council over the disappointing Sandy White – it is the mayor’s current responsibility to keep the present council focused on the job, not trying to influence the composition of the next one.

That is hard to do when, by implication, she is dissing one of its members.

So in this case what the mayor did was ill-advised.

Is it a Code of Conduct violation? Well that might depend on motive.

Rule 5 is about incompatible activity. Section 5.2 (a) says: A council member shall not “use the influence of his or her office for any purpose other than for the exercise of his or her official duties.”

So while it is a stretch, Mr. Orser is not necessarily totally off base in calling Mayor Baechler out. However, it’s a moot point. Code of Conduct violations, by council decree in late August, are to be investigated by the integrity commissioner, a position that will not be filled until after the section.

Mr. Orser, of course, doesn’t care a chicken leg about that. He got what he wanted – prime time radio in an election year and a chance to twist the interim mayor’s nose in public.