Philip Mcleod

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Council’s mantra: Beware status quo?

REPORT #1,127: Against the recommendation of the civic administration, London’s city council last week took a step towards finding a way to make vehicle for hire upstart Uber legal. It’s one more case where the new group elected a year ago this month is challenging the way things have long been done.

Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 – London Ontario

It’s been 40 years since publication of the citizen task force report paved the way for a professional civic administration in London. 

Headed by Robert Mann, a businessman and former city councillor – they were called aldermen back then – the task force recommended, among other things, creation of the position of city manager to head a civil service that was responsible for enacting the policies passed by council. 

There would be a clear separation between the elected policy makers and the hired policy enactors. One would not meddle in the activities of the other. 

Prior to that, city council got involved in running the city in all sorts of ways, including councillors simply picking up the phone and ordering streets to be cleared or parks mowed in their wards. 

The Mann recommendation, once accepted by council, eventually put an end to that. Today council decides, the city manager directs. And in the process, the civic administration has gathered significant expertise and experience which it, in turn, shares with those elected, thereby shaping decisions that ultimate effect how they do their jobs.

Some would argue this process has gone too far, that some civic administration recommendations are self-serving or out-of-date, perhaps both.

Today’s council – it will still be considered new, at least until the first anniversary of their election on Oct. 27 – has certainly been asking questions about that. And pushing back when it considers the advice contrary to its view of what is best for London.

Last week the issue was taxi and limousine regulation. 

For decades it has been London’s policy to tightly regulate the taxi business, controlling the number of cab licenses and adding a mounting list of conditions for both vehicles and drivers. 

Uber, the so-called transportation network company whose smart phone application makes hailing a vehicle for hire an infinitely easier experience – and some argue infinitely better one too – threatens to blow up city’s taxi and limo regime. Understandably, the civic administration has fought back hard against that, using the existing rules, while pushing the elected leaders towards stiffer resolve too.

Last week, though, this council began to question the appropriateness of the administration’s point of view. First it rejected a suggestion – from Josh Morgan, councillor for Ward 7 – that more money be poured into the fight to stop Uber at the gates to the city.

Then, by a vote of 10-5, it ordered the administration to prepare an outline of how a new set of regulations could be crafted that would allow Uber to function in London legally. True, this does not mean such regulations, when crafted, will be automatically approved and Uber wins. But that’s the direction this council is headed – against the advice of its administration.

As Mayor Matt Brown noted afterward: “(Uber) is not going away. Without this additional information, we’re looking at the status quo, and that’s not something we can expect moving forward.”

His comments were clearly in the context of the Uber challenge to existing city rules, but it there are indications his colleagues see the world that way.

Certainly this isn’t the first time a London city council has challenged the administration. It’s not even the first time this council has done so; the previous time of note was the decision not to protect the city’s borders from encroaching residential development from adjacent municipalities.

But the tone of this council appears to tilt against the status quo and toward questioning how and why things are done. As a result, expect more to be overturned in the remaining three years of the term. At some point this is going to cause a significant ruckus with the leadership of the civic administration.  

The times, they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan famously sang many years ago – about the same time, in fact, Mr. Mann and colleagues were drafting their famous report. Whether this is another case of the more things change the more they stay the same, or one of systemic alteration will be something citizens will need to watch. 


# Accountability through electabilityLeila Paul 2015-10-05 01:09
The entrenchment of a ruling class has always existed in human history with those upon whom they impose their decisions having no say. Over centuries revolutions brought about political evolution and the election of representatives to make decisions on our behalf. But their powers were limited by electoral terms and the accountability of being thrown out of office if they failed to serve the public interest, as well as their own.

Unelected bureaucracies have grown to become the seemingly entrenched ruling class with no opportunity for those whom they presumably serve to influence the behaviours of the ruling bureaucrats. Even if citizens have complaints against an unelected group, they have no means for their complaints to be heard and the alleged offender/s examined and held accountable.

We rely in whole now on our elected councillors. We need them to restore our faith in our system, our democracy, for it cannot survive without wide public support. Attempting to quash economic and social changes like Uber would be negligent and futile.

Uber will not be the last to challenge the monopolies controlled by city hall.
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# RE: Council’s mantra: Beware status quo?Bill Brock 2015-10-05 02:33
This has nothing to do with accountability! Politicians were supposed to be policy setters. Staff was to be the experts and implementers. Several years ago politicians started to involve their own resources and researchers. This is either because staff have failed to do their job or they don't trust them! The London Plan: Shift; Master downtown Plan and bikes / parks are examples where Councillors have bought into hook line and sinker! Not a change made in the visions presented to date! The new Council keeps saying the experts are the UWO Staff; Fanshawe Staff and City Staff. A review of Council and Committee meetings will show that experts mentioned above only apply unless Councillors invoke their new found "Power" we are in charge and staff will do as we say! Post office became a political football even though staff advised post office had the authority to do as they saw fit. This even to where some Councillors on their own met with post office staff. Police Chair indicated no money in budget for raises to police but city had contingency. Council bought the process and not a word about where the money was put? If roles are not clearly identified trouble is coming?
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# Tilt Away CouncilJMAC 2015-10-05 02:44
As we approach year one of this wild and crazy bunch lets add up all that these new ideas and brash attitudes means for London.

Ahhhhh...... nothing so far. Lots of incomplete reports, a sloppy strike,no real team.

Virginia Ridley told the TV News folks the other evening she works 70 to 80 hours a week. Doing what is a magical mystery.

But I bet in the worst way she wants to make the same money as all of those high priced helpers. Chopping them down a peg or two while over inflating her workload seems like the strategy.

When are they going to actually accomplish something? A couple of food trucks does not count.

I am starting to miss the chicken debates. They were at least a good laugh.
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# 70 to 80 hours is not surprisingLeila Paul 2015-10-06 00:02
I'm not at all surprised that Virginia Ridley says she's putting in up to 80 hours/week. Have you ever seen the stack of material that needs to be read if a councillor is to be prepared for meetings?

Then if constituents complain about issues, a responsive councillor will investigate the constituent's concerns and try to resolve the issue for the constituent. That's why councillors are elected in a ward - to serve the ward residents first and then coordinate with other councillors to benefit the city in general.

It's unfair to challenge the hours a councillor say he or she works especially in the first year.

As for the complaint they've accomplished nothing - really? How long would it take to turn a vehicle around the corner if it has 15 drivers and hundreds of thousands of backseat drivers?

The time to complain is when councillors are just rubber-stamping city managers' recommendations . Until then, indications councillors are doing their own research and thinking is a healthy sign - one that should be encouraged.
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# RE: Council’s mantra: Beware status quo?J. David Scott 2015-10-05 08:46
This council has accomplished exactly nothing in its' first year...and judging by that, the next three don't look too promising either.
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# Huh!grandma 2015-10-05 11:10
Glad to see Council is looking at the matter of policy around the uber-taxi situation. Sad that Council couldn't see fit to stand up to Administration' s self-set policy on the inside workers' strike.
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# Huh!grandma 2015-10-05 11:10
Glad to see Council is looking at the matter of policy around the uber-taxi situation. Sad that Council couldn't see fit to stand up to Administration' s self-set policy on the inside workers' strike.
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# Councillors are endowed with legitimate powerLeila Paul 2015-10-05 21:14
Councillors are elected, while city managers are not. Their lifetime roles give them power that does not derive from the consent of the people except through councillors.

City managers have legitimate authority, or power, but it is only when councillors designate what actions are authorized by them. Councillors are directly elected by us and they are accountable to us in the next election. Staff is there at their own pleasure unless councillors begin to demand accountabilty from city managers.

It's less than a year for this council to find common ground and adjust to each other while learning to use their power as the PEOPLE see fit.

In the allocation of who has power - legitimately exercised in the name of the people - it is councillors until the next election. Staff is under the authority of councillors who represent us.

Thus, at city hall councillors are "uber".
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# RE: Council’s mantra: Beware status quo?Bill Brock 2015-10-06 01:03
Councillors are endowed with power?
That is not the case. Council has authority; Councillors only have authority given to each by Council action. They are not a power each onto themselves. If their role is not as policy setters directing staff to carry out and implement approved decisions of Council change is needed. If each Councillor can do their own thing; you have no control over behind the scenes activities and influencing of staff? Question to be answered what does city policies say about role of Councillor and their authority? I don't believe you will find "Power" as one of them! Also, policy gives the right to every Councillor to attend and participate in every issue at a committee(even debate) but they cannot vote. This is a "Right" not a privilege; thanks for letting me speak suggests a privilege; wrong; stop it; they have the right. Also, if eight attend a committee meeting and imply their intention (all the same) public consultation is lost.
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# Authority precedes the exercise of powerLeila Paul 2015-10-06 20:16
Legitimate authority arises - in a democracy - from the will of the people.

With that authority comes the power to make decisions on behalf of the electorate and to oversee those who are not elected but enabled to spend the people's money - other people's money.

I do not know your concept of democracy, but I would suggest that the ideals of power only being exercised through authority granted by the people for a limited term is one legitimate description of democracy.

Last time I checked, London was still governed by democratic principles.
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