REPORT #1,129: This Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the election of the current London City Council, although the members did not officially take office until Dec. 1. And what have they accomplished in this first year? Very little, but with an asterisk.
Monday, Oct. 26, 2015 – London Ontario
This Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the election of your new city council. Henceforth they will no longer be referred to as your new council, even though they didn’t actually take office until Dec. 1.
In anticipation of media requests about what this council has accomplished in the first year since its election, every department at City Hall was apparently asked for a list of accomplishments. This missed the point, of course. The question isn’t about what got done; it’s about what this council did.
And the answer to that question is, very little. But with an asterisk.
Before we all get our collective knickers in a knot, two things we should remember. The first is this group was elected for a four-year term so properly any measurement of their accomplishments, or lack thereof, should occur in 2018.
The second is that few of us not on council can appreciate just what a learning curve awaits newcomers to elected leadership. And in this case, fully 73 per cent (11 out of 15) were newcomers to civic politics and 80 per cent (12 out of 15) were newcomers to their jobs on council.
So it has been an experience, a difficult one made more so by the high expectations so many voters had for this council. That they haven’t met those expectations yet is hardly cause for real concern. There is still 37 months and five days left their term.
Okay, though, what did this council accomplish since election 365 days ago?
It’s a short list admittedly. After all the angst that stopped the previous council from acting we got food trucks. In the end this was not the end of fine dining as the previous group imagined.
We did not get unanimity but we got collegiality – and that wasn’t so difficult either. Kudos to this council for its ability to debate without taking offence.
And we got a lot of debate, boy did we ever. This council loves to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. Doesn’t like making decisions so much but there does not appear to be an issue on earth on which some of them don’t have an opinion. Just check their Twitter feeds.
We got a lot of new ideas, so many in fact the group is having trouble paring it to a short list of accomplishables over the next three years. This may yet prove to be its Achilles heel as it tries to fit everyone’s wish list into the limitations of expected revenue. It the meantime, though, some imaginative projects are being considered.
We got some new direction. This is a council that really believes London is part of – well, probably still the centre of – a region. It seems prepared to embrace the notion of a collective, regional approach to development.
On the downside, we still don’t have a lot of leadership, either from the top – that would be the mayor’s chair – or from the council itself.
With few exceptions Mayor Matt Brown, serving his second term on council but his first as our premier civic leader, has been happy to facilitate the activities of his colleagues without attempting to direct them.
There are numerous arguments about this style. On the one hand we continue to await a clue as to where Mayor Brown wants to take this city; on the other, he seems to be emulating former mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best who rode the facilitation pony to 10 years as mayor, the longest record of any of them.
In the mayor’s absence, the leaders by default on council have been Jesse Helmer (Ward 4), Phil Squire (Ward 5), Josh Morgan (Ward 7) and Jared Zaifman (Ward 14).
Missing is action for the most part is Paul Hubert (Ward 8), the mayor’s personal choice as deputy mayor, who seems reticent to take charge despite his experience and grasp of the essentials facing the city.
Two to watch in the years ahead are Maureen Cassidy (Ward 5), the current deputy deputy mayor, and Tanya Park (Ward 13). At the moment they tend to let the guys do most of the talking, but do make worthy points when they speak up.
So it’s been a timid year, let’s call it that and move on. At least there’s been no talk of chickens, for which we are thankful. Give this group time – they could yet be, as they so often see themselves, the best council ever.
Down on the downtown
Downtown London, the marketing arm of the Downtown London Business Association, is asking city council’s strategic priorities and policy committee tonight for $800,000 over four years for yet another consultant’s study on how to improve the city’s core.
This council should say no. It should say, go back and read and then act on all the reports that have been done in the past decade on the downtown, none of which have so far been accepted.
The most useful remains the downtown task force report, authored by former controller Gord Hume (alright, he was a former partner in The Londoner but he’s still a bright guy) that offered a very clear and modern concept for the downtown. Essentially it said the retail past is done and gone; the future of downtown is as a cultural centre based on education and entertainment.
Then there’s the city’s Downtown London Master Plan, which also so far hasn’t been acted upon.
We don’t need another study of what’s wrong with downtown London. This council, this downtown business association, just needs the courage to act on what we already know.