REPORT #1,137: Mayor Matt Brown’s decision to name Councillor Josh Morgan as his special advisor during the London budget debate which begins today may have the consequence – if not the intent – of elbowing one of his potential rivals in the next civic election.
Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 – LondonOntario
Mayor Matt Brown may not be the most effective leader London has ever had, but he certainly is a shrewd politician.
At least that’s one way to explain the mayor’s appointment of Josh Morgan as his special advisor on the multi-year civic budget, to be tabled this afternoon.
By city bylaw, the mayor is council’s budget chief. That lofty title doesn’t get you much more than a chance to bang the gavel from time to time – except, of course, when things go off the rails. Then the budget chief is expected to pull the group together and help steer proceedings to some sort of acceptable agreement.
This budget, however, is a bit different. For starters, unlike any London budget before now, it covers four years instead of the traditional one. More importantly, it bundles up a huge shopping list of council and administrative wants and wishes, some extending well into the next decade.
With an advertised advance average price tag of a 2.5 per cent tax increase every year, parts of this budget may prove to be quite unpopular with Londoners. So a wise politician – and certainly one with an eye on elected office higher than here – ensures that blame gets spread around.
Which brings us back to Josh Morgan, the councillor for Ward 7 – the ward, just coincidentally, Mayor Brown represented for four years before his election to the top job in 2014.
Councillor Morgan certainly has the credentials to serve as a credible special advisor on the budget. He holds a combined honours degree in economics and political science and a master’s degree in political science with a focus on local government from Western University. As well he is a member of the university’s pension board which has assets totaling $1.3 million.
His day job is recruitment and development officer for Western’s local government program. He also served three years as chairperson of London Public Library, in the process helping to reduce its budget while expanding service.
But Councillor Morgan’s education background also suggests he might be more qualified for the job Mayor Brown currently holds and the one for which he is expected to seek re-election in 2018.
In fact, prior to the last election Councillor Morgan was briefly touted – at least by The Free Press – as a candidate for mayor. He never took out the papers, and eventually settled for a ward candidacy, the same route taken by the mayor.
The two are friends, at least publicly. In 2010 when Mayor Brown was first elected to council, Mr. Morgan was his campaign manager. In 2006, the roles were reversed when Mr. Morgan ran unsuccessfully in Ward 8 – he lost by 23 votes to Paul Hubert.
And they certainly had nice things to say about each other in the official news release. The mayor said Councillor Morgan would “add value to the process” of debating the budget. Councillor Morgan noted he and the mayor “have a long and positive history of working together.”
In his elected position, Councillor Morgan has been one of the more outspoken members, joining a quartet of Jesse Helmer (Ward 4), Phil Squire (Ward 6) and Stephen Turner (Ward 10) who seem to be vying to fill the leadership vacuum the mayor often leaves.
So in the budget debate, expect Councillor Morgan to have much to say, probably far more, if last year was any guide, than the mayor himself.
If all goes well, of course, Mayor Brown will be able to say he chose his special advisor wisely. On the other hand, should this unwieldy beast falter – and that’s certainly not impossible – then the mayor has only to look immediately to his right on the council horseshoe to the person he can blame, the obliging councillor for Ward 7 and potential opponent in the next election.
As is said, keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. The mayor might see Councillor Morgan as both.
The McLeod Report on CJBK
Councillor Josh Morgan will be a guest Monday morning at 9:05 to talk about the budget process. CJBK radio 1290.