BLOG #712: In the 21st century does it matter that London’s top civil servant does not live in the Forest City and may not for a while, perhaps never? The realities of today’s marketplace for top talent would say no, but not everyone would agree. What do you think?
Monday, August 20, 2012 – London
Should Londoners care that our new city manager doesn’t live here, and probably won’t for a while, if ever?
In the 21st century that question isn’t nearly as controversial as it was in the 1990s, for example, when the police chief of the day, Julian Fantino, maintained his primary residence in the Toronto area throughout his seven-year tenure. True, he did have a small apartment in London where he spent his week nights but his family never moved.
And, of course, some Londoners continue to fuss a little about the fact our mayor doesn’t actually live here. He beds down north of the city in nearby Arva where he pays residential property taxes to Middlesex Centre.
Art Zuidema, who started his new job as London’s city manager last Monday, lives in Brantford, an hour’s drive northeast. He lived there as well in his previous job, which was the director of corporate initiatives for the City of Hamilton.
While Mr. Zuidema says he loves London, living in Brantford makes sense for him because his wife Jyoti also has a professional career. A lawyer, she is a vice chairperson of the Ontario Municipal Board.
“Jyoti has to drive to get to work and she can get to a lot of places in an hour from Brantford,” Mr. Zuidema said in an interview last week. “She would probably get to fewer of those places within an hour of London.
“From a selfish perspective I wish I was already living in London. However, the house (in Brantford) is not for sale at the moment but it continues to be something we are considering.”
Mr. Zuidema’s contract with the city does not include a residency clause, something that a decade ago was pretty routine in most high level employment contracts. The fact is, today’s power couples usually involves both spouses working at good jobs that are not mutually transportable.
There are any number of organizations in London – universities, hospitals, businesses – that have trouble recruiting star talent because a good job can’t be guaranteed for the other marriage partner.
“In today’s modern world, someone said to me the other day, there are so many couples where the two partners are working and one is travelling outside London (to get to work),” Mr. Zuidema said.
Still he promises “in the short term I am going to be plugged into the community. I am going to be involved. I’m going to be active and will bring my family here for various events.”
Quite apart from public perceptions about commitment – which was seen as the primary reason for the residency requirement in days of yore – Mr. Zuidema faces a trickier question about possible conflict of interest with his wife’s job Ontario Municipal Board position.
The OMB, as it’s called, is the court of appeal for people and businesses feeling wronged by city council decisions. As do other board members, Mrs. Zuidema travels to various cities holding hearings into these concerns.
So how would that work if a decision by London city council was involved?
“We had a system in Hamilton for the period my wife worked for the OMB that she did not do any renderings or any hearings in Hamilton and she didn’t review any decisions that board members made that involved Hamilton either. That’s the same system we’ll have here.”
You’ll find more on my interview with Mr. Zuidema in my regular column in this Thursday’s edition of London Community News, including his view that getting to another zero tax increase is a lot like losing weight – you need a good plan and it has to be sustainable.
WE’RE ON THE AIR – I’m filling in this week for Andy Oudman on CJBK’s morning talk show, London Today. Monday’s guests include Councillor Dale Henderson explaining what he thinks good government is; and Sandy Levin, Gina Barber and Chris Moss debating whether we are too hard on politicians.
NOTE TO READERS – With city council on a reduced schedule until September and City Hall thinned by summer holidays, The McLeod Report is on a reduced schedule until after Labour Day. The report will be published once a week, usually (but not always) on Monday – unless urgent issues dictate otherwise. You can also find a second print version of The Report Thursdays in London Community News.