BLOG #715: Stephen Orser accuses council colleague Harold Usher of starting a rumour that he will get a big commission to make the sale of the old McCormick factory lands happen sooner rather than later. “That’s just from out space,” says Councillor Orser, but there seems no holding him back on trying to make something happen.
Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 – London
So the rumour is Stephen Orser stands to make a $500,000 commission if he can expedite the redevelopment of the old McCormick factory lands in East London.
That’s what the Ward 4 councillor himself says with his usual bluster. Tuesday night at city council he accused Harold Usher of making that charge.
Councillor Usher never actually mentioned anything about money. To everyone else in the room it appeared he was only asking a question about why a so-called ‘emergent’ motion was to goose the sale of the McCormick lands was being considered.
“Harold’s implication that I’m getting a half-million-dollar bribe is just from outer space. I’m trying to get this moving forward because there is interest now.”
Let’s stop here to fill in some context:
1) Councillor Orser far too often neglects the respectful niceties that are supposed to govern city council debates. This is especially true in his relations with Councillor Usher, with whom he seems to have a love-hate relationship and who he almost always calls Harold instead of Councillor Usher. This doesn’t appear to be a racial thing, although Councillor Usher is the only visible minority on council.
2) Emergent motions are normally reserved for suddenly developing issues. The recent failure of the McCormick lands at 1156 Dundas St. to attract any offers in the recent tax sale hardly qualifies. There is a process underway and not much can make it move more quickly.
3) The McCormick lands are in Councillor Orser’s ward and it’s no secret he has been pushing and prodding anyone at City Hall who will listen – and increasingly few will – that waiting at the city’s gates with buckets of cash are several big companies who want to buy the land for a factory or a seniors’ residence or who knows what.
4) He probably meant to, but Councillor Orser never actually denied the rumour.
Okay, forward. Until the company went bust a couple of years ago, McCormick’s was a big candy maker – although they should not be confused with McCormick’s the spice maker which also is based here.
The big white former McCormick’s building on Dundas two blocks west of Highbury was for decades a factory site. Who knows what kind of industrial residue has been seeping into the soil during that time.
The building itself is an architectural one-of-a-kind. London’s historical lobby would like to see it saved, although the place has been empty quite a while and virtually anything of value inside has been stripped. It may, or may not, be possible to save it.
So the city has a process underway to test various issues, not the least of which is the soil contamination concern. The lack of information would be a chief reason why no one has actually come forward so far wants to buy the property.
Councillor Orser’s ‘emergent’ motion, seconded by Dale Henderson, was to direct city staff “to expedite the council approved procedures to be followed after a failed tax sale and to communicate the urgency of this project to the consultants undertaking any work on behalf of the city.”
So what does that mean?
Mayor Joe Fontana, who forever has trouble reining in his boisterous friend, said it meant that council was asking staff to follow the procedures which council has put in place – which they already are doing.
“Why do we need a motion to follow procedure?” Joni Baechler asked. This seemed a perfectly legitimate question none of Councillor Orser’s supporters, least of all the mayor, seemed to want to answer.
What eventually emerged, but only by implication, is that Councillor Orser and friends want parallel studies to speed things up.
Art Zuidema, the new city manager making his first appearance at a city council meeting, reminded everyone that it might be useful to get the results of phase one of the study first because it might suggest there are huge cost implications for taxpayers in proceeding with phase two.
Which, of course, is the kind of darn good advice we expect to get from our top civil servant. Unfortunately, darn good advice is not something council necessarily accepts.
The ‘emergent’ motion was passed 8-6 with the usual suspects taking their respective places. Denise Brown was absent; Bill Armstrong moved to the yes side.
Will any of this matter in the scheme of things? Probably not in terms of getting the McCormick deal done. We’ve yet to see the colour of anyone’s money and there’s a good chance it may be some considerable time yet before we do, if ever.
But it does continue to undercut the value of the recommendations and observations our well-trained civic administration offers. How smart is that?
And back to you
Although the day before meeting as committee council rejected (by formally ignoring) a request from London Hydro directors for a massive pay increase, Tuesday night they voted to sent it back to the power utility for further consideration.
The suggestion seemed to be that zero would be a good number to plug in for 2012, but the door seems open to a proposal from the directors to phase in raises over three years. It won’t happen without a fight, however.