ENTRY #750: When it comes to wondering about his innocent or guilt in the alleged payment of a personal tab with public money, Mayor Fontana begs us await due process. When it comes to picking city council committee members, Mayor Fontana blows due process to smithereens.
Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 – London
As you’ve probably read or heard by now, Mayor Joe Fontana pointedly told The Free Press Monday night that he has no intention of stepping aside while the Mounties investigate whether he used public funds to pay a personal debt.
The mayor gave a brief statement to the newspaper’s City Hall reporter, Pat Maloney: “Most Londoners are fair-minded people, right? And they believe in due process.”
As it turns out, apparently Mayor Fontana does not.
Hours after his testy comment to The Free Press, the mayor presided over a meeting of the city council’s strategic priorities and policy committee. He allowed or enabled or masterminded – or, let’s called it what it really was, bullied – the obliteration of due process in the selection of standing committee members for the coming year.
While it’s a legal term, due process simply means following established rules and principles.
Used in connection with Mayor Fontana’s private pickle, that he used or allowed funds paid by Public Works Canada to cover the $20,000-plus bill for his stepson’s wedding reception at the Marconi Club in 2005, due process means letting the Mounties complete their inquiries before everyone rushes to judgment that he’s guilty.
That, he says, is why he’s not stepping aside despite the calls for him to do so by at least three councillors so far.
So if he wants us all to cut him some slack on the investigation, why did he turn around a few hours later and blow due process to smithereens? Good question, for which there were no snappy answers from Mayor Fontana.
Here’s the story. For at least several decades city council’s standing committees have been populated mostly on the basis of who wants to do what. Oh sometimes there is a little noisy horse trading when too many council members wanted one committee and not enough another. But the matter was settled with the participation of the whole council.
That is the due process.
Instead this is what happened Monday. Prior to the meeting all councillors had been asked to give their standing committee picks, one to five. If they wished to be chair a committee that was to be noted too. As the meeting started the council chamber was lined with flip charts in anticipation of the debating to come.
Mayor Fontana called the agenda item, number seven. Up popped Bud Polhill to make a motion that a list of committee appointments he had put together be accepted. As you might expect there was instantly a lot of grumbling.
“Just hang on,” says the mayor. “Bud has put forward a proposal for your consideration. Just take a deep breath. I'm sure everyone can be satisfied because everyone got just about what they wanted.”
Which was not true. That didn’t seem to bother the mayor as he deftly stickhandled the Polhill list into the net.
Joni Baechler, by any measure one of the hardest working members of council and without question by far the most knowledgeable on planning issues, had asked to be appointed to the planning committee and named its chair. She was denied both requests. Instead she got the Community and Protective Services Committee, which she didn’t request.
Matt Brown, Paul Hubert and Harold Usher had also requested chair postings. They were denied; Councillors Brown and Usher were cited as having chaired committees this year.
Instead, the Polhill list reappointed Joe Swan and Denise Brown as committee chairs and appointed Paul Van Meerbergen as a chairperson which he didn’t request. Oh yes, and the Polhill list also reappointed the councillor himself as chairperson of the planning committee.
The end result, if you hadn’t caught the drift, is that every standing committee is now headed by a Mayor Fontana supporter. His opponents have been shutout.
Although the mayor has only the slimmest margins on council – most contentious issues are decided 8-7 – he and his supporters now also control four of the five standing committees, including the three most important.
The new standing committee lineup has 24 appointments, meaning all but four councillors will be on two committees. The four who will serve only on one are opponents – Bill Armstrong, Ms. Baechler, Paul Hubert and Harold Usher.
At this Nancy Branscombe blew up. “This is a setup Joe,” she yelled at the mayor. “You can put me on whatever god damned committee you want. I'm leaving.”
And she did.
After the meeting Mayor Fontana reacted with his usual righteous indignation at Councillor Branscombe’s grand exit, then denied absolutely he had aided and abetted creation of the Polhill list in any way. Of course he also denied absolutely he had anything to do with the apparent payment by Public Works Canada of his personal wedding reception tab and promised the proof, for which we’ve been waiting these past 11 days.
But earlier, during the debate, he did let one little comment slip. “When you get the committee you want should you be chair? I have to pick from one another because you're all capable.”
I have to pick. Hmmmm, a Freudian slip perhaps.
THE PROPOSED COMMITTEES
The list is subject to approval by city council tonight. The mayor chairs one committee, is an ex officio member of all others. X indicates previous committee member, Y indicates mayor’s supporter
Planning – Bud Polhill, chairperson (X, Y), Sandy White (X, Y), Dale Henderson (X, Y), Nancy Branscombe, Paul Hubert.
Corporate Services (previously Finance & Administration) – Mayor Fontana, chairperson (X, Y), Nancy Branscombe (X), Judy Bryant, Bud Polhill (Y), Joe Swan (Y).
Investment & Economic Prosperity – Joe Swan, chairperson (X, Y), Matt Brown, Stephen Orser (X, Y), Paul Van Meerbergen (X, Y), Dale Henderson (Y).
Community & Protective Services (previously Community & Neighbour Services and Public Safety) – Denise Brown, chairperson (X, Y), Bill Armstrong (X), Judy Bryant (X), Harold Usher (X), Joni Baechler.
Civic Works – Paul Van Meerbergen, chairperson (X, Y), Stephen Orser (X, Y), Harold Usher (X), Sandy White (X, Y), Matt Brown.