Is new-look council an improved model?


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Not only will it be a new-look council on Dec. 1, the method in which our municipal representatives conduct city business is about to be overhauled.

We talked with Mayor Heather Jackson on Friday to get a sense of her expectations as head of a council comprised of a sole returnee.

“I see this all as opportunities. I don’t see any challenges. There is a lot of learning that is going to happen in a short period of time.”

To assist with the formidable learning curve, Jackson and CAO Wendell Graves are establishing an online resource centre for the six new aldermen.

“We’re finalizing an e-library on the city’s website for the new members to access the asset management plan, the code of conduct . . . all of the documents. And we’re doing an orientation next weekend, an in-house physical one with all of our department heads. And we’ll be in council chambers for part of that just to do a run-through to make them feel comfortable.”
DEC 4 JACKSON 2013
At the same time, the present standing committee structure is under review, Jackson points out.

“Now is the opportunity to do some restructuring of our committees. The current seven standing committees that we have, we’re looking at changing that to maybe three or four committees. Trying to break down some of the silos to make things a little easier; part of the openness we need to have here at city hall.

“With the new committee structure we won’t have one member of council for each committee. I’m hoping we can get it down to three separate committees. And I’m looking at a different chairman every year so everybody gets that opportunity and experience.”

On the first full business meeting, Dec. 8, it will be sleeves up and down to work, she advises.

“We will be jumping right in to budget. Council will have their budget binders before we break for Christmas. We’re looking at a somewhat different (budget) process than we’ve done before. Council will sit down with all of the department heads and have a discussion and ask questions rather than doing it in council chambers on one night. I don’t think we give enough attention to the budget.”

Expect a quick move to banish the term alderman to the history books in favour of councillor.

“Most of the new members just want it to happen. We don’t need a big public debate, we still need to go through the process of putting it on as a notice of motion. That could happen by Christmas.”

It’s an issue that has been debated in council chambers at least twice since Jackson was first elected in 2003.

A priority for Jackson is the rehabilitation of west end of Talbot St.

“That project is moving forward,” she notes. “We’ll be doing some public meetings in January and looking to get that project tendered. And we had some good news about moving to the next phase for funding from upper levels of government. But regardless of whether the funding is there from upper levels of government, this is a priority project that needs to happen. And, once that starts we’ll be able to budget other sections and continue to move along Talbot St.

“It’s staying on top of infrastructure and the asset management plan.

We’ll continue the dialogue with Jackson next week, with an eye to the city’s relationship with its neighbours.

A SECOND CHANCE AT GOODBYE

If it was your impression Ald. Gord Campbell was especially impassioned Monday during his farewell to council and city voters, you are very observant.
CAMPBELL Gord
But, then again, you may have missed his subtle reference to a sordid bit of muzzling more than 10 years ago.

Campbell, you see, was denied the opportunity to wish his peers and supporters a formal adieu when he failed to gain re-election in the 2003 municipal vote.

He was not alone.

Ald. Sharon Crosby — also defeated at the polls — was likewise silenced when the final meetings of the term were cancelled, ostensibly due to a lack of city business.

Well, the mayor at the time was Jeff Kohler, appointed to head of council in September of 2003 when Peter Ostojic chose to vacate the mayor’s office to pursue a full-time position elsewhere in the bowels of city hall.

Was the cupboard truly empty of items that needed to be addressed or was it payback time for the pair who were vehemently opposed to a downtown location for the city’s proposed twin-pad arena?

Giving them an open microphone might have proven embarrassing, especially in the case of Crosby, who perhaps could have used the opportunity to shed light on the strategy employed by some of her peers to deny her a voice during the definitive vote on the location of what would become the Timken Centre.

HIS SHINING MOMENT

Over a career spanning more than three decades Campbell, no doubt, could document dozens of memorable accomplishments.

This corner will nominate one incident that stands out from the crowd.

It’s mid-September, 2003, and Campbell has just met with St. Thomas police Chief Bill Lynch to discuss “a serious breach of etiquette” at city hall, to determine if there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation.

Campbell told the Times-Journal at the time he had concerns about “a serious breach of etiquette involving the public works community that has never been resolved.”

The matter at hand involved alleged sexual harassment that had “demoralized” several employees at city hall.

Campbell’s actions led to the firing of city treasurer Ron Cutway.

A landmark moment for many female staffers at city hall.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We have, unfortunately, not always agreed, but we have the same desire to move this city forward.”

Ald. Gord Campbell bidding farewell to a 32-year municipal politics career at the close of Monday’s council meeting.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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