• When it’s time for a new City Manager

    If London was left wondering what happened at City Hall’s special meeting about the City Manager and the Police Services Board on Friday, I think the best way to sum it up is, this isn’t over…

    In the portion of the meeting I was able to watch on live stream, only the councillor from Ward 2 expressed complete confidence in “ALL” the work the City Manager and administration have done. It was clear from the line of questioning we saw from the majority of council members (at least during the public parts of the meeting) that they do NOT have confidence in how the City Manager handled matters with the Police Services Board. The frustration from Councillors Mo Salih and Phil Squire was quite clear—with the Mayor cautioning both about not letting their comments ‘cross the line’. Councillors Josh Morgan and Jesse Helmer, while perhaps more diplomatic in their tone and language, were clearly not satisfied either. And after multiple attempts by senior staff to force the meeting in-camera (political speak for behind closed doors, away from public ears) it is worth noting that those four members of council opposed going in camera even when the rest of council capitulated.

    To council’s credit some of the information from the first in-camera session was released to the public when council returned to public session. Once that information was gone over for the public watching in the gallery or at home on the live stream, council, moved by Virginia Ridley pertaining to a personnel matter, then went back in-camera.

    On matters of personnel, whether a performance review, or disciplinary action, council is required to take the discussion in-camera, so councillors had no choice on whether or not to go back in-camera for that. Council emerged, from in-camera and the meeting essentially ended there. We can’t know what “personnel” were involved or where the behind closed doors discussion went, so what should Londoner’s take away from this?

    It is important to note that for a “Special Meeting of Council”, which this was. Only items on the public agenda as circulated can be dealt with. Motions and votes at these meetings, whether in public, or in-camera, are limited only to the item on the agenda. The only item on the agenda was the letter from the Police Services Board.

    That means that if council has (as it should, in my opinion) concerns about the City Manager’s performance or handling of the ongoing contract dispute with the firefighters, or the handling of the CUPE 101 inside worker’s strike, or the so-called “Service London” extended hours at City Hall initiative that has been an expensive flop, or of communications directing councillor’s not to comment on local issues in the media or with the public say, or other concerns, those could not be raised or considered last night. So, it would have been extremely difficult to make a decision on the current City Manager’s future with those limits on the discussion.

    But, a significant number of councillors seem to be personally dissatisfied—as well as aware of the public’s concerns—about issues surrounding the City Manager beyond the Police Services Board letter.

    What we did not get at yesterday’s meeting was any indication from senior city staff that they truly “get it”.

    There were repeated efforts to deflect council members questions to “in-camera”. To the credit of the majority of council (though not all), those attempts to close the public out were defeated. And we heard a lot of answers from staff which seemed to be “pass the buck” responses. We also heard very clearly that the City Manager’s office did the bare minimum required in responding to the Police Services Board appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, when a little extra effort may have resolved things more quickly, more amicably, and with less cost to the taxpayers of our city.

    We also learned the City Manager has launched an “internal review” of the matter. That should satisfy absolutely NO ONE! A government department investigate itself and expect the public to believe the results, there is simply far too much potential for a “nothing to see here” result.

    The reality is when it comes to good governance, perception matters. And the perception right now is that London has a City Manager who has undermined the relationships with the firefighters, the police, and the staff at City Hall (earning him, whether deserved or not, a reputation as ‘anti-labour’), his relationship with the local media has been inconsistent at best, not to mention having rocky relationships with several members of council itself.

    It is almost standard these days for a new council to quickly replace it’s city manager. London’s council did not to this when it swept into office in on the public’s desire for change, the current City Manager is a holdover from the Fontana council. That he has remained on the job this long is itself a bit surprising, but it looks like his time in London (where he has yet to take up residence, still communiting from Brantford to work) is nearing its end.

    It seems now to be a matter of “when” the city manager will be replaced, not “if”, the only question now is how soon council gets there.

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