The Clown Prince And Queen Frances of IsSheSerious?

November 2, 2012

The easiest thing to do these days when covering Toronto city council is simply to end with a panache of loathing, a figurative throwing of hands in the air and shop worn variation of the Shakespearean quote, “A plague on both your houses!”

Council meetings are often bogged down in partisan rancour although, in fairness and in the end, they always do wind up clearing their often times bulky agenda even if it does take them three days instead of two. It’s seldom pretty. It’s rarely graceful. But the business of the city is being taken care of.

Which, in reality, is quite a testament to the majority of councillors since we have a chief magistrate and his administration firm in the belief that governance suffers from a governing problem. Of course this is a circus, folks. We’re politicians! What else would you expect from us?

The opposition party is in control and has no idea how to actually run things because that would take having an open mind toward the efficacy of government. Few of them do. There’s nothing affirmative in their approach. It’s simply about no. no, no, no.

Mayor Ford is much more comfortable behind a microphone as a radio talk show host or on the football side lines than he is chairing a committee or speaking to items. His councillor-brother assumes the private sector does everything better than the public sector and gives that sales pitch at any opportunity that arises. The budget chief faints at the sight of large numbers.

But none may represent the vacuity of leadership and embrace of maladministration within Team Ford better (or would that be worse?) than its self-appointed QB, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, and council Speaker Frances Nunziata. It’s almost as if they were adopted and appointed for no other reason than to make the mayor’s bad behaviour look better by comparison. If his primary intention upon assuming office was to discredit the very notion of municipal government, the elevation of councillors Mammoliti and Nunziata to positions of power and visibility should be considered one of his only unqualified measures of success so far.

Immediately, partisan hackles are raised and examples of outlandish opposition antics are raised. What about Councillor Gord Perks getting all in Mammoliti’s face on camera? No question. Deplorable. But he subsequently apologized unequivocally at council. Intemperate displays of loutishness are not confined just to the right side of the political spectrum at City Hall. It’s just the regular, almost like clockwork and always near operatic occurrence of it from the Ford Administration that makes it seem so commonplace.

As Speaker, Frances Nunziata is supposed to bring a degree of decorum to the proceedings. An even-handed voice of reason and unbiased arbitrator, the role is that of a referee. Keep everything moving along and dealing with infractions in the fashion of blind justice.

Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Hectoring, nakedly partisan, she has maintained the fractious, contentious tone bestowed on council chambers by Don Cherry in his inaugural address. Worse still, the speaker doesn’t seem to have a handle on the procedural rules of the place. Things stop and start based on her mercurial whims that staff seem reticent to rein in for fear of having everything ground to such a halt that it might never get started again.

If Speaker Nunziata gave a shit about the appearance of propriety, she would’ve handed over her gavel to the Deputy Speaker during the contentious debate over the Ombudsman’s Report which dealt with the questions of civic appointments at the Civic Appointment Committee, a committee the speaker was chair of. How does that not smack of conflict? Instead she harassed critics of the process, coddled the defenders and used her role as speaker as a soapbox to editorialize.

The only upside to Frances Nunziata’s role as the council speaker is it keeps her off the floor of chambers in the capacity of councillor to a minimum. Her speaking times frequently double in length, punctuated as they are by a succession of her colleagues standing on points of privilege and order to correct the wildly inflammatory statements she makes. On Wednesday, she stood up to her critics, accusing them of using hearsay and innuendo to undermine the appointment process. The former mayor David Miller was guilty of “interfering every day” she claimed, citing no evidence to back it up.

A dictionary for the speaker, STAT! She evidently doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hearsay’ or ‘innuendo’.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that her performance paled in comparison to Councillor Mammoliti’s. Let’s just say it provided a fitting complement to it because, when he decides to let fly (and he does regularly), Councillor Mammoliti is without peer in delivering nonsensical rhetorical bombast. Which – guilty pleasure confession – kind of makes him a soft spot for me. Am I alone in my love of having a performing monkey?

Who else (aside from Councillor Ford) would have the gall to stand up with a list of names in his hand that he claimed a month earlier did not to exist and refer to it as “so-called”?  No one else challenged the authenticity of the list. There was no doubt about where it came from. Lots of questions about its intent but not its existence. Still, for Councillor Mammoliti it was “so-called”.

His 5 minute incantation of the words ‘Halloween’ and ‘candy’ and ‘witch hunt’ was truly Dadaesque in delivery. There was no internal coherence or logic. Just words spewed forth to mock and demean the office of the Ombudsman and incite the ire of his colleagues into defending Ms. Crean and the validity of the report she delivered.

See? We’re all crazy down here in the Clamshell. No need to take us seriously.

This is why we have to continue striving to distinguish between constructive and destructive debate and governance. While nothing in Chris Selley’s article about this week’s council meeting was at all factually incorrect, it suggests an equal culpability in the shenanigans going on during the meeting. “… four-and-a-half hours of councillors hurling accusations, counter-accusations and countless points of personal privilege at each other. At last, they had The List. Blood would be spilled. Edifying, it was not.”

No, it wasn’t but the blame for that should hardly be dished out evenly. Some members of council bear much more responsibility for degrading the discourse and, unfortunately, most of them are part of the mayor’s team. Adding further insult to that injury, such a sorry state of affairs seems to be their default and preferred position.

fairly submitted by Cityslikr


Playing Politics

October 5, 2012

Try to parse the dark logic of this.

In the end, city council voted unanimously (with a few notable abstentions) to adopt the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman’ report into the civic appointment process conducted last year by the Civic Appointments Committee. Recommendations a handful of councillors and the mayor vehemently argued at council and/or in the media were unnecessary because the problems they are intended to address never occurred in the first place. Or, in the always blithely oblivious words of Councillor Norm Kelly, “… the Ombudsman is fixing something that is not broke.”

Only could a hardcore ideologue or someone completely disengaged with the reality swirling around him sit through this week’s fiery council debate, shrug his shoulders and conclude, what’s the problem? This, coming from a guy who sits right beside the budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande. At the height of the viciousness being tossed around at council chambers yesterday, Del Grande stood up on a point of privilege to essentially wipe his hands of the proceedings, disgusted with the gutter tone it had descended into, claiming he’d never been a part of anything like it in all his time in office.

As any of our regular readers know, I am not a fan of the budget chief. He represents almost everything I dislike in right wing politicians. And not for nothing was he once dubbed, Cardinal Mike Del Grandstand.

But in this, I have to say, his repulsion felt genuine. He talked kindly of gentlemanly behaviour at previous councils towards him by Joe Pantalone. His abhorrence at the fight over the Ombudsman’s report crossed political lines.

This is both good news and bad news for Mayor Ford.

The Ombudsman’s report and ensuing debate over it saw him abandoned by almost all of his natural allies. Not only did the budget chief walk away but other conservative councillors kept their distance. You heard nothing from councillors David Shiner or Karen Stintz. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday stood and expressed complete and utter incredulity at why council was spending so much time on this debate. The recommendations in the report were clear and good. Let’s just get on with it. At one point of time, the deputy mayor could be seen standing on the periphery of the chambers, glaring in the direction of Councillor Mammoliti, looking as if he couldn’t bring himself to be sitting in the same row as his colleague.

Even Mayor Ford’s bad lieutenant of devious doings, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong steered cleared. There was no upside to be seen going to bat for the mayor on this issue.

Only those must entrenched and (not coincidentally members of the Civic Appointments Committee) stood with Mayor Ford. Much has been rightly made of the bully antics of Councillor Mammoliti but the true depths were dredged by Speaker Frances Nunziata. Assuming her councillor seat, her 7 minute speaking time extended to at least 15 minutes with all the points of order and privilege demanded by those she shrilly huffed and puffed and hurled baseless accusations at. It was during this time, the budget chief rose, castigated his colleagues and left the chambers.

Which may represent the silver lining of all this for the mayor.

All the hurly burly created by his defenders helped impugn not only the integrity of the Ombudsman’s report but that of city staff as well in at least the minds of his most ardent supporters. ‘Politically motivated’ they managed to insert into the debate and got the chatter of it being nothing more than a he said-she said, hearsay document despite the fact that all the non-material evidence in it being sworn to under oath. They demanded names and documentation, ultimately revealing only their supreme ignorance of how the work of the city’s Accountability Officers is effectively conducted.

Yet, when all was said and done, despite the protestations of innocence and claims of partisan, political attacks inflicted upon them by the office of the Ombudsman, they voted (with the exception of councillors Kelly and Mammoliti who stepped out of the chambers when the vote was held) to accept the report’s findings and adopt its recommendations. How couldn’t they? After all, Councillor Doug Ford said over and over how the administration was dedicated to openness, accountability and transparency. For them, to vote against receiving the Ombudsman’s report would be nothing more than trying to suck and blow at the same time.

The only element of ‘politics’ introduced into all this was done on behalf of the administration. To accept the Ombudsman’s finding without attempting to denigrate it first was tantamount to admitting mistakes had been made (and I’m being very generous with that assessment). And we all know, Mayor Ford and his closest advocates are loathe to admit to mistakes. Ever.

Instead unsubstantiated allegations were thrown out against everyone and anyone. The Ombudsman, council colleagues, city staff all came under fire from Team Ford. At one point, Councillor Ford said that whatever may’ve happened, the mayor’s hands were clean. Not that the report ever named the mayor specifically, only referring to the mayor’s staff. No matter. The mayor was above reproach.

But that’s not exactly how things are supposed to work.

From the 2010-2014 Council Handbook:

2.14 Councillor staff – conduct and policies

Councillor staff, when acting in their role as a representative of the Councillor, must comply with the Code of Conduct for Members of Council (see page 100). Councillors are responsible for ensuring that their staff understand their obligations and responsibilities.

(h/t to Jude MacDonald)

Certainly the same goes for the mayor and his staff.

But accountability, it would seem, only applies to others and previous administrations. Demanding it from the mayor’s office and his most rabid supporters is just playing politics.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Damning Report

September 27, 2012

“We now have a governance process that is no longer based on any recognizable principles.”

— Office of the Ombudsman Report, September 2012

*  *  *

Allow me to take exception to this assertion made by Toronto’s Ombudsman in a report delivered about some ‘irregularities’, let’s call them, in the civic appointments process made during our current term of city council. It might seem like a semantics quibble but I think it goes to the heart of how the Ford Administration has sought to govern since it was elected in 2010. In fact, there are ‘recognizable principles’ at work. Just not ones that we normally associate with a properly functioning democracy.

Those new principles can be summed up in a couple succinct sentences.

We won. We get to operate by our own rules.

Oh yeah. And there’s a PS

Suck it up, losers.

Reading through the report, you get this sense that the mayor’s office, operating at the height of its power in 2011, was both ad hoc in their approach to coordinating efforts with Committee chairs and relentlessly single-minded in their drive to bulldoze established processes in order to re-jig the governance structure to work in their favour. Politically ham-fisted interference with the civic appointments to boards hadn’t been done before, not because it was considered improper but because, well, maybe nobody thought to do it before. Don’t blame us for being innovative and creative.

It’s also hard to avoid concluding that there was an orchestrated attempt to put undue pressure on city staff in order to short circuit the established process for properly vetting, screening and nominating qualified candidates. First, delay things. Pass a budget that further trims resources that staff have to do their work thoroughly. Then, unnecessarily shrink the timeline, thereby guaranteeing a rushed, less vigorous and, quite possibly, compromised outcome.

And your response?

Hey. Don’t look at me. It’s not my fault staff can’t do their job.

The report’s conclusion are damning, showing a willful disregard for protocol. Outcome trumped everything. Ends justifying the means.

Some 50 findings from the Ombudsman, and quite a few doozies.

“This investigation revealed that the process for recruitment and selection of citizen members to boards did not follow the requirements set out in the Public Appointments Policy.”

“City staff’s ability to carry out their responsibilities under the Policy was compromised.”

“There were insufficient resources particularly when the timelines changed.”

“While staff articulated concerns to the Committee and to the Mayor’s Office, they were put in an untenable position. On the one hand, public servants have a duty to serve the best interests of the corporation and through it, the public. On the other, staff felt they could not refuse the directions given to them by the Mayor’s Office.”

“The compressed schedule imposed a considerable burden on staff resources, which were already limited and overloaded.”

“Staff did the job as directed in one week with the inevitable flaws that resulted.”

“The changes to the schedule did not emanate from the Committee but from the Mayor’s Office. Committee members were not aware of the direction from the Mayor’s Office.”

And on and on it goes.

In an article written today before this report went public, Matt Elliott wrote of scandal fatigue with Mayor Ford. He points out that the level of polled support for the mayor has remained fairly steady at 42% regardless of any good news or bad news that surfaces for him. Sure he’s done some questionable stuff but he’s also done some good stuff. I still support our mayor.

While I hope Matt’s wrong I fear he’s right. In a sensible world, the Ombudsman’s report should crater Mayor Ford’s support to irreparable levels. His ongoing disregard for the tenets of responsible, open and transparent government seem to know no limits.

I hope that those who were elected to city council along with Mayor Ford can now set aside any political calculations and do what needs to be done. Along with pushing forward the Ombudsman’s recommendations on the civic appointment process, they should collectively assume control of the Committee appointments from the mayor who seems more interested in pushing his agenda forward at the expense of the city’s best interests. It’s a to the victors go the spoils mentality that is now benefitting no one.

disconcertedly submitted by Cityslikr