Strictly For Wonks

Government Management Committee.

Yes, it is as dry as all those words on their own might suggest. bonedryPut together? Well, the Sahara fucking desert.

Yet, this committee deals with the nuts and bolts of how City Hall functions both inside its curved walls and outside. Why, just yesterday the agenda was full of such diverse items as property tax shirkers and parking ticket miscreants to building a bike station at City Hall and TTC pension plan mergers. Most of it isn’t headline grabbing stuff but it’s all got to get done for the place and the institution to function properly.

Or, in short, from the city website: This committee has a focus of government assets and resources, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on the administrative operations of the City.

From a City Hall watcher’s perspective, this Government Management Committee got council chambers and committee rooms wi-fied up and there’s talk of installing more electrical outlets for ease of keeping computing devices charged. nutsandboltsIt just pushed for extending live streaming of all committee and community council meetings before 2014. And word is, they’re pondering granting media accreditation to council social media types which, from our very subjective viewpoint would render the process meaningless. I mean, come on. It’s bloggers we’re talking about. Those people are hacks.

As committee chair, Councillor Paul Ainslie was quick off the mark to embrace many of the electoral and civic reforms that came out of Dave Meslin’s The 4th Wall project including looking at using ranked ballots in municipal elections. Clicking through the committee’s agenda over the last little while, it’s hard to tell exactly where those items are sitting right now and it’d be nice to know that they haven’t simply been buried. But I’ll give Councillor Ainslie the benefit of the doubt because, well, he seems like a sensible guy who knows better than to get on Meslin’s bad side.

Councillor Ainslie also seems to run an affable meeting. He doesn’t huff and puff, is courteous with staff, fellow committee members and deputants. If I were writing copy I’d say something like Committee Chair Ainslie makes boring Government Management stuff fun! fineprintMaybe even with two exclamation marks.

He does get some help from Councillor Doug Ford in the fun department, although the mayor’s brother does provide a different sort of fun. More of the laughing at than laughing with kind of fun. In many ways, the Government Management Committee is the reason the councillor came to City Hall. To Lean Six Sigma his ass all over procurement practices and squeeze out every ounce of gravy he can find.

The committee also offers up Councillor Ford the opportunity to rail about out of control spending like the budget of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. Or the construction of a bike station at City Hall in place of perfectly unused parking spots, complete with, and get this…”Vince! You gotta come here, they’re building showers!” Showers! For bikers! Can you get any gravier than that?

But with the chair siding with the lefties on the committee, councillors Mary Fragedakis and Pam McConnell, Councillor Ford and his buddy Vince (Crisanti) did not win the day. That may have to wait until the one missing committee member, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, returns from the DL. boringmeetingHis presence at the meetings must change the dynamics somewhat.

Would I recommend a visit to the Government Management Committee to take in the proceedings?

I don’t know. Did I mention it covers a lot of dry terrain? You have to really love watching people cross their t’s and dot their i’s to get caught up in the action of a Government Management Committee meeting.

Theirs are many of the thankless tasks that must get done, and very much subject to the whims of the much higher profile Budget Committee. (Given the overlap of many of the items, it would’ve made perfect sense for Councillor Ainslie to seamlessly transition into the role of budget chief. Alas.) Government Management Committee might not be the place to start your journey through the committee meetings but be secure in the knowledge that six councillors are dedicating their time to getting `er done.

appreciatively submitted by Cityslikr

A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

You want to know how meritless the idea is of term limits on politicians? Both Mayor Rob Ford and I agree it’s without merit. timesupI’m not sure of the internal logic of that statement but, hey, if the Toronto Star’s Royson James can riff on the theme who am I to shy away?

“Public service is an honour,” Councillor Jaye Robinson says in Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article. “It is an opportunity to bring your knowledge and your experience to City Hall but it is not a career path. It is simply a calling, it is not a career.”

What is it about a life in politics that makes it so different from being a doctor or a bank manager? There’s a hint of Tea Party populism in the councillor’s statement, the dismissive view of career politicians. theresthedoorSomehow a politician’s ‘calling’ is finite — twelve years in her view – while a calling into the priesthood, say, is a lifelong pact.

It’s almost as if Councillor Robinson is suspicious of those who would make politics their life’s work. That no one could possibly want to make a career of public service in a capacity they excel at. You know what the problem with politics is? Politicians. Career politicians.

A call for term limits is the laziest of reactions to political disengagement and disenchantment. And that they’re being touted by two rookie councillors, Robinson and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who turfed incumbents in 2010 to get into office is even more puzzling. Their new blood and ideas can now infuse the politics of the city, to paraphrase Royson James, because of successful election campaigns.

Yes, there are huge advantages to being an incumbent, mostly name recognition that’s especially pronounced at the municipal level but for reasons beyond James’ overly simplistic office budget “re-election slush fund” thinking. I’m of the belief that being an incumbent at the municipal level is so formidable because, until recently at least, voters didn’t pay that much attention to local politics between election cycles. It’s the most junior level of government after all, concerned mostly with garbage pick-up and neighbourhood stop signs. publicparticipationSo remembering who their councillor’s name was the biggest effort most people put into it.

But I think there’s much better ways to effectively engage the public. Directly involving a community in the decision making process is one. That may mean using the easily hated councillor office budgets to host town halls and other types of meetings we’ve seen crop up recently like on the casino issue or transit funding. Let’s promote a more participatory budget approach that elicits public input before most of the decisions have been made rather than just in reaction to them.

We could also invigorate our electoral system to make it both more inclusive and more competitive. In the Torontoist yesterday, Desmond Cole made the case for extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents. “In 2006,” Cole writes, “Ryerson municipal affairs expert Myer Siemiatycki estimated that at least 250,000 Toronto residents, or 16 per cent of the city’s population, could not vote in municipal elections because they were not citizens.” stuntA quarter-million currently disenfranchised residents suddenly eligible to vote would most certainly shake up our local democracy.

How about modifying the way we vote? For years Dave Meslin and the folks at RaBIT have pushed the idea of alternative voting as a counter to the power of incumbency. A quick glance at the 2010 election results shows that a ranked ballot might’ve led to the defeat of 10 incumbent councillors.

This isn’t an argument suggesting that governance here in Toronto has no need of modernizing or recalibration. Imagine my smirk after reading the deputy mayor’s claim, “We’ve had people (at City Hall) that should never have been there for a day that have been there for years.” Talk about your kettle throwing the pot around in a glass house. But if it takes term limits in order to rid the place of do-nothing councillors like our budget chief, speaker or deputy mayor, well, we have bigger fish to fry. Term limits smack of cheap fixes and political stunts. Toss away ideas that make a lot of noise but deliver very little meaningful change.

time sensitively submitted by Cityslikr

Going Forward

This week we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were voted a finalist in the blog category of NOW magazine’s Best of 2012 issue. What it means, none of us is quite sure. Pretty much old news by tomorrow but it did lead to one truly remarkable moment. Acaphlegmic bursting into the office, clutching an Old Milwaukee Tallboy to his chest, squealing, They like us! They really, really like us!!

For my money, however, it is an accolade best summed up by one of our regular and largely unimpressed readers:

I congratulate you on your now heralded contribution to discourse on the World Wide Web. More people should express their opinions online. It will surely lead to improved interaction and mutual understanding.

Yours,

Jabbermonkey43@spunkhouse101.ihatemyexwife/hatehatehate

Yes, self-loathing will trump self-congratulation in my heart and mind every time.

But I will say this.

As we approach the three year mark of the establishment of this here blog, what started out as a journey of discovery, let’s call it, because none of us involved had any idea where this thing was going to take us (an answer still very much obscured from view) has morphed into something of a cause. This, of course, has much to do with circumstances beyond our control, namely the results of the 2010 election which were both unexpected and seismic. Like that, it became about defending the city we live in

The edifying aspect of that was the realization there were a lot of people coming to the same conclusion. A dedicated and growing group of individuals intent on participating in the decisions that were being made and holding our elected officials responsible for those decisions. Civic engagement has swelled, populated by smart, organized and resolute citizens and residents not just taxpayers.

It’s a movement that didn’t spring out of nowhere. There was a structure in place to build from. I’m thinking of the likes of Desmond Cole, Jonathan Goldsbie, Dave Meslin and Himy Syed (to name but a few) who were there holding politicians accountable and making demands of City Hall long before it became fashionable to do so. And (logrolling alert) alternative publications like NOW magazine that placed coverage of local issues front and centre. They blazed the trail we are all now traveling down.

And before you get all defensive and outraged, calling this nothing more than a left wing, downtown elite circle jerk, echo chamber, let me say this. I do not think the Ford administration and those still supporting it are deliberately trying to destroy the city of Toronto. I really do believe they, like everyone else who gets involved in the political scene, want to make it a better place to live in. We just have a difference of opinion how to go about accomplishing that.

So, taking a moment for bi-partisan outreach, can we start making this discussion and debate about ideas and not slogans? Facts and data rather than resentment tend to build better communities. Sometimes a better deal for you personally does not make for a better whole.

If we’re accused of simply preaching to the choir — and the nod from NOW may help to highlight that claim — it’s not something we set out to do. We really do want the wider debate, to hear from those we’re not always in agreement with. Hopefully, that’s the next step forward in our evolution here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr