Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, February 7, 2011

City Council Finally Gets Down to Work

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and Unfiltered Opinion
Reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
February 7, 2011

Well Council has taken its most significant decision since taking office over three months ago. It’s about time they got down to work!

Council may be a bit slow getting off the mark and down to work as it is a little tough carrying on business when the leader is gallivanting out of town in a Mackie’s moving van meeting Mayors of Southern Ontario’s many cities, towns, and bergs.

In its first significant decision, City Council appointed Doug Sanders as City Councillor to fill the vacant council position.

Sanders was nominated by Bob Chapman and seconded by Nancy Diamond and won support from Pidwerbecki, Diamond, England, Henry, Bouma, and Chapman.

In seconding Sanders, Diamond demonstrated that her powerful and scheming hand was behind Sander’s appointment. In her brilliance, she does have a way of being in charge but removing herself from centre stage when it suits her purpose. In this case, she publicly displayed that she was only a compliant accessory after the fact, disguising her strategic role as its prime mover and solidifying a political ally in Chapman, and, of course being able to step back and reject responsibility should any criticism arise now or in the future regarding the appointment. Sanders, of course, will now become part of the Diamond team.

From the outset, I think Council’s choice was a reasoned one. Sanders did run for local council and finished a few hundred votes behind Mary Anne Sholdra just missing the last elected position. And appointment of Sanders can be easily justified to impartial observers.

Mary Anne Sholdra, the only other nominated candidate had her name put forward by Aker and Wood and supported by Neal and Marimpietri. Sholdra’s nomination, like Sander's, can be justified to rational observers based on her vote count. Her rejection by council can also be strongly justified.

Roger Bouma nominated Mark Paton but did not have, and could not find, a seconder. Either Bouma was left out on a limb by his fellow councillors, was not in the loop when these things were decided, or does not understand how these things work. In any case, Paton was cherry-picked by Bouma, and was one of many reasonable choices, but was less clearly justifiable to the voting public.

Perhaps Bouma nominated Paton without a seconder to highlight the backroom manoeverings that had gone on.

Publicly, a few names seemed to dominate the public speculation of who was to be appointed with Will Thurber and Dr. Gary Gales dominating the list. Interestingly, neither of these individuals were considered for appointment as they didn’t get nominated as per the rules. Other names put forth were publicized by the individuals themselves through social media but none of these "outsiders" received any traction at all.

Despite Sholdra’s higher vote than Sanders, her past performance indicated she didn’t deserve to be appointed to the position. As a member of the last city council, she was heavily criticized for missing meetings, arriving late, leaving early, and absenting herself frequently during meetings.

Interestingly, in her personal presentation in support of her nomination, she pledged to correct these problems promising regular and punctual meeting attendance.

It’s amazing that any citizen seeking the public trust to look after the city business would find it necessary to promise good meeting attendance. That would seem to be a “given” for those who sought appointment.

For that reason, despite her electoral results, Sholdra had proven that she was not up to the job and should have retired from politics prior to the last election. For that reason, Doug Sanders was a good and reasonable council "first" choice.

Council’s recognition that the public doesn’t always get it right was a gutsy decision taken in the city’s best interest.

The public doesn’t always get it right is a given, especially on Oshawa’s massive general vote ballot containing the names of 70 candidates which severely undermines democracy in making it impossible to know the candidates.

In the last local city councillor race, for example, there were two candidates with MBA’s overlooked by the public; Will Thurber, a business professor at UOIT, Trent, and York, and Mark Paton. Instead the public elected, TTC bus driver, Mike Nicholson and narrowly missed electing Mary Anne Sholdra whose presence on council was a severe embarrassment because of her sheer incompetence, inability to understand issues, and her ability to keep alert and attentive at meetings.

The public also missed two MBA holders in the Regional Council race in Kevin Brady and Doug Hawkins, both of whom would have brought good business sense to city council. Both finished far out of the money. Instead the public elected a college student who stated that she was enrolling in university courses and narrowly missed electing Brian Nicholson who lied about having a university degree and has had no significant or successful work experience in the private sector.

While I do support the appointment of Doug Sanders, there are a number of observations I would make about this important bit of city business.

The first is, despite the controversy of the nomination process, the few people in Council Chambers to witness this bit of “democracy” in action leads to the question as to whether city residents really give a damn about what their council does. Certainly a huge dose of apathy was apparent in voter turnout.

Perhaps the poor attendance by the highly critical chattering classes was a symbolic boycotting of the legitimacy of the event.

While I support appointment to fill the position, I am critical of the very democratically limiting process city council followed.

In democratic elections, citizens are able to declare themselves candidates in the race, but the city council process didn’t allow this. Council members acted as gatekeepers deciding privately among themselves who could be considered.

This was the purpose of the nomination process requiring two councillors to put candidate’s names up for consideration and also the purpose of keeping the list of interested citizens confidential so that public campaigns could not be mounted to generate support for various individuals. This might have put additional public pressure on politicians to select specific popular candidates as well as sparking second guessing of the result by the public.

Historically, Oshawa has been a very parochial place where most in authority were related to each other with nepotism and cronyism dominating the city landscape. The council screening process for approved candidates echoes this past.

There have also been extremely serious city council communication oversights in the appointment process.

To my knowledge, there were no official communications calling for nominations, informing people of the appointment process, or indeed even announcing the date of the appointment meeting. All communication has been left to the responsibility of the public press without city hall vetting or oversight.

Because there was no formal application process to be considered for appointment, no complete lists of those requesting appointment could be compiled----so the public will never know which “gems” advanced their names for consideration.

This was the same serious oversight, of course, of a previous council that put the convoluted general vote plebiscite question on the ballot and forgot to inform the people about the meaning of the question and its consequences.

One amazing shortcoming of the entire appointment process was that no formal vetting process was completed prior to the new councillor being named. Only after the fact was the new councillor required to sign a declaration of qualification. It doesn`t make sense to sign a letter of eligibility after you`ve won the job.

Once bitten, twice burned would seem to have been a city lesson well learned---but not in Oshawa where we’ve now had two elections in a row where ineligible candidates have been elected.

The only way this vetting process could have occurred prior to appointment with the Council process adopted would have been to hold an illegal in-camera meeting to screen the candidates to insure eligibility prior to the Council meeting where the decision already made was going to be confirmed.

The 34 minute Council Meeting making the appointment was so efficient that it probably was just a formal replication of those illegal in-camera meetings---a charade to formalize a decision already made.

The appointment process was in the best interests of this city but I continue to question the wisdom of considered candidates being chosen in a closed and private way that smells of cronyism.

But hey, this is Oshawa and we have huge tolerance for a city council that hits us disrespectfully time and time again.

In Egypt today, the people are striking back! They`ve had enough....and obviously we haven`t----yet!

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

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