London Community News
Update (Oct 30): Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe will reportedly introduce a motion at tonight's (Oct. 30) city council meeting asking Mayor Joe Fontana to temporarily step down until the RCMP investigation is complete. An online petition is also now circulating requesting the same thing.
As well, Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert posted a blog yesterday with his take on the ongoing controversy.
More to come on this story.
With members of London council now joining in on calls for him to step aside, Mayor Joe Fontana pointed to the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers as a reason he will not bow to public pressure.
Following the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee meeting on Monday (Oct. 29), Fontana was asked by several members of the local media as to whether he would step down during an ongoing RCMP investigation into whether he misused federal funds in paying for his son’s 2005 wedding reception. In recent days, councillors Sandy White (Ward 14), Joni Baechler (Ward 5), Nancy Branscombe (Ward 6) have suggested it might be time for Fontana to step aside, while Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert wrote recently on his personal blog that the issue has become a distraction for council.
Fontana’s brief statement made clear his position.
“I am the mayor. I have been working really hard. I’m not stepping down.”
In a comment to London Community News following that exchange, Fontana said he was standing by the rights given to him through the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers on the battlefield.
“If you want a comment, this is what this should be about,” Fontana said, pointing to the poppy on his suit. “This is about due process, that is what people died for. It is about due process and time to allow things to happen.”
The tensions in the council chamber were inflamed even before the mayor was questioned about whether he would step down. The final public item on the committee’s agenda Monday evening was discussions around the committee appointments for the next 12 months
Before those appointments could be finalized, Branscombe expressed her feelings, alleging Fontana had somehow directed the process that was put in place for the meeting, orchestrating who would end up chairing the various committees. She followed that by standing up and walking out.
“From the outset this was a setup. Joe, I think it is disgraceful the way this has been handled,” Branscombe said. “You can put me on whatever god damn committee you want; I’m leaving. I can’t believe it. What a joke.”
Branscombe’s outrage appeared to stem from a disagreement with the process around committee assignments.
Councillors were previously requested sign up for whichever committees — Civic Works, Community and Protective Services, Corporate Services, Investment and Economic Prosperity and Planning and Environment — they wanted to sit on, from top priority to least.
While the councillors typically debate among themselves who sits where, and who chairs each committee, Ward 1 Councillor Bud Polhill brought forward a plan he said took into account the requests made by each of the council members.
When Polhill’s proposal didn’t suggest Baechler (who wasn’t able to attend the meeting,) for the planning committee chair, Branscombe spoke out.
“I just do think this is a glaring slap in the face and I am really sad to see it here. With all due respect, I would like to propose Joni Baechler is the chair of planning. There is nobody in this room, other than planning staff, that knows more about planning than she does. She deserves to be the chair.”
Ward 14 Councilllor Sandy White took offence to the suggestion, in particular, because of her position on the current planning committee.
“If we want to be children in the sandbox then I am going to have my turn at it. Whether somebody or not is the best at planning than the rest of us is a matter of opinion,” White said. “I was vice-chair of planning and if we are going to do this vice-chair moves to chair, then why is my name not there as chair of planning?”
Branscombe’s motion to have Baechler named as chair was defeated, which led to her walking out a short while after. Later in the meeting, a motion to name White as planning chair was also defeated.
Fontana, who didn’t address Branscombe’s walk out during the meeting, said he had received input from many members, including Polhill and others. The mayor also said 70 per cent of council has been a chair over the past two years and that councillors shouldn’t “get so excited” over who should sit on the committees.
“If you look at what we’ve come up with, 90 per cent of everyone is going to get what they wanted. It all of the sudden just magically appeared, so that’s good,” Fontana said somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “In some cases not everybody can be entirely happy. And while you sit in one particular committee or not, you are all engaged in the final decision here (at council).”
Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher, who made an unsuccessful motion to put himself forward as chair of community services, also spoke out about the process, warning his fellow members that “nobody owns any particular committee” and that every effort should be made to be follow a fair process in assigning members their committee assignments.
The committee eventually voted to accept the committee appointments suggested by Polhill. The chairs of the new city committees include Polhill (planning), Swan (prosperity), Van Meerbergen (civic works), Denise Brown (community services) and Fontana (finance).
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