City gets governance upgrade
London Community News
In 2009, after almost two years of study, an updated governance structure was approved for London. At its core was an attempt to align city council decisions with the activities of the civic administration to enable the public to better understand the work of both.
The new structure — the most publicized piece of which was elimination of Board of Control — went into effect last Dec. 1 with the incoming council. Complaints began almost immediately.
So over the next several months a new city council governance model is being installed
Putting the best face on it, Paul Hubert, councillor for Ward 8 and chairperson of the governance working group which drafted the changes, is diplomatic. “I think it’s a process of transformation. The 2009 model was the first step, but there was concern about workload and about alignment with advisory committees and the civic administration.”
Jeff Fielding, the city’s chief administrative officer, is more pragmatic. Council priorities change with every election, he says, and the new group didn’t quite see governance the way the previous council did. With a laugh he adds, “It was almost a 180-degree change.”
Still he describes the latest governance model as “a fundamental change in municipal government.” Toronto, among other cities, is said to be following closely to what London is doing.
Where council today has three standing committees which do the grunt work of sorting through issues, the new structure will have six. As well, council is refocusing its collective work with a Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee in which every council member will participate and will meet every three weeks the day before council meetings.
“This committee will deal with bigger, broader issues than the standing committees,” Mr. Fielding explains. “It will work on a higher level, dealing with questions such as where do we want to take the city.”
Supplementing this effort will be a new Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee, to be formed in October with seven council members. It will meet quarterly and its focus, says Mr. Fielding, “will be on how to generate more revenue, new partnerships, more jobs and other things that will create prosperity.”
To assist this committee, a new senior administrative position is being created – chief corporate investment officer.
Other changes, taking effect in December, include dividing the Built and Natural Environment Committee in two — the Civic Works which will deal with infrastructure issues while the Planning and Environment which will handle development.
The Community and Neighbourhoods Committee will be renamed Community Services while the Finance and Administration Committee — which some call Board of Control in disguise — will remain mostly unchanged.
These four committees will meet every three weeks.
Another new committee, Public Safety, will liaise quarterly with the police, fire and emergency services, something that hasn’t happened before except during often testy budget debates.
“These are far more than protection agencies,” says Mr. Hubert. “They deal with all sorts of social issues as well and we need to have a dialogue on what they are seeing and what we should be concerned about.”
So will it all work this time? “Breaking council’s work into smaller, more focused chunks should help citizens get more engaged,” Mr. Hubert says. “It’s really a simple, logistical issue.”
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com.