New twist on old board of control? (column)
London Community News
Is the solution to city council’s somewhat chaotic governance style a return to an idea from the past?
Joe Swan thinks so. That’s the same Joe Swan who, ironically, led the fight for the 2003 civic election referendum on eliminating board of control. By a wide margin voters agreed, although it would be another seven years before it happened.
Now Councillor Swan has changed his mind — sort of, anyway.
“I remain of the view we are too chaotic in conducting important city business,” he said in an interview. “No consistent, reliable plan, unclear priorities, variable performance measures and lots of busy work.”
His solution, posed as a question to a full-council committee meeting two weeks ago, is an executive committee. It would have a mandate “to focus, mobilize, encourage and sustain the key initiatives in the strategic plan, co-ordinate timing, and plan key meeting dates for major policy discussions of significant public interest,” he explains.
The idea went nowhere when he first suggested it. There remains strong sentiment against anything that sounds like board of control renewed.
Even the new city manager, Art Zuidema, doesn’t think much of the idea. “We view all the committees as doing important work,” he told council. “There is no reason for any of them to be operating at a different level.”
But on reflection, there’s perhaps more support for Councillor Swan’s idea than one might think.
Bud Polhill, for example, with a quarter century of civic service as councillor and controller, thinks some sort of group composed of the mayor and the chairs of standing committees would be a useful way of setting some priorities.
However, although Councillor Polhill was a member of the task force that most recently recommended eliminating board of control, he didn’t support that view and voted against it when it came to council. And with his suggestion, as chairperson of the planning committee he would be part of the executive committee.
Paul Hubert, on the other hand, was also a member of the task force who did support getting rid of board of control. He sees some merit in Councillor Swan’s suggestion, but says an executive committee should be something the mayor creates rather than council imposes.
“I wouldn’t call it a committee,” Councillor Hubert said in an interview. “It’s more of a function of how a particular mayor might want to operate. It might be helpful to him in planning the legislative agenda and it might actually serve to form a greater collaborative spirit among members of council.”
He does agree one of council’s unresolved issues is that it is reactionary rather than proactive — “We often get things sneaking up on us.”
The City of Toronto, with its own unique provincial charter, has an executive committee, Councillor Swan notes. And so does Pickering which, like London, operates under the Ontario Municipal Act. So do many non-profit organizations.
“The function, in essence, is to manage the work flow.”
Decades ago, that’s what board of control was supposed to do. There’s no chance it will return any time soon, but maybe in the interest of progress there’s merit in a new twist on an old idea.
Erratum – Nancy Branscombe is the city councillor for Ward 6, not Ward 5 as I said last week. My apologies.
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.