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Vancouver ponders pay, hiring freezes to keep budget in line + Thoughts on manners

February 4th, 2009 · 15 Comments

It looked like it was going to ho-hum day at city council, with councillors Suzanne Anton and Raymond Louie continuing their energetic pillow fighting over the the budget, the Olympic village, the kinds of candies given out for free in the mayor’s office, and so on. But, instead, at the end of the budget presentation, Raymond introduced an emergency motion to give new manager Penny Ballem more powers to do cost-cutting to keep up with revenue losses, as I posted to the Globe earlier this afternoon. More on this in tomorrow’s paper.

Interesting the sudden jump to this drastic new approach to the budget. Apparently it all came about pretty quick. The ink on the news release was still wet — okay, that’s not really true, since they were using a laser printer but you get the point — when it was handed out to council as Raymond stood up to make the motion.

I ended up hanging around until the end of the meeting (all the way through bylaws, new business, new motions, etc), which allowed me to get bummed out all over again about how unpleasant council can be at times. As one new councillor remarked to me recently, there’s a whole lot of a lot of dysfunctional “pattern behaviour” going on.

Mr. Mayor seems to be trying to exert a bit more control over the fractious proceedings, especially over Suzanne Anton. In the first couple of meetings, Gregor Robertson sat there kind of stunned-looking as she attacked him and his council, as though he couldn’t really believe it was happening. He hardly said anything — I couldn’t tell if it was because it went against the grain to hit back or he was too taken aback to think of anything to say.

In this meeting (as Suzanne went on the attack over Firehall 15, of all things), he cut her off after she’d had her say a couple of times. She kept talking over him, saying it was outrageous that he was stifling debate or something like that.  He said there’s a rule that allows him to end debate once everyone’s had their say. She said there’s no such rule. He said there is, etc etc. Eventually, he prevailed.

You can watch the crazy scene yourself on the city hall website if you want to see it live.

I have to say, it would be great if this mayor and all future mayors would enforce that rule, for people from all parties. You can’t imagine how much time gets wasted as each and every councillor feels the great need to stand up and explain their his/her position and then stand up again five more times to rebut every other point that the opposing councillor makes.

And on that note, here’s three things I’d love to see change at city hall.

1. I think it’s beyond inappropriate for councillors to make negative comments about staff people and their performance at public council meetings. Both David Cadman and Kerry Jang berated the city’s facilities manager for, they claimed, having allowed staff to deliberately let Firehall 15 fall into disrepair. They didn’t sound as though they had any definitive proof, from what I heard, just comments that had been passed on to them by residents lobbying to save the hall as a heritage site. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not; it was hard to tell from what was said. But I don’t think responsible employees harangue their staff in public, especially when staff, for obvious reasons, are in no position to challenge them. The mayor or city manager should step in and ask for a report back on staff efforts re the firehall or whatever so that a. there’s some facts at hand and b. it’s not turned into a public whipping with claims that “you ignored what the city asked you to do.”

2. It would be great if only two designated hitters at a time beat up on Suzanne Anton. I remember how distasteful it was when Jenny Kwan was the lone COPE representative on an NPA council and, every time she tried to make a point, the 10 other councillors would each solemnly stand up and give wonderful speeches about how wrong she was. It’s just as distasteful this time around. There should be a system so that only one Vision and one COPE councillor gets to stand up, per issue, and declaim about what a misguided, misinformed, dangerous bubblehead their opponent is. We really don’t need to hear it multiple times, phrased in slightly different ways. (To be fair, several councillors seem to be staying out of the fray on this, notably Andrea Reimer, Heather Deal, Ellen Woodsworth, and George Chow).

3. To repeat what I said above, we would all cheer if council could move to a system where councillors made their points once, but weren’t allowed to come back three and four times to say essentially the same thing. We get it, you know. As a wise editor of mine used to say, “You don’t have to hit people over the head with the point you’re trying to make in the story. Telling them once is usually good.”

On a (somewhat) positive note, it’s nice to see Geoff Meggs seconding Suzanne’s motions, even though he goes on to criticize them. But his seconds help her to get them on the floor for discussion.

Categories: City Hall Talk