May 11

The mayor’s bad day

At The Grid, Edward Keenan writes a great summary of yesterday’s garbage vote. Most media outlets ran with the “big victory for Ford” story today, but I’m more and more convinced that it was a very bad day for Rob Ford and his allies:

By day’s end, the mayor’s main item passed, yes, by a large majority. But the effect of the amendments, in my opinion, is that it will make it very difficult for staff to craft a bid request conforming to council’s demands that will also stand up to a lawsuit. (And note: if the city is tied up in litigation with potential or wannabe bidders, they will likely be unable to award a contract—though, of course I’m not a lawyer…)

They also place some unattractive restrictions on the contract for potential contractors, and ensure that the whole thing has to come back to council for another fight later (if and when a winning bid is identified), and the bid has to bring with it actual numbers that show that the contract will save as much money and be as environmentally sound as Ford and staff have claimed it will be. The result of that possible vote is very much an open question.

via The Grid TO | Rob Ford gets trashed.

Royson James has a decent summary as well: “The vote, coming just six months into the mayor’s term, shows he may have to compromise more than he imagined. This was supposed to be the easiest service to privatize, and yet it took so much effort.”

The bottom line: the changes Ford will need to make — be they cuts, or privatization, or sales of assets — to successfully balance the coming budget will be far more contentious than what was debated on Tuesday.

May 11

VIDEO: Giorgio Mammoliti on Drag Queens

During today’s council meeting, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti rose to speak on item EX5.3, the elimination of citizen advisory committees. After submitting a motion that would refer the item to the mayor’s office for independent consideration, Rob Ford’s self-professed “quarterback” was questioned by Councillor Gord Perks. And then this happened:

The drag queen visit in question happened last week, as part of the awareness campaign for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which was celebrated Monday with a ceremony at City Hall. Mammoliti did not attend.

May 11

Why don’t Etobicoke residents recycle?

One of the more common arguments brought up at yesterday’s council meeting against the mayor’s plan to contract out garbage collection was the idea that, apples to apples, public service may be cheaper. Councillor Gord Perks illustrated this point with numbers pulled from a recent report by accountant Al Rosen — commissioned, it must be noted, by the union — that show that, when you factor in revenues from recyclable goods, the net cost per tonne in contracted-out Etobicoke is actually higher than the cost in publicly-serviced Scarborough.

From the report, the relevant table:

District 4 (Scarborough, publicly serviced) is the fairest comparison to District 1 (Etobicoke, privately serviced), as the other two district contain vast stretches of the old city. (20% of homes in Districts 2 and 3 are detached single family homes, versus almost 40% in the other two districts.)

Etobicoke residents recycle far less than their counterparts in Scarborough, sending approximately 0.32 tonnes/household to the recycling plant versus 0.40 tonnes/household in the east end of the city. The report speculates that this could be because of “lower program compliance by District 1 residents, lower diversion rates by the private contractor, or diversion by the contractor of valuable materials.”

I guess it’s possible that Etobicoke residents just suck at putting things in the blue bin, but that seems a little simplistic. More likely is that something is happening after the blue box hits the curb that is resulting in much lower reported diversion rates.

Maintaining and increasing these diversion rates isn’t just an issue for tree-hugging environmentalists — it’s also a matter of dollars and cents. If the mayor’s plan to contract out garbage collection were to result in the city’s diversion rates for recyclable goods falling to the level we currently see in Etobicoke, this whole thing would become an unmitigated financial disaster. On a cost per tonne basis, the city would lose money.

Thankfully, Councillor Josh Matlow successfully passed an amendment last night requiring that “diversion targets [of bidders] must meet or exceed current City standards and may not be reduced from the present targets. If the City increases diversion rates east of Yonge Street then a private firm will be required to also meet the increased diversion rates west of Yonge Street.”

The mayor, of course, voted against.

May 11

Council moves to take out the trash after 32-13 vote

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/TOMayorFord/status/70644442498998274″]

The Toronto Star’s David Rider and Paul Moloney, whose article is accompanied by a great picture:

Mayor Rob Ford has won his biggest victory since storming into office, setting the stage for a new era of privatization with a garbage contract that slashes 300 unionized city jobs.

“We’re getting this city turned around,” Ford crowed Tuesday night after council voted 32-13 to start a bidding process that, if it unfolds as predicted, could see a private waste hauler collect garbage from 165,000 households between Yonge St. and Etobicoke’s eastern edge.

via Toronto votes to contract out garbage pickup – thestar.com.

Ford’s spinning this as a hard-won victory for his administration, but I’m not sure I buy it. What happened tonight was not a vote to contract out garbage collection, but rather a step towards receiving quotes from qualified bidders. Council will have another opportunity to review and debate before awarding the contract for private delivery of service sometime in 2012.

The proposed process was always my biggest problem with this item, so I’m happy to see that Ford and his allies made a concession on this one.

In addition to that, Team Ford were also on the losing end of six votes relating to amendments on the item, including:

  • A recommendation by Josh Matlow that would see the City manager provide annual progress reports relating to the contract
  • A recommendation by Matlow that staff not accept any bid from the private sector company that recently hired former General Manager of Solid Waste Management for the City of Toronto, Geoff Rathbone
  • A pair of recommendations by Matlow that that require any bidder to meet or exceed existing and future diversion targets for solid waste, and to essentially guarantee a minimum level of savings
  • A recommendation from Josh Colle that the City ask the Auditor General to perform a post-implementation audit on the awarded contract
  • A recommendation from Ana Bailão that will require the City manager to “conduct an independent review of both the bid/contract numbers and the cost for identical services provided by the City”

Council also ended up deadlocked, tied 22-22, on three other amendment votes. Ford’s whip proved to be less effective than ever tonight, which is certainly something that can be seen as a victory for his opponents.

Of course, the vote that mattered wasn’t even close. I feel that most councillors — especially suburban councillors — could not ignore the fact that contracting out garbage is a massively popular idea with many people in this city. In addition, now that the contract will return to council, there will be another chance to review the numbers and make a more informed decision. (I suspect this is why councillors like Shelley Carroll and Raymond Cho ended up voting in favour.)

So what happens next? Seemingly not a whole lot, at least for a while. The union will hope that the bids that come in don’t show savings at the level the mayor anticipates — and some of the amendments passed today will make savings challenging –, while Ford and his allies will continue to not really care about the numbers, because for them this is primarily about revenge.

May 11

VIDEO: Rob Ford opens garbage debate, declares “people are sick and tired of tax and spend socialists”

Kicking off this week’s City Council meeting, Mayor Rob Ford rose to introduce the debate on his key agenda item: the contracting out of solid waste collection in the district west of Yonge Street. His speech struck an immediate divisive tone, declaring “we [ councillors] are going to divide ourselves into two groups … we’re going to have the left or you’re going to have the right.” He also struck a Sue-Ann Levyish tone with his use of the phrase “tax and spend socialists.”

I’ve embedded two videos, a short version of his speech (above) that includes only the most inflammatory section, and a longer, uncut version. The long version (below, past the cut) includes a fun section wherein the mayor lays out what he believes to be his administration’s greatest accomplishments thus far. The list includes things like building subways and bringing the UFC to Toronto, among other less dubious claims.

Interestingly, despite having a rare opportunity to ask the mayor direct questions — the last time this happened, it was really fun — , councillors passed and move directly to asking questions to city staff. As one councillor expressed on the floor: why ask questions when you’re not going to get an answer?

Continue reading →

May 11

Council Scorecard Update: How did your councillor vote on city boards, bottled water and service reviews?

TO Council Scorecard - April 30, 2011

It’s that time again — the City Council Scorecard has been updated with items from the council meeting which took place on April 12 and 13. (For a full blow-by-blow, read Jonathan Goldsbie’s minutes over at OpenFile. They’re so good.) The City Clerk was a bit delayed getting the motions and votes posted for these items, likely because everyone is working overtime attempting to figure out the full ramifications of the infamous Adam Vaughan amendment.

This update includes three votes, two that are interesting because they were actual losses for the mayor — albeit small ones — and one that represents the critical first step toward achieving one of his most important objectives.

  • EX4.7, Motion 8 — Moved by Vaughan, its intent was to guarantee council representation on the city’s agencies, boards and committees. A staff report had recommended some changes to the structure of these bodies. Ford’s “quarterback” Giorgio Mammoliti whipped this vote, but enough councillors ignored the whip that this was a loss for Team Ford.
  • GM2.16, Motion 2 – Moved by Mammoliti, this was an attempt to use the debate over healthy snacks in vending machines to rescind the earlier council direction to phase out the sale of bottled water on city property. Vote was also whipped, and again resulted in a loss for Team Ford. Notable historical fact: the original request for the bottled water ban in 2008 was moved by Ford ally and budget chief Mike Del Grande. He excused himself from the vote this time, and is recorded as ‘Absent.’
  • EX4.10 – This is the item that will begin this summer’s service review extravaganza, which is where the gravy-carrying trains will be identified and eliminated. Or so the story goes. Only six councillors voted against this, which shows that council’s left is not as obstructionist as some would have you believe.

Trend watch: The 18-24 vote on the bottled water item serves as a good indicator of how council could break down against the mayor. Both Jaye Robinson and Michelle Berardinetti continue to show a tendency to ignore the whip and vote with their conscience. If they became more firmly aligned with council’s middle, Ford will see real challenges when it comes to service cuts and other contentious items.

Questions about the Council Scorecard? Read my notes on methodology. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.


Apr 11

“Vaughan amendment” wreaks havoc on city boards and agencies

Motion to Reconsider Item 2011.EX4.7
The recorded votes on Gloria Lindsay Luby’s motion to reconsider Adam Vaughan’s amendment. 29 votes were needed to re-open the item.

By most accounts — including mine –, council’s left-wing opposition won a major victory last week when they successfully passed an amendment to an Executive Committee motion that would have eliminated some council positions on several of the city’s boards and agencies. The amendment, moved by Adam Vaughan, called for a minimum membership of 11 on all such boards, including three members of council and one designate of the mayor. This passed 24-19, despite a Mammoliti thumbs down.

The victory was marked by a clerical error, as it was realized it applied far too broadly — to neighbourhood BIAs and arena boards other such things. Gloria Lindsay Luby moved that Council reconsider the amendment to fix the area, but Mammoliti again whipped the vote and her motion failed. (See above.)

And so today we have an unfortunate briefing note from staff relating to the matter, that attempts to make sense of the logistics of filling an incredible 319 newly-created positions on 107 of the city’s boards. Of these, 103 of the positions are to be filled by the mayor or his designates, 169 are to be councillors nominated by the striking committee and approved by council, and 47 are trapped in a mysterious void. No one is sure who is supposed to fill these positions, or how they should be appointed.

For his part, Mammoliti has been spinning this as a good thing. He told InsideToronto’s David Nickle that he is “certainly looking forward to sitting on the Dundas Square BIA,” which is not a thing that actually exists. There’s also something about ‘gravy googles’:

“I’m certainly looking forward to sitting on the Dundas Square BIA,” said Mammoliti. “So in an attempt by Vaughan to detract from the mayor’s agenda, I think he’s increased the value of the agenda.”

Mammoliti said “The gravy goggles will come on and we’ll wear them in the appointments we get on these other agencies, boards and commissions.”

via InsideToronto Article: Debate focuses on size of boards, councillor commitments.

I assume the gravy googles he refers to would be worn to identify and then eliminate gravy. They would probably not be goggles made of literal gravy. (Viscosity would be a problem, and also the optics.)

It’s challenging to determine reasons why councillors would vote against Luby’s motion to re-open the item and fix the mistake, aside from vindictiveness and spite. Appointing more than 300 new board members across the city certainly doesn’t fit with the mayor’s “small government” mandate.

Apr 11

New expense rules: “Harmonious community” no more

Doug Holyday’s new guidelines for councillor expenses were revealed today as part of the agenda for the upcoming executive committee meeting, which means we got a lot of silly articles like this one, from the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Spend that office budget now if you’ve got it, councillors.

Deputy mayor Doug Holyday’s new rules aimed at tightening up city council office budgets were unveiled Wednesday and will go to executive committee next week.

If the rules were in effect last year, Councillor Raymond Cho wouldn’t have been able to buy a chainsaw, Councillor Joe Mihevc couldn’t have popped for a popcorn machine and several councillors wouldn’t have been allowed to rent bouncy castles for community events.

via Squeeze put on councillors’ office budgets | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

The worst part about this kind of reporting — and every media outlet is guilty of this — is that it reports the what and not the why. With few exceptions, councillors didn’t spend their office budget on random things just for the hell of it. Raymond Cho spent $60 on an electric chainsaw as part of a community clean-up day in his ward. Popcorn machines and bouncy castles were rented as contributions to community events.

If you want to ask questions about this kind of stuff, the question shouldn’t be “Was Joe Mihevc right to pay for a popcorn machine with his office budget?” but rather “Should councillors support community events with their office budget?” That’s the issue before us. The specific purchases are largely irrelevant. (But, sure, sometimes funny.)

For the most part, Holyday’s proposed changes seem to make sense. I don’t expect council to fight this too hard, though we’ll see a few amendments. The concern with any kind of reform like this is that it will handcuff councillors, removing all discretion. Not only does this risk stifling potentially innovative practices, it also means bad councillors have less rope to hang themselves with. Sometimes we need to let incumbents screw up so voters have good reason to vote them out of office.

Final note on this, as I think it’s slightly telling: the current policy lists five items under ‘purpose’ —  these are the major areas in which councillors are directed to spend their office budget — but in Holyday’s revised policy there are only four items. Removed from the list is a directive that councillors use these dollars to “enhance and promote a harmonious community in their wards.”

That kind of thing is, I guess, no longer part of the job description.

Attached to Holyday’s agenda item is a side-by-side comparison of the current policy versus the proposed new one.

Apr 11

Team Ford loses vote, takes ball home

Confusion marked the end of today’s city council meeting, coming after a morning where everybody was best friends and also a little bit Jamaican. The drama began when the Executive Committee motion that would change the make-up of the city’s boards and agencies was amended by left-wing councillors. Surprisingly, these amendments were passed by council despite the Fords and Mammoliti attempting to whip the vote.

The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White:

Mr. Vaughan’s amendment, which passed 24-19, sets minimum sizes for all municipal boards, commissions and corporations at 11 members, including at least three city councillors. It spoiled a motion spearheaded by the executive committee, a group heavily stacked with Ford loyalists, that would have shrunk the boards of several cultural organizations down to nine and trimmed the number of councillors on the city’s library board to one from three.

A hush of disbelief fell over council chambers after the vote as Mr. Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, huddled over a screen displaying the names of council members who sided against them.

via A victory for left-leaning bloc of Toronto council – The Globe and Mail.

White also quotes Vaughan after-the-fact: “That was our best day yet.”

Unfortunately, Vaughan’s amendment had an unintended consequence, in that it applied too broadly. Under the wording, even BIAs and arena boards would require representation from three city councillors.

After losing the vote, Team Ford got vindictive and refused to allow the item to be re-opened so that it could be amended to fix the error. A two-thirds majority was required to bring the item before council again — the vote was lost 26-17, as reported by Jonathan Goldsbie. Which would seem to indicate that there are roughly 17 hardcore ready-whip votes available.

Giorgio Mammoliti then embarrassed himself in interviews, pulling the ‘I meant to do that’ card and claiming that this will, I guess, serve as a lesson to left-wing councillors not to mess with the executive committee’s agenda items:

“In an attempt by Vaughan to detract from the mayor’s agenda, I think he’s increased the value of the agenda,” Mr. Mammoliti said. “I think next time they stand up and try to move a motion, just for the sake of moving a motion, they are going to think twice because this has really backfired on them.”

Yeah, that makes sense.

Apr 11

Solving all our problems through councillor expense reforms

Surprising no one and keeping to the idea that you can solve most of the city’s budget problems by improving public perception, Doug Holyday will propose some new restriction on councillors’ office budgets at the next Executive Committee meeting. They’ll then go to Council in May.

According to the Star’s Daniel Dale, the new restrictions will prohibit spending public money on personal improvement services, parties, costumes, donations to community groups and sponsorships of sports teams. I hope there’s not an explicit restriction on “costumes” because that seems like something future historians will find hilarious.

Dale also reports on some of Holyday’s other proposed reforms:

The proposal would require councillors to have their newsletters produced by the city’s printing operation, Holyday said, unless they prove they’ve found a cheaper alternative. It would force them to use website developers from a city-approved short list. And to the chagrin of critics of Mayor Rob Ford, it would grant committee chairs sole authority to decide which councillors could take trips to conferences.

via New rules proposed for controversial council expenses – thestar.com. (Emphasis added.)

That last point is interesting, as it feels like an attempt to further centralize powers within the Executive Committee. With the way things work these days, that would essentially mean that council expenditures related to travel would be entirely at the whim of the mayor’s office.