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.

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.

Mar 11

Council’s middle gets organized

Robyn Doolittle at the Toronto Star obtained a copy of the Team Ford “cheat sheet” (or “recommended voting strategy” if you prefer) handed out on Wednesday morning. She produces only a low-resolution version in her article, but it’s clear that the strategy during this week’s regular meeting was to refer all items to committees to prevent the possibility of a filibuster strategy on the TCHC item.

MM5.1, a motion by Josh Matlow and seconded by Josh Colle regarding council salaries, was a recommended ‘No to waiving referral’ vote which is interesting only in the sense that Josh Colle has seemingly tried to play nice with the mayor’s office. (He ultimately voted in favour of dissolving the TCHC board on Wednesday night.)

Doolittle also indicates that some of the fence-sitting councillors are looking at forming their own voting bloc:

So far, this [middle] group has swung right, but that may be changing. These middle-of-the-road councillors have been organizing their own bloc, “the mighty middle,” in hopes of ending the voting pattern.

Right now Ford holds a majority. There are 15 on the hard left and 22 on the hard right. The mayor’s vote tips the scales. If the “mighty middle” comes together and even one of those Ford supporters drifts centre the bloc would be broken.

“Some of us are talking. Let’s just say we’re going to be more organized going forward,” said Councillor Josh Colle (Eglinton Lawrence).

via Ford hands out cheat sheet to his team – thestar.com.

Doolittle pegs the number of ‘middle’ councillors at seven, which I guess would be Colle, Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Ron Moeser, Ana Bailão, Chin Lee and Raymond Cho. I’d argue that Raymond Cho is pretty firmly on the opposition at this point.

Cho, Bailão & Matlow voted against the mayor on Wednesday night. Moeser was absent. The rest voted for.