Let's just say the timing's a little off. The city is set to launch a "community dialogue" on "reconnecting people with city government," with an eye to identifying what encourages or inhibits neighbourhood-level engagement.
Strange, though, that this is going to happen after the major decisions on a number of these structures have already been made. City Hall's new governance model - the thing a few hundred people thought they had been consulted on during round-table sessions earlier this year - passed council on Tuesday (June 27), seemingly without actually incorporating much of what they said.
The plan, as many now know, sets up a new executive (made up of the mayor, the deputy mayor, chairs of council committees - to be appointed by the mayor - and four at-large members elected by council).
As well, there is to be a parliamentary-style speaker, and the delegation of some decision-making power to community councils. "We are recognizing the mayor as CEO of the city," says City Manager Shirley Hoy.
It's early yet to say where these changes will take us. It's heartening to see the affordable housing committee being revisioned as a wing of the executive. And that executive could bring the inherent influence of the mayor out into the open, where it can be observed and checked.
It may also be, as David Miller and senior staff hope, that adopting a more streamlined corporate structure will give the city greater leverage in its financial dealings with the province and the feds.
But the big question is whether grassroots power will grow apace with the mayor's and whether the mayor becomes the facilitator of community will or just the font of executive fiat.
Though councillors Jane Pitfield and Michael Walker objected most vociferously to the centralization of power, the council debate treated the new executive as a fait accompli, mostly weighing whether it would be too strong or not too strong enough.
Councillor Rob Ford moved that the recommendations be rejected out of hand. Though he was soundly defeated, his strategy of opposing anything that costs money, takes time or requires anyone to do absolutely anything for anyone at all oddly came up on the side of folk wisdom in this instance, as sheer probability demands it occasionally must.
The fact that the five-hour debate was comparatively brisk by council standards may be the best argument for streamlining. But deputing before the policy and finance committee a few days earlier, former mayor (and council hopeful) John Sewell sounded skeptical. "I wish you good luck with having a speaker clean up council. It hasn't done much for Parliament," he said. "What you could really do to address the problem is restructure the megacity."
His words echoed those of many at city meetings on the matter this year who have called for decentralization of city power to community councils or neighbourhood assemblies, and, not always in so many words, a de facto reversal of amalgamation.
"The main problem of the megacity is scale," said Sewell. "The council is too big. The geographic area covered is too big. The budget is too large to be managed. The only reasonable thing to do is to restructure the megacity itself into smaller units of government."
The adopted changes do take a step in this direction: community councils will be granted powers to make decisions on "transactional" business: parking, traffic control, certain bylaw exemptions and heritage matters.
But a proposal to increase the number of community councils, which was pushed by deputants in the consultation process and was originally supported by Policy and Finance, was vetoed by the city manager. It was supported by some on council, most notably Janet Davis, and staff will report back on the implications.
Meanwhile, the new delegation of powers seems more like council shrugging off a burden than any real enrichment of the local councils: the matters to be put under the community's jurisdiction are those most often rubber-stamped anyway when they come to council. And they are the issues residents are least likely to come out to speak on.
While I, for one, would be glad to be spared Rob Ford's holy war on speed humps crossing into my ward, the most contentious issues - zoning and planning - will remain council's jurisdiction. Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby also expressed doubt that new councils would increase public engagement, citing the fact that immediately after amalgamation, when there were six councils rather than four, participation was no greater.
And given the current structure, it's true - most residents will still come out only when a particular issue riles them. Any real transformation of the community councils from spaces of deputation and reaction to spaces of consultation and creation would likely have to start with increasing their number.
One can't help but applaud measures that will loosen purse strings from senior governments or prevent council from indulging its occasional dips into grade-school histrionics. But one wonders how a top-down council that doesn't know what its neighbourhoods want, only what they object to, can use this new funding effectively. And how many people will feel that their thoughtful deputations on this very issue have been ignored, and lose interest in speaking again.
"Council will remain dysfunctional, and in five years we'll have another report saying people feel disconnected," said Sewell, admonishing the committee to champion budgetary and planning control at a community level.
"You can tinker all you want. Until you rethink the megacity, you won't find a system that works."