In a move that may be interpreted as a pre-emptive strike against meddlers on the Toronto Board of Trade, a band of local politicians is preparing to recommend that city council give Mayor David Miller the power to appoint the chairs of all the city's standing committees.
No more favour-swapping and arm-twisting to get the votes lined up for whomever the chief magistrate might want to run this committee or that. The mayor will simply decide who he wants running the meetings at works or community services and his will be done.
It's no secret that the Board of Trade wants the province to use the anticipated new City Of Toronto Act to bestow a "strong mayor" political system on City Hall. The board hopes this will make council more accountable for whatever new spending powers it gets as part of the legislated bargain.
While an executive committee (perhaps elected) with extraordinary budgetary authority is one of the board's suggested means of attaining a higher level of civic government accountability, the local pols are clearly out to convince Queen's Park they're capable of bringing in reforms themselves, thank you very much.
Despite the fact that the group reviewing council's committee structure is headed by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, this is no hare-brained scheme. Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone is in the fold as well. Budget chief David Soknacki is also along, as are council colleagues Gloria Lindsay Luby and Adam Giambrone.
Their report will be presented at next month's council meeting in conjunction with a plan to implement the new municipal management structure (a city manager with three deputies, instead of a CAO and six commissioners) that council adopted late last year. And, as one member pointed out to me this week, they expect their let-the-mayor-pick-committee-chairs proposal to be approved by council without significant opposition.
That may be a tad too optimistic. But Miller certainly won't be upset if the prophesy is fulfilled. "I think that's a reasonable thing to do," says the mayor. While he maintains that the people in key committee positions today are pretty much those he wanted, he admits the process used to get them there left much to be desired.
"I think it's important that these kinds of things be transparent," the mayor says. In other words, everybody should know whom he wants inside his circle, and he should damn well have them. Plain and simple.
"There's a certain expectation by city residents and by the provincial government that committee chairs should be speaking for the city," Miller says.
That said, the mayor isn't keen on an elite group of councillors having the spending powers council now shares. He says letting the mayor hand out the plum posts would address the Board of Trade's concerns about democratic accountability "without having a two-tier council."
Miller also concedes it gives him a better chance of getting his agenda through the political maze at 100 Queen West. This is particularly important with council nearing its midterm point.
New committee chairs will take their places in June and stay there until the next civic election in November 2006. Miller certainly isn't going to want anyone in a position where he or she can mess with his vision of where the city should be going.
And if things go according to the review group's plan, he shouldn't have anything to worry about. Joe Mihevc will replace Olivia Chow as the community services committee's guiding light. Lindsay Luby will take over from Brian Ashton at economic development. Peter Milczyn will succeed Gerry Altobello as chair of the planning and transportation committee. Adam Giambrone or Paula Fletcher will move into Jane Pitfield's chair on the works committee. And if the administration committee manages to survive the bureaucratic shuffle, Janet Davis (or perhaps Shelley Carroll) will take over as chair from Michael Walker, who has often run contrary to the mayor's agenda during his tenure.
Walker's maverick ways weren't all that surprising. But Miller says he expected more from Councillor Case Ootes - the man who is almost certain to be ousted from his position on the Toronto police services board so the mayor can find out in person what civilian oversight of the local constabulary is all about.
While Ootes never chaired the TPSB, his position on a board deadlocked by the lengthy suspension of former chair Norm Gardner gave former mayor Mel Lastman's two-term deputy ample opportunity to criticize the mayor's law enforcement policies and contribute to the board's reputation for dysfunction."He always expressed, privately, his concerns about the importance of civilian oversight and accountability for the police budget," Miller says of the politician who sat next to him during their years on the old Metro council. "Those were qualities I'd hoped he would bring to the police board."
And while he insists Ootes's fate as a member of the police board will be a council decision, Miller makes clear his belief that John Filion and board chair Pam McConnell deserve reappointment. "They've done a very good job under difficult circumstances."
By the time Miller joins the board in June, it will have hired a new chief to replace the combative Julian Fantino, the province should have appointed the last missing member, and a new era of policing will have begun.
But in the end, it all comes down to proper management - the apparent lack of which was highlighted again last week when it was revealed that 15 constables were among the 130 police service employees who made more than $100,000 last year because of overtime payments for court attendance. And this week it came to light that in the past seven years the city has spent $30 million settling lawsuits against the police.
Miller maintains that these two revelations make it clear the police service has to do a better job with the almost $700 million it will receive from taxpayers this year. "Those resources can be managed better," the mayor says. If only that could be made as easy as council committee appointments.