Councillor Adam Vaughan believes there's a simple answer to the question of whether Toronto's mayor should have more power.
"If you want a strong mayor," he shrugs, "elect one." For the record, he thinks we did, and he has no problem with increasing certain mayoral powers.
With the new council procedures instituted last year came the ability to appoint and dismiss councillors to the powerful executive committee. Now David Miller wants to go to the premier for additional powers, including the right to hire and fire the city manager, head of city staff, and to hold secret executive meetings.
"I'm not opposed to the mayor getting more power; I just think he should take it from Dalton McGuinty," Vaughan tells me. "The only power he's taking is from council." If council should lose any power, he reasons, it ought to go to neighbourhood groups.
He uses the planning process as an example, proposing that the planning department be split from the bureaucracy and made to report directly to city council, and that certain issues be ratified locally through the neighbourhood planning councils (he suggests they might be mayorally appointed).
"The mayor would be responsible for sustaining the highest tier of planning priorities in the city," he says, and for empowering neighbourhoods in the process.
Councillor Kyle Rae, chair of economic development, feels such ideas are quaint. "This is no longer a city of 643,000 people," he says. "We are an economic engine, and that's beginning to get in trouble. If that engine starts to break down, those fabulous neighbourhoods are going to stop working."
But could a stronger mayor prevent this? "The mayor would give stronger direction to the bureaucracy about priorities, and shift resources in that direction," says Rae.
There are constant murmurings about some upper staff treating their sections as personal fiefdoms - and about some of them being incompetent. City manager Shirley Hoy hasn't always responded to mayoral requests to deal with certain roadblocks among staff, the implication being that focusing a CAO's mind, so to speak, would focus the whole system better.
Rae says the mayor, through council, would still be accountable. He has harsh words for the bureaucracy, which he feels has focused too much on policy and floundered in delivering basic services - despite the recent benchmark report by consultants lauding the efficiency of city departments.
"If I gave that report to my constituents," asks Rae, "would they say that over the last 10 years we've done a wonderful job in delivering service? The bureaucracy survives while delivering poorly because 45 of us, not one of us, is telling them to be accountable. Staff can depend on not having the majority of us pissed off at them at once."
Rae has a similar critique of giving power to neighbourhoods, and unflinching in stating who he thinks such a model would benefit: "elite, chattering-class, self-invested white people."
He says city consultations always bring out the same faces. "Adam seems to think you should give this over to people who have a vested interest. I think the mayor will promote the whole city's interest, rather than the vested interest of a class."
This really only parses, though, if you don't think of the political class as having vested interests of its own. Was there ever a mayor who wasn't "elite, chattering-class and white?"
We're fortunate that the current one considers funding challenged (priority) areas of the city to be in his interest. But there's no guarantee other mayors will do the same.
"The right wants a strong mayor for the next mayor," Vaughan says. "The left wants a strong mayor to protect the current one."
And yet, two councillors - an independent upstart and a veteran member - who seem to pull in opposite directions both see the same central problem: an excess of bureaucracy.
Rae believes that if mayors, elected in city-wide elections, were enabled to circumvent that bureaucracy when necessary, they could deliver on campaign promises and be more accountable. Vaughan fears that mayors would then have carte blanche to snuff out neighourhood-level initiatives.
"I think we have a pretty strong mayor. He just needs to put that swagger back in his step," says Vaughan. "At certain points, you just override staff. It takes a bit of bravery, a bit of bloody-mindedness. That's in David. He was like that in opposition."
So, more power for the mayor or no? It may be the wrong question.
Better to ask what mayors are good at doing, what's better left to communities and how each can be freed to act.
Without city-wide initiatives, neighbourhoods can flounder; but if resource flows become contingent on the mayor, what's to stop the mayor's office from becoming part of the bureaucracy, presenting the same problem to community projects that senior staff now present to the mayor?