"Accessibility" and "democracy" were invoked by those usually concerned with "fiscal responsibility" and curmudgeonly inertia at the barroom brawl known as the police services board last Thursday (October 21).
The upshot of the meeting presided over by Councillor Pam McConnell (temporarily replacing former chair Al Heisey) is that the people of Toronto will have a new chief of police by spring and will even get to play a part in the choosing. McConnell, armed with a shortlist of consultancy companies ready to help recruit a new chief, presided over a 3-2 vote to move forward in the process.
Her success was made possible by the unabashedly smiley Alok Mukherjee, who was brought in as a mayoral pinch hitter. And it all happened over the continued objections of Hugh Locke and Councillor Case Ootes, who both felt that the shortlisting of consultancies, drawn up by a separate human resources committee, was less than transparent.
Ootes argued that the decision should wait until the board has a full slate of members. Ootes and Locke have a point. The process would've been cleaner if the board had full membership. But the longer the hiring process is stalled, the less time the public will have for input. And if the two are truly concerned, they'd save their public ire for a provincial government that's taking its sweet time appointing people to fill the two gaps - one long-standing - in the board roster.
But with Benson Lau's replacement reputedly on the way next month and a seance slated for December to exorcise the ghost of suspended chair Norm Gardner, maybe Locke and Ootes aren't in a hurry to get the seats filled because they know something we don't about the new appointments.
Or maybe it's McConnell who knows something we don't. She certainly was shrewd enough to take advantage of the temporary imbalance of power by rolling things along.
A good thing, too, since lefty politicos, unlike their right-wing counterparts, sometimes concern themselves with procedural niceties, lest they be seen as undemocratic, when radical action is called for.
For now, the board faces more questions - one being how it will function under McConnell. The councillor obviously plans to open inroads for the public into police matters and to set up checkpoints against undue influence from the constabulary.
Of course, everything depends on the upcoming appointments (some sources speculate that a non-politician may be brought in to replace McConnell as chair) and the incoming chief. These will also influence future relations with the Police Association. George Tucker, the union's director of uniform field services, made a brief appearance at last week's meeting to point out - for the second time - that his organization has been left out of the roster of groups to be consulted on the selection process. The force favours promoting one of its own, while the board reportedly favours outside brass.
An interchange between McConnell and Fantino may have hinted at the possible tone of future board/cop relations.
The board requested a report on how car and foot patrols might be reoriented to boost presence in areas where citizens have complained about inaccessible police. Fantino responded, "We also have to look at the pressures and gaps we are facing from many issues."
McConnell shut him down politely, and Fantino didn't bite back. It's easier to understand if you imagine a melodramatic pause in the brawl, as everyone freezes mid-frame to turn toward the swinging saloon door - trying to discern the faces under the hats of those just stepping in to join the fight.