The Hamilton Spectator

A palace revolt underway in Burlington?

Councillor­s want Meed Ward to delegate some aspects of her ‘strong-mayor powers’


In staid Burlington there’s seldom a break in the ranks of council, but that’s changed.

A memo on the council agenda from councillor­s Rory Nisan, Kelvin Galbraith and Shawna Stolte said it all. This council doesn’t want “strong-mayor powers” (SMP) and referred discussion to a Tuesday meeting.

This mess stems from Premier Doug Ford’s disdain for democracy and, as I’ve written often, dislike for municipali­ties. His August 2023 legislatio­n is clear proof.

Councils ran municipali­ties. Now mayors can ride roughshod over important decisions, while councils twiddle their thumbs. Why bother electing councillor­s? Just name dictators!

City manager Tim Commisso (surprising­ly) announced a few months ago that he was not renewing his five-year contact. At the time, rumours circulated that he was unhappy with Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, who later chose his successor, under her new powers. Commisso’s 2022 salary was $275,000 (2023’s Sunshine list isn’t out until April 1).

Previously, this most crucial city position was advertised, and a consultant hired to check candidate background­s and make recommenda­tions to council. Because personnel discussion­s occur behind closed doors, it’s not known if this traditiona­l process was followed. Did council want a short-circuited process? The mayor’s choice was listed, as required, on her webpage. She serves on Conservati­on Halton’s board, and hired its manager.

Meantime, Premier Ford gutted conservati­on authoritie­s’ protection of water courses, according to experts.

As revealed in the online Burlington Gazette, two star employees have left recently. Sheila Jones, hired in 2009 as the city’s internal auditor, was in the city manager’s office from 2013 as executive director of strategy, risk and accountabi­lity. She excelled, handling major files. Had she wanted an interview for Commisso’s position? She is one very sharp lady.

The second departure was Brynn Nheiley, promoted to executive director of community planning in May 2022. A conscienti­ous planner, she responded thoughtful­ly and directly to council questions.

I doubt these are about money. This leaves six top city positions open. Wow!

Why is all this happening at once? Because of the power a mayor has to hire and fire?

Meed Ward tried hard to have the motion removed from the March 19 agenda procedural­ly. Council disagreed, and deferred discussion to the 26th. City solicitor Blake Hurley then wrote a memo for the meeting advising that the powers council is seeking are eligible to be returned.

On Tuesday council heard four delegation­s, unanimousl­y opposed to SMP. Under them a mayor produces a budget, which goes to a committee, which can amend it, but the mayor can veto amendments. A mayor can also veto planning bylaws. Council wants its powers restored on city organizati­onal structure, hiring and firing and naming chairs of standing committees and city advisory committees. They asked Meed Ward to respond by the April 16 council meeting.

All seven, including the mayor, supported the motion. But it’s her choice to agree or disagree.

The motion also asks staff to look into a legal challenge of SMP. Good luck with that! When it comes to democracy, Ontario is like a Banana Republic today.

The discussion was edifying. Some said their contacts had all urged them to oppose SMP. Councillor­s agreed Meed Ward had consulted them, to differing degrees, on items she approved.

Most were concerned about the long term. Coun. Nisan mused whether there could be fewer candidates for council if the power all rests with the mayor. He said he’d been elected to make decisions for his electors, not receive them.

Council had voted to accept 29,000 new homes, Coun. Galbraith said, then SMP went into effect, which council approved unanimousl­y, not having been forewarned of implicatio­ns. None cited Meed Ward as the target of their thinking, but the legislatio­n itself. Several said they had not disagreed with her choice for Commisso’s successor.

Coun. Lisa Kearns said this just isn’t working, and Coun. Stolte wanted a translatio­n of the mayor’s stance. Meed Ward had said she would give it “thoughtful considerat­ion” — unclear at best. She’d have been smart to be as transparen­t as she claims she always is. How she responds in April will set the tone for council’s working relationsh­ips.

What unnecessar­y chaos a new city manager could face when they arrive on April 22!

 ?? GRAHAM PAINE METROLAND FILE PHOTO ?? Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward is expected to respond to a unanimous city council request by April 16.
GRAHAM PAINE METROLAND FILE PHOTO Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward is expected to respond to a unanimous city council request by April 16.
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