Posted: Feb 27, 2009, 5:01 AM
National Capital Region
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Eastern Ontario
Non-coup coup II -- the sequel
BY KEN GRAY, THE OTTAWA CITIZENFEBRUARY 26, 2009
When the mayor's away, the councillors will legislate ... aggressively legislate.
With Mayor Larry O'Brien slated to leave Ottawa City Hall for his trial April 27th on charges of attempted bribery and purported influence peddling, councillors are planning to punch through about 20 major pieces of legislation -- including an expedited light-rail plan -- while the mayor is spending an expected nine weeks dealing with his legal woes.
For the first few weeks that O'Brien is absent, Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans will be acting mayor. Deans was instrumental in orchestrating the council coup that saw the budget agenda effectively taken away from the mayor with the result that a 4.9-per-cent property-tax increase was approved.
One of the mayor's primary roles is acting as chief executive officer of the corporation and thus he controls much of the agenda of council. As well, the city manager and his directors report to the mayor. That power, with the absence of O'Brien, falls to the acting mayors who serve in rotation when the mayor is gone. The first shift falls to Ms. Deans, not O'Brien's biggest fan. The second shift, starting on May 6 and continuing to mid-July, belongs to Beacon Hill-Cyrville Councillor Michel Bellemare.
Bellemare confirmed he is aware of the aggressive slate of legislation planned in the mayor's absence. These initiatives include:
- a resurrection of part of the original light-rail plan, once approved by council and later rejected. It would include a line from Bayview station near LeBreton Flats to Riverside South. That has got councillors along that route on board, according to College Councillor Rick Chiarelli;
- an attempt to settle the outstanding lawsuit between the Siemens consortium, chosen to build the approved, and later rejected, first rail plan, Chiarelli says. That settlement could include building the Riverside South-to-Bayview route by the Siemens group. Some city officials say the municipality is likely to be on the hook for at least $50 million in costs, if not more, in a lawsuit settlement;
- a renewed effort to get more transit money from the senior levels of government. "The federal government is spraying money around," Chiarelli said, and the city, with its present plan that might not be built for six to 10 years down the road, was likely to miss that spending. The plans for the Barrhaven-to-Riverside South route are shovel-ready and, in fact, the original line would have been completed this year had council not cancelled the project;
- getting more money to build and rejuvenate Ottawa's rundown stock of public housing;
- amending the city's long-range financial plan to take into account the recession and to implement a pay-as-you-go scheme;
- an initiative on homelessness that would see co-operation in dealing with the issue from the private sector, according to Deans;
- a re-working of the development charges bylaw, the first part is underway at present, in such a way that the charges better reflect the cost of building infrastructure;
- and, according to Chiarelli, at least 15 major pieces of legislation that are still being debated and developed behind closed doors. In fact, Deans says there are more bylaws in store, including her initiative to have anti-fire water sprinklers made mandatory in new residences.
"There are ideas popping up," Bellemare said.
The depth of support for these moves is deep on council, according to Chiarelli. Indeed, Chiarelli says council is almost unanimously behind these initiatives. He says supporters closely reflect the people who took control of the last city budget.
"This is an incredible opportunity to clean up some issues that have been slow for the first two years" of this council, Chiarelli said.
Deans maintains the work of city council will continue unabated. "We need to have a culture of co-operation and conciliation. The public wants the council to work together ... the show must go on."
Chiarelli says Bellemare, who will be acting mayor during the bulk of O'Brien's absence, has been fully briefed on the initiatives to come forward. Support for this aggressive period of important legislation, Chiarelli says, is shared by all parts of ideological and geographic spectrum of council.
Ken Gray is a Citizen editorial board member and produces a monthly podcast at ottawacitizen.com/innercity.
Sounds like a Palace Coup
By SUSAN SHERRING
The Ottawa Sun
As the countdown continues toward Mayor Larry O'Brien's court case -- slated for the end of April -- some city councillors are working behind the scenes to ensure business at the city moves ahead in his absence.
It's no secret the mayor's court case -- O'Brien is facing criminal charges of influence peddling -- has had a dramatic and negative effect on council, with meetings often degenerating into shouting matches and votes barely squeaking through.
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli is just one of those who wants to ensure councillors have a solid agenda in front of them in the spring months so work actually gets done when the mayor's trial begins April 27.
"Whether (O'Brien) stays or leaves, we're going to get a lot more done in the spring," Chiarelli said.
"The alternative is that all our work grinds to a halt, which is unacceptable," he said.
There's the city's Official Plan, the much-talked-about transit plan -- which still doesn't have a financing plan in place -- the problems with social housing, the never-ending stadium debate; there's a lot on council's plate.
And all these things need funding from other levels of government.
"Every member of council has something they believe is important. We're gathering information about what they would like to do in the spring, and putting together a schedule. We have to. We have to go forward and accomplish as much as we can," Chiarelli said.
Sort of sounds like a palace coup, doesn't it?
(Not that that's a bad thing at this point. O'Brien has failed miserably to move the city's agenda forward.)
"There's nothing nefarious about this," Chiarelli insists. "The mayor will be going away, and we have a choice. We could be disorganized. But we've decided to be organized. The responsibility then falls to us to make things happen and we're going to make things happen."
Chiarelli is just one councillor unhappy that the mayor's court case has hung over council, and has distracted it from the business at hand.
"It's been the square wheel on the council wagon for two years," he said bluntly.
"No matter how it turns out, it's going to better. If we get seven or eight weeks of productivity with real team play, we can create a lot of momentum," he said, admitting the mayor is still a newcomer to getting the ball rolling at City Hall.
"The other side to inexperience is he also doesn't know how to stop it."
Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder, who's been a relatively strong supporter of O'Brien, is one of those working to ensure things proceed in the spring.
She says it has little to do with O'Brien's court case, just that it's time to step up to the plate because things aren't getting done.
Harder criticizes some of those on council who are clearly working on their own agenda, criticizing the mayor to further their own personal goals.
"Even if he did come up with a good idea, I'm not sure it would get the support," Harder said.
Even if ...
Bay Coun. Alex Cullen either isn't prepared to admit there's a coalition working in the background, or he hasn't been included.
"This isn't a situation where the cat's away and the mouse will play," he said.
Seems the mice are counting the days until the cat is away. Smart mice.
And just who will be in charge when O'Brien faces the music?
Any time a mayor is away, whether out of town, ill or simply unable to attend to his or her duties, the city has a deputy mayor in place. Operating on a rotation, the schedule for deputy mayors is laid out in advance for the entire term of council.
For most of the time, Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Michel Bellemare will likely be running the show.
Luck of the trial or bad luck?
Chiarelli describes Bellemare as the perfect candidate.
"He's got a soft tone. He's a gentle chair," he said. "I think it will be easier for the corporation to make friends over the next little period, the friends we're going to need to make things happen."
I hope they settle the lawsuit... might as well try to get some of that infrastructure money from the government and avoid paying Siemens and the other contractors money for something that will get built later anyways.
If O'Brien gets convicted things are going to get really interesting at city hall
Last edited by waterloowarrior; Feb 27, 2009 at 5:34 AM.