Council gives Mayor a rough ride before endorsing her 'Better Burlington' speaker series

By Pepper Parr

April 15h, 2024



Mayor Meed Ward has decided to copy the Inspire series of speakers that Rick Goldring hosted in his first term of office.

They were, for the most part, very successful.  There was one event when Andre Picard, a highly respected advocate on health issues and a regular columnist Globe & Mail columnist was to speak.  The first row of seats were reserved for Joseph Brant Hospital staff.  Every reserved seat was empty – unfortunate because Picard had a lot of solid advice.

Mayor Meed Ward calling her speaker series:  “A Better Burlington: Innovation to Action”.  The goal was for two sessions each year focused on the key challenges we face and fostering tangible ways to improve Burlington and engage residents in the process.

Jennifer Keesmaat, former City of Toronto Chief Planner and candidate for Mayor.

“Each Speaker’s Series will have a clear theme with a relevant speaker. The first session will be on Monday, May 27 at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre and will feature Jennifer Keesmaat, who will present on discussing housing, community development and growth.

“Deputy Mayors will be invited to be participants in these series, where relevant to their portfolios. Councillor Shawna Stolte, in her capacity as Deputy Mayor of Housing, is part of the planning team for the inaugural event on housing. The team includes staff from relevant departments, including events, finance and communications.

“The Speaker’s Series will be free. This is to encourage as much participation and engagement from Burlington residents and city staff as possible. Costs associated with the series will be secured through corporate sponsorships and the Mayor’s Office budget.

Meed Ward added that on the recommendation of the Integrity Commissioner, sponsorship shall be secured through the City following its standard process, and will be separate from the Mayor’s Office to avoid perceived or potential conflicts of interests.

“In keeping with the Council Code of Good Governance, sponsorship will not be accepted from anyone with an active application before the City.

“The Integrity Commissioner also advised seeking Council’s endorsement of the Speakers Series, which has prompted this motion.”

Mayor Meed Ward: As an added level of extra due diligence and an abundance of caution I reached out to the Integrity Commissioner.

All the Mayor wanted was an endorsement for a speaker series she wanted to host. Several members of this council were not about give it a rubber stamp endorsement.

Chair Nisan asked Mayor Meed Ward if she would like to move the item and begin the comments.

Mayor:  “Certainly I’ll move it and give you more detail. I always like to borrow I ideas where I see them and I think back to two terms ago, Mayor Goldring brought forward the Inspire series and it this has really patterned after that it it brought people together. It provided an opportunity for community engagement. It focused on key areas that the community was interested in and is free to the community and at the time.

“That was helped along by being free as through sponsorships, and this is a new area certainly for me. Not always new for the city. And so in order to just make sure that this was done in an appropriate way of course I can tell that our and our council code of good governance it does have guidance around all of this in terms of seeking sponsors. So obviously no direct funding that is handled by any individual member of council and really the big caveat and condition is don’t seek a sponsor from someone that has active business in front of the Council for decision making.

“As an added level of extra due diligence and an abundance of caution I reached out to the Integrity Commissioner for conversation. I do that occasionally just to bounce ideas around and make sure that I’m on the right side of things.  The Integrity Commissioner did suggest that there might be an opportunity to invite counsel to endorse this. I’m not asking you to plan or fund it, but  to endorse the concept.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte chose to be with the Mayor on this one. Earlier in the month she was grilling the Mayor to determine when she was going to let Council know what her decision was going to be on the request made to relinquish her Strong Mayor powers.

Councillor Stolte: I certainly endorse the speaker series, and especially given the fact that the first one is subjective housing, which just happened to be quite a nice coincidence because the mayor and I had sat down on about a month ago. And we’d have we’d had a conversation and I was speaking about the fact that as Deputy Mayor of housing I was hoping to try to put together a city wide information session on the state of housing in Burlington and lo and behold, the mayor had been thinking already along the same lines as far as that being the first topic for Speaker Series.  I’m glad to be able to partner on this. I hope that this receives support from committee.

Councillor Kearns wasn’t as charitable. “I did take an opportunity to look into some of our existing policies and while the concept is definitely noble, I want to make sure that we’re aligned with our policies. So one of the things that I’ve still yet to be able to acquire in order to do some effective decision making is the actual budget.

“I’m not sure what we are out there looking for in terms of sponsorships and where that may or may not impede our ability to secure sponsorships for their priorities that have already been endorsed. And our staff time because with a fully staffed office of four through the mayor’s complement

“I wanted to understand a little bit better around staff time. I’ve further looked into some of the policy pieces which I may have continued questions on and to that and while all these costs come into clarity, I would like to put a motion to refer it to council and perhaps we can have the budget the cost of one of the speaker series may be by that time, so my motion would be to refer to counsel for information on budget and staff time.”

The motion to refer was put up on the screen so everyone could see it.  It went through numerous revisions.  Okay, referrals been put on the floor. Does anyone want to jump in?

Councillor Bentivegna began with: “Just a quick question to obtain the question on staff budget and time I make the assumption from what I sort of anticipate it is this Mayor’s staff budget and the Mayors staff time? Is that what I’m reading or not? I think that was the question.”

Mayor Meed Ward: “I can speak to both if you like by way of responding to my comments on the referral.   The request did come through to my office about the budget; the Counsellor is aware of the answer to this. We are bound by contractual agreements not to release information about the budget for this for this particular speaker series. So we won’t be doing that.

“As council members have a $5,000 budget for events. We have our other discretionary budget and Council member that that is reported out annually. So that’s where the that’s where people will see the aggregated amount of spend for any for any individual member of council. Finally, with respect to non staff time. Staff do provide a certain amount of support to council members whether it’s preparing design work for flyers or newsletters or other items. We all have a council appointed communications person. We are a service of the city and have the ability to submit work requests for those things. So there’s not anything over and above staff time on this that that other members of council don’t also have access to in the normal course of things. So this is a non-issue and I won’t be supporting the referral.”

Councillor Sharman: This is an initiative I wholeheartedly support. If we haven’t got budget for it this year, we will take a look at it next year.

The Appleby Line Car Free Sunday.

Councillor Sharman: “Back in 2011 or 12  Gil  Penalosa put forward an idea that became the premise of what is now the Appleby Line Street Festival for which we have masses of sponsorship funds.

“I’ve never actually had been questioned about whether there competes with other people asking those people for funding. This is an initiative I wholeheartedly support. If we haven’t got budget for it this year, we will take a look at it next year. We’ve got to approve it.  If the Counsellor were to think about this in terms of asking her questions offline, and come back, counsel and make the comments. Right now I’m entirely in support of what’s before us.  I won’t be supporting a referral to Council.”

Counsellor Bentivegna: “I have questions related to the referral. I’m not sure exactly what’s in any emails but the referral refers to information on the budget.

“So are we able I’m not sure how contractual obligations. I mean, we can’t see the know the budget for the event that we’re all supporting. So I assume that relates to the speaker, but are we able to find out what the overall budget for the event is?”

Meed Ward: “I assume that’s a question for me. I’m not asking Council to approve the financing. I’m asking you to endorse the concept of the series and the financing will be handled through my office budget and the normal course of things and any sponsors that I bring in as cleared through first checking that we’re not competing with stuff and also through the Integrity Commissioner policy and process.”

Councillor Kearns: “With respect to non-staff time who’s organizing the event?  Is it the mayor’s office with staff because the staff would not normally organize an event that I would hope so I just want to clarify are they in a support capacity? Like are they doing  processing newsletters, for example.

“Is that the kind of what are you expecting from staff outside of the mayor’s office to organize the mapping over and above the support they would normally give any other member of counsel for an event.”

Councillor Bentivegna: I just make the assumption that everything is done the way we normally do on a day to day business. 

Councillor Bentivegna: “I didn’t want to open a hornet’s nest here. But as the mayor mentioned, we all have $5,000 and some broke community events that I use completely every year. And I do have as I do as staff for certain things that they may or may not be able to help me and I do them in each my neighbourhoods. I just make the assumption that everything is done the way we normally do on a day to day business.  I have difficulty I don’t want to read into this motion so I if stuff happened then I get into it. But at this point I’m going to support the mayor’s program.”

Chair Nisan: “I will call the vote on the referral motion all those in favour. Any opposed?  Motion does not carry.”

We will  move back to the main motion and look for any questions or comments on the main motion I do not see any.

Well now call the vote. All those in favour, Aye.  Any opposed? That carries?

6 to 1.

That was it – the Mayor had her endorsement; expect her to make that point at every opportunity she gets.

The rough ride given the Mayor came from Councillors Kearns and Nisan.  Stolte chose to ride with the Mayor and Galbraith kept his tongue in his cheek. Sharman and Bentivegna were with the Mayor from the beginning.

This is your Council folks.  Live with it for now – but try and do better next time.

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1 comment to Council gives Mayor a rough ride before endorsing her ‘Better Burlington’ speaker series

  • Joe Gaetan

    I have a ton of respect for Keesmaat. It would be nice to know if the event will allow for questions from attendees. If not this may be just another dog and pony show, but still worth attending.