Council gives Mayor a tough ride when she asks for an endorsement of her Speaker series

By Pepper Parr

April 22nd,  2024



April has not been very kind to Mayor Marianne Meed Ward.

She was seriously challenged by a majority of Council for taking on the Strong Mayor Powers which she said she was required to do.  There are a number of people who don’t agree with the position she has taken which resulted in three Council members supporting a motion that asked the Mayor to return to Council the powers that she was given by the province. A link to what Mayor Meed Ward has done so far is HERE.

Mayor Meed Ward had announced a speaker series she was going to host and asked Council to endorse the idea.  Council gave her a rough ride – wanting to know how the event was going to be paid for. It got a little nasty revealing how dysfunctional this Council has become.

Council wanted more detail on who was going to do all the work needed and where the money to pay for the event was going to come from

Mayor Meed Ward calling her speaker series:  “A Better Burlington: Innovation to Action” is to consist of 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 Keesmatt is a former City of Toronto Chief Planner. She will be the first of the Speakers in the series the Mayor has planned. No one wanted to talk about how much this was going to cost.

“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 housing, community development and growth.”

Keesmatt is a former City of Toronto Chief Planner.

“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 Meed Ward to seek Council’s endorsement of the Speakers Series.

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.

Here is how Council reacted to the request for an endorsement.

Councillor Rory Nisan, Chair of the meeting asked the Mayor to speak about the Speaker series: he got much more than he expected.

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 this has really patterned after that 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.”

Meed Ward added that 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 council code of good governance 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, I suppose 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 certainly to endorse the concept.

“This is an opportunity to for counsel to again endorse the concept of the series. So I will leave it at that.”

All the Mayor wanted was an endorsement for a speaker series she planned to host. Councillor wasn’t going to make this an easy ride for her.

Part of the Mayor’s thinking is to hold a “trade show or a town hall component of the speaker series that would invite groups relevant to the matter at hand to come and talk to the community. So for example, habitat would be invited to introduce themselves to the community; that will be in advance of the speaker series. But free to the public and open to all and I’ll stop there and turn it over to my co-sponsor.”

Councillor Stolte:”I certainly endorse the speaker series, and especially given the fact that the first one is on the subject of housing, which just happened to be quite a nice coincidence because the mayor and I had sat down on about a month ago and had a conversation about my  hope of trying  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 think the mayor’s draw as far as it being from the mayor’s budget and the mayor’s office and biggest city wide draw certainly has the potential to be a more fulsome information session than what I could have put on from my end. So I’m glad to be able to partner on this. I look forward to future sessions that will certainly be directed towards other very important parts of our strategic plan. And I hope that this receives support from committee.”

Sometime later, weeks not days, Stolte said she was withdrawing her endorsement saying:

Councillor Stolte: “After deep consideration, I have concluded that Mayor Meed Ward and I have fundamental differences in how we choose to communicate critical information with the public and I have decided to resign my participation in the Mayor’s Speakers Series”

“Originally, in my role as Deputy Mayor of Housing for the City of Burlington, I had begun the planning process for a 2024 City Wide Housing Symposium as well as a “ward by ward” series of Housing Information Meetings with a focus of addressing the housing supply and affordability crisis in Burlington.

“The Mayor then decided to choose this model and subject as the first of her Mayors Speakers Series in May, so I agreed to join in the planning process in an effort to collaborate on the event.

“After deep consideration, I have concluded that Mayor Meed Ward and I have fundamental differences in how we choose to communicate critical information with the public and I have decided to resign my participation in the Mayor’s Speakers Series and resume my focus, time and efforts on planning for these smaller, interactive “ward by ward” resident meetings across the City.

“In an effort to connect with and ensure all Burlington residents’ concerns can be heard, I encourage the residents of Burlington to stay up to date on their Ward Councillor monthly newsletters for the dates and times of these upcoming Housing Information Meetings.”

Councillor Kearns wasn’t prepared to endorse the idea – she wanted more information saying:  “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 for the event.

Councillor Kearns. “I wanted to understand a little bit better around staff time.”

“I’m not sure what we are looking for in terms of sponsorships and where that may or may not impede our ability to secure sponsorships for priorities that have already been endorsed.”

Staff time was also a concern for Kearns. “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 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 by that time, so my motion would be to refer to counsel for information on budget and staff time.”

The motion to defer was put up on the screen so everyone could see it.  It went through numerous revisions.  Finally, they settled on

Chair Nisan: Okay, referrals been put on the floor. Does anyone want to jump in?

Councillor Bentivegna began with: “Just a quick question on staff budget time.  I make the assumption from what I sort of anticipate; 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 particular speaker series. So we won’t be doing that.

“Council members have a $5,000 budget for events. We have our other discretionary budget and Council member that is reported out annually. So that’s where people will see the aggregated amount of spend for any for any individual member of council.

“It will vary depending on the budget,with respect to impacts on other priorities for sponsorship that is exactly why we talk to staff in advance before we seek a sponsor and to make sure we are not also soliciting that same sponsor. 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 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.

Council Sharman: In an effort to support the Mayor, said “back in 2011or 12  Gil Penalosai 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.

“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. Right now I’m entirely in support of what’s before us and I won’t be supporting a referral to Council.”

Councillor Bentivegna: “I mean, we can’t see the budget for the event that we’re all supporting.”

Counsellor Bentivegna: “I have questions related to the referral. So I’m not sure exactly what’s in any emails (there was email between the Mayor and Kearns to dig out specific information on the budge0t).

“ I’m not sure how contractual obligations. I mean, we can’t see the budget for the event that we’re all supporting; 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. I just want to clarify  – are they in a support capacity

“Is that what are you expecting from staff outside of the mayor’s office – to organize and support they would normally give any other member of counsel for an event?

Bentivegna: “I didn’t want to open a hornet’s nest here. But as the mayor mentioned, we all have $5,000 – that I use completely every year. And I do have 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.”

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

I will now call the vote. All those in flavor, 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.

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

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5 comments to Council gives Mayor a tough ride when she asks for an endorsement of her Speaker series

  • Caren

    Oakville has also not experienced the huge Property Tax increases that Burlington has the last few years; and their population, size and services etc. are comparable to Burlington’s.This fact was brought up by numerous delegates who spoke at Burlington City Council during the 2024 Proposed Budget discussions in October and November 2023.

    Also, it was noted by all of these delegates how poorly the Proposed Burlington Property Tax Budget was put together on paper. No one could follow it!! They had to dig thru pages and pages to find items and figures. (But, maybe that was intentional!!) This was put together by Mayor Meed Ward.

    Oakville’s Property Taxes for 2024 were not only significantly lower then Burlingtons, but the average resident had no problem reading and understanding it as it was well put together and organized, and residents could see and find where their Property Tax dollars were being spent..

  • Anne and Dave Marsden

    Spot on Lynn. Further not only do we have the MMW version of the IC it also takes that IC out of the picture in terms of dealing with complaints in terms of citizen complaints relative to MMW April 16 Code of Good Governance integrity issues which we believe should be and hopefully are lodged after a Transcript of relative parts of the meeting is made available.

  • Lynn Crosby

    1. I’m getting tired of the Mayor going to the Integrity Commission on her own to “bounce ideas” off, then coming back and telling the public and council what was said when we don’t have any of the context, we don’t have the Mayor’s wording, we don’t have the IC’s wording. There’s no integrity in such a system, in my opinion.

    2. The entire April 16 meeting demonstrated from beginning to end exactly why the strong mayor powers should never exist.

    3. At the April 16 meeting when this speaker series was brought up, the Mayor brought out two staff members and asked them if they could manage the extra work on this series (beyond the Mayor’s staff). Both responded essentially to say oh yes, this won’t be a problem, etc. etc. They were brought forward and asked because of Councillor Kearns’ concerns re: staff time.

    Well here’s the thing, Mayor: as a member of the public, I watched that in person and thought to myself, well I no longer can believe anything that staff says in matters like this. Why? Because since we have strong mayor powers which the Mayor refuses to give back to council and she therefore has control of the City Manager and therefore, the staff, one will always wonder if the staff member being put on the spot either publicly like this or privately in the office, is answering in support of the mayor out of fear for what could happen to him or her if they didn’t support the strong mayor. And even if that isn’t the case in this or any particular matter, if the staff member 100% believes her own answer, we the public, and the council members, and other staff, can never actually know if it’s true in this case or if this is an example of them being afraid to be on the wrong side of the Mayor. So the fact is, we the public no longer believe what we are hearing.

    That’s where we are.

    And oh, Oakville and Mayor Burton took the opposite tack, way back in February 2023. I posted this elsewhere but it’s worth repeating here, since that was in an older article. Check out this February 2023 article where Oakville council voted unanimously against the use of strong mayor powers and said nope we don’t want them, and we don’t need them.

    Mayor Burton said: ““I will continue to serve as a mayor who wants to be known for collaboration and teamwork. There is simply no other way to accomplish anything for our residents.” The mayor noted he is guided by the old proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.””

    This could have been Burlington’s stance too. But we have a different mayor, don’t we?

    • Syd

      This mayor’s philosophy and actions probably go toward explaining why Oakville has a more people-friendly downtown than Burlington’s as well.

    • Tom Muir

      “Any Councilor, or the Mayor, can ask the IC for “advice” about a matter before Council, which I guess could be a form of “bouncing ideas” about something. It could involve a conflict of some form, so the IC keeps what they hear, and what they say confidential, unless a formal complaint is filed to get the information from them in the form of a report in their words if they decide to give you one.

      So just don’t ask the IC what it’s about, unless you file a conflict of interest complaint, and even then you have to formulate your specific items of complaint in your own words, and the IC will respond to those items in their words.

      I suspect the Mayor is using the IC to see what they think about her positioning politically in terms of what ideas she wants their opinion on.

      The big problem is the IC are not City Employees, but contractors or hired hands of the City and they work for the Mayor or designate (all of which work now for the Strong Mayor) her and she hires them and can fire them.

      So even before the Strong Mayor era, she had the power, so the IC is responding to their boss, and she had no problem interfering and manipulating them to get the conclusions/decisions she wanted delivered promptly.

      She got what she wanted only 15 hours after I filed a complaint about her behaviour with the IC, that the IC told me they needed me to do for them to look into her actions. The IC closed their file on my complaint and stopped work- stopped transparency and accountability.

      The following is a quote of an experience I had with IC. I said;
      “I am concerned that Mayor Meed Ward inserted herself into our conversation inappropriately, raising issues.” IC responded;

      “We are in receipt of the email which you forwarded, in which the Mayor offered her view. If you believe you have other information pertaining to the Mayor’s involvement or intervention, feel free to bring it to our attention in the course of this review, (recognizing that the focus of our investigation is the conduct of Councillor Galbraith, not Mayor Meed Ward).”

      As I said, the IC closed their file 15 hours later – the next day.

      If you think you want to buy anything the Mayor say, or the IC are purported to support, or staff directed by the Mayor say, go for it – caveat emptor.

      How much trust ya got left?

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