Dean of city Council teaches whipper, snapper of a Mayor a thing or two about democracy and listening to others.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON,ON  April 12, 2012  They were all just a little cranky Tuesday evening.  City Council meetings often go that way in Burlington. They all believe that the really heavy lifting is done at the committee level where delegations have ten minutes to speak and the staff who can talk authoritatively are on hand.

At the actual Council meeting they tend to rush through the agenda – almost as if there was a hockey game they want to get home to watch – which I could never understand – they are all Leaf’s fans – what’s to watch, but I digress.

The meeting started out on the wrong foot with a delegation on the pilot project to use vans to transport as many as 12 people at a time to different destinations and out of the downtown core. The view from the Media table was of a Council that just didn’t want to listen to Peter Pellier.  He got cut off when he got to the five minute point and kept getting cut short when he gave what were admittedly long winded answers to questions. Pellier  was complaining  that Gem Taxi had not been advised of the plans for a pilot project.  It was pretty clear that Council wasn’t really listening – they had made up their minds to go forward with Burlington Taxi – that was the heavy lifting stuff they always say they do at the Committee level.  Tough for Gem if they didn’t know about the plan or had not been advised by staff when they were putting together the report that the decisions were based on.

It didn’t get much better as the meeting progressed.  The painting of cycling lanes on Appleby Line came back for what most expected to be a simple yes, let’s get on with this, but Councillor Sharman wasn’t prepared to give up the fight he waged at the Committee level that easily. Nor was Councillor Taylor, who had now been bitten by the “performance measurement” bug that city manager Jeff Fielding let loose.  He had convinced both senior staff and the Council members that performance based budgeting  was the way to effectively run a city and that you measure to learn what the performance has been. They all loved  it when Fielding explained it t them – but now they had to deal with the reality from their side of the Council chamber, which is where the voters make their views felt.

Taylor felt that if the measurement of performance had been adopted as a procedure by the city, then this was one of those opportunities to try it out – so he had an amendment that asked for measurements before bike lanes were painted on Walkers Line and Appleby Line.  The amendment was to a committee decision to put 1.5-metre wide bike-lane lines along Appleby and Walker’s lines between New and Lakeshore. The lines would decrease the vehicle road lanes from four to three making the resulting middle lane a two-way left-turn lane. The committee decision also takes away on-street parking along Walker’s and Appleby lines.

Your council spent untold hours debating whether or not to measure traffic before putting in bicycle lanes to determine what difference if any the installation of the lanes would have on traffic flows.

The amendment would have involved spending $6,000 to conduct resident polling and collect transportation data including collision data, cycling volume, vehicular flow and other indicators over the next two years to determine the effectiveness of the bike lanes.

Sharman jumped on that band wagon and everyone else followed.  If we are going to measure, piped in Councillor Dennison, do we want opinions from just the people who live in the immediate area or do we get opinions from everyone who might have something to say about bicycle lanes on Walkers Line and Appleby.  One Our Burlington reader who was watching the Council meeting live on Cogeco later commented on the Dennison remarks with:  I almost fell off my chair when I heard the Ward 4 Councillor repeatedly talk about “the greater good” (in regards to bike lanes).  That would make a good headline, “Jack D is fighting for the greater good.”

Councillor Lancaster added this bit of wisdom: “One thing to understand about measurements, not everything is effective when measured and you can’t always make the correct decision when measured. Counting the number of riders on any given day on any given road is not going to help the process” explained Lancaster.  “At the end of the day, you make a decision like this without measurements, you make a decision like this because it’s the right thing for the citizens.”   All right – so much for performance budgeting.

Sharman, who tends to the numbers side of things – he’s an accountant, it’s not his fault that he thinks that way, wanted to measure the traffic on Appleby Line BEFORE cycling lanes were painted on the road and then measure traffic AFTER the trial period.

That made sense to Councillor Taylor who was pleased with how well Council had taken to the thinking about measuring performance that Fielding had taught them.  The discussion went back and forth with everyone now getting their two cents worth in.

Councillor Taylor thought he was following the new approach to performance management - turns out he, along with Councillors Sharman and Meed Ward were the only ones who had really learned the lesson.

Taylor finds himself facing a Council that is clearly divided on the issue: Dennison, the Mayor and Lancaster just wanting to get on with the painting of the bike lanes and Sharman wanting to see measurements taken before the lanes are put in.  Meed Ward sees the sense in all that.  So there you have the three “for” and the three “against”.  And the one thing this Council is very uncomfortable with is those split 4/3 votes – reminds them too much of the Jackson days which the public clearly did not appreciate.

Sitting on the fence during all this, or so it appeared,  was Councillor Craven, who one would have thought would be all for counting and measuring.  But Craven voted with the Mayor, Lancaster and Dennison which meant that the vote was defeated and the bike lanes will get painted in and the cyclists will have a space to ride in, that is exclusive to them.

Craven later added that Sharman’s resistance to having the bicycle lanes painted in without any measurement was not really about measuring but more about stalling as long as possible because the voters in his Ward – and Appleby Line is the Ward 5 boundary line – were going to be really upset about losing their ability to park on the road.

Mayor Goldring who is a keen advocate for getting people out on bicycles, didn’t want to fuss around with the issue and said it was time to “shoot the puck, we’ve been ragging it for too long, you’ve gotta shoot the puck, we’ve gotta move on, and if this is what we want, we just have to do it.” Another whack at that performance budgeting and measuring stuff.

Taylor said he thought this was the actual council meeting where we actually got to choose on this matter. I would suggest we’re actually doing what we’re expected to do. Rather strange comment, especially since we have a divided council. “On the one hand, some of us want to do the right thing and paint lines on roads. On the other hand, some of us want to do the right thing and measure. Oh my goodness, what a dilemma,” he said.

They vote – the amendment loses  and that should have been it but the Mayor commented that  “It’s  just unfortunate that after we made a decision in committee, it’s gotta come back again.  It’s just unfortunate after we’ve had all sorts of discussion without new information. Anyways, we’ll move on.”

Taylor who sits to the right of the Mayor at Council meetings wasn’t putting up with that kind of comment and came back with: “I take exception to your comments, Mr. Mayor. This is a council where decisions are made. Committee only makes recommendations to council. Now, just because you’re in favour of on-road bike lanes and you don’t want to measure it, that’s fine, but don’t belittle other people who have another opinion.”

How was that for a smack on the hand?  – the Mayor did not have a response.

Several days later – at the Mayor’s Inspire Series address given by noted urban planning consultant Ken Greenberg, Mayor Goldring closed the event with these comments.  “As we go forward into the review of the Official Plan, I hope everyone can move away from their fixed positions and be prepared to give a bit and come prepared to listen to some other person’s point of view.”

That statement and the behavior at the Council meeting just two days before – well that’s what politics is all about – isn’t it?


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