Somerset Ward councillor hit the ground running

The Somerset ward councillor hit the ground running at her first meeting, successfully pushing for some sober second thought on a recommendation that, if approved, would have cut the number of committee meetings each year. McKenney, who succeeded veteran councillor Diane Holmes, will have a full plate this term. She’s been named vice-chair of the transportation committee and will also sit on the environment and built heritage committees, as well as the boards of Ottawa community housing, public health and the library.

To read the rest of the column go to Ottawa Citizen.



Attempt to build an arena at LeBreton Flats

You don’t have to be a diehard Senators fan to realize how exciting, how convenient and how utterly reasonable it would be for our NHL arena to be downtown.

So it’s no surprise then that news the Senators are considering an attempt to build an arena at LeBreton Flats has been met with everything from squeals of delight to relieved sighs that imply, “It’s about time.”

As Foreign Minister John Baird told the Citizen earlier this week, “I’ve travelled quite a bit and I’ve never seen a major sports arena in the middle of nowhere.” A potential move to LeBreton Flats would put the arena smack dab on the city’s currently under-construction LRT. Mayor Jim Watson even suggested that the location of the Pimisi station, to be built at LeBreton, could be tweaked to the best advantage of a new NHL arena that could be built there.

Although Watson was careful to point out that the final decision rests with the National Capital Commission, the mayor, like so many others, is already in the favour of the plan.

That’s understandable. But we’re also getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

To read the rest of the column go to Ottawa Citizen



Councillors debated Governance Review Report

An amazing thing happened Wednesday at this term’s first city council meeting. Councillors discussed, debated and disagreed on the specifics of a 289-page governance review for more than two-and-a-half hours.

And yet the sky didn’t fall, there was no sign of dysfunction, and council seemed actually more productive than ever. There were even a few compromise motions passed, with a welcome absence of grandstanding. Could this be the dawn of a new era around the council horseshoe?

It’s the earliest of days yet, but the tone at council is already different than four years ago. More than half the newbies — councillors Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Tobi Nussbaum, Riley Brockington and Jean Cloutier — appeared well-versed in the contents of the governance tome and brought intelligent questions and well-considered improvements.

They didn’t showboat, but they weren’t afraid to disagree with Mayor Jim Watson’s stated preferences, either. It all seemed very grown up.

Leiper, for example, moved a motion to punt an item on budget procedure to next week’s council meeting when the budget process is to be hashed out more fully. The new Kitchissippi councillor — along with many others — is worried about the inflexibility of the budget practice, in particular the seeming inability to make any significant changes to the document once the draft is released.

But after numerous assurances from Watson and senior city staff that money actually can be moved among departmental envelopes at the final budget meeting, Leiper withdrew his motion. Reasonable.

As was Nussbaum’s so-called Goldilocks compromise motion on changes to the gift-registry disclosure threshold. In the year or so that the gift registry rules have been in place, councillors had to register any gift worth more than $30. Some councillors argued that the supposedly low threshold was capturing trinket-type thank you gifts that the registry was never mean to address. The staff recommendation was to raise the disclosure level to $150.

To read the complete article go to Ottawa Citizen

Council discusses Governance Review Report

City Hall. One newbie’s prodding Wednesday even sparked debate and questions about the annual budget process under Mayor Jim Watson.

All Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper wanted to do was hold off on deciding the budget process for a week while new members understood the implications.

That drew debate about how the budget is stick-handled through council, with some politicians fearing a return to long, unwieldy meetings.

Leiper brought up the perceived rule of departments being able to add or cut within their own budgets handed down from the mayor and city management.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko admitted that it “didn’t feel too good” going to open houses and feeling like there was nothing he could do to alter a budget.

Even veteran Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans was under the impression the rules last term said council couldn’t shift money between departmental budgets during the annual debate.

But the city clerk confirmed that council was always able to move money around the budget between departments.

Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder feared opening the budget debate at council to public delegates, and moving money on the fly, will go back to the days of acrimony in the chamber.

“It’s like the wild west all over again,” Harder said.

“It might have been good entertainment, but it wasn’t good governance.”

Leiper withdrew his motion but he certainly made his point about having flexibility in the budget.

Other rookies also made an impact during the first council meeting of the term.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney challenged staff to show how they’ll improve public engagement since the city is axing a community services advisory committee.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum notched a win with a motion reducing the threshold for reporting gifts to $100 from the staff-recommended $150. The threshold last term was $30 but a higher value is more in line with other governments.

River Coun. Riley Brockington, however, prefers even greater transparency when it comes to gifts politicians receive.

“I’m a public official and I believe when a public official receives a gift, regardless of its value, I should be reporting that,” Brockington said.

Council also agreed to distribute more widely the responsibility of conducting management performance reviews. Watson and the deputy mayors will review the city manager’s performance and he’ll be joined by the audit committee chairperson and vice-chair on the auditor general’s review. Other councillors can contribute through evaluation forms.

To read the article go to Ottawa Sun