Anyone who witnessed the City of Windsor’s agonizing December 21, 2015 one-day budget session will have a difficult time arguing against my cry to reform a process bordering on corruption.
The session, to decide how to spend pockets of an $872 million 2016 budget, lasted 11-1/2 hours and was an insult to taxpayers and the handful of City Councillors who actually try to do a conscientious job.
“The whole day was an amazing study on how to breach the process as much as possible,” says Ward 3 Councillor Rino Bortolin.
The chamber was packed with delegations and observers who were told by the clerk’s department to be there at high noon. In fact, the in camera meeting, which had 15 items on the agenda including a number of hot button ones, started at noon and lasted a good 90 minutes.
Just before Councillors emerged for the public meeting, they agreed, on the spot, to promote Treasurer Onorio Colucci to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) position without a public recruiting process. Council also voted to increase the salaries of six top managers.
When the public meeting mercifully began, Council sent Atkinson Park supporters home happy with a nod that their pool would not be closed. Other scheduled presenters, like the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, had to cool their jets for several more hours.
They were pushed aside by Mega Hospital Committee leaders, who were slipped onto the top of the budget agenda by Mayor Drew Dilkens, at the last minute, to pitch a request for over $100 million. That debate, understandably an important one, should have been accommodated in a special meeting of Council. It lasted more than three hours and jettisoned any veiled attempt at a fair, efficient budget process.
After the hospital group happily went home it was into the five o’clock hour, at which time Council took an unscheduled “fresh-me-up” break before coming back to deal with the others. The Symphony requested $175,000 a year to run the Capitol Theatre. It was given $125,000 with the delegation declining to speak.
By that time, many in the gallery, including some 30 delegations, had bolted for the door. “I couldn’t believe the disrespect,” recalls Bortolin, noting the smirks and laughs coming from some Councillors puffed up with power as they re-emerged.
The disrespect for the Council rump group was even more reprehensible. Dinner for the Council and administration, originally scheduled for 5 p.m., didn’t happen until 7 o’clock.
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