Cup of Joe by Joe McParland

Windsor City Council – The Outsourcing Debate

Joe McParland Cup of Joe, outsourcing, Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, Mega Hospital myths,Tax Levy, Lynn Martin, Black Day in July, Pet Peeves, wedding bloopers, Vans LTL Courier, Summer of 2016, Unheralded Heroes of my Life, Tecumseh Mayor Talks to Biz X about the Mega Hospital

Welcome friends, grab yourself a ‘Cup of Joe’ (and maybe an antacid), pull up a chair and let’s chat about outsourcing!

Outsourcing vs. layoffs. Say it ain’t so Ed…

When the current Windsor City Council was sworn in back in 2014 there was cautious optimism by many that some of the intransigence and divisiveness of the previous councils would be replaced with the introduction of five new councilors and a new mayor. Well, into their second year of their four-year mandate, it appears that optimism has greatly diminished.

The current council has become a council best-known as ‘5 to 5’, with the chair, the mayor of the city generally casting the tie-breaking vote on many issues, frequently with the same group of five. Grouped together along political ideological lines, the healthy and spirited debate we had hoped for by this council has been stifled and frustrated on many levels.

No better example of this is this week’s revisiting of the question of issuing RFPs for the possible outsourcing of the city of Windsor’s caretaking needs.

I was in council chambers on Monday, November 16, 2015 when this matter was first dealt with by the council. Ten delegations appeared that evening including Ken Lewenza Sr., local union leaders, concerned residents and some of the city employees occupying the caretaking positions the city was seeking to eliminate through outsourcing. There was emotional testimony provided by these employees who are among some of the lower paid employees in the Corporation, faithfully and effectively performing some of the least glamorous work for others.

We were warned then, as we were again warned this week, by outgoing CAO, Helga Reidel, that the very raising of this question will certainly contribute to a culture of fear and uncertainty within the city workforce, negatively affecting worker morale throughout the Corporation.

Make no mistake about it, disguising the proposal as merely a fact-finding mission by the issuance of RFPs, establishes the slippery slope from which there is generally no return. We have seen this time and time again on other issues.

For those of you who are not regular city council viewers and perhaps unfamiliar with the way motions are dealt with by the Council, here’s a brief explanation.

Generally, there is a report prepared by city administration making a recommendation for Council’s consideration. This recommendation or proposal will be spoken to at a Monday night city council meeting by delegations who register to speak on the matter, either in favor of it or against it. The delegations are questioned by the city councilors for further information and clarification.

Once the delegation portion has completed, the city councilors then have the opportunity to further question the members of city administration on the issue. It is during this part of the process – or after the questioning of administration has concluded – that a councilor will indicate that they have a motion they wish to make. The motion that they make can concur with the recommendation of administration, or it can take a completely different direction. For that motion to be debated, another councilor must support or ‘second’ the motion.

During the debate portion of the motion councilors are able to publicly state their position on the motion. In doing so, they generally will indicate either their approval or disapproval of the motion, signaling which way they intend to vote.

After all the councilors (and, sometimes, the mayor) have had an opportunity of speaking to the motion, the question is called by the mayor for a vote where councilors signal their decision by a show of hands. In some instances, a councilor or the mayor will request a recorded vote on the motion before them. When this request is made the city clerk will read out the motion and it will be voted on by the city clerk questioning each individual council member by name how they wish to vote.

When a vote is tied at 5 to 5, the mayor has the option of either voting or abstaining. If, in a 5 to 5 tie vote, the mayor abstains, the motion goes down to defeat. However, if the mayor chooses to vote in a 5 to 5 tie, his vote becomes the tiebreaking vote.

So with this process in mind, let’s return to the night of Monday, November 16, 2015. The administrative proposal before Council was to consider the issuance of RFPs to outsource the jobs of the city’s caretakers and janitors. As previously indicated, emotional and compelling testimony was provided by many delegations, perhaps none more compelling than that offered by Dallas Broughton, representing caretakers at Huron Lodge.

The councilors vigorously questioned the delegations before turning to their administration for further questioning. When the questioning of administration was finished counselor Freddie Francis tabled the following motion:

I. THAT Administration BE AUTHORIZED to notify the Unions that Administration is exploring the contracting out of caretaking services;

II. That Administration BE AUTHORIZED to prepare and issue a Request for Proposal in accordance with the City of Windsor’s Purchasing Bylaw for the contracting out of caretaking services in the areas of Huron Lodge, Recreation, the Lou Romano and Little River Reclamation Plants, Police, Fire, Administrative, Tenant, and other facilities discussed in this report;

III. That the recommendations of Administration whether and to whom to award the contracts  BE REPORTED to City Council for tentative approval prior to entering into the union discussions, and 

IV. That the Collective Agreement outsourcing steps including notice and provision of information to the respective Union BE FOLLOWED by administration with a confirmatory report to City Council.

The motion was seconded by Councillor Payne.

One by one the city councilors spoke to this motion, and indicated what their vote would be. One of the last to speak was Ward 5 councilor, Ed Sleiman. By the time he spoke it had become apparent from hearing the previous council members speak that five of the counselors were opposed to the motion, and four were in favor. This meant that Councilor Sleiman held the decisive vote.

If he voted against the motion, it would go down to defeat even if the mayor were to vote in favor of it. If he voted for the motion, it would be a 5 to 5 tie with the mayor able to cast the tiebreaking vote. After listening to Sleiman, it became apparent that he was casting his vote against the motion. That meant, the motion to outsource a janitorial jobs,  would be defeated.

But then, something very unusual happened. Mayor Dilkens who had not spoken on the matter decided to weigh in, even though he knew that it appeared the motion was headed to defeat (he could do the math). What was so unusual about his comments was many of them seemed directed to Councilor Ed Sleiman. The mayor addressed Sleiman by name and stared directly at him stressing that under his watch as mayor he was giving his word that no layoffs would result because of this motion.

He further stressed that this was a motion only to consider the issuance of RFPs, not a final decision on outsourcing. When he stared at Sleiman, Sleiman’s eyes seemed locked on the mayor’s as if he was a student being lectured by his teacher. As I watched this unfold in Council Chambers, it seemed like the mayor was attempting a ‘Hail Mary’, trying to lobby Sleiman before the final vote.

I recall talking with my colleague at the media table about whether Sleiman would follow through with his previously declared position or be swayed by the mayor’s comments. Neither of us were sure which way Sleiman’s vote would go.

Finally, a recorded vote was requested with the following results:

Support: (5) Drew Dilkens, Fred Francis, Hilary Payne, Paul Borrelli, Jo-Anne Gignac

Against: (6) John Elliott, Ed Sleiman, Chris Holt, Irek Kusmierczyk, Bill Marra, Rino Bortolin

In my 13 years of attending city Council meetings I can’t recall another instance where the mayor voted on a motion that was defeated by his council,  6 to 4.  Perhaps it has been done in the past, but I can’t recall it.  Yet, Mayor Dilkens did vote, making the final vote a 6 to 5 defeat of the motion.

So that brings us to this week’s revisiting of administration’s report on outsourcing caretaking and janitorial services, what some of the councilors considered a re-packaging of the November motion. The chair (mayor) ruled against Councilor Marra who argued that under the city’s procedural bylaws this matter required a motion for reconsideration.

In the end many of the same delegations appeared, much of the same debate ensued, and another vote held – with a different result. This time, Councilor Sleiman changed his vote aligning himself now with the councilors and mayor in favour of supporting the issuance of RFPs for the outsourcing of these city jobs.

The recorded vote was:

Support: (6) Drew Dilkens, Ed Sleiman, Fred Francis, Hilary Payne, Paul Borrelli, Jo-Anne Gignac

Against: (5) John Elliott, Chris Holt, Irek Kusmierczyk, Bill Marra, Rino Bortolin

Say it ain’t so, Ed …. What happened this time?  What changed in the last 3 months?


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