Notes from the Rafters: This Week’s City Council Meeting Recap

Every week, we give Emily a pen, a pad of paper, and a mission to recap this week’s city council meeting in a readably entertaining manner. Here are her notes on this week’s meeting.

That’s a Wrap, Budget 2017: Less of the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” Vibe of Last Year’s Budget Drop and More a Blues Brother’s “So Glad We Made It”

Council’s Budget 2017 is, according to council, pretty pretty pretty pretty good. To highlight its goodness, as many contrasts were drawn to last year’s contentious intra-council fighting over the 2016 budget drop as I make references to The Magnificent Seven (1960, not 2016).

And, like that ever relevant masterpiece, this incredibly diverse group of middle-aged white men (with one token young buck) came together from their different wards to fight the enemy that raids the poor village in question: “inefficiencies” were their Eli Wallach.

The woman from the village who risks her reputation to fight alongside the guns-for-hire must of course be O’Leary, always the only female and today the lone “nay” on the budget.

The Budget Highlights in Haiku:

core service remains
a reduction in mil rate
metrobus fares up

But the focus of the meeting was not on the lines of the budget (and neither will it be here as I have not had time to parse it myself) but on the evolution of the budget process itself over the last decade.

The new look for 2016 into 2017 and beyond is ongoing “program review” and “community consultation.” Cllr Lane wears his with a rakish tilt as “engagement,” while Puddister and others prefer the timeless “cost-cutting.”

Whatever the individual cuts, this was not the Alexander McQueen style immolating mockery, daring and gorgeous dumpster fire runway show of last year.

What Cllr. Galgay, chair of the finance committee, chose to highlight as he announced the budget:

  • Increase to Metrobus fares from $2.25 to $2.50
  • Mil rate reductions
  • Water tax reduction
  • Commitment to 10 year 1.25 Billion dollar capital works plan
  • Lower development fees
  • Vacancy allowance ongoing thorn in side of balanced budget but “businesses” wanted it.
  • Everyone loves downtown. Despite what people keep saying, recent statistics prove they visit it at least monthly and the parking issue is a whiner’s myth.
  • 58k dollar beautification crew for Downtown: because tourists love downtown as much as we do.
  • The Paul Reynold’s (Wedgewood) Centre and Bowring Park Pool are balls to the wall for 2017
  • Look for announcements on other recreation projects like Victoria Park, Kenmount Terrace, and “shovels in the ground” on the 24 million dollar (out of Capital Funds) Mews Centre. (This elicited actual mooooooaaaaannning in the bleachers from the perpetually verbal Andy Wells, former Mayor and current courter-of-the-news-cycle).
  • Lower subsidy of Mile One.
  • City partnering on converting the presentation convent into affordable housing for low income seniors, and on the St John’s Farmers’ Market’s new location in the old Bus Barn on Freshwater Rd.
  • Automated Garbage: the future is… in the near future. Trucks that can handle automation will be purchased in 2017 and then the service and the bins (bins will be paid for by users over a period of time) will be rolled out one section of the city at a time. They are still “engaging stakeholders” on the details.

Potent Notables:

  • During comments on the budget, Mayor O’Keefe gave us a brief glimpse of the righteous rage fomenting in his soul at the various heckler(s) that have been taking advantage of the new Trump-normal political climate with his (cough cough, Andy Wells’) embarrassingly cribbed calls “to lock up” St. John’s city council. O’Keefe compared the new budget process to the way things used to be done with “no consultation” and – here looking directly at Wells – “we plan long term for the future […] for ten years and beyond […] NOT FOR THREE MONTHS.” The ‘all caps’ is accurate. But even crazy fonts can’t capture the passion that came just before adjournment.The former-mayor-who-shall-not-be-named-though-I’ve-already-named-him-thrice, sitting in his now customary seat beneath his portrait (today in a fuzzier hat), managed to disrupt not with his phone this time but with stage whispers throughout the proceedings. He was clearly delighted that the entire council was rising to the chum he has been flinging into the media all season.
  • Higher salaries for city workers now, was a concession for lower pension debt later. Many councillors mentioned this. Cllr. Puddister explained they had to give the 19% raise over 10 years (resulting in an average salary of ~98k per employee) to get the pension deal. But, disappointed to find himself in such whole-hearted support of the budget, and missing his role of last year as the agitator-obstructionist, Puddister went on to say he believes “we should put all employees on notice that as of 2018 we should consider a wage freeze.”
  • O’Leary explained that her “no” vote on the budget was a vote of protest specifically against the raise in Metrobus fares since, as an omnibus budget, sections cannot be voted for/against individually. She said that though she had initially agreed with the proposed fare increase she has since heard from many poverty advocates who helped her to understand how the fare raise would affect the “over 20% of constituents living in poverty.”
  • Galgay took swift political advantage of O’Leary voting her conscience and, ignoring her clear explanation of her vote and her other positive statements about the budget, he called out into the miasmic election-2017-pull-quote-ether that she was “voting against support for Arts and Culture” and against fair taxes and against balanced budgets and against helping old ladies across the street and against storm chips and day boils and everything else holy.

Then, the vote was called, the budget passed, and Galgay, still standing, chugged his glass of water, put it down and walked right out of the room. Like a mic drop’s huffy cousin. Though I’ve had committees I’ve wanted to flee upon completion too.

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding (and man will I sigh sweet relief on 12:01am January 1st, 2017 when at least Elvis Costello is still alive)

It is too bad Galgay left early because he missed Mayor O’keefe’s epic Jimmy Stewart style rampage against cyberbullying that clewed up the meeting.

Too bad everyone missed it. All nine people from “the business community” filed out with the budget vote over and the media outlets left too (running over to cover the House of Assembly as it simultaneously voted in Bill 56 and claimed plausible deniability in paving the way for future privatization of The Rooms, perhaps?).

But, with a nod to O’Leary who had brought up solidarity with provincial Finance Minister Cathy Bennett (who held a press conference about being called names and receiving threats on social media in the wake of the Liberals’ austerity budget), Mayor O’Keefe let fly.

He let fly at those who would “hide behind their keyboards” (I captured that quote typing furiously from behind my keyboard) and at those who would call people names that “would never be acceptable in person.” He cited many examples, including “a certain downtown business man” calling the mayor “clueless.” While not exactly #Gamergate, the point is taken.

Though all name calling is generally unproductive and unimpressive, the lumping together of the more vanilla epithets that doc quoted about himself with the whole landscape of sexual violence, fat jokes, and exhortations of suicide and death threats that constitute the daily online cyber bullying across all social media makes the issue of scale seem relevant.

It is like when my daughter’s governess was explaining about “bad” words to her three small charges:

The first little boy said, “stupid. That’s a bad word. You shouldn’t say that.”

The second little boy said, “dumb. You can’t say dumb.”

The governess nodded, “Yes, those are all unkind words.”

My daughter adds, without looking up from her dinkies, “and fuck. and shit. and piss.”

On that note, HAPPY FUCKING CHRISTMAS!

I will see you in the New Year when the council meets again on January 9th. I’m off to toast the councillors, the deputy mayor, and Doc himself with Chinched Bistro’s cilantro margarita. Thanks for the work this year, St John’s City Council; I don’t truck with bullying, but I’m fond of teasing and honest reporting and you give me plenty fodder for both.

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