As positive an experience as the police negotiations proved to be, my experience negotiating a budget resolution with City Hall last year was considerably more frustrating.
While the chronology of the budget dispute is pretty well known, some information bears repeating.
First, the players.
The London Police Services Board is comprised of five members that includes two provincial appointees, the Mayor, a city councillor, and a city council appointee. I was first named as city council’s appointee in 2010 and re-appointed by the new city council in 2014. During my term on the Board, I served as Chair of the Board’s Budget Committee to represent the Board’s interest during budget deliberations with the City. I was also named the Chair of the Board’s Contract Negotiating Committee to serve as the point person for our Board during contract negotiations with the London Police Service.
Next, the sequence of events.
In November 2015, I was part of a 3-2 Police Board majority that voted to approve a four-year $4.1 million increase to the police operating budget. The two provincial appointees: Board Chair Eberhard and Vice-Chair Deeb, joined me in approving the request. Mayor Brown and Councillor Turner dissented. I could recite all of the reasons why the three appointed members of the Board voted this way, but the basis for our affirmative decision are a matter of public record, and the public safety need was never in dispute.
The budget request was then submitted to City Hall. In March 2016 City Council voted 10-5 to set its own budget allocation for the police without reason or explanation and in direct contravention of the Ontario Police Services Act. This action triggered a nine-month budget dispute that ended with a last-minute settlement between the two parties and awarded the police all but the first year of its initial request.
Prior to reaching the settlement, I made compromise offers to the City to settle the matter on two separate occasions. One offer failed to reach Council, the other generated no response. If either offer was accepted, it could have saved taxpayers an additional $1 million over what was agreed to in the final settlement. Following the second non-response, our committee had little choice but to redirect our efforts towards the preparation of our arbitration case. The legal expense associated with the preparation of our case was $80,000, an amount ultimately borne by the taxpayer. I do not know what the City spent on lawyers in preparation of its arguments.
Throughout the process, at no time did the Mayor or any Councillor who denied our budget request present any evidence to support their contention that police ‘had enough resources’ to deliver their mandate.
And upon receipt of an invitation from us to all Councillors to view in confidence the business cases that supported the additional police resources requested, only four Councillors (Morgan, Squire, Van Holst, Hopkins) took the time to review the supporting documents.
Throughout the budget dispute, representatives from Mr. Zuidema’s office only met with our committee twice outside of the arbitration process, and in each instance, nothing of value resulted. I was being polite when I later characterized the actions of the Mr. Zuidema’s cffice as ‘a concerning level of indifference’.
It was not until the City retained outside legal experts did Council receive advice that a quick settlement represented their best option. Shortly thereafter Councillor Morgan Councillor Usher and Mr. Hayward, acting on Council’s behalf, successfully negotiated the settlement agreement with our committee in a matter of hours. I must add that had the arbitration hearing proceeded, the London Police Services Board would have been successful in its action and surely awarded considerably more than the final settlement. The City’s case was that bad.
Finally, the questions.
To this day, I still question how we could all be immersed into something so senseless, distracting and expensive. Our Board majority spent countless hours learning the business of policing, understanding the gaps, and exploring multiple ways to deliver our public safety mandate in the most cost effective manner possible. Yet seemingly, none of that was considered in the review of our request.
This complete disregard for our teams’ experience and expertise had me wondering if Council was ignoring good advice or following bad advice. I now believe it to be the latter. In my view, Council members could not so callously set aside our arguments unless they were led to believe by the Mayor and Mr. Zuidema that they would win their case. As the events proved out, that was a mistake.
The greater concern to me is the potential latent negative consequences associated with the City’s pushback.
For example, the prolonged budget dispute did little to maintain the mutual respect that the Board and the London Police Association achieved at bargaining table. The LPA members deferred a considerable portion of their compensation so that our city could recover from a protracted economic slowdown. The deferred compensation was also designed to provide our Board with the budget room necessary to fill some gaps in our public safety mandate. Examples include: sex-trafficking, gangs and guns and officer training. Council’s vote signaled to the members that their deferred pay was inconsequential, causing me to worry that the LPA members may not be as gracious in the next round of negotiations as they were in the last.
I am also concerned that we may have lost an opportunity to positively affect change in the cost of policing province-wide. Just prior to the budget dispute, I was collaborating with my counterparts in other municipalities on coordinated collective bargaining strategies, when I abruptly had to set that work aside and focus my attention on our own budget. Needless to say, it looked more than a little foolish to outside municipalities that our city was disputing a budget that contained the lowest police salary increases in the province.
The biggest concern to me is that this process consumed valuable resources that should have been focused on other civic priorities where police leadership is needed. Examples include:
- the formation of addiction-mitigating and harm reduction strategies,
- collaborating with hospitals and care providers on mental health responses,
- enhancing strategies to better protect our seniors, students and most vulnerable,
- stemming the growth rate of gangs, guns and human-trafficking in our city,
- continuing to expand the education, training and response capabilities of our officers.
Nevertheless, my hope is that if we ever collectively engage in such a divisive process again:
- We do so with a clear understanding of each side’s position and a clear, quantifiable delineation of the reasons why both parties are voting the way they are.
- We find a way to quickly work it out and re-focus our valuable resources away from internal debate and towards the needs of our community.
Londoners deserve it.
Next – A Proposed Province-Wide Response