It’s early, but new council shows promise

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Joanne Chianello, Ottawa Citizen

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.

What happened at City Council

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Fewer committee meeting questioned

Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

City politicians got right down to business Wednesday by debating, amending and ultimately approving the governance review. Much of what the report contained could safely be considered inside baseball, but several changes are worth noting, Matthew Pearson

The report recommended that the transit commission and both the community and protective services (CPS) and environment committees hold eight meetings a year, on the understanding that special meetings can be called when necessary (transit held an average of 15 meetings a year between 2010 and 2014; CPS held 10 and environment nine, respectively).

But this proposed change didn’t sit well with Gloucester- Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who has previously chaired both transit and CPS, and rookie Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney.

They moved that this recommendation be referred to the first meetings of each of these committees/commission in order to receive feedback from the public before coming back to council with a final recommendation about the number of meetings each will hold in a given year.

Council agreed.

NEW DISCLOSURE RULES FOR GIFTS

Since the gift registry for councillors was established, the threshold for disclosing all gifts, benefits and hospitality from one source in a calendar year was $30. Staff recommended in the report that this amount should increase to $150 (the disclosure threshold for receiving tickets to concerts and sporting events will remain $30).

Seeking a middle ground, rookie Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum proposed that council set the amount at $100.

That passed on a vote of 15-9.

Long-awaited cycling safety for Bronson Avenue coming next summer

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After two years of political delays, permanent cycling safety improvements are on the way for Bronson Avenue.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said he is pleased with the solutions being proposed for construction next summer, including a new “crossride” to allow cyclists to safely traverse Bronson north of Sunnyside Avenue.

A crossride has both a crosswalk and dual-direction bike lanes to allow pedestrians and cyclists to traverse Bronson Avenue where a pathway approaches the road from Carleton University.

Council approved the project in 2012, but south-end councillors successfully had its design and implementation delayed until after the Oct. 27 municipal election. Chernushenko said he’s breathing a sigh of relief that no cyclists were seriously injured or killed on that busy stretch of road while the process was held up.

“It got politicized,” Chernushenko said when asked why the project was happening now, after approval by city council two years ago. In the meantime, removable bollards have been used to separate cyclists from traffic during the warmer months.

The issue was the optics of slowing down commuter traffic from the south end, Chernushenko said, and councillors from River and Gloucester-Southgate wards were concerned with how the project could affect commuters in their wards and their re-election.

Newbies show moxie at City Hall

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By Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

Rookie councillors are showing they have the spunk to challenge the status quo at 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.