Interview #114: Toronto, ON Former Councillor Joe Mihevc (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Joe Mihevc was a councillor for over 20 years when Ontario’s premier suddenly announced in the middle of this year’s election that he was cutting the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 wards to 25. This prompted several chaotic council meetings and even more chaotic provincial legislative sessions.

Q: Where were you on the night of July 26, 2018?

A: All councillors were in council session. That’s when we heard rumor on the second floor during the council meeting that something big was happening. We very quickly understood that the premier was going to be making an announcement the very next day that he was going to reduce our council.

Q: You said the word “premier.” For our American listeners, you’ll have to explain what that is. I’m assuming the premier is some sort of demigod? An authoritative mystic with the magic of Dumbledore and the charisma of Barack Obama?

A: Well, the equivalent to premier is “governor.” Here if you win the premiership, you also run the political party that has charge of the legislature. So it’s a pretty neat gig if you can get it.

Q: Councillor Paula Fletcher used the term “Trump tactics” to describe Premier Doug Ford’s council cuts. Do you agree with her description?

A: Absolutely. When we use those words in Canada, in this context it meant that the premier was acting in an authoritarian way. He was not consulting the folks that were impacted. It basically came from his head and he felt he needed to act, which is our perception of how things flow these days at the presidential level.

Q: During the July 27 meeting, you took a dinner break. And after councillors came back, the tone was completely different and more confrontational. What changed during that break?

A: As the day went on it became clear that the threat was real. I would suggest that what Doug–a part of him wanted us to fight it out. He actually provoked a “Hunger Games” at the city. Forty-four councillors recognized that if we did go to 25, there would be a fight for many a seat. Every councillor positioned himself to be active on the issue partly to show the community how strong they were going to be opposing Doug Ford.

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Toronto, ON former Councillor Joe Mihevc

Q: Help me understand the types of councillors who were in favor of the province’s action. You mentioned there were Doug Ford’s allies, but were there also people who really could not stand the way your council operates?

A: I think the people who were supportive of Doug Ford’s actions–all of them were on the right-wing side of council.

Q: What do you make of the notion that as a councillor, you don’t have to have 12-hour days and do everything for everyone. With fewer councillors, your focus should be on taking votes in meetings, legislating, and not micromanaging everything that goes on in your neighborhoods?

A: That’s a very good point. It depends on your philosophy. If you want to put it on a spectrum, you can say on one side you are the board members of this $12 billion corporation called the city of Toronto and you are there to make decisions. That’s your job and that’s it. Others feel–and I would be one of them–that you have face time with residents. To double the size [of wards] means to get half the amount of face time.

Q: You knew Doug Ford when he was a city councillor. I take it he was a stickler for efficiency, effective governance, and moral rectitude?

A: [chuckles] Doug Ford was a stickler for trying to grab the limelight and score political points on how he hated all government. The word “dysfunction” that Doug Ford labeled city council–it was dysfunctional for many years when he and his brother [Rob Ford] were here. He was willing to go up into the audience. There was once when he was taunting them to come down and take him on. I remember those times as really tumultuous. Once they left, guess what? A new calm. I would suggest right now that provincial parliament is highly dysfunctional, and he’s at the center of that dysfunction.


Follow former Councillor Joe Mihevc on Twitter: @joemihevc

Interview #107: Tempe, AZ Reporter Jerod MacDonald Evoy (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy is a reporter with The Arizona Republic who had a front-row seat to many hot-button debates of the Tempe council. From the border wall to a car wash, he explains how things got heated in the desert. Plus, we talk city council fashion!

Q: Can you please explain what the “Tempe Tie” is?

A: So when I was covering Tempe, I found that Tempe has an online store where you can buy all sorts of interesting little merchandise like a city of Tempe pen or a mug. I noticed they also had this tie. One of those fatter-style ties. It had a bunch of Tempe themes on it. I jokingly tweeted [that] if it got 100 retweets, I would wear it to the next council meeting.

Q: And…?

A: And as I should’ve known, you don’t challenge the Internet to those sorts of things. It quickly got over 100 retweets. I bought the tie and ended up wearing it to a few council meetings. I made some other people realize that they wanted that tie and they ended up selling out of them on the store!

Q: Let’s get into the council meetings. In January of this year, the Tempe council was considering a resolution to oppose a wall on the border with Mexico. There were some reasoned arguments about it, and those reasoned arguments lasted until one lady began yelling her comments from the back, which flustered your mayor into opening public comment. Were you expecting him to do that–and do you think that was a good idea?

A: I was expecting him to tell them, “you can have public comment at the end.” I’ve never seen the council open an item that was closed to public hearing. I was very nervous when he decided to do that because some of the women that were there had also been outside and were pretty vocally protesting this border wall resolution. I had a feeling it would only go downhill from there.

Q: Your nervous instincts were correct. Do you get the sense that council members were expecting the comments that ensued–the Trump defenders, the race war advocates, and the references to immigrants as rapists and murders?

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Tempe, AZ reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

A: I don’t think they were expecting it to the extent that it came. A lot of the people weren’t actually from Tempe. A lot of them drove up from the border to talk about this. The resolution they were trying to pass actually was a more gutted version of a resolution that was being pushed nationwide by a lot of cities that would say they wouldn’t do business with companies that work on the border wall. Well, one of the main companies that’s doing the prototypes is a Tempe company. When it didn’t pass, I was very surprised. It seemed very odd that they would give in to–I don’t know if they were giving in to these people exactly, but giving in to that idea that they shouldn’t be doing it.

Q: Do you think the public comment ended up making a difference for any of those council members?

A: I think it could’ve. I think there were a few that were already a little wary because of that idea of the city intruding into federal matters. Having those people show up was enough of a push to get them to not vote that way. It was during an election cycle. They decided they didn’t want to push the controversy and have the attack ad against them say they opposed the border wall and the president.


Follow Jerod MacDonald-Evoy on Twitter: @JerodMacEvoy

#102: Half Moon Bay, CA 5/2/17

I’ve seen city council meetings that were suspenseful, dramatic, or just plain mysterious.

But here in Half Moon Bay, they had a regular whodunit on their hands.

Nothing seemed amiss as council members watched a slide show about the library construction. It was a beautiful sunny day and the mayor was fresh off of handing a proclamation to a local women’s group.

But without warning, a photo flashed on screen of a gruesome crime scene.

“Uh, a little bit of an end note which I’m not happy about–nor should anybody be happy about,” a city employee grimly informed the next-of-kin, gesturing with a laser pointer to the explicit images. “A few months ago, we installed really nice gates at the Johnston House at the driveway. Over the weekend, somebody yanked those out and took them away.”

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I’m going to vomit.

Too grief-stricken to talk, the council sat silently.

“We will be replacing those and perhaps going to a heavier duty steel,” the staffer shrugged. He added curiously, “we are very surprised that someone didn’t hear or see it. So if anybody sees a couple of new gates popping up somewhere, please let us know.”

No witnesses? No leads? I’m getting too old for this sh*t.

How is Half Moon Bay not swarming with FBI agents looking at DNA samples, tire tracks, and bodily fluids? Why are groundskeepers and handymen not being hauled in for questioning? Can we at least get checkpoints for all pickup trucks in the Bay Area?!

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Whodunit? Was it…the kindly doctor? The affluent socialite? The reclusive innkeeper?

This didn’t add up either for Vice Mayor Deborah Penrose, the Sherlock Holmes of the council.

“How about putting a picture of the gates on our website?” she sharply inquired. “So if somebody runs across a gate they can say, ‘it’s that’ or ‘it’s not?'”

Aha! That’s just the kick in the pants this investigation needs. While we’re at it, put the picture on milk cartons. Send out an Amber Alert. Somebody check craigslist for–

“I wish I had a picture of the gates,” the man chuckled sheepishly. “We have the PLANS for them, but no one ever thought to take a PICTURE of the gates.”

He threw up his arms and let out a hearty laugh. “Who knew?!”

Oh, really? It’s awwwfuuuulllllyyyyy convenient that the city INSTALLED these gates but cannot identify them. Tell me, did the city have insurance on these gates? Are you going to collect a fat payout now that these gates are AWOL?

Also, who took those pictures AFTER the theft? Perpetrators often return to the scene of the crime.

This Gategate goes deep, folks.

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Just to be safe, I’ll need urine samples from all of you.

And as it turns out, the Johnston House gates weren’t the only Bay Area booty to be held hostage.

“I went to a SFO roundtable which deals with airport noise,” announced Council Member Harvey Rarback. “One of the interesting things there: they made a recommendation to the FAA about the height and elevation at which planes can take off.”

He leaned into the microphone and furrowed his brow. “But the FAA is unable to change its regulations because the Trump administration says you cannot add a new regulation without taking away two other regulations. So if you think federal action isn’t affecting you, think again.”

Final thoughts: You know who needs lots of gates? Airports.

#36: Toronto, ON 7/12/16

Oh, baby! It’s Canada Week here at the Chronicles! I hope you packed a passport and your curling uniform, because we’re off to the Toronto city council meeting.

Meeting? Sorry. I meant “endurance test.”

These hardy Maple Leafers hunkered down for T-E-N H-O-U-R-S. And as it turns out, ten hours in Canada converts to ten AMERICAN hours as well. Lucky me.

Speaking of America, Mayor John Tory began by saying goodbye to Toronto’s Philadelphia-bound transportation manager–and good luck. “If there are any circumstances which TRUMP your desire to return home, you’ll always be most welcome here,” he remarked dryly as the room erupted in laughter.

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Oh, yeah? Well…who’s your president? A moose? Ha, burned.

Next came the excruciating process of figuring out a.) who wanted b.) to say what c.) and when on the city budget. (Hint: every. body. wanted. to. talk.)

“On page 10,” Councilor Michael Thompson politely requested, “I’m just wondering, is it possible to have this Thursday morning as a first item–”

Loud grumbles rolled in from councilors who had Thursday morning in their crosshairs.

“There’s also a desire to hold the supervised injection [debate] at that time!” Councilor Joe Mihevc protested.

Council Speaker Frances Nunziata raised a hand. “I’m sorry but Councilor Thompson had his name before yours,” she curtly shut him down. It’s a reminder of that old saying: “the early bird gets the sweet Thursday morning discussion slot.”

It was a minor tiff–but by hour 2.5, tempers really flared.

During routine questioning of the city manager, Councilor James Pasternak casually inquired about sloppy staff recommendations: “What strategies do you have to make sure that shenanigans stops?”

As the city manager defended himself, Councilor Gord Perks perked up.

“Councilor Pasternak just described city staff’s budget process as ‘shenanigans,'” the wavy-haired man complained.  “I ask that he withdraw that.”

“Madam Speaker, Councilor Perks has twisted my words!” protested Pasternak.

The speaker was on his side. “Continue,” she ordered Pasternak. Then she froze. “Councilor Perks is challenging my ruling.” One off-mic councilor hollered what sounded like a profanity. This is amazing–I’m already googling “how to move to Canada.”

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You challenge a Canadian speaker by hip-checking her on the ice rink.

A high-pitched chime pulsed in the chamber–like a creepy kid’s toy–signaling that councilors had to vote on whether to back their fearless leader.

Final tally: 23-9. The speaker wins.

After break to eat lunch and walk off the crankiness, councilors returned to a familiar dilemma: cut services or raise taxes?

“There’s a number of things we do as a city that we don’t have to be doing,” Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti grumbled. “We don’t have to be in the childcare business! Why the hell aren’t we talking about this stuff?!”

Another councilor–ever polite–corrected him. “Heck.”

Mammoliti scowled. “Hell.”

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Others are visibly shocked by Councilor Mammoliti’s language.

It was the bottom of the ninth (hour). The humans were tired but, oddly enough, the machines were even tireder.

As Councilor Thompson spoke, several loud booms rocked the sound system.

Then…dead mic.

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on,” the speaker shrugged, not entirely upset at this gentle suggestion by Fate.

“Shut ‘er down!” shouted Councilor Shelley Carroll, chomping to get out of Dodge.

Unluckily for her, the mics rebooted, letting Councilor Thompson inch the meeting across the ten-hour line. Ugh, I’m getting too old for this sh…enanigans.

Final thoughts: Stay tuned! There’s more Canada Coverage on Wednesday and Friday!