Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mayor McCheese gets into trouble

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this piece about London and read it on air when I guest-hosted on Newstalk 1290 CJBK (link). A few days later, I delivered the closing keynote at the DIG conference (link). In both cases, I made the case for a city that I think has long lived in the shadows of the national stage because we simply don't market ourselves as well as we could or should. I shared examples of companies and organizations that are doing world class work. But they don't get the recognition they deserve because we're stuck with a dysfunctional civic leadership and community leaders more comfortable in the last century than the current one.

Now, we've made the national news for a mayor, Joe Fontana, who today was charged by the RCMP (yes, those Mounties) with three counts: fraud under $5,000, breach of trust by a public officer, and uttering forged documents. If convicted on all three, he could go to jail for up to 10 years.

The allegations stem from a $1,700 cheque Mr. Fontana allegedly wrote to pay for part of his son's wedding in 2005. At the time, he was a federal Member of Parliament and a cabinet minister, and the RCMP alleges that cheque was paid with taxpayer dollars.

Fontana has steadfastly refused growing calls by some city councillors and a growing body of citizens for him to either step down while this process is ongoing, or resign entirely. His contention: he's got a lot of work to do for the city, and he refuses to be distracted from it. While I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty, I feel his dogged determination to hold onto power at all costs is detrimental to this should-be-great city.

While our mayor twists in the wind, everything else is forced into a state of suspension. City Hall deals with gridlock because nothing else can be realistically debated. Civic staff are distracted because their leader isn't fully engaged in the process of, you know, leading. Citizens are ill-served by a process that is neither efficient or focused. This is not how a city is supposed to be run.

If Mr. Fontana truly cared about the citizens he feels he's working so hard to serve, he'd step aside and allow himself the time and energy to prepare and execute his defense. He'd let the city get on with the business of civic business in his absence. He'd have the humility to recognize he does no one any good by muddying the waters with his presence.

Selfishness in the top levels of leadership is hardly anything new, here or anywhere. Power does many things to people - and blinded vision is often one of the resulting symptoms. But when it sullies the reputation of a city that deserves so much better, I simply can't sit by and say nothing.

Mr. Fontana, you're not so important to the day-to-day or long-term trajectory of this city that your absence - temporary or not - will hurt us in any way. Your mere presence has become a liability. Have the courage to put the city's needs ahead of your own, and do the right thing by stepping aside.

Your turn: Thoughts?

But wait, there's more:
  • RCMP statement
  • The mayor has scheduled a press conference for 1:00 p.m. ET today. (AM980 report)
  • Aaaand the mayor has held his press conference, and he refuses to quit. London Free Press story here. He claims he has the support of the people. I scoured Twitter looking for examples of this support. I found no evidence of this. I did find, however, lots of angry Londoners. Maybe JoFo's supporters don't use Twitter. Right, Stephen Orser...


Unknown said...

The Fog is thick in London tonight , on the streets and in the leadership at City Hall.

CorvusCorax12 said...

agreed, almost hate to read the national news with all the corruption )alleged) going on :(