A letter sent to the city earlier this week raising concerns over the working relationship between the London Police Service’s Board and the City Manager’s office was slammed on Friday by the city’s top bureaucrat at a special session of the city’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee.
Speaking at the start of the meeting, City Manager Art Zuidema described the letter from Paul Paolatto, the outgoing budget chair of the city’s police board, as “inaccurate” and “wrong in what it suggests.”
Paolatto’s letter outlined eight occurrences where the board said emails sent to Zuidema’s office by the Board’s Negotiating Committee during the recent nine-month long budget dispute saw no response.
Some of the emails involved a potential $1.88 million budget compromise from the Police Service’s Board. The compromise, which Paolatto says was initially floated by police in February, never ultimately reached the floor of City Council. Mayor Matt Brown, who sits on the board, said he was aware of an offer from police earlier this year, but said he wasn’t willing to back the proposal on behalf of the board.
Councillors would endorse a $2.7 million settlement with the police board on Nov. 9, days before the two sides were to attend a hearing before the Ontario Police Commission on the matter.
Responding to the letter at Friday’s meeting, Zuidema said he was concerned about the allegations and the impact they might have on the relationship between the city and London Police.
“The corporation’s relationship with the London Police Service is important to me, and it is important to the corporation. I wanted, and continue to want, to ensure that we focus on repairing that relationship, and I want to make that a priority,” Zuidema said, adding that a review had been initiated to “understand what happened here.”
The eight instances listed in the letter, Zuidema said, related to matters between the lawyers representing the city and the board in the litigation. He added that with the size and scope of the city, its budget, and the number of services it provides, “not every piece of communication, not every email, not every piece of correspondence crosses my desk.”
Since the letter came forward, the examples listed in Paolatto’s letter had been reviewed by the city’s legal department, Zuidema said.
“To the extent that responses were required, those responses were given.”
Councillors were given three minutes to offer their thoughts, granted the comments didn’t deal with a specific person’s job performance. In those instances, councillors would have to go in-camera, or behind closed doors, as city staff noted.
“I’m not going to be one who sits here and says they are satisfied with our senior administration,” said Councillor Phil Squire. “I am not interested about individual emails and where they went to, I’m interested in leadership. … I’m interested in responsibility, I’m interested in getting the work of the city done.”
“I can’t believe we’re here. I never signed up to babysit whatever you want to call what’s happening here,” said Councillor Mo Salih. “I’m not trying to go in-camera if I’m going to sit inside and have a long conversation about I don’t know what. I think most of what’s in the emails, most of the things of concern, can be spoken to.”
After some prodding from city staff, councillors went in-camera for further information, and emerged about an hour later.
City politicians and members of the media were given a small report compiled by the City Solicitor’s office that contained responses to each of the ‘no comment’ instances listed in Paolatto’s letter that occurred between May 11, 2016 and Oct. 26, 2016.
In its rebuttal, city staff charged that many of the messages sent from the board either didn’t require a response from the city or were eventually responded to.
In one example, when the board was confirming the city’s availability for a future pre-trial hearing before the OCPC in October, the City Manager’s office did not respond. According to the City Solicitor’s document, no response was required.
In another instance, on Sept. 23, when an OCPC deadline was approaching for the two parties to exchange Expert Reports ahead of the pre-trial hearing, Paolatto’s report states the board provided no reports to OCPC or the city, and that no reports from the city were received in return. According to the city’s document, no reports were required to be delivered.
Councillors were again given time to respond to the city’s document.
Councillor Squire said he was concerned how the city didn’t have an Expert Report ready two months before the hearing was scheduled to proceed.
“We weren’t required to deliver a report because we didn’t even have one,” he said. “We then had to request an extension to provide a reply report. We then had to retain outside counsel, just over one month before the hearing. Those are my areas of concern.”
“I don’t want us to leave this meeting today thinking that things are all wonderful and that it was handled wonderfully because Mr. Paolatto was inaccurate in the matters he set out in his letter. … The timeline we have now shows how late we were to the party, how late we were in preparing for this. The lack of seriousness that we handled this with.”
Zuidema said he and London Police Chief John Pare spoke over the phone Friday morning, and agreed that they should meet together regularly to start repairing the relationship between the city and London Police.
With files from Matthew Trevithick, Craig Needles, Marty Thompson