Morrow appointment reveals some ugly political realities.

Blog post by Dan Jelly

If the current Hamilton City Council has one hallmark this term, it’s perhaps a puzzling series of contentious, yet somehow unanimous votes. On Wednesday, the General Issues Committee held such a vote to appoint former Hamilton Mayor Bob Morrow to fill the seat made vacant upon the death of Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli.  Several Councillors, most notably Stoney Creek Councillor Brad Clark, expressed concerns about the process by which Morrow so easily became the only candidate to be considered.

The Process

Council’s hands are somewhat tied by two factors: the timing of the vacancy, and Ontario Municipal Act. By law, the seat has to be declared vacant at either of their first 2 meetings subsequent to the death of a sitting Councillor, so there was no option to leave the seat open for the remainder of the year.  The Municipal Act also stipulates that Council must either appoint a candidate, or call a byelection. With a general Municipal Election only 8 months away, a byelection is widely viewed as burdensome, as it would require the City to undertake an expensive process, and require candidates to run twice for the same job within a period of 6 months. Democratic purists would argue that an election is the only fair way to handle the issue, but there was ultimately no appetite among Councillors to see that happen, and so an appointment was deemed the only option.

Why Bob Morrow?

Bob Morrow’s name was first raised shortly after Morelli passed away. He was floated as an option by Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla before Council even had a chance to meet and discuss the issue. Morrow is indeed the former City of Hamilton’s longest serving Mayor, but he has been out of political life for over 13 years, after losing the first post-amalgamation Mayoral election in 2000 to former Ancaster Mayor Bob Wade.

Don Drury, Kingmaker, or King in waiting?

It was revealed during Wednesday’s General Issues Committee that former Hamilton Councillor Don Drury has been doing some behind-the-scenes lobbying on this issue.  Drury was a Councillor for Ward 3 before amalgamation. He and Morelli shared those duties for a time, as in those days, each of the 8 wards in the former city of Hamilton had two Councillors. According to some Councillors at Wednesday’s meeting, Drury recently called them, privately pushing to have Bob Morrow appointed. However, according to Councillor Clark, Drury was lobbying at Bernie Morelli’s funeral to have a particular “different individual” appointed to the position.

Rumour has it that Drury himself is ultimately interested in the job come October.  Was this “different individual” that Drury was originally lobbying for actually Drury himself?  Did he switch to supporting Morrow because he found out Council wanted to appoint somebody who isn’t going to run in the election?  Did he lobby for Morrow because the retired Mayor isn’t seen as a threat to his own ambitions? All of this is speculation, of course, but if Drury does register to run in Ward 3, it reveals that he has attempted at least a certain amount of behind-the-scenes manipulation, and that he started at least as early as the day of Bernie Morelli’s funeral.

Broken Privilege, Broken Communication

Clark’s commentary also touched on another unsettling angle of this development.  Today was the first chance Councillors have sat down as a group to formally deal with the Ward 3 vacancy. The decision to appoint Morrow played out in the media and in the public weeks ago. If Councillors had any particular objection, they have lost their privilege of being able to weigh the options and express opinions about the process before coming out with a public position.

Councillors say that the Morelli family favours Morrow, and that Morelli himself respected the former Mayor. Now, instead of being able to debate the pros and cons of the appointment process itself, they are forced to debate it publicly with Morrow’s name and the emotional weight of Morelli’s wishes attached.

“But it’s Bob Morrow…”, “But that’s what Bernie would have wanted”.   Those are both wonderful thoughts, but that is not how democracy works, and those sentiments can ultimately make for bad decision making.  Council’s hands were forced before they even had a chance to bury Morelli, and Morrow has become his temporary replacement without so much as an informal interview, all thanks to some behind-the-scenes lobbying and a skillfully timed name-drop.

Congratulations, Councillor Mayor Bob Morrow

Ultimately, Bob Morrow may indeed be the best person for the job. It’s a fairly safe decision that Council could well have come to during an open interview process. He may even have been chosen by the people of Ward 3 should he have decided to run in a byelection. His résumé was never in question, but while Council will very likely appoint him to the position on Friday, nobody has heard from Morrow in any meaninful, public way in over a decade.  That in itself should merit at least an interview.

Even with all the concerns raised, and all the hand-wringing by Clark and 2 or 3 other Councillors, the decision to appoint Morrow was strangely unanimous once again, suggesting that Council’s unity this term is often really only paper-thin.

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