It’s been a whirlwind of change since Linda Jeffrey took over in 2015, with a promise to clean up City Hall, bring about more transparency, and drive change in the city.

So far she’s been successful on most of those fronts, but one of her shining successes, one that will have an impact on the city for generations to come, is the coming university.

“Brampton happens to be the only top-ten city in the country without a university. During my mayoral campaign, I heard loud and clear from the residents of Brampton that this was unacceptable,” says Mayor Jeffrey.

After the previous council’s failed attempt at securing a university, one of the first things Jeffrey did was set up her Blue Ribbon Panel to ensure Brampton’s second attempt would be a success.

The panel comprised Bramptonians from all walks of life, who worked on a volunteer basis to research, consult with prospective universities, and ensure Brampton would be prepared when the province opened the call for proposals.

In October the province announced $180 million in funding to go towards universities in Brampton and Milton. There’s no doubt that Brampton’s inclusion in this announcement was due in large part to the mayor’s effort to ensure the city was on the radar of provincial decision-makers.

Now that the province’s request for expressions of interest has come and gone, Ryerson University — in partnership with Sheridan College — has emerged as Brampton’s likely partner.

This marks a significant milestone for the city, this is where the last council failed: a successful bid wasn’t submitted, leaving Brampton behind in 2014.

Despite the wave of success, Brampton isn’t in the clear yet. As the province goes through the rest of the proposal process with Ryerson and Sheridan, there’s still room for things to go awry.

The university has been the subject of intense discussions at city council lately, though the circumstances are unusual.

Recently the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel was dismantled after successfully serving its mandate. At that time, staff agreed to consult with the panel on an as-needed basis.

However, last week some councillors pushed forward a motion that would require staff to engage solely with former premier of Ontario Bill Davis, a prominent Brampton resident and head of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

The mayor expressed concern that Davis is biased towards a particular university, which might jeopardize the integrity of the process if staff are required to consult with him — and him alone — throughout the project.

Other councillors pushed to stick with the original plan of consulting with all members of the panel on an as-needed basis, as they each provide different areas of expertise.

CAO Harry Shlange made it clear that consulting only with Davis would give him access to confidential information not privy to anyone outside of staff, and would effectively “tie staff’s hands” by requiring they include him in the process.

Councillor Gael Miles (Ward 7,8) expressed the need for confidential information to be brought to council, not to private citizens in a closed setting.

Councillor Martin Medeiros (Ward 3,4) came up with a potential compromise and included an amendment that staff only coordinate with Davis as they see fit, and share information as needed.

Another councillor’s mind was changed by the discussion: “I didn’t like the motion until the CAO gave his interpretation… I support the motion, and more to the effect now that it does tie the hands of staff,” said Councillor Palleschi (Ward 2,6) speaking in support of requiring staff to involve Davis.

While staff and council are beholden to taxpayers to do everything in the best interest of the city and the people, Davis, a private resident is not, so giving him access to confidential information may prove unwise.

Some councillors also reinforced the need to allow staff to retain autonomy in a process that has thus far been successful. Why tamper with something that has worked?

Yet others, particularly longtime councillors, seem eager to sabotage progress once again. In the end, they lost out.

Palleschi, Moore, Sprovrieri and Whillans were the only ones to vote in favour of the motion to have staff consult only with Bill Davis. The rest of council circled back around to their initial decision and voted to have staff consult with Davis and other members of the Blue Ribbon panel when their expertise is needed.

Crisis averted, for now.

Council debated the issue over two council meetings, and you can watch the full exchanges below.

Meeting 1: March 1, 2017

Counc. Whillans brings forward a motion to require staff to include Bill Davis in the university process. Council eventually votes to include Davis and other members of the Blue Ribbon Panel on an ‘as needed basis’.

 

Meeting 2: March 8, 2017

After his original motion to require staff to engage with Davis was amended, Whillans brings forward the same motion again, without a strong position. Some councillors and staff express their concerns and raise questions to which Whillans has no answer. Council eventually votes.

 

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