Where does one begin with this increasingly dysfunctional body? For the last three years or so the Board has become polarized between city appointees and the provincial appointees, (the latter largely recommended by Ted McMeekin, Hamilton’s representative in Cabinet). At the centre of the controversy is board member councillor Terry Whitehead, who has advocated for more council oversight of the Police Service, especially around its decades-long habit of bringing down budgets that regularly exceeded the rate of inflation. (This year’s budget was the best in that regard for a long time). In so doing, Whitehead has clashed with fellow board members and there is no doubt his fractured relationship with former Chief Glenn DeCaire was a factor in the Chief’s departure.
It is a situation where everybody can claim to be in the right and wrong at the same time. Whitehead needs to control his outbursts, such as calling the former chief a liar and threatening another board member with suggestions he would not be reappointed by council. He has been sanctioned for his past actions by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. Nonetheless, the hurt reaction to his recent complaint at a city council meeting that the provincial appointees lack “skin in the game” is a bit over the top. For many years, long before this current crop of members, the Police Services Board was seen, fairly or not, as a rubber stamp for the chief of the day and for more than a decade, was firmly controlled by its then Chair, the late Bernie Morelli. Whitehead’s actions and statements could be more artfully presented, but they reflect a growing concern everywhere about the soaring costs of policing. The provincial appointees show a little too much sensitivity in their pained response to Whitehead’s suggestion that they are pushovers. If Whitehead is wrong, let there be a little more frank debate in public from their side of the table at these monthly meetings. It’s not good enough that some of these questions may get asked behind closed doors. The public is entitled to see the board defending its interests, not the board defending the interests of the Police Service to the public. To these members we would suggest, ‘get out the governance book and figure out who you are supposed to be serving.’
On the other hand, the suggestion that council should gain a greater proportion of membership, or perhaps even gain complete control of the Police Services Board, seems to go too far. Theoretically at least the city already has majority control, with the mayor, two councillors and a city appointee. The fact that they can’t agree among themselves, as appears to be the case, does not justify placing this vital service at the total whim of the council of the day. There is still a need for some checks and balances.