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Mihevc raises concern over still-vacant culture seat

Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

City Councillor Joe Mihevc is looking for answers on the future of the city's cultural department after the departure this summer of its high-profile leader and in light of efforts to reduce its budget by close to $900,000.

Rita Davies, who became the city's first head of Cultural Services more than a decade ago, left her post in mid-July and has not been replaced.

Mr. Mihevc said he felt compelled to make a formal inquiry to the city manager into plans for the department after personally hearing senior staff speculate about not replacing her.

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"These things are usually kept at a staff level, but in this case it is important that council do its due diligence," Mr. Mihevc said. "I can't imagine the city not having a senior person responsible for culture."

Mayor Rob Ford has said he wants to thin the ranks of senior managers. Asked Thursday if those cuts would include cultural services he said it is too early to discuss specific departments.

"I've always said that I am looking at streamlining senior staff," the mayor told reporters. "I have sat down with [City Manager Joeseph] Pennachetti and we are going to continue having meetings to try and streamline government."

The 2012 budget for the Department for Economic Development and Culture includes an initiative to find $893,000 in savings through a "service efficiency review" for culture. Such a review, it states, will include an examination of "alternative service delivery and revenue options." A consultant's report on museum services that examines ways to increase revenue as well as options for the sale or lease of assets or public-private partnerships is expected by the end of the year, a spokesman for the city confirmed.

Mr. Mihevc's inquiry, included in next week's council agenda, asks how the department will be structured, especially at the senior levels, to ensure the sector is kept strong, and what changes are planned. It also asks if there will be public consultations, and how council will be informed of the changes.

Answers to the questions will be provided to city councillors at their meeting Tuesday. Under the rules of council, members can either refer the matter to a committee or receive it for information. There will not be an opportunity to debate the matter.

Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the economic development committee, said far from reducing the city's role in the cultural sector, he hopes to expand it and will fight any attempt to cut the city's services.

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"To suggest that culture would somehow be diminished or eliminated, I would say on my watch that won't happen," he said.

"I am not advocating any changes to the budget at this point," he added later.

Mr. Thompson said he is aware of concerns at city hall and within the community about possible cuts to services. "We have not arrived at any conclusion," he said. "There has been no talk of restructuring culture. I think it is really too early say."

Mr. Thompson said he does plan to have meetings with staff to discuss "a way forward" for culture services.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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