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The Globe and Mail

Toronto Council agenda proves work being done despite vacuum at the top

Toronto has become so fixated on its colourful mayor that it is easy to forget other things are going on in the city. In the shadow of the Ford Follies, the beat goes on. Police are policing, planners planning, builders building. Even city council continues with its routine business despite the leadership vacuum at the top.

Just look at the agenda for this week's meeting, chock full of items from the trivial to the consequential that most of us never hear about. Did you know, for example, that Toronto shares responsibility with Pickering to its east for Pickering Town Line, a 2.75-kilometre collector road that runs along their mutual boundary? They divide the annual costs of $3,000 to $5,000. Pickering does the work and sends Toronto a bill. A new agreement confirming that arrangement is coming to city council for approval.

Or did you know that city staff are recommending regulations on lap-dancing cubicles in strip clubs to allow "adequate clearance between occupants and between occupants and furniture, walls, partitions, or any other fixture, object, or thing to allow for unrestricted movement between the occupants?" The new cubicles are supposed to have just three sides – or one see-through side – in case anything dangerous is going on.

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Another obscure matter council is considering concerns police CCTV cameras. Police want to install some on hydro poles to fight crime in the Weston-Mount Dennis area, but nothing can happen "until terms and conditions related to the use of the poles, power sources and specific costs are resolved in a formal agreement." Council will consider asking Toronto Hydro to free up its poles.

Yet another item coming to council would require neighbours to be notified if a resident wants to put up a new fence and is applying for an exemption to the city fence bylaw.

On the more serious side, council is considering a report from the auditor-general on how to have bylaw-enforcement officers do their work more effectively and efficiently. It is also looking at a 50-page report from the police on whether Toronto can reduce the cost of paid-duty cops – the ones you see standing around construction sites – by learning from Vancouver. Answer: No. British Columbia allows special municipal constables to do traffic control, while Ontario requires full police officers.

Some of the decisions facing council involve a great deal of your money. Councillors are considering a report on what the city is doing to comply with new "Federal Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations." The answer is quite a lot, thank you, but the cost of the upgrades the city is making to its Ashbridges Bay treatment plant runs to more than $200-million.

On the always fraught question of homelessness, a committee is asking council to look into the high occupancy rate in city shelters with the aim of ensuring no one is turned way (although staff report that, as things stand, there are beds available every night).

Some items before council are guaranteed never to grab headlines. Consider the eye-watering Item AU10.12: Results Arising from the Shared Services Study Related to Internal Audit and Jurisdictional Research Respecting Funding Models for Accountability Functions. If you're curious, it turns out that consultants looked at whether it made sense for the city and its various agencies to consolidate their internal auditing rather than conduct audits on their own. They decided it doesn't, so nothing will change, but it bears noting that the city actually is trying all sorts of ways to use taxpayer resources better. It isn't all gravy, all the time.

As usual, individual city councillors have pet items on the council agenda. North Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow has one asking that when developers advertise their new condo buildings, they make it clear that the development needs city approval to go ahead. Otherwise, residents won't know they can fight it.

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As the motion puts it, "Residents in high-growth areas are being asked to live with an increasing amount of density, construction and traffic. It is only fair that they are provided every opportunity to voice their concerns and offer their feedback."

Another motion, backed by TTC Chair Karen Stintz, sensibly seeks to overturn a bylaw requiring cyclists to ride single file.

None of this will change the world. Some of the big problems facing the city, such as gridlock and out-of-date transit, are stalled because of political confusion at the top. But the beast that is city government has a life of its own, and it's somehow reassuring to know that it keeps functioning at some level even without a rider.

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