Hunger games at city hall — there’s no free, or easy, lunch for politicians

How many Victoria city councillors does it take to order lunch?

They can’t. They have a policy against it.

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Or do they?

About two hours into a mind-numbing discussion this week surrounding governance, standing committee makeup and the council procedure bylaw, it was suggested that rather than taking a break for lunch, they order in.

Simple, right?

Afraid not.

This is the same council, remember, that 18 months ago decided to forgo catered lunches in order to trim city expenses. The largely symbolic gesture was estimated to save the city about $12,000 a year.

So when tummies started grumbling Thursday, Coun. Shellie Gudgeon made a formal motion that they order in.

In light of the policy, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe wanted clarification.

“We are ordering food. We will pay for it ourselves individually and continue the meeting at the same time. That’s the intention,” explained Mayor Dean Fortin.

Not so fast. Coun. Geoff Young had a concern.

“I’m happy to have people order food, provided it involves no expenditure of staff time. I guess that means that people can go out and phone to get food brought in and have it brought to the table, but we are totally defeating the purpose if we [have staff do it].”

Maybe it’s time to revisit the no-catering policy, said Coun. Ben Isitt over protestations from the mayor to stick to the issue at hand. “We see this every time that lunch becomes an issue — the ad hoc manner,” Isitt said.

Perhaps, Fortin responded, because council had endorsed the no-catering policy, he should simply rule the motion to order lunch inappropriate “because this is something that has been done and it needs to sit for a while before it’s brought back up.”

“It sat for two years,” countered Isitt, but he conceded there should probably be notice of motion given to change the policy and to allow for proper debate.

Meanwhile, trying to steer the debate back to the issue — lunch — Fortin said the motion to order in food, was still on the table (even if lunch wasn’t).

“Failure to support the motion means at some point we’ll have a scheduled break for 15 or 20 minutes, at which time you can go get your own food and bring it back,” Fortin said.

But supporting the motion didn’t make sense either, said Coun. Pam Madoff.

“I think an indication informally [asking] who would like to order lunch. That’s fine. But if you do it by majority, it means we have all agreed to do this and some of us have got a lunch here,” Madoff said.

“I just think we are going sideways again and it’s just frustrating.”

At which point the motion was dropped and the meeting carried on for about another hour before a short break was called so councillors could get themselves something to eat.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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