Flip-flopping councillor could save Mayor Joe Fontana

Denise Brown attends a meeting of council's finance committee at City Hall in London, ON



LONDON, ON -- The flip-flopping of political rookie Denise Brown could save Mayor Joe Fontana from the historic humiliation of a successful non-confidence vote by his own council.

Having previously voted to support Fontana staying put, then publicly urging him to leave, Brown was the lone member of council's finance committee to vote Monday against a motion recommending he be asked to step aside -- then told reporters she believes the mayor should go.

Despite the committee's 3-1 vote to endorse asking Fontana to temporarily leave office amid criminal charges, Brown's unpredictability has the symbolic motion's driving force wondering if an eight-vote majority can be secured to give it final approval at council Dec. 11.

"I thought it was critically important that we would have (Denise) Brown's vote," Coun. Joni Baechler said.

"That was extraordinarily critical. I'm doing the math, too, and I'm sitting here thinking I don't know" how to get eight votes at council.

That uncertainty can't erase what was a truly dark moment in London political history Monday -- a committee voting to recommend asking for a temporary leave from the mayor, who's criminally charged with three counts relating to payment of his son's 2005 wedding reception when he was a Liberal MP and cabinet minister.

Nor should it obscure the bizarre approach of Brown, who cited unclear "legal" concerns in voting against the Baechler motion, then minutes later told reporters she believes it's in London's best interest for Fontana to step aside.

Though the Ward 11 rookie has learned plenty in two years on council and shown increasing poise, that hop-scotching could leave her branded the Wortley Village Waffler (or worse).

Brown said a friend who's a lawyer told her the Baechler motion was not "a legal motion" -- though she was unclear whether that meant it's outside the legal powers of council (that's true) or meant it's actually illegal.

Asked why she'd changed her view, Brown said she hadn't and maintained what she told QMI Agency two weeks ago, that Fontana should leave office.

Citing "an abundance of caution," Fontana, a member of the finance committee, declared a conflict on the Baechler motion and left the room. It's unclear if he'll also recuse himself at the final council vote on Dec. 11.

If he does, that would leave 14 voting politicians, assuming all are present.

And in that case, if it results in a 7-7 vote, the motion to ask Fontana to leave would lose to a tie, as per city rules.

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