Beach group monitoring city hall

[attach]6406[/attach]For two days in September, a group of Beach residents traipsed down to the Superior courthouse on University Avenue.

Not your typical days for an informal group of local activists, but then again it wasn’t your typical courtroom drama.

The group, who call themselves ForWard 32, named for their Beaches-East York ward, joined journalists and others to watch Rob Ford answer to conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from a Feb. 7 council meeting.

“Basically we said we would be just respectful, silent witnesses to the judicial process,” Don Quinlan said outside 361 University Ave. before Day 2 of the proceedings.

“We’re not going to have a demonstration or anything.”

ForWard 32 was not exactly there in support of their mayor of almost two years.

Carmel Suttor, who tweeted proceedings from the courtroom that day, said the situation the mayor finds himself in is due to his divisive performance since he was elected mayor.

“The way he’s approached the conflict of interest is very much the same way he approaches governing the city and leading council,” she said. “He does what he thinks is right, regardless of evidence, regardless of input he finds inconvenient.”

They don’t hold back on their website’s homepage: “We are concerned about city-building and the abrasive tenor of current city politics, and we are opposed to the current wave of city bashing and divisiveness practiced by the current Mayor and his allies.”

The alarm that came with service cuts proposed during last year’s budget process was also an impetus for the group’s formation, says Suttor, who is a teacher with the Toronto District School Board.

During the controversial budget negotiations, the group took to streets like Danforth Avenue and Kingston Road to distribute homemade leaflets urging passersby to voice their opinions on service cuts to their local councillor. Their primary concern at the time was TTC cuts.

“At one point, of course, everything was on the line,” Quinlan said. “So at some of the early meetings students were there, we had people who provide services to people in their homes, daycares. It was very broad, and things then slowly focused.”

As budget season gets underway this fall, Suttor says they don’t want to be blindsided by budget cuts this year.

Quinlan, who is a retired teacher, says it shouldn’t come as a surprise some Beach residents react strongly to Ford and his administration, pointing out many east-end neighbourhoods rejected Ford as mayor during the 2010 municipal election.

The group, which is not a registered ratepayer association, is building its email database, which currently sits at about 200 people.

Currently, the core group of people who meet regularly numbers about 10. At an issue-based meeting, usually taking place in someone’s living room, they might have 20–30 people attending.

ForWard 32 is in contact with local councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and “nudge her in directions we think is important,” Quinlan said.

It’s one of several interest groups paying close attention to the Queen Street Visioning Study, for instance.

According to Quinlan, if there’s any hope for city hall, it’s that councillors are building consensus. He said he sees more cooperation between the centre-left and right-leaning councillors. It’s about time, he said.

“People are communicating across those lines.”