Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
Here‘s a little secret most politicians won’t readily divulge — we don’t exactly do all of the work ourselves. In the public spotlight, Toronto city councillors, along with the mayor, receive both kudos and criticism. But when it comes to serving residents, we rely on our staff to help us daily.
Each councillor is allocated $207,000 a year to hire staff for our city hall offices. And while the number of positions can vary, three or four full-time assistants are the norm.
Soon after winning election last year, I turned my mind toward whom I’d ask to join me at city hall. I had so many talented and skilled volunteers who spent countless hours knocking on doors, making phone calls and putting up signs for me during the campaign; and some were looking for a job.
I first had to choose an executive assistant (EA). An EA assists a councillor with legislative matters, meets with senior city staff and works closely with major stakeholders such as residents’ and tenants’ associations, advocacy organizations and Business Improvement Areas, and sometimes even represent their councillors at meetings. I chose Andrew Athanasiu.
Andrew had worked with me for years at the environmental group Earthroots, protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine. He studied planning and urban geography and had experience working at Queen’s Park. He’s also better at politics than I am.
Next up was hiring constituency assistants.
Although I was a school trustee for seven years, I knew that I wasn’t yet an expert on helping residents with issues such as garbage pickup, snow removal and the procedural nuances of committee of adjustment hearings. So I hired Blake Webb, who had worked for my predecessor, Michael Walker. This surprised some, as the retiring Mr. Walker had endorsed another candidate during the election.
Blake knew city hall, and the many ongoing issues in my ward that needed my immediate attention, inside-out. This was especially helpful as Mr. Walker had left the file cabinets mysteriously bare.
I also needed someone with great organizational skills to assist me with correspondence and scheduling. As early as election night, I began receiving an avalanche of congratulatory emails and meeting requests. I knew exactly who to call.
I first met Katharine Hancock when I was her school trustee and she challenged me at a public meeting. She told me her child’s school desperately needed a new playground and made it very clear that she would not leave me alone until it was built. Working closely with her and other local parents, I witnessed Katharine lead the most efficient, focused and competent campaign. Together, we got that playground built. She’s now going to bat for our ward’s residents every day.
Andrew, Blake and Katharine feel like family now, and we work as a team to respond to the hundreds of emails and calls we receive daily from residents.
So the next time you see a politician take credit for something, or suggest they’ve solved the world’s problems by returning hundreds of calls a day, please remember: They probably didn’t do it alone.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s