2011 St. John’s City Council Report Cards

Did you know that you have 11 employees? You’re paying the wages of 11 elected city officials whose job it is to do your bidding. (Well, kinda.)

Each year, we like to give these 11 people a report card so you can check in on them and decide if you’re happy with their performance. This year, we broke the overall grade into categories:

Attendance: Do they show up for the public meetings?

Plays Well With Others: Since city politics is a team sport, how kind, cooperative, receptive and accommodating are they with other councillors?

Participation: How often do we hear their voice, and on how many issues?

Communication: How far and wide does their voice reach? Do they have a website or a Facebook group or a newsletter? Are they accessible to the media and their constituents? Do they seem approachable?

Creativity: Do they come up with, find, or promote new ideas and innovative solutions to problems? Do they have a vision for the city? Is all of this grounded in reality?

We didn’t do all this alone. As usual, aside from asking our online readers (see page 5) we rounded up local business people, municipal watchdogs, ex-councillors and organization leaders to weigh in and help us with the grades.

By Andrew Harvey, Sarah Smellie, Morgan Murray & Elling Lien.

Photo illustrations by Elling Lien.

Click here to find out what ward you live in.


Danny Breen

Ward One

2011 grade: A- (3.7 GPA)
2010 grade: B

This Danny Breen guy isn’t too shabby! Sure, he might just be using council as a stepping stone to higher office, but he’s using it well.

Attendance: A
He’s there!

Plays Well With Others: A+
If Danny disagrees, he’s always super respectful and nice about it. “You know, I can’t think of a single thing he wasn’t nice about,” says Andrew Harvey.

Participation: B
He doesn’t take a lot of risks with what he speaks up about —if it’s a subject he knows really well, he’s all over it. Many on our panel feel that Breen has aspirations of higher office in the provincial government, and that he sticks to bigger-ticket issues accordingly.

Communication: A-
Breen brings up concerns from his constituents a lot, so they obviously feel good about contacting him. He reaches out, too—he once called The Scope of his own volition to discuss the bike lanes. He’s in the media a lot—most recently on CBC-TV’s On Point, discussing what he worries is St. John’s under-representation in Kathy Dunderdale’s cabinet.

Creativity: B+
His grasp on reality definitely outweighs his creativity, but in a good way. He’s an efficiencies-minded finance kind of guy—he always wants to go back and have a look at the numbers. He was chair of the audit committee, after all. He’s also responsible for the city’s whistle blower protection policy.

Frank Galgay

Ward Two

2011 grade: B (2.8 GPA)
2010 grade: C

Councillor Galgay is kind and helpful and dedicated, but we don’t think he’s really in tune with the bulk of his ward. We kind of think someone should take him to a Monsterbator show.

Attendance: A
We see him, we hear him.

Plays Well With Others: B+
He’s a cordial, accommodating guy who really doesn’t ruffle any feathers. He often winds up as the butt of jokes—he tends to go on—and he takes that pretty well.

Participation: B-
Okay, so yeah, he is very long-winded. And he uses very florid language with that wind. Though he does speak about most of the Ward 2-specific issues that come up, he could address some more of the bigger, city-wide issues. Briefly.

Communication: B
We’re pretty sure we believe Galgay when he says that he’s a city councillor full-time despite its being a part-time position. He talks to his constituents a lot and goes to check out buildings and spots of debate in the city. The technological side of his communications platform needs some work—he seems to think the Internet is something you have to throw over your garbage.

Creativity: D
Galgay would be great for the Waterford Bridge area maybe, but in our dealings with him, and from what he says in council, it’s clear that he’s not in touch with the downtown area, the heart of his ward. When we asked him about the rental crisis, for example, he jumped to talking about social assistance. Dude, people who don’t own houses aren’t necessarily on social assistance. That’s offensive.

Bruce Tilley

Ward Three

2011 grade: C (2.04 GPA)
2010 grade: c

We wish we had more to go on with Tilley.
Attendance: B
Not stellar, but he’s no Gerry Colbert.

Plays Well With Others: C
Thing is, he doesn’t really play with others at all. If he says something, it’s usually a short summary of his opinion and he doesn’t often engage with the other councillors. He makes a big show of not voting for the budget every year.

Participation: C
Again, we don’t have much to go on here. He’s not all that active in public council meetings.

Communication: B-
Okay, so here’s something great about Bruce Tilley: He does a fabulous job chairing public meetings. He listens to everyone’s concerns, itemizes them and then tries to address each and every one. And then he brings that list of concerns to council. That’s a plus—it means that everyone gets heard and specific concerns get addressed. He’s also very brief and to-the-point when (if) he raises any points in council, and it’s clear that he is listening to the people in his ward. On the hand, have you ever seen him quoted in the media outside of election time? We haven’t either.

Creativity: D-
We’re not really sure what he would get points for here.

Debbie Hanlon

Ward Four

2011 grade: A- (3.7 GPA)
2010 grade: B

Hanlon is passionate and unafraid, and she’s full of good ideas. Her spot on council is well-deserved.

Attendance: B
Could be better.

Plays Well With Others: B+
She tends to be more emotional than someone like Danny Breen, say, but she outlines her arguments carefully when she has them. The only reason that she doesn’t get an A in this category is because she flares up.

Participation: A
Debbie sometimes gets a lot of flak for not being consistent, but that’s because she speaks up so much, and when she speaks up, she’s honest. Never afraid to admit that she doesn’t know something or when she’d like to change her mind about something, she’s true to the person she is. We think this is refreshing—it’s nice to have a real human being in politics.

Communication: A+
She has a website! And it’s updated sort of regularly! And she’s on Facebook, and she holds town meetings and reaches out to her constituents! She’s just plain excellent in this department. One could criticize her for not doing a great PR job explaining her position on the independent review of councillors’ time and salaries, but, in her defence, that turned into a media monster almost instantly and the real message was buried in all the hype.

Creativity: A-
Again, she’s not afraid to note little (or big) things that should change, and she voices her ideas all the time. Thankfully, a lot of the time those ideas are good. Podcasting council meetings (please do this!), working towards a paperless council, and an independent review of council with a look toward full-time city councillor positions are just some of the good ideas she’s floated.

Wally Collins

Ward Five

2011 grade: B- (2.7 GPA)
2010 grade: C+

We appreciate his humour and the lightness it brings to council, but we wish he brought more.

Attendance: A

Plays Well With Others: A
Collins keeps pretty quiet, but when he does speak, he’s the class clown and the social lubricator. This is fantastic because he’s good at making light of tense situations.

Participation: C
We wish he spoke up more, because when he does, he’s concise yet thorough. If absolutely everyone is talking about something, he’ll chime in, but he otherwise remains silent.

Communication: B
He’s very active in his community and even though he brings up stuff like building dog parks in the West End (that’s a go-ahead, by the way), he’s representing his ward and he’s doing it well. He also talks about his community events a lot and does a good job promoting them at council meetings.

Creativity: D-
Um, extremely not very? He reacts to the public but rarely brings his own ideas forward. Let’s see… The dog park… and he brings up the idea of a community centre in the Southlands, so that will keep him above an F.

Gerry Colbert

At Large

2011 grade: C- (1.6 GPA)
2010 grade: D-

The attendance thing is genuinely rude—we’re kind of embarrassed for everyone that voted for him (again).

Attendance: F
His absenteeism really stands out. Everyone we asked mentioned it. The Telegram even ran a story on it once. Is he on a city council in Fort Lauderdale or something?

Plays Well With Others: B
When he’s there, he’s all right: he’s blunt, but well-spoken, and whenever he speaks, it’s well thought-out. He doesn’t mix much with the other councillors, but he doesn’t un-mix, either—he’s the lone Floridian wolf.

Participation: D-
See Attendance. When he’s there, he talks, but most of the panel we spoke with think it’s for the camera; so it looks like he attends meetings.

Communication: C-
He seems like he returns emails from his constituents, but seeing as he’s so rarely in the country, email is probably the only way you can track him down. He doesn’t wind up in the media much, unless someone’s doing a story on how infrequently he sits in on meetings. Sigh.

Creativity: B
See, and here’s the thing: It would actually be great if Colbert showed up to the public meetings. Not just because then everyone who voted for him would look less foolish, but because he brings common sense to the conversation. He’s willing to dig into and revisit problems to see how they can be resolved. C’maaaan, Colbert.

Sheilagh O’Leary

At Large

2011 grade: A (3.8 GPA)
2010 grade: B

We hope O’Leary sticks around. She’s a great socially-minded voice on council.

Attendance: A

Plays Well With Others: B
She has occasional spats with other councillors, and sometimes she takes things personally. Otherwise, she’s quite pleasant.

Participation: A
O’Leary consistently speaks to a range of issues and brings up something every week in the go-around. The only reason Duff got the A+ in this category is because Duff has been around longer and knows the nuts and bolts of it all—she cuts to the chase.

Communication: A
O’Leary is very active on Facebook with her Jam Session newsletters. She’s also happy to bring concerns forth from constituents that contact her and does so regularly. She’s active in the community, and she’s frequently in the media. Thumbs up.

Creativity: A
The best thing about O’Leary is that she’s constantly mentioning what other cities are doing. She seems to always be thinking about new things, she just doesn’t quite have experience to implement them. We expect a bright future with her on council.

Tom Hann

At Large

2011 grade: B- (2.7 GPA)
2010 grade: C+

Does he have to be so negative? Has he tried yoga?
Attendance: A

Plays Well With Others: D-
Hann tends to be pretty negative. He’s good at putting up obstacles and shooting down ideas, he picks fights, and he makes snide comments. Not cool.

Participation: A
He does, however, speak to a lot of issues. If only he’d just speak a little more constructively…

Communication: A-
Though his spelling could use some work, we can’t help but give him big points for sending out his own press releases through the city’s media list. That being said, he was also the spokesman for the Transit Committee during the Metrobus strike and he was bloody impossible to get a hold of.

Creativity: D
Like O’Keefe, he’s creative with excuses and complaints, but not solutions.

Sandy Hickman

At Large

2011 grade: B- (2.48 GPA)
2010 grade: C-

Hello, hello? Councillor Hickman?
Attendance: B

Plays Well With Others: A
He’s nice, he has a heart, he explains himself with thought and care and he doesn’t argue.

Participation: C-
But maybe we haven’t noticed him bickering because, well, we haven’t noticed him. He talks about arts funding and tourism a lot, which makes sense given his job in the provincial government’s Tourism department. Maybe he’d say more if he didn’t have to have a second job. Perhaps Sandy Hickman is the case for full-time councillor positions.

Communication: C-
Hickman doesn’t undertake a whole lot of outreach, and he doesn’t wind up in the media very much. In short, we’re not really sure what he’s about.

Creativity: B-
When he does participate, Hickman is pretty good at coming up with solutions to problems. He seems to be fairly flexible and, equally as important, he encourages the other councillors to be flexible too.

Shannie Duff

Deputy Mayor

2011 grade: B+ (3.38 GPA)
2010 grade: A

Shannie’s been fighting the heritage and social equality fight for ages, and we’re really happy she’s been at it. Her arguments are always well thought-out and informed and she’s an effective member of council.

Attendance: A
She may have even been present at more council meetings than our city council watchdog, Andrew Harvey. ‘Nuff said.

Plays Well With Others: B-
Shannie’s no push-over, which is a good thing, but she does tend to bicker and talk over the people she’s bickering with (*cough*Tom Hann, *cough*O’Keefe). In her defense, though, people tend to assume she’s going on about heritage regulations and tune her out.

Participation: A+
She sets the bar for this one. Not afraid to stick her neck out, she speaks to every important issue and, with her experience, her input is usually excellent.

Communication: B
Though her website is inactive, she’s all over the websites of local media outlets, speaking to every issue under the sun. She also does a lot of speaking engagements with local organizations, which is great; people approach her because she’s approachable.

Creativity: B-
Shannie clearly pays attention to what other, more progressive, cities are doing, and she is open to new, innovative ideas. Usually, though, she sticks to thinking inside the box, but she sure knows her way around it.

Dennis O’Keefe


2011 grade: C+ (2.4 GPA)
2010 grade: D+

He plays it pretty safe and sticks to the books. We don’t expect the unexpected from O’Keefe.

Attendance: B
Okay, we know he had triple bypass surgery and all, but his attendance was less-than-A before the operation, we swear!

Plays Well With Others: C+
Though Doc attempts to be equitable, it doesn’t always come off that way. He cuts people off—and brevity is good—but he’s more prone to cut off those he disagrees with.

Participation: A
He definitely weighs in all the important issues—heck, he usually weighs in if it’s unimportant too.

Communication: B-
Remember, way back during the election, when he said he wanted to get everyone’s input on a cohesive vision for St. John’s? He hasn’t quite done that. Outside of protocol, he doesn’t really do much to solicit input from the public. He does, however, make himself readily available to the media.

Creativity: F
He’s not an Outside-The-Box kind of guy. Though he does tend to be pretty creative with his excuses for why the city can’t seem to do anything progressive. As one of our panelists said, “I’d encourage him to share his vision for the city, but I suspect the response would be both delayed and uninspiring.”


  1. Anonymous · November 5, 2010

    Of course the Scope would give Shannie Duff the highest grade. Just like you guys endorsed every single St. John’s NDP candidate in the provincial election a few months ago. Biased much?

    We need term limits for city councilors. Duff is a perfect example. Running a municipal government should be a nuts-and-bolts operation. Council should not be a soap-box for dinosaurs like Duff and her cohorts who want us all to be living in the 19th century. The city changes, and so should council.

  2. stumper · November 5, 2010

    Anonymous, you’d better start looking for pinkos under your bed. Shannie ran for the provincial PC’s in the 80s and won. Interestingly, she defeated incumbent Gene Long in St. John’s East in 1989, who was one of the NDP’s first sitting MHAs. Advocating good planning, the arts, and heritage preservation are not owned by the NDP.

  3. Tic-toc · November 5, 2010


    I’m all for critique, but I would just like to politely mention that, in the way that I was taught to read reporting letters and numbers, as far as I can tell Mrs. Duff (or Brontosaurus Duff?) finished third overall in the 2011 report card.

  4. Jordan · November 5, 2010

    Shannie might have served as a PC MHA for roughly a year but she’s a Dipper through and through.

  5. Jordan · November 5, 2010

    It’s time for the city to have a complete shake-up of council.

    Doc needs to go, it’s time for someone with new ideas to be in that position. The mayor should be the face of a city, to an extent, and Doc’s not that. He’s rarely in the media and it seems councillors are the ones who speak out on the major issues.

    Shannie has been around for 30+ years, and while she may have good attendance and speak out on issues I think St. John’s is worse off because of her. I’ve had one experience with her and she was quite rude.

    Sheilagh is just Shannie-junior, she might bring up new ideas but she doesn’t usually seem to know what she’s talking about.

    If someone of Debbie’s ideas were listened to I think St. John’s would be better off. She will be missed on council. I won’t really comment on the rest of them, but I will say that while I don’t mind Bruce Tilley the only councillor I’d to see run again is Danny Breen.

    Mayor changes need to be brought to council. One thing that needs to happen is a reduction of the number of councillors, a city of 100,000 doesn’t need 11 councillors. We also need to either elect just at large councillors or ward councillors, I don’t see what purpose having both is, and we don’t need to vote on a deputy mayor.

    There needs to be a creative way to get more people interested in running for council, particularly the mayor’s position.

  6. Turry from town · November 5, 2010

    You people failed to look at exactly what this council is doing for the citizens of St.John’s and grade that.Appearing for a photo op on insignificant issues is not doing the work of an elected official.
    Property values in the city have artificially ballooned and we are being taxed on that value eventhough our service stays the same.What has any council member done to address the windfall that this has created from the pockets of taxpayers?They don’t have to raise taxes,it is being done for them. For avoiding this issue I give council an F !!!
    And for not considering this issue in your reportcard I give the scope an F !!!

  7. Adrian · November 5, 2010

    I agree a bit with “Turry”. The report card does give information on the styles of the councillors, and you do get a sense of who is most involved in a non-egocentric way in their job, but it would be nice to know what kinds of issues the councillors are bringing to the table, and what’s missing.

  8. Stumper · November 5, 2010

    How do you know, Jordan? I doubt you’ve attended any NDP rallies. See, long ago, there used to be this small band of people called “progessive” conservatives. They were not as ideologically pure as you and Steve Harper.

  9. Stumper · November 5, 2010

    I agree. Planning and Development are two big issues, and it would be nice to see in print what the different philosophies of the councillors are on these issues. Some of it should be clear from how they voted on certain development decisions, but often you need to hear the rationale for why they voted a certain way in order to get a sense of how they will approach things in the future.

  10. Elling Lien · November 5, 2010

    We tried our best to cram in as much important stuff as we could (which is why the smaller print) but you’re right, there’s more we could have looked at. That’s always the case though…

    Last year we polled each councillor on their priorities and thoughts: http://thescope.ca/city/q2010

  11. Phil · November 5, 2010

    I think the Caricature’s/Photoshopped pics of the councillor’s really detracts from the article. It makes the whole article look jokey and flippant.

    Considering the grading scale seems to have evolved over the years perhaps a more detailed online breakdown of how the grades were achieved would be interesting.

    An innate understanding of how to balance the myriad of issues is important. What we have are councilors who spend their time concerned on social issues and councilors who spend their time on business issues, and overall a council with a complete lack of the bylaws and guidelines that steer the committee, its like they are trying to drive a car having never done so before. Very few seem to have a good balance between the two, which is disappointing.

    You praise Councillor O’Leary for being in the media alot, but seem to pay Breen a backhanded compliment for his visibility. You seem so sure that Breen wants to be an MHA, why not O’Leary? Surely ambition is a good thing…

  12. Chris · November 5, 2010

    LOL LOL LOL LOL….After a crappy Monday I really needed this LAUGH and a HALF tonight, Oh I wish I had the group that did these grades as my teachers when I was in school. Good Grief!

  13. Margarette · November 5, 2010

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