DEMOCRACY IN JEOPARDY -ALERT-
Two examples of grave disservice to the public interest
...appear to be orchestrated by mayor and city staff:

 


From the...


 

Staff urges more council secrecy

Ontario will be asked to let city politicians discuss any topic they want in camera

Ken Gray
The Ottawa Citizen

Friday, October 15, 2004

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Councillor Maria McRae says 'it's disgraceful' that city staff is presenting so many reports to councillors too late for them to consider the details properly.

 

City council will be able to conduct business on any topic in secret if a staff report is accepted by Ottawa's elected officials and the provincial government.

City solicitor Jerald Bellomo said yesterday staff will ask council to adopt a series of recommendations from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to reform city acts across the province, including the City of Ottawa Act.

Among the recommendations is that "municipal councils be granted the discretion to determine when, and for what purpose, council or a committee may hold a closed meeting," an association publication said.

If adopted, the city would forward the recommendations to Queen's Park, where the provincial statute that governs the municipality would have to be amended, Mr. Bellomo said.

Under current provincial law, council is only allowed to go in camera on personnel matters, labour negotiations, legal solicitor-client matters, land transactions and some access-to-information questions.

 
 
Mr. Cullen said he has "grave concerns" that such a move "would violate the principles of transparency and accountability that are fundamental to the viability of democratic government."

 
 

The move has prompted Councillor Alex Cullen to write a letter to John Gerretsen, the Ontario municipal affairs minister, to protest the recommendation.

In the letter, Mr. Cullen said he has "grave concerns" that such a move "would violate the principles of transparency and accountability that are fundamental to the viability of democratic government."

"I would urge you not to accept this serious attack at open local government, as it runs against the public interest to be able to know how public business is conducted by elected representatives," Mr. Cullen wrote.

 
 
The recommendation is part of a report that has not yet been released in advance of Tuesday's corporate services committee meeting.

That delay worries the city's elected officials. It is just one of a number of late reports that are causing a rift between senior city staff and councillors, who want to be able to read the documents before committee meetings.

"It's disgraceful," Councillor Maria McRae said. "We need time to absorb the information before the meetings."

 

 
 

The recommendation is part of a report that has not yet been released in advance of Tuesday's corporate services committee meeting.

That delay worries the city's elected officials. It is just one of a number of late reports that are causing a rift between senior city staff and councillors, who want to be able to read the documents before committee meetings.

"It's disgraceful," Councillor Maria McRae said. "We need time to absorb the information before the meetings."

The city policy of releasing reports seven days in advance is done to allow councillors and the public to see the directions staff is recommending to committees and council before committee meetings take place.

That helps councillors prepare for debate, question staff and let businesses, interest groups, community associations and the public know if they should participate in the meeting.

For next Tuesday's corporate services meeting alone, three items -- the 2005 budget directions, the proposed City of Ottawa Act amendments and a development charge exemption for Windmill Developments -- did not have their reports released Wednesday when the rest of the agenda came out.

For yesterday's emergency and protective services committee meeting, the vital Fitch report on the future of Ottawa's paramedic services -- an issue that staff's own surveys reveal are of upmost importance to residents -- was not released when the agenda was published.

On Wednesday, the chairwoman of the EPS committee, Councillor Diane Deans, said she had only seen a draft of the report and could not produce a copy when it became obvious the details of the proposal had been leaked to journalists.

 
 
"We're getting reports in committee that are still warm from running off the printer," Ms. McRae said.

At issue is not just the free flow of information, but who runs city government -- staff or publicly elected officials.

 

 
 

Deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos declined to comment.

"We're getting reports in committee that are still warm from running off the printer," Ms. McRae said.

At issue is not just the free flow of information, but who runs city government -- staff or publicly elected officials.

"Supposedly, it's council," said Councillor Diane Holmes.

Councillors are hamstrung in dealing with reports if they can't receive the information in advance, she said.

Yesterday, at emergency and protective services committee, Councillor Gord Hunter said he saw the ambulance report for the first time when he walked into the meeting.

The committee voted to hire 14 paramedics, at least in part on the basis of that report.

Councillor Doug Thompson, also a member of the committee, said he felt awkward trying to participate without having read the report.

With four such reports being held back in less than a week, "that should set off some alarm bells," Mr. Thompson said. "It's embarrassing. That's not the way you run any organization."

Community groups, residents and businesses are also affected.

 
 
Mr. Polowin wondered how the reports can come from different parts of the city administration and all be late.

"It suggests extreme coincidence, or a guiding mind," Mr. Polowin said.

 

 
 

"Those are significant reports," said Gerry LePage, of the Bank Street Business Improvement Area.

"They shouldn't be going under the radar. These aren't slipping under the cracks. It's more like a chasm."

Gary Ludington, co-chairman of the Westboro Community Association, said some reports can be 18 inches (45 centimetres) thick and residents need a chance to see them as soon as possible.

"If there is something you don't agree with or support, how do you get on the committee speakers' list?" Mr. Ludington asked. "There a possibility of being sandbagged. I think staff is doing itself a disservice. Councillors can't vote properly."

Michael Polowin, a lawyer specializing in municipal affairs, said late reports place councillors and the public in an impossible situation.

Mr. Polowin wondered how the reports can come from different parts of the city administration and all be late.

"It suggests extreme coincidence, or a guiding mind," Mr. Polowin said.

The Citizen was unable to reach city manager Kent Kirkpatrick for comment.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2004



 


 

Do business in open, council told

Province won't allow city to dictate secrecy rules: minister

Ken Gray
The Ottawa Citizen

October 16, 2004

CREDIT: Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen

'We have our own right to impose our standards of ethical conduct and transparency in the municipality,' says Mayor Bob Chiarelli.

 

The Ontario government will keep control of when city councils can deliberate in secret, Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen said yesterday.

"The province will always have an interest to make sure that there is great transparency and accountability to the taxpayer. I don't think in that area we are going to let councils set their own rules," Mr. Gerretsen said.

The minister was responding to news city staff was recommending that Ottawa ask the province to give the municipality the power to set its own policy over when council can deliberate in secret.

"I've always been in favour of having more of the public's business transacted in the open ... I don't see much merit in (the Ottawa proposal)," the minister said late yesterday.

"I'm willing to look at any idea that makes municipalities more accountable and more sustainable and more open and more accessible to the public and it seems to me that this kind of motion seems to be contrary to that."

 
 
"I've always been in favour of having more of the public's business transacted in the open ... I don't see much merit in (the Ottawa proposal)...

I'm willing to look at any idea that makes municipalities more accountable and more sustainable and more open and more accessible to the public and it seems to me that this kind of motion seems to be contrary to that."

-John Gerretsen, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs

 

 
 

In camera rules are best left at the provincial level because Ontario legislation which governs how municipalities operate cannot be altered by new civic administrations, Mr. Gerretsen said.

Already, there is a tendency to hide behind the current reasons for going in camera, the minister said. "Unless the public interest is hurt by discussing something out in the open ... matters should always be discussed openly."

Earlier yesterday, Mayor Bob Chiarelli said council should be granted the authority by the province to determine when it can conduct business in secret.

Mr. Chiarelli said he would back a staff report that recommends allowing council to determine its own in-camera rules.

Ottawa is a mature level of government and should be able to determine its own standards rather than have them dictated by the province, the mayor said.

"We want Queen's Park to take the shackles off municipal powers," he said. "We're a democracy. We have representative elected officials. We have a population and budget that is larger than some of the provinces."

The issue, the mayor said, is one of autonomy, not secrecy.

 
 
Under provincial law, council is only allowed to go in camera on personnel issues, labour negotiations, solicitor-client matters, land transactions and some access-to-information questions.

 
 

"We have our own right to impose our standards of ethical conduct and transparency in the municipality," Mr. Chiarelli said.

"Under no shape or circumstance am I recommending that we have any kind of policy ... that gives us the right to move in camera to discuss things that are normally discussed in public at the present time."

The mayor said he supports the present provincial provisions for moving council deliberations behind closed doors but would like to make the explanation of them more specific.

Under provincial law, council is only allowed to go in camera on personnel issues, labour negotiations, solicitor-client matters, land transactions and some access-to-information questions.

Staff will ask council to adopt a series of recommendations from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario of which the secrecy provision is just one.

 
 
"I really think there is too much secrecy at the provincial and federal levels and I don't think we need to add it to ours."

-Merve Beckstead, Former regional and Nepean Chief Administrative Officer

 
 

The list of AMO recommendations includes "that municipal councils be granted the discretion to determine when, and for what purpose, council or a committee may hold a closed meeting."

A number of current and former municipal figures condemned the staff initiative yesterday.

"If they spend more than two minutes on this, they are wasting their time," former Ottawa mayor Jacquelin Holzman said. "Maybe they just want to legalize what they are already doing."

Jim Watson, the consumer and business services minister and former Ottawa mayor, said he couldn't support anything that didn't make government more open and accountable.

Merv Beckstead, the former regional and Nepean chief administrative officer, also rejected the staff plan.

"It should be a no-go," Mr. Beckstead said. "I really think there is too much secrecy at the provincial and federal levels and I don't think we need to add it to ours.

"I don't know if there is a reason to go in camera," said Mr. Beckstead adding that the information usually leaks out of the sessions anyway.

 
 
"The temptation to deal with controversial issues outside the eye of the public is one that politicians have surrendered to," Mr. Cullen said. "But it is not in the public interest."

 
 

Mr. Beckstead said he remembered his early times in Nepean when the budget was conducted behind closed doors and he didn't want the city to return to those days.

And Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, who wrote to Mr. Gerretsen to trigger the issue, continued to rail against the move.

"The temptation to deal with controversial issues outside the eye of the public is one that politicians have surrendered to," Mr. Cullen said. "But it is not in the public interest."

The report on reforming the City of Ottawa Act -- in which the in-camera recommendation is contained -- is expected to be released Monday. Discussion of it has been deferred from Tuesday's corporate services committee meeting.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2004



 

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