Democracy Triumphs In Windsor
Hrumph. All you naysayers and whiners... You have nothing to complain about now. The numbers are there, right in your face. The ratio of hours of open Council meetings to closed in camera meetings is about five to one.
What a Mayor and Council we have. Openness and transparency overall must be their motto. How can anyone be upset now when they spend so much time in open session. And that was in the summertime too, when they met every other week. Imagine what the numbers would have been like if they had met every week. Absolutely incredible.
I just don't understand why Councillor Drew Dilkens thinks we need more openness. So much is open at City Council that I can feel a draft, can't you. No wonder I have shivers down my spine when I hear Councillors debating.
Why I am sure that the Mayor would say that the numbers are telling us a story since they are so "scientific" just like his DRIC/Greenlink survey was so statistically scientific.
Now there is one slight problem that one or two people in this City might bring up. Those few people are the ones that the Councillor formerly known as Council Budget talked about:
- "Brister claimed that only "two or three people out of 200,000 have an issue" with council's closed door meetings."
They might say something like it is not the quantity of hours that is important but rather the quality of what is discussed that is significant. As an example, how many hours do you think Council is going to spend on the feeding the birds bylaw? How do we weight that kind of time spent in open debate? If you are a pigeon fancier, you might think that it's important to spend hours and hours and hours at Council but I would wager that most people would not agree.
I thought that I would go through the Minutes of the Council meetings to see what was discussed over the last quarter in order for you to make your own assessment as to weighting. You will note generally that the meetings that had the most hours were those that had one, perhaps two, controversial issues that took up most of the open Council meeting.
- July 3-- The Junction
- July 16--Sandwich Heritage Study, Gay bar and Junction
- July 24 (Special Council meeting) ---Strategic Session and communications strategy
- July 30---WUC whiteboard presentation by the Mayor
- August 2---Border open meeting----who knew about it. No Minutes are posted about it, something that seems very strange
- August 13---WUC fiasco, St. Clair rezoning on Huron Church, use of Charles Clark Square
- August 27---(Special Council meeting 3:00) Service delivery review
- Sept 4----nothing meeting
- Sept 10---Burger King rezoning, sidewalk policy
- Sept 17---Condo conversion, Sandwich garage exemption
- Sept 24---nothing significant
Now here is something else that those one or two people might moan and groan about. Here is what Councillor Brister had to say in February about trusting Council with respect to meetings:
- "The apparent improvement in transparency had Coun. Dave Brister singing council's praises.
"It indicates the openness and transparency of this council and prior council," Brister said.
He said the number of private meetings versus open ones is a signal to residents that council is following the rules under the municipal act. "When they see this becomes an issue again, on issues like the tunnel file, on issues like the border file, and even to the extent this has occurred already on the arena file, I'm hopeful the community has the trust in this council to know when an item has to be in-camera under the municipal act."
But what these statistics say to me is that we ought to be demanding a refund of the monies that we are paying to Councillors as salary. What role are they playing or have they just given up and are really allowing the Mayor to be the Voice (and Brains) of Council, especially on the border matter. Isn't that the issue that is so important to us and that will impact us for generations to come?
Why it is so important that Council spent only 69 minutes on the border issue in camera, most of it, 64 minutes, the day of Sam's presentation on August 2. That left a whole five minutes for the entire quarter that this Council spent discussing the border issue.
It is so abundantly clear that Eddie controls everything. Council had NO input on Sam whatsoever! Do you understand now why the border issue is such a bloody mess! No input by Councillors and no control over a Mayor who is all over the map with respect to border solutions. First he wanted a Horseshoe road, then a tunnel and now a Schwunnel.
Five whole minutes in the quarter to talk about the US$75 million Tunnel deal with Detroit. Five whole minutes to talk about the Tunnel improvement project. Five whole minutes to talk about the DRIC bridge and road and the Enhancement Project. Five whole minutes to discuss strategy and tactics and legal issues and to ask questions and to set direction.
Pathetic is probably too weak a word to describe Council's performance.
I am hoping that Councillors are embarrassed by these numbers. I am hoping that Councillors are embarrassed by Eddie's public "Spit it out" insult to them. I am hoping that Councillors are embarrassed that they are not performing their duties and that it has become so apparent to the electorate.
What we need is more true openness in Windsor, not the sham that we are getting now. Hours debating nothing in public and minutes dealing with important matters in camera. They are letting one man deal with the most important issue that faces this City, a man who has failed us to date.
Can you imagine if we had something like this in Windsor? Maybe it is something that we should be demanding so we will know what is really going on with our City Government. Then Democracy might triumph:
- "Councillor touts gag law for officials;
Tough 'sunshine' measures raise the bar on transparency and accountability;
Don Butler The Ottawa Citizen, 10-27-2007
Imagine a world in which city councillors are forbidden to meet privately to talk about city business -- or, with few exceptions, discuss anything that could conceivably become city business.
In this imaginary universe, two councillors wouldn't even be able to talk on the phone, or exchange e-mails, if the topic was something that could foreseeably come before them for a decision. If they did, they could be fined or even jailed.
Sounds improbable? Yet that's precisely the regime that applies to public officials in Florida under that state's "Government-in- the-Sunshine Law."
And Alex Cullen, for one, would be pleased if something similar eventually applies to municipal politicians in Ottawa: "That's the next frontier."
Mr. Cullen, councillor for Bay Ward, raised a ruckus this month when Mayor Larry O'Brien invited a dozen hand-picked councillors -- a quorum of city council -- to a private meeting that culminated in a press conference.
Mr. Cullen believed the mayor's meeting violated the Municipal Act, which requires meetings attended by a quorum of councillors to be open to the public unless they deal with such things as labour relations, litigation or personal matters about an identifiable individual.
In light of the act's provisions, Mr. Cullen asked city solicitor Rick O'Connor to remind councillors of the legalities of attending a meeting such as the one called by the mayor.
In his Oct. 22 response, Mr. O'Connor wrote that relevant case law "does lean towards the suggestion that the gathering of a number of members to discuss matters that are within their jurisdiction, or deal with matters in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the group, may ultimately be found to be in contravention of the Municipal Act."
In the wake of this finding, Mr. O'Brien offered a public apology this week for calling the private meeting.
Mr. O'Connor's memo suggests Ontario is edging in the direction of the "sunshine laws" that many U.S. states have adopted to promote greater openness in the actions of public bodies. But Ontario has a long way to go before it matches Florida, the U.S. state with the most rigorous sunshine law.
Florida's law, passed 40 years ago this year, puts restrictions on private discourse that would send shivers down the spines of Canadian public officials, for whom backroom discussions are like mother's milk.
The Florida law provides a right of public access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental authorities and agencies -- a right enshrined in the state constitution in 1992. The law also stipulates that reasonable notice must be given and minutes must be kept.
Most critically, the requirements apply to any gathering, formal or casual, of two or more members of a board, "to discuss some matter which will foreseeably come before that board for action." Unlike in Ontario, there is no need for a quorum.
Violators may be jailed for up to 60 days and fined up to $500. They can also be removed from office by the governor."