Friday, November 23, 2007

Here's A Postage Stamp Oshawa...Politician's want you to write down all you know!

Oshawa politicians along with all Ontario Municipal Governments have been compelled by recent Bill 130 amendments to Provincial Legislation to appoint various officers by January 2008 to ensure the Accountability and Transparency of Municipal Councils.

You can request your own survey from city hall by clicking the highlighted text and requesting one. Due to the shortness of time, you can request the form be sent to your email and you can return it electronically.

Below is the city survey sent out to randomly selected citizens with some format changes to the form to facilitate this blog medium.

Accountability and Transparency Survey

Accountability and transparency are the cornerstones of good government.

The City wants to hear how well it is doing.

Please return this survey in the postage-paid envelope by November 30, 2007.

Oshawa City Council has created an Accountability and Transparency Subcommittee to respond to the Provincial Municipal Act requirements to establish an Accountability and Transparency Policy. The Accountability and Transparency Subcommittee is seeking your input.

Being accountable means that Oshawa City Council is clear in its actions, that its decision-making processes are understandable, that it is accessible to the citizens it represents and, finally, it is responsible for its decisions.

Being transparent requires that the City actively encourages and fosters public participation, ensures adequate communication on issues and that the City’s decision making process is accessible and understandable by you.

By providing your opinions on the City’s level of accountability and transparency, you will help to support a process that seeks to continuously improve the way our City responds to your needs.

The form following is my submission to the questions asked!

A. For each question below, please indicate your level of agreement in the brackets following the statement. Strongly Agree=1, Agree=2, Neither Agree or Disagree=3, Disagree=4, Strongly Disagree=5, No Opinion=6.

1. I am knowledgeable about city processes used to make decisions. (1)

2. I understand the processes used by the City to make decisions. (1)

3. I feel the City’s decision-making processes are transparent. (5)

4. I am able to contact City Council to express my opinions. (2)

5. I am able to contact City administrators for information. (2)

6. I feel City Council accepts responsibility for its decisions. (4)

7. I feel City administrators accept responsibility for their actions. (2)

8. I feel the City adequately communicates information to its residents through:

a) City Page in Oshawa This Week ---(5)

I feel that Oshawa's $10,000 monthly advertisng bill to Oshawa This Week strongly influences their news coverage of city hall activities. Instead, city hall should advertise in the Canadian Tire Advertising supplement that accompanies the Friday paper. Further the minimal news of perhaps 2 or 3 major and 10-12 minor stories is lost in the reams of paid advertising flyers all of which have to be collected up and disposed of at taxpayer expense. This pickup cost should be borne by the paper itself.
b) Inside Oshawa (annual report to citizens)---(5)
I feel this is ill spent taxpayer money. Why should city council expend significant monies this way to prepare and distribute these huge flyers, and others similar to them, complete with politician's messages and mugshots when they constantly refused to distribute information about the plebiscite question on the recent municipal election ballot.

This was truly an important issue for taxpayers and yet the mayor said it was not council's responsibility to inform the people. He said it was up to taxpayers themselves to fundraise, produce, and distribute any such information even though The Municipal Elections Act erects significant roadblocks to such third party campaigning.

If plebiscite information was not important to get out to the public to insure voters understood the question and knew the consequences of their information is.

The Supreme Court says citizens have a basic right to know such information but council refused to provide it....SHAME!
c) Bill inserts---(5)
If bills are going to be sent out anyway, this is the time to include information for ratepayers. The Mayor's mugshot and message along with those of city council members should be sent out with the municipal tax bills.

And while I'm at it, why should taxpayers fund expensive ads for politicians at special days like Remembrance Day, Christmas, etc., and every possible opportunity known to man. (Check pg. 6 & 10 at link) I was sickened to see the number of such taxpayer funded political advertising appearing in every publication conceivable around Oshawa this past Nov. 11. If politicians feel this kind of advertising is necessary, let them pay for it out of their own pocket.
d) Public meetings---(5)
These are suspect in terms of influencing political decisions. In terms of the Sikorski Hall public meeting to hear citizen concerns, city council voted not to produce and deliver information about the topic to Oshawa households and the flyer sent informing of the meeting was of such low quality that it looked like a typed and mimeographed flyer...hardly the quality that Oshawa City Hall produces on such topics as "Downtown Ethnic Restaurants", "Oshawa's Walking Paths", "Pesticide Use in Oshawa," 60 page Infosource, and a myriad of other high quality, professionally designed and printed, and colourful brochures they waste taxpayer money on.

At the public meeting cited, politician's minds were already made up on the topic. They subsequently made a decision to adopt the general vote even though they had no access to letters solicited from the public or indeed the minutes of the Sikorski Hall Meeting. Indeed, Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki gloated to me that the general vote was a "done deal" in mid January long before the public meeting. Councillor's minds were made up on this issue when the last council framed the plebiscite question and designed the "KEEP EM IN THE DARK" strategy....Democracy--Be damned!

There also is no way to objectively measure public sentiments at these meetings if the Sikorski Hall Meeting was representative of these. While speakers favouring ward elections slightly outnumbered those favouring the general vote, the quality of input was not even close. The weight of reasoned opinion was clearly on the side of ward voting. Many speakers favouring ward elections gave well thought out, learned, thoughtful, and academic presentations while those favoring the general vote, all of whom seemed to be politically ambitious CAW retirees, simply argued that the plebiscite result should be upheld without acknowledging how flawed the process was when voters were denied the necessary information to inform them of the meaning and consequences of the question.

Then and now, the public meeting seemed to be all about "OPTICS" and not about genuinely seeking public input or opinion.
e) Other, please specify (5)

The Mayor has also tried to explain the convoluted and difficult plebiscite question in terms of a requirement to “be worded in the affirmative”. This is absolutely wrong. Either the Mayor is unaware of election law or he is deliberately misleading the people. Section 8.1(2.4) of the Municipal Elections Act clearly states that the question shall be capable of being answered in the affirmative or the negative and the only permitted answers to the question are “yes” or “no”.
There is a profound disconnect between the "pretty words" that council uses to describe its communication, transparency, and accountability objectives to the public and its actual practice.

City Council is being profoundly hypocritical to show any concern for good communication, transparency, and accountable in light of their refusal to inform citizens about the plebiscite details as well as many other issues affecting our city.

In summary, good communications starts with honest and forthright attempts to do so. City politicians have failed miserably at the task and no public optics exercise like this one is going to change their practice.

No comments: