Sunday, February 17, 2008

Protecting the Integrity
of Oshawa City Council

To the Mayor and Council

There has been much public concern, controversy and ridicule over the city purchase of the Cullen Gardens Miniatures Collection and their recent dismal failure at trying to unload the collection.

Because of the questions of potential conflicts of interest, the reputations of some politicians have been besmirched, sullied, and compromised.

The Law is extremely clear about the actions politicians must take when they foresee a potential conflict of interest stating clearly that they must excuse themselves from all discussion, voting, and comment on the issue in question.

I think it fair to all involved that an investigation be carried out to see if any of the allegations of conflict of interest are justified, and if not, to take official city action such as moving a vote of confidence in the individuals involved to restore their integrity and reputation, but if proven, to insure the wrongdoing reflects the full extent of the law.

Political Conflicts of Interest are extremely serious and we cannot allow such actions to undermine our system of government.

Section 274(1) of the Ontario Municipal Act states that the city can launch an investigation by a judge of the Superior Court of Justice by a resolution of city council.

Such an Investigation by a judge shall:

(a) Investigate any supposed breach of trust or other misconduct of a member of council, an employee of the municipality or a person having a contract with the municipality in relation to the duties or obligations of that person to the municipality;

(b) Inquire into any matter connected with the good government of the municipality; or

(c) Inquire into the conduct of any part of the public business of the municipality, including business conducted by a commission appointed by the council or elected by the electors.
This action can be investigated or prosecuted under either the Ontario Municipal Act or the Ontario Conflict of Interest Act. The Ontario Conflict of Interest Act says that this act shall prevail in the event of conflict between the acts but in fact no conflict exists so either Act can be used.

Action is preferable under the Ontario Municipal Act since this act allows for action to proceed following a resolution of council and all funding and defence costs comes from the city whereas complaint and presumably costs are the responsibility of private citizens under the Conflict of Interest Act.

To avoid impugning the entire council, I cannot impress the need strongly enough for council to initiate an independent investigation under the Municipal Act to:

1) Assure citizens that politicians are indeed acting in the best interests of Oshawa citizens and taxpayers, and

2) Clear any politician’s reputations that have been besmirched by this purchase, and

3) Assure citizens that we have an honest and uncompromised city government that acts with integrity, and

4) Assure citizens that the council is indeed self policing and does not require external public oversight to insure honesty and integrity.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Inadequate Accountability and Transparency Committee response to Longworth's Seven Deadly Sins Questions

VOTES Chair, Bill Longworth, made a presentation to the Accountability and Transparency Committee on January 17, 2008. As a result the committee made recommendations accessible here. While I supported Recommendations #3 (Agree to Post politician's expense and renumeration records, #5 (Agree to notify delegations of time and date of their presentations to councils and committees), and #6 (publish construction costs and funding details of GM Centre and dispensation details of funds raised from OPUC sale), I did not support the committee failure to accept my requests in #1 (auditor general to investigate city plebiscite strategy), #2(request for links to all staff reports and citizen correspondence on the council agenda where the items are officially dealt with), #4 (that city council severely limit in-camera meetings), and #7 (that auditor general investigate potential ethical and legal questions behind the purchase of the Cullen Miniatures).

I therefore sent the following letter to Oshawa City Council c/o Oshawa City Clerk as well as the Local and Regional Media.

To the Mayor and Council,
c/o Oshawa City Clerk:

I am requesting to address the full council re the Accountability and Transparency Committee recommendations in respect of my recent presentations to them which were considered at the meeting of February 7, 2008

I am satisfied with committee recommendations that addressed my requests:

1) That city politician’s complete and detailed expenses, salaries, honorariums, and allowances for sitting on both City and Regional Councils and Citizen Committees be posted on the city website, and

2) That city clerk’s office give formal notification to delegations of the date and time when they are scheduled to address either city council or committees of council, and

3) That a full public report be prepared regarding the $45 million funding details of GM Centre and of the dispensation of the $30 million that council received as a result of monetizing a portion of the ownership of the OPUC
I would reserve the right to present these items to the full council in the event that any or all of the committee recommendations do not meet approval of City Council.

I am not satisfied with committee recommendations in respect of my following requests and wish to address city council on these items:

1) That Oshawa's Auditor General investigate Oshawa's information campaign and strategy leading up to the plebiscite process in respect of the 18 questions I asked him to review.

A letter stating that the city complied with the the Ontario Municipal Elections Act is insufficient since the law specifically gives city council unlimited spending authority regarding ballot questions which implies a responsibility and expectation to do so while at the same time specifically constrains any 3rd party citizen campaigns in regards to ballot questions.

No law defines every possible potential contingency and no legislator would have ever foreseen that an Ontario City Council would ask their voters a question and then refuse to give them information about it as Oshawa politicians have done. That is the reason why courts interpret the "intent" of the law.

Democracy depends upon an informed public and the Canadian Supreme Court states that information regarding a vote is a basic right in Canadian Society. Yet the Mayor publicly stated that the city had no responsibility to inform citizens about the question and thus the city failed to do so.

The failure to inform looks like part of the city strategy along with the convoluted question in order to get a preconceived answer. This is not democracy. It is manipulation of the people.

2) In the interests of transparency, that Oshawa City Council implement a policy to provide appropriate links to Committee Reports and Citizen Correspondence directly on the agenda and minutes of City Council Meetings where official decisions are made in respect of the reports and correspondence.

The committee has only recommended putting an explanatory note on the agendas. This is not good enough. Interested citizens would still have to leave the agenda to search through a completely unrelated and unlinked file to seek the information.

Links to the staff reports and citizen correspondence directly on the agenda where the decision is being made would simplify citizen’s ability to following pertinent information about the issues and decisions made by Oshawa City Council.

Transparency is putting things together so make them easier to follow and understand rather rather hiding them remote from the city agenda. Politicians are provided this information in their meeting packages…why is it not provided for citizens?

3) That City Council cease the practice of having closed meetings scheduled prior to every city council meeting in the spirit of Provincial Law that severely limits the content of such meetings to personnel and property matters stating that all of the business of council is to be carried on in public and the committee has only recommended that my request be received for information rather than action.

4) That the auditor general be directed to investigate all details leading up to the purchase of the Cullen Gardens Miniatures including any and all ethical questions and potential conflicts of interest and report publicly on his findings.

The committee recommendation that my request regarding this most controversial decision of Oshawa City Council be received for information rather than action is drastically insufficient.

Bill Longworth,
Founder & Chair of VOTES (Vote to Eliminate Self Serving Politicians)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Mr. Premier...We Need
Your Voice On This Issue!

Mr. Premier:

I have written you before about this important issue with little response and no action.

I am today writing you again to request that you make some public comment about your attitude towards large municipalities implementing the general vote for their city councils which they are able to do unilaterally according to "freedoms" they have been given in Bill 130 without this undemocratic decision being able to be appealed to any external body.

The extra rights accorded to municipalities can be used irresponsibly by some self-serving municipalities as has been done in Oshawa and this is a move that could sweep across the Province. This has serious consequences for people right across the Province.

Just as you stood up publicly to denounce The Toronto District School Board's approval of a Black-focussed Africentric school suggesting that this approach is not the foundation for a caring, cohesive society, but stating that you will not introduce legislation to prohibit these moves unless a trend develops across the province, I am asking you to make the same public pronouncements in regards to large cities, specifically Oshawa, implementing the general vote for municipal elections.

A Toronto Star editorial questions, If blacks can have publicly funded Africentric schools, why shouldn't Jews be able to send their children to publicly funded Israelicentric schools – or Muslims to Arabicentric schools, or Sikhs to Punjabicentric schools? The question can be similarly asked, If Oshawa can implement the general vote to protect city politicians from serious electoral challenge, why should it not be extended to many other jurisdictions throughout the Province?.

Mr. Premier, just as the fragmentation of school systems needed your public comment, this municipal governance issue needs your public comment.

We know with certainty that you do not support the fragmentation of schools along ethnic or faith based lines and your public pronouncements will undoubtedly have major impact on stemming the publicly funded growth of these throughout Ontario. With respect, Mr. Premier, we equally have to know whether you support the movement toward the use of the general vote in Ontario Municipalities with its resulting reduction in political accountability and the loss of local community representation on city councils.

We ask that you write the Oshawa Mayor and Council and the local press to express your support or lack thereof for this move. Without your public pronouncements, public confidence in the actions of Oshawa City Council will continue to be questionned.

More can be read about this serious issue at

Editor's Comment---This public letter has been sent to the Premier, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Oshawa MPP's, Oshawa Mayor and Council, Local and Regional Press.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Longworth Asks Council to Account for Seven “Deadly Sins”

Bill Longworth made a Presentation to Oshawa City Council Accountability and Transparency Committee on January 17, 2008 and asked for the following Auditor General Investigations and Reports along with some policy changes by Oshawa City Council to make the process more accountable and transparent.

Bill 130 gave all Ontario Municipal Governments a “free hand” in determining their governance systems not anticipating that any large cities would implement the undemocratic, unaccountable and unworkable “general vote” that Oshawa City Council has voted to implement. Oshawa will now become the largest city in the free world to use the general vote without municipal political parties which are prohibited in Ontario.

By the very definition of the general vote, the council will be less accountable because it excludes any serious challenges by non-incumbents, takes away community representation to ensure that no politician is accountable to represent the interests of your community, and ensures the re-election of incumbents till their death or resignation which in itself reduces accountability since they will not be able to be defeated if they do things unpopular with the people.

It is now up to the people to press council for changes to make their actions more transparent, accountable and easy to follow and thus I have asked for the following changes. In the coming posts, we will expand each of these areas as time permits.

I am here today to request 7 things---otherwise known as….”The Seven Deadly Sins

That the Auditor General conduct investigations to answer the 18 questions I posed to the transparency and accountability committee in my correspondence to the Mayor and Council on December 3, 2007 including a rationale of why the question was asked when the general vote is not used in any city the size of Oshawa in Canada or the free world without being paired with municipal political parties which are at present prohibited by Ontario Municipal Elections Law, a rationale for the multiple revisions of the plebiscite question and the degree of “negotiation” of the plebiscite wording “In-Camera”, the adequacy of City Council’s efforts to promote public discourse and discussion on this important issue and to make sure that the public understood the question and its ramifications and the Mayor’s assertions that City Council had no responsibility to communicate these details to the public insisting it was private citizen’s responsibility to do so despite the fact that 3rd party campaigning is prohibited by the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

That in the interests of transparency, links to all citizen letters sent to the Mayor and Council be included on the agenda’s and minutes of city council where the official decisions on the issue take place so that interested citizens do not have to search through committee agendas to find the items relating to the city agenda and archives.

Right now, links to some correspondence appear on council agendas and minutes while some appears only on committee agendas and minutes.

City Council should follow policies that make it easier for citizens to follow issues rather than more difficult by hiding the item remote from the place where official council votes are taken.

The citizen correspondence and the specific action taken by council on the issue should appear in one place…the city council agenda which is then republished as the minutes showing distinct council action taken on the specific item of correspondence….by hiding citizen input from the scrutinizing eyes of the interested public, you are neither demonstrating accountability nor transparency.

Many items for discussion and for votes appear only as agenda item numbers making it extremely difficult for ordinary interested citizens to follow and so a system should be devised to refer to issues by name rather than number.

That links to full, detailed and complete accounting records of council members expenses including all receipts and invoices, itemized expense allowances, entertainment expenses, travel expenses, automobile allowances, advertising budgets, office expenses, blackberry charges, complete listing of all compensations and honorariums including those amounts paid to politicians to chair/vice chair council committees, honorariums for sitting on citizen boards and committees like art gallery, senior citizen centers, CLOCA, total amounts of tax free monies received, etc., be published for each member of city council on the city web site.

That all councillor expenses be subject to an audit.

That an “oversight” committee be established to review and approve all councilor expenses with the power to deny unusual and extraordinary claims.

It is not transparent at all to publish reports on politicians accounts by council/minute items like 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 of the Finance and Admin Committee Report to Nov. 5 City Council Meeting.

Such postings as requested above have been suggested by the City of Toronto Auditor General and are now being posted in detail by the City of Toronto. Similar suggestions have been made by Toronto Star City Hall beat reporters in order to cut wastage from city budgets.

If politicians are unwilling to release their expense records, are they trying to hide excesses from the taxpaying public.

Publicly posted expense records like these will ensure politicians spend taxpayer's money as carefully as their own.

That City Council discontinue the practice of preceding every City Council Meeting with “In Camera” Council Meetings. Provincial Law clearly limits the content of closed meetings and such issues would not arise prior to every council meeting. All council business must be conducted in public and in such a way that citizens can follow what is being discussed and what decisions are being taken.

That Formal notice should be given to delegations when they are scheduled to speak to council or committees. Politicians get such notice…surely it is not too much to ask that the same courtesy be extended to those who have expressed an interest in presenting to committee. (I missed this committee last month because I was not notified I was on the agenda…didn’t hear until phoned by a politician after supper that night). I have at times received notice but request that it always be done as a matter of policy rather than haphazardly.

That the city publicly release all construction costs and funding details of the GM Centre beyond operating losses to include interest costs/dividend losses of “monetizing” city ownership of Oshawa PUC Networks Inc.

That the auditor general investigate all details leading up to the purchase of the Cullen Garden Miniatures including any and all ethical questions and potential conflicts of interest and report publicly on his findings including the city plans for the disposition of the properties and the revenues received for their disposition.

So what did the committee do with these requests? They tabled them to come up again at the next committee meeting at which I will again be present. I have asked them to make recommendations to council on each of the items individually so that the whole package of requests cannot be turned down because they do not like one suggestion such as publicly posting detailed expense records. As taxpayers, we do pay the bills…and it is important we know what we are getting for our tax dollars.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Recent Letters to Mayor and Council

Letters sent to Oshawa City Council in period Dec. 18, 2007 to Jan. 10, 2008 and appearing on January 28, 2008 Oshawa City Council Agenda

Oshawa Speaks Is Everywhere!

Oshawa Speaks had a hit today (Feb. 1, 2008) from the Swedish Tax Administration in Stockholm, Sweden. I noted it to be a google search for "taxpayer + communication + strategy" and was intrigued to do a little investigation about the hit.

While our target is Oshawa taxpayers, we do get hits from all over the world spreading Oshawa’s fame that the politicians are so keen to promote…so we are being very helpful to them in spreading the word.

A google search on most anything to do with Oshawa will turn up a preponderance of Oshawa Speaks stories and videos that are cropping up everywhere on the web.

This particular hit was obviously from someone in the Swedish Tax Administration office doing detailed research on behalf of the Swedish Tax Department on outward communication strategies. His/her research had to be extensive because we were not listed until the 64th page (640th story) of google links until the search words turned up our site as:
VOTES--Vote To Eliminate Self-Serving Politicians
New "outreach" communication strategy---NEW LINKS! ..... As reported in an earlier post, Oshawa spent a reported $30000 of taxpayer money to enter the 2007 ... - Liknande sidor
This link led to the story about our facebook “Oshawa Community Outreach Forums” which now number approximately 50 with some (not all) appearing as links under the pull down menu under the title of FORUMS on our site. While these sites have not taken off as yet because we have done no promotion on them, we have "reserved them" and they will be promoted and utilized as time goes on.

The interesting point about this Swedish researcher's search was that he/she came across 640 entries of how governments attempt to enhance communications with their citizens before they came across the first example, Oshawa’s, that took deliberate and strategic action to avoid communicating or informing its citizens about an extremely important issue.

Why is Oshawa's local government so radically different from all other governments in the free world? All others want to communicate to citizens--Oshawa's wants to hide important information from the people!

As stated by Mayor Gray, City Council had no responsibility to communicate the plebiscite info and thus did not do so. He said this was the responsibility of community groups even though the Ontario Municipal Elections Act clearly prohibits such 3rd party campaigning. The law gives full and unencumbered spending freedom to municipalities to inform its citizens.

You’d think that when Oshawa politicians were asking a question of its citizens, that they’d be anxious to communicate as much information as possible even promoting citizen debate and discussion…but not in Oshawa, where the politicians worded a question in a confusing and backwards manner, used technical terms not understood by the people, and attempted as much as they could to catch voters “cold” in the voting booth to be confronted by a difficult and confusing question designed to produce a result the politicians wanted.

In some third world totalitarian countries run by despots, fascists and dictators, this kind of "secrecy" typifies the run-of-the mill vote if there is one. In Canada we call these tactics vote fixing—and it’s unquestionably contrary to the spirit of democracy.

Our Supreme Court says that voter information is a basic right of Canadians. What would they say about Oshawa’s City Council that denied the people information, manipulated the question to fool unwary voters, and designed a strategy to give the politicians a pre-conceived answer?

Was this democracy? Absolutely Not!