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.

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