One of the first lessons they teach you in Political Science 101 is that government is like a black box. We put things into the box, like tax dollars and other resources, then churn it around inside the box and some sort of public good is supposed to come out the other side. We all know what goes into the box generally, and a good deal of the time we are aware what comes out of the box, but what happens inside the box remains a mystery , herein lies the problem.
No one needs to be told that government should be fair, transparent, and accountable. These are commonly understood principles in a free and democratic society. Yet when these values are perceived as being hidden from us in one form or another, government fails to live up to the social contract between us the ratepayers and users of these public goods and those who produce those goods – meaning the government. City Hall is not a private business – nor should it ever be thought of that way –given that these are community dollars we are discussing, the expectation for disclosure is much higher on how we at City Hall do our business on your behalf – in short we need to “Trust but Verify”, what City Hall does and that it meets those three principles stated above. Yet over time I have come to see pieces of civic processes that threaten to undermine our three basic principles.
First there has become an over reliance on the part of Council to ask for information in public of the Administration in the form of a memo which in turn is not shared with the public. There is nothing nefarious here but this is a practice that I think we can do better on. If it is asked for in public and the Administration can provide it without concern then why not provide it to the public. Simple enough – easy fix as I see it.
More concerning is that I have seen information provided to Council in private, both verbally and in written form, that using arguments under FOIP (Freedom of Information and Privacy Act) is used to deny public disclosure forever of important financial and other dealings that the City has with other external entities. Given that all these dealings call for the expenditure of public dollars and other resources I believe it is important to establish that. Although this information may be sensitive at the time. Immediate public disclosure of that information would affect the possible outcomes of those dealings – this information cannot be held forever.
City Hall is not Area 51. We need to find solutions that clearly outline that at some point in time this information, as in commercial or business transactions between the City and other parties, needs to be disclosed, the question becomes when and how.
There are more concerns that need to be addressed, many of which I have made a formal inquiry about to administration so council can address them http://www.mikenickel.ca/?p=510. Democracy is a clumsy business but in the end it never hurts to do some house cleaning to tidy things up so we can see what is really happening in that black box.