Pub­lic’s busi­ness best done pub­licly

Calgary Sun - - COMMENT -

Don’t you won­der some­times what’s hap­pen­ing be­hind closed doors at Cal­gary’s city hall? Hardly a new ques­tion, but we do. es­pe­cially as those ever-so-se­cret, closed-to-the-pub­lic, in-cam­era ses­sions by our elected coun­cil mem­bers are grow­ing in num­ber and in­volve de­ci­sions around spend­ing our money.

This week’s Man­ning Foun­da­tion for Demo­cratic ed­u­ca­tion re­port re­veal­ing Cal­gary coun­cil­lors meet far more in cam­era than al­most all other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Canada, is a damn­ing one.

Where is the oft-promised trans­parency many of our elected of­fi­cials cam­paigned for last civic election? Con­sider this: Of the 1,127 hours coun­cil met for in this four-year term, 267 hours were pri­vate.

That’s al­most a quar­ter of the time, ac­cord­ing to Peter McCaf­frey, direc­tor of re­search for the foun­da­tion.

The 23.7% fig­ure is up from 19% in coun­cil’s pre­vi­ous term and also in­cludes spe­cial and strate­gic meet­ings of coun­cil.

So the trend­lines aren’t ex­actly go­ing in the right di­rec­tion for civic govern­ment open­ness here in once en­tre­pre­neur­ial Cal­gary.

By way of com­par­i­son, the Foun­da­tion says Toronto’s city coun­cil met in pri­vate 18 times be­tween 2014 and 2016. Hamil­ton 13 times. Ot­tawa once. eek. When the topic of open­ness was raised be­fore the last civic election in 2013, Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi said this at a pub­lic event in Bridge­land:

“This coun­cil has been extremely trans­par­ent in the work that it does. We passed a new code of ethics re­quir­ing even more dis­clo­sure from mem­bers of city coun­cil.

“I look for­ward to im­ple­ment­ing that if I’m back in this job.”

We fully un­der­stand there are sen­si­tive is­sues which need to be dealt with in cam­era. Per­son­nel. Or land deals. le­gal mat­ters, etc.

But we re­ally don’t know all they are dis­cussing be­cause the me­dia and pub­lic are barred.

We do know there has to be a bet­ter way that you, the voter, is served in our demo­cratic Cal­gary.

let’s hope the next group of coun­cil mem­bers you will elect this fall agree.

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