Tory’s pri­vate meet­ings pitch causes a stir

Mu­nic­i­pal govern­ments need to re­main open, pe­riod

Midtown Post - - News | St­intz On Mid­town - KAREN ST­INTZ

There is an adage that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. This may be true at times, but not when it comes to de­ci­sion mak­ing at city hall. And Mayor Tory should know this bet­ter than any­one.

De­ci­sion mak­ing at city hall is de­signed to be open and trans­par­ent to the pub­lic. This means that coun­cil­lors can only meet in pri­vate or in cam­era un­der very spe­cific cir­cum­stances, namely when there are de­ci­sions in­volv­ing mu­nic­i­pal prop­erty or em­ployee re­la­tions or when the city is the sub­ject of a law­suit.

Un­der the City of Toronto Act, coun­cil­lors can­not have meet­ings in pri­vate and can­not meet in pri­vate.

Open meet­ings cover ev­ery­thing from the sig­nif­i­cant to the inane. As a re­sult, crit­ics and sup­port­ers of city hall con­clude that city hall is dys­func­tional.

It can be dif­fi­cult to ar­gue the point when meet­ings go on for days about whether to al­low some­one to cut down a tree in the back­yard or where res­i­dents can park on the road.

Once coun­cil in­dulged in a six­hour de­bate on how one mem­ber of coun­cil should apol­o­gize to an­other mem­ber of coun­cil. Not sur­pris­ingly, the re­sult of that de­bate was, of course, an apol­ogy.

There is no ques­tion that the re­quire­ment for open de­bate does not pro­duce the most ef­fi­cient form of de­ci­sion mak­ing, and this seems to be a se­ri­ous ir­ri­tant for the cur­rent mayor.

Tory is ar­gu­ing for ef­fi­ciency in de­ci­sion mak­ing and sug­gest­ing that his hand-picked ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee could meet in pri­vate and re­solve is­sues be­fore the meet­ing. This would make the meet­ings quick and pain­less and would mean that the mayor wouldn’t have to meet with each mem­ber of his ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in­di­vid­u­ally.

How­ever, the foun­da­tion of mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment is that de­bates are held in pub­lic and de­ci­sions are open to pub­lic in­put. If the de­ci­sions are made be­fore the meet­ings be­gin, the pub­lic meet­ings be­come use­less and dis­re­spect­ful to those who show up to make their opin­ions known.

Open de­ci­sion mak­ing and de­bate at city hall also re­quires that in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by staff is pro­vided equally to all mem­bers of coun­cil.

Of course, coun­cil­lors can ask for brief­ings by staff, but cer­tain groups of coun­cil­lors should not have more ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion than oth­ers. Al­though coun­cil­lors may ar­gue and fume for hours or days, ul­ti­mately a vote will be held and a ma­jor­ity vote car­ries the day.

When a ma­jor­ity vote is reached, it usu­ally means that enough peo­ple will be sat­is­fied with the out­come for the de­ci­sion to be im­ple­mented. This can only hap­pen if coun­cil­lors have the same ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion.

Al­though there have been silly de­bates, there have also been se­ri­ous ones, such as the time that coun­cil took the un­prece­dented step of re­mov­ing the ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers from an in­cum­bent mayor and be­stow­ing them on the deputy mayor.

The de­bate was con­ducted in pub­lic, un­der the scru­tiny of the Fourth Es­tate, and the de­ci­sion was nearly unan­i­mous.

Open de­ci­sion mak­ing at city hall is too im­por­tant a prin­ci­ple to com­pro­mise.

Mayor John Tory has pro­posed meet­ing with his ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in pri­vate as a time-sav­ing ini­tia­tive

Karen St­intz is a for­mer city coun­cil­lor, elected in 2003, and was a chair of the TTC. She lives in Ward 16 with her fam­ily.

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