Tomorrow’s ranting… today!

Here’s my column in tomorrow’s treeware edition of the Enterprise-Bulletin; I’m pretty certain it will get me back to the top spot on the Enemies List

No meaningful way to measure ‘transparency’

‘Open and transparent’.

It’s become the favourite phrase of Collingwood town councillors the last couple of months, as if saying it enough actually makes it so.

At a recent special council meeting held on a Tuesday — without the Rogers TV cameras rolling, and only two people in the audience aside from local reporters — it was said three times, as if us scribes would dutifully make note.

We did not.

Truth be told, I was just about ready to jam a pen into my carotid artery if I heard it uttered again.

A few weeks back, Councillor Ian Chadwick noted on his blog that this current crop of municipal politicians is the “most productive, engaged, open and dedicated council I have served on, and reported on while I was reporter in the local media.”

Dedicated is a point I would never argue when it comes to talking about any member of municipal council. Most of the councillors I’ve reported on the last 20-plus years (that’s 32 people who have served as mayor, deputy-mayor, reeve, deputy-reeve, and councillor) have shown a dedication to the job.

However, to say this crop of municipal politicians is any more dedicated than others is mere hyperbole on the councillor’s part.

Most productive? Perhaps. While Terry Geddes was mayor, millions were invested in the town’s sewer infrastructure, and a plan was laid out for replacement through user fees rather than the general tax levy; a new public works building was constructed; the west-end commercial zone was developed; the first bylaws for pesticide use and vehicle idling were implemented. The master development agreement with Fram-Slokker was signed, and work began to redevelop the Shipyards.

One of the final acts of council under Geddes was a decision to expand the public transit system from two buses to three.

Mayor Chris Carrier’s council redeveloped the downtown and First Street, and saw through the construction of the new library, as well as a couple of sewer projects. And, contrary to what the public may glean from the latest piece of municipal advertising to reach local mailboxes, this council had little to do with the opening of Georgian College’s Collingwood campus; that project was started during Carrier’s term.

By development numbers, in Geddes’ final term of council, there was $140.5 million in residential construction, $45 million in commercial development, and $5.3 million in industrial building. In Carrier’s first three years of office, there was $150.2 million in residential development, $12.3 million in commercial development, and $8.3 million in industrial construction.

In the first three years of this current term of council, there has been $139.9 million in residential construction, $25.5 million in commercial development, and $2.9 million in industrial construction.

In terms of residential building permits, in those same time periods, it was 853 in Geddes’ final term as mayor, 827 in Carrier’s first three years in office, and 749 under the present council.

So from purely a development point-of-view, it would be hard to classify the current council as the most productive.

This council’s decision-making record? Yes, they built two recreational facilities (with considerable controversy), purchased the Mountainview property to widen the intersection at Hurontario and First (again, controversial), sold half of Collus to PowerStream (with controversy — and, notably, a loss of income). And yes, Council hired an integrity commissioner, not so much kicking and screaming, but certainly with mumbling and grumbling.

Council is finally acting on the economic development file, though I would hardly term ‘co-locating’ several agencies under one roof as “bold.” The municipality can only benefit from these groups working together, but its success will only be judged once it is put into practice and been operating for a year or so.

But the timing of it, along with the much-heralded ‘strategic financial plan,’ smacks of early electioneering, an effort to make this council appear it’s on the ball.

But ‘open’? As someone who’s covered eight terms of municipal council, I wouldn’t say this group is any more or less open than any other council. During the last council, the ongoing behind-closed-door discussion on Collingwood’s legal challenge of the school boards’ right to levy education development charges always disconcerted me.

This term, I’m astounded by the head-burying that has taken place on revelations the negotiations leading up to the decision to sole-source the largest single purchase made by the municipality were never disclosed to council.

And, the information they were given the night they made the decision, wasn’t correct.

(That the information was later communicated to residents in a newsletter from the municipality is a debate for another day.)

‘Engaged’? A passive-aggressive motion calling on someone to explain the actions of the citizens’ group he heads up I guess is a form of ‘engagement’, if it weren’t for whole 1950s Joe McCarthy ‘start naming names’ vibe.

Or the rather questionable timing of sending out a newsletter in the latest utility bill trumpeting this council’s ‘accomplishments’ at the cusp of a municipal election campaign, with two incumbents already stepping forth into the ring. That’s not engagement, it’s propaganda.

I guess you could ask the 49 people in the Paterson Street area who signed a petition about the location for the entryway to the Central Park Arena whether this is an ‘engaged’ council. Or the folks who live in the Forest subdivision, who probably feel like their concerns about a bed and breakfast operation potentially opening in their neighbourhood were casually swept aside on Monday night. Councillors wouldn’t even give them a tidbit, a request that council eventually be called upon to approve a site plan agreement.

So the next time a council member makes claims of ‘openness and transparency’, you’ll have to forgive me if I scoff, because there’s just no way to measure if it’s true.

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