Here is a proposed New Year’s resolution for our new Mayor and Council: keep your promises.
In October 2018, we elected Mayor Sulz and six new council members. We entrusted them to make sound community decisions and ensure responsible delivery of services. Are they meeting your expectations and fulfilling their promises?
Our newly elected politicians made lots of promises during their campaign. Combined, these promises form three overarching themes — increased transparency, better accountability and more responsibility.
They promised more transparency through better communication with the public. They said that the municipality and its employees would be held to a higher standard of accountability. And they assured us that they would make more responsible decisions.
How is Council’s progress on these three areas so far? Let’s take a look.
Virtually every councillor promised to be more open, more transparent and communicate better. Consequently, they committed to proactively inform the community about what council is deciding and doing. They cited the Development Cost Charges (DCC) bylaw as a past city communications failure. They promised they would do better.
Regrettably they may already be succumbing to discussing issues in closed meetings. When issues are discussed in secret, it can effectively muzzle individual councillors from speaking out. The bureaucracy will be quick to point out that the Community Charter prohibits council from discussing the content of those secrets with the public.
One solution to enable council to keep their transparency promise is to consistently discuss issues in the regular meeting with the press present. Do not hide in closed meetings. Some discussions will be difficult with the public scrutiny. But this transparency will lead to better accountability.
How is council’s accountability track record in these early days?
Council’s first 100 days are approaching fast. This first 100 days is traditionally viewed as indicative of the success politicians will have over the course of their term. Revelstoke should demand an accounting of council’s first months of decision making. If their expectations are falling short, council need to demonstrate how they are going to get it on track.
In Revelstoke we are at risk of excessive tax increases if council is not kept accountable. The typical strategy undertaken by a council is to throw money at problems instead of fixing the broken processes. Staff predictably will say they need more people, more money and more resources. With limited knowledge council risks caving into unnecessary requests.
There will be the temptation to blame the past council. To blame staff. To blame anyone but themselves. Unless a strategy is determined to change the course, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
The solution for council is to take time to understand the issues. Ask lots of questions and demand good answers that are understandable and backed up with facts. By taking charge of accountability role, council will make better decisions.
Councillors are finding out that decision making is hard. The Williamson Lake Campground contract is one example. The flip-flop on this important community amenity, may have been based on incomplete information. Council needs to ask hard questions and demand full answers when wrestling with complex issues.
They are also discovering that it is difficult to come to a unified consensus. Regrettably, some decisions are made in haste and without taking adequate time and ensuring there is sufficient information to make a responsible decision. The arbitrary 10 per cent increase in utility rates at their first meeting is an example of the failure to have complete information.
One councillor expressed concern that staff are putting restrictions on the availability of information or that the information provided is biased and incomplete. Council must not allow staff to pressure them in the decision-making process with incomplete information. If there is inadequate information council should delay the decision.
Being a politician is difficult. Often thankless. However, if council keeps us informed and makes sure decisions are not shallow, we will know they are doing the best they can.
They have taken the brave step in running for public office, with that courage comes accountability. We, the public, deserve to know what they are doing and why.
Let your favorite councillor know when they make a good decision and communicate effectively. When they fall short, be kind, and provide constructive criticism. Remind them of their promises and why you supported them.
Equipped with over 25 years in all aspects of municipal service, Tim Palmer is committed local government consultant helping towns and cities perform better.