What happens when you hold a news conference and actually have no real news?
And why would you hold a news conference if you have nothing to say?
That’s a darn good question with no good answer.
On Friday, a gaggle of politicians and city staffers gathered outside the office of Mayor Jim Watson to provide an update
on the Ottawa Street Violence and Gang Strategy.
But while the speeches droned on – with Watson and Ottawa Police Services Board chair Eli El-Chantiry saying much the same thing – there was really nothing new said.
Now Watson suggested the news conference was being held because he couldn’t attend Monday’s police services board. That really makes no sense, since Watson doesn’t sit on the board.
Perhaps he didn’t want to be questioned about his absence in light of the number of shootings recently.
To be clear, there should be absolutely no doubt Watson and Chief Charles Bordeleau care about this city and are concerned about the recent shootings.
But holding a news conference isn’t a strategy for dealing with the problem.
The public and the media can see through that.
And in fact, instead of being reassuring, the newser was worrisome. Speaking of the holistic approach now being taken, Bordeleau pointed out the entire force is making this problem a priority. This isn’t new, but with many in the community calling for more patrol officers and Bordeleau pointing out they’re now being given extra duties instead of extra staff – sounds like resources are just going to be stretched even more.
Both Bordeleau and Watson continue to say our city is safe.
But Watson did a better job expressing what the community is feeling on the matter.
“We are a safe community. But when you live in a neighbourhood that has seen gun violence or has seen a murder, that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, us saying that,” he said.
Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof spoke to On the City, From the Burbs on the weekend and his frustration with the situation was palpable.
“This is all just a regurgitation of everything they said last year. The truth is, we don’t have the staff to deal with these problems,” Skof said.
“There’s an incredible sense of irony here. We see the three of them (Watson, Bordeleau, El-Chantiry) talking like this when they themselves are responsible for the staffing problem,” he suggested, pointing to their commitment to a 2% tax increase.
Once again, the public is being called upon to get involved, if you know something, say something.
Surely that’s not what our civic leaders are pinning their hopes on to solve this worrisome and growing problem.
Pretty sure city treasurer Marian Simulik has much more important things to do at Ottawa City Hall than send emails to city councillors about my blog. That being said, appreciate that my story about secrecy within the walls of city hall was deemed important enough to need dissing by someone as high up the hierarchy as Similuk herself
Yes, our municipal politicians are a paranoid bunch. But if you’re reading this blog, you likely already knew that.
The purpose of my most recent blog was to point out that when Mayor Jim Watson appeared to pull a rabbit out of his magical hat and announced found money on the day of the budget, some councillors already knew there was a surplus, others were kept in the dark.
But for some reason Similuk chose to do some bureaucrat bafflegab and ignore the message.
“The purpose of this memorandum is to clarify the timelines regarding the change in the forecasted results for the 2017 year-end, given the recent erroneous media reports regarding this matter,” Similuk wrote in an email to council dated Jan. 10.
Now, Similuk doesn’t name me, but since I’m the one who wrote about the timeline, the odds seem good. So Similuk is right about one thing. I did mistakenly write that Kanata Coun. Allan Hubley bragged in November about knowing well in advance of the city budget that there would a hefty surplus in the numbers. I knew he did his bragging in December, but wasn’t careful enough in my writing.
Mistakes are never okay. I don’t take it lightly. And I apologize to all of the readers.
I always think about Rick VanSickle, one of the finest editors I had at the Sun. He’d been reading a feature length article in the Citizen and couldn’t put it down, the story so well executed, the writing so beautifully crafted. Near the end of the story, he saw a spelling mistake in the name of one of the main personalities in the story. He talked about how it absolutely ruined the entire article for him.
He’s right of course. One mistake casts doubt on the entire article.
So with that in mind, I’m loathe to point out the obvious. But I feel I have to. As serious as any mistake is, it doesn’t change the reason for the article.
The point of the article was all about secrecy at city hall, about some city councillors being given information about the budget and others being left in the cold.
That in no way excuses the mistake.
But there’s also no excuse for favouring residents in one ward over another.
And that’s what’s happening at city hall.
When Mayor Jim Watson chooses to punish a city councillor by not including them in his inner circle, he’s freezing out that councillor’s residents. They’re his residents too of course.
And no amount of emails from the very talented Similuk will ever change that.
A pattern of secrecy has found its way inside Ottawa City Hall.
And that just can’t be good.
It appears some city councillors are privy to certain information, while others are being shut out.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney isn’t willing to sit back and keep her residents in the dark.
So she’s doing something about it.
As McKenney points out, if she and others are being kept in the dark, so too are their residents.
So she’s going to write to the city’s Integrity Commissioner to discuss what she sees as a “pattern of secrecy” coming from the office of Mayor Jim Watson.
McKenney was part of a Group of Eight planning on moving a motion during last month’s budget process for a one-time .5% levy to help the city’s aging infrastructure.
She was surprised — but happy — that enough money had somehow been miraculously found to deal with the problem. It’s not often $10 million jumps out of nowhere but problem solved.
But McKenney says for reasons she’s still grappling with, some councillors were made aware of the budget surplus while others weren’t.
And that’s just not right.
McKenney points to a December interview with Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley on CFRA with host Rob Snow.
“Rob, I’m actually on the Budget Review Committee along with the Mayor, Councillor Cloutier and the city manager.
“So we had an indication that we were doing very well this year because we meet on a monthly basis and were tracking the pluses and the minuses so the actual number I don’t think anybody really knew for sure until Monday because the City Manager had asked staff to triple check that number.
“He did not want it coming out until we were solid on the number. But certainly a month ago we knew we were tracking into the plus and well into the plus,”
Hubley told Snow in December.
Now it’s just like Hubley to brag about something where he likely should have kept his mouth shut, but that of course is a different column.
After hearing the news of Hubley’s inside information, McKenney wrote to city clerk Rick O’Connor asking for the minutes of the budget review committee.
Well, interestingly enough, she got the minutes of the November meeting but was told they are confidential. Even more interesting, the minutes don’t include anything about the expected budget surplus. And if Hubley hadn’t spilled the beans, no one might ever have known.
So thank you Coun. Hubley for spilling the beans.
McKenney is absolutely right about all of this.
Secrecy has become a pattern at city hall.
It simply can’t continue.
“You can’t keep secrets from the public. If we know something we have to make sure we’re making decisions with their money based on the facts.
“I would suggest it does point to a pattern of secrecy,” McKenney told On the City, From the Burbs.
McKenney has been discussing how to move forward on this with Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans and College Coun. Rick Chiarelli.
“We will have to ask the Integrity Commissioner about two things, why the board meetings are confidential, but more importantly, what was discussed at the last meeting which isn’t reflected in the minutes of that meeting,” she said.
If the trio don’t get satisfaction at the city, they’ve also discussed going to the Ontario Ombudsman.
Taking on Mayor Jim Watson isn’t easy. But McKenney won’t let her residents kept the dark, pointing out the mayor is supposed to represent the entire city.
“Over the past (few weeks), people I’ve spoken to are concerned. They want be able to trust what they’re told. When it comes to a time you’re making these decisions for the public, that information has got to be on the table. And not knowing where that money is coming from makes (the process) a sham,” she said.
As part of the trio working on ensuring everyone around the council table is given the same information, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli is equally as concerned.
He points to the surprise announcement, after the budget, that the opening of the city’s LRT is being delayed. And that delay has ramifications on the city’s budget numbers, which some councillors knew and others didn’t.
There’s no love lost between Watson and Chiarelli of course.
This situation doesn’t help, that’s for sure.
He accuses Watson of creating a lot of needless drama, when he simply should have told all councillors all of the information.
“We need some questions answered,” Chiarelli concluded.