SLEEPING AROUND AT CITY COUNCIL

 

So what does Kanata Coun. Allan Hubley think about taxpayers forking out their money to pay for an assistant a city councillor is both supervising and sleeping with?
Hard to know, despite the answer being obvious.
Hubley was one of several councillors who declined to answer that exact question posed by In the City, On the Burbs.
Councillors can’t hire their spouses or their children, but they can have an affair with someone they supervise – or even hire someone they’re already sleeping with.
As Integrity Commissioner Bob Marleau said in an interview with In the City, On the Burbs, it may not be smart, but it’s allowed.
That is crazy.
And given the current climate, where sexual misconduct and assault are under the microscope, something should be done about this — now.
But strangely, councillors are reticent to get involved.
Why is that?
“I wouldn’t do it (and never have). I don’t get involved in personal issues with others,” wrote Kanata Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.
Interesting.
Councillors put their fingers into so many issues, strange they aren’t interested in closing this loophole.Are they blind to the realities?
Almost universally, those councillors who did reply were quick to point out nothing of the sort has ever happened in their office.
“This is not something I’ve had to give considerable thought to before, certainly never something that’s happened in my office,” replied Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans.
Kudos go to Cumberland Coun. Bob Monette who answered quickly and vehemently.
“I think it would inappropriate for any of these actions be taken by councillors and relationships of this nature should be considered as common-law spouses if it gets to this points. As far as a rule goes, I leave that to the Clerk’s office, however as I mentioned I find it grossly inappropriate to have that kind of relationship with a staff person,” Monette wrote.
Good on him.
The normally forthright talker, Barrhaven. Jan Harder said she didn’t know enough about the issue to get involved.
“I would need to know if HR principles in general or specifically would allow it but it is not something I think about….ever,” Harder wrote.
For the record, city staff can’t engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone they supervise. That’s a smart thing, obviously.
It should be the same for city councillors.
As Marleau pointed out, there’s an obvious concern if a councillor, who oversees an employee, comes on to their employee.
A clear concern there about the balance of power.
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper put it very succinctly and accurately.
“I don’t believe that it’s ever possible to have a consensual relationship between a boss and subordinate because of the power imbalance. So, it’s never appropriate to have a sexual relationship, the appropriateness of which always relies on consent.
“As we spoke about, I want to think more about how that can be regulated. I haven’t got an answer for your today, but it’s a good conversation to have.”
Even Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt suggested he didn’t think council needed to get involved with regulating such behaviour.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that the relationship you have described is permitted. Just because something isn’t explicitly written down in our rules and regulations doesn’t mean Councillors and staff can do as they please. The Council Code of Conduct does have policies that would pertain to improper influence if that were the case, such as Section IV: Discrimination and Harassment and Section V: Improper Use of Influence. The common concern in these types of relationships is always the person in power using their position to facilitate the relationship or the staff member not feeling as though they can object because of their position within the office. These policies do speak to that, in my opinion.
“Having said all of that, this is about judgment and a basic comprehension of ethics. If an employer and a staff member enter into a consensual relationship, common principles would dictate they should do so considering the relationship and take subsequent steps to remove that employer/employee relationship from the equation. I don’t think we need definitive policies to that effect and that one’s best judgement should lead them in the right direction.”
Among those silent was Mayor Jim Watson, who seems to have a propensity for regulation.
Why is this being allowed?

DEMOCRACY AT STAKE

 

If you’re still confused about the city’s multi-billion light rail project, about the financial implications for Ottawa, perhaps there’s some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

There are still so many unanswered questions about the LRT and the finances surrounding it. No less than Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum has raised his strong fears about the project, feeling so strongly about what’s been happening that he took pen to paper or fingers to computer as the case may be and wrote an essay for Postmedia.

If a brilliant mind like Nussbaum’s can’t wrap his head around all that is going on, there’s little hope for the rest of us. As he points out, given the miscommunication surrounding the $1 million penalty for the delay in LRT, there has to be concerns about the assurances from on high that the city will be compensated for the costs incurred by that delay.

“This delay will mean the forecasted budget numbers passed by city council – 48 hours before senior staff publicly revealed the likely LRT delay back in mid-December and three weeks after they first became aware of the risk – will clearly not be achieved. What should be made of the public assurances by Mayor Jim Watson and senior staff that the contractor will fully reimburse the costs? As much as I wish that to be true, I have not seen any evidence that the contractor is required to repay the city for additional costs incurred due to a new, permitted, handover date.
“Previously, I might have taken those assurances at face value, but the events of the last weeks have made me skeptical – and I’ve realized how dependent municipal legislators are on the executive branch of government to provide clear and accurate information,” he continued.

Exactly.

How can we be expected to take Watson’s words on LRT at face value a second time around, especially when all we really have are the same platitudes we’ve heard so often in the past? And the mistrust that has now developed creates a real and very serious problem around the council table.

If councillors can’t trust what they’re being told, how can they do their jobs effectively for the constituents who count on them, the very people who pay their representatives out of their hard-earned money?

“Cities lack the kind of independent officers who act as checks on the executive branch in other levels of government…This has two implications. The first is that the municipal public service must scrupulously carry out its statutory obligation to “undertake research and provide advice to council on the policies and programs of the municipality” without fear or favour. This is admittedly easier said than done. One can imagine that providing advice to council that contradicts the public statements or positions of the mayor (such as “on time, on budget”) would make for awkward moments. Yet this is the obligation that the Ontario Municipal Act has imposed on city managers and their senior officials.

“The second implication is that municipal legislators must always exercise significant and vigilant due diligence, particularly on big projects that the public cannot be expected to follow in detail,” he continued.

As Nussbaum acknowledges, city councillors need to be diligent in ensuring they’re asking the right questions and getting clear and specific answers. But anyone who thinks councillors should be reading every contract they vote on doesn’t really understand the role of a city councillor.
Nussbaum’s essay is a bit chilling, but not overly dramatic.

“Protecting and promoting the public interest is what binds the executive and legislative branches of government together. For that shared objective to be achieved, we need to constantly be guided by shared principles of transparency and accountability along with a strong dose of courage and humility.
“Nothing short of public trust in the democratic process is at stake.”

Incredibly well put.

Let’s hope Mayor Jim Watson is listening.

SUPRISE, LRT DELAY!

 

Clear as mud.
That’s the murky picture created by a six-month delay in the opening of the city’s light rail transit system.
For a project of this size, it’s not surprising to many that the light rail system has been delayed.

One of the key reasons for the delay is said to be the Rideau Street sinkhole, something Mayor Jim Watson says no one could have predicted. For sure. However, no one ever thought this would be easy. For example, long before the first shovel went into the ground there was concern about some of the sandy earth that was going to have to dug for the tunnel. And of course, while hindsight is relatively perfect, there were reasons to believe the project was facing any number of potential obstacles.

Here’s a puzzle. It was widely believed the city could and would fine the Rideau Transit Group for $1 million if there was a delay.
And though the project has been delayed for six months, that’s not happening.
Watson is insistent the delay won’t cost the city anything because the contract allows them to bill back any extra incurred costs resulting from a delay.
“We have a fixed price contract, they carry the risk, we didn’t want the risk,” Watson told the media.
He’s right.
The contract does ensure taxpayers aren’t saddled with any unforeseen extras.
That is a good thing.

And while the situation is hazy, turns out there is a provision in the contract which allows the RTG to give the city a heads up if they can’t meet the deadline and if the heads up is done in a timely fashion, they wouldn’t have to pay the $1 million penalty.

Back in the days when the deadline was in May, Watson liked to boast about it being on time and on budget. But the mayor – who loves to reinvent history – now says he always made it perfectly clear he believed the train would run in 2018, so he’s still right.
Not so much.

Make no mistake. This is a huge project and a six month delay isn’t shocking.
What is shocking to reporters, the public and some councillors is the murky picture they’ve been given.
Remember, the mayor, some staff and politicians knew the project was going to be delayed when the budget was passed.
But seems the mayor didn’t feel it necessary to tell us, the people who’re paying for the project anything about the delay.
The news also took many councillors off guard, just as we were taken off guard to learn the $1 million penalty could be waived.
A little transparency would go a long way here.
But that doesn’t seem to be the track we’re on.