High-Rise Report Orchestrated To Limit Public Input

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Much to the surprise of your agent (good job keeping this under wraps city hall) and the people of Ottawa, except one of our commenters, planning committee did meet on the high-rise document.

No one from the public spoke to the issue on May 8 and almost all of the city’s community associations didn’t respond to city calls for input on the report. Perhaps avid community activist and former councillor Alex Cullen could tell us why.

Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury remarked that he felt uninformed on the issue. Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper asked for a succinct summary of all the changes from the 2009 high-rise document made in the 2018 document. That’s like asking staff at a moment’s notice to list all the words in War and Peace that had the letter W in them and explain their context. Were this baseball, Leiper wouldn’t be batting here above the Mendoza Line (Leiper and sports expert Mayor Jim Watson can click here for the explanation). You’d expect a better question from someone representing Kitchissippi ward where this is such an important issue. That kind of question might be effective at biking meetings but not at planning committee.

Strangely enough, the two development industry representatives were well informed and very happy with the outcome of the high-rise document.

The report recommendations are supported by a research-based study process and
consultations with stakeholders, design professionals and the public. A webpage was
published on ottawa.ca early in the process to provide information to the public about
the scope of the project. Extensive consultations occurred over a period of 18 months
with a focus group consisting of architects, planning consultants, development industry
stakeholders (including members of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association and
the Building Owners and Managers Association), staff from the Azrieli School of
Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University, and representatives from the federal
government and the National Capital Commission. The Urban Design Review Panel has
reviewed and commented on the draft guidelines and zoning provisions. The draft
guidelines and zoning provisions were published on the project webpage for public
review and comment on February 9, 2018 and the Federation of Citizens’ Associations
of Ottawa has been notified.

In the meeting, planning committee chairwoman Jan Harder said all the city’s community associations were notified but, in fact, the document attached to the agenda of the meeting says only the Federation of Citizens’ Associations of Ottawa was notified. Obviously members of the community were not invited to be a part of the focus group who are listed above. Those organizations who were at the planning committee meeting and were part of the focus group were very well informed.

As for the high-rise web page, your agent can’t remember receiving a press release on it. That sort of thing rather sticks out in the press release file as you can tell when a missive was sent out to the media 27 hours prior to a high-rise document public meeting. If I needed to, I could hide a high-rise web page on The Bulldog let alone the dog’s breakfast that is ottawa.ca. The best way to search the city website is to use Google … that’s how bad it is. But you can’t search for something you don’t know about.

The recording of the May 8 planning committee meeting was on YouTube. But nowhere in the agenda for the meeting does it say that. There is much talk of downloading Silverlight 5 which has not been developed by Microsoft since 2012. Last time I used it, I had to have staff walk me through it to get a connection. I know a fair amount about the Internet as is obvious from the three Bulldog sites but I couldn’t make it work until the explanation. Silverlight no longer works on Chrome or Firefox, the two most popular Internet browsers.

The city has made much issue of recording meetings rather than providing written minutes. Now it can’t provide notice of a reliable service to listen to those meetings and directs interested residents to a program that really doesn’t work for most people.

Here is some information on Silverlight from Wikipedia:

Microsoft Silverlight (or simply Silverlight) is a deprecated application framework for writing and running rich Internet applications, similar to Adobe Flash. A plugin for Silverlight is still available for some browsers. While early versions of Silverlight focused on streaming media, later versions supported multimedia, graphics, and animation and gave developers support for CLI languages and development tools. Silverlight was also one of the two application development platforms for Windows Phone, but web pages that use Silverlight did not run on the Windows Phone or Windows Mobile versions of Internet Explorer, as there was no Silverlight plugin for Internet Explorer on those platforms.

Microsoft announced the end of life of Silverlight 5 in 2012. In 2013, Microsoft announced that they had ceased development of Silverlight except for patches and bug fixes. Microsoft has set the support end date for Silverlight 5 to be October 2021. It is no longer supported in Google Chrome since September 2015 and in Firefox since March 2017. There is no Silverlight plugin available for Microsoft Edge.

The dated Silverlight program is ideal for organizations that don’t want their video or audio to work.

When I asked the city’s tech department in 2017 when it was to go to YouTube with committee and council videos and audio, I was told early 2018. I asked city communications in 2018 when YouTube would be used for the due time was up and that department said there were no plans to go to YouTube.

The YouTube audio for the May 8 planning committee meeting can be reached by clicking here. The high-rise report is discussed from 13 to 110 minutes. No written minutes exist for the meeting making search extremely difficult. Doubtful the city didn’t realize that.

From the audio, it sounds like councillors were very uninformed about the high-rise document.

In summary, staff did a horrible job of informing the public and councillors or giving the public a chance to respond to the document. Conversely, the people staff wanted to be well-informed were well-informed.

In reality, this is a under-handed way of doing public policy. Staff should note the word ‘public’ in public policy.

Yet another reason for a new mayor, new council and cleaning house of the current city staff.

 

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8 thoughts on “High-Rise Report Orchestrated To Limit Public Input

  1. So, did Councillor Leiper get the “… succinct summary of all the changes from the 2009 high-rise document made in the 2018 document …” prior to voting to accept the report?

    3+

    1. My thoughts precisely, Ron. This one sticks out like a sore thumb and someone (an independent board, perhaps) needs to investigate and report on what has really gone on here. This whole issue smells very fishy.

      Ken. Your comments regarding the Ottawa.ca website are bang on. I used to search for information using it but finally gave up because I could never find anything. Now if I want something, I call 3-1-1. This one of the best services the city of Ottawa offers – the wait times are short, the people are polite, and they’ll work hard to close your issue on the first call. Two thumbs up.

      A few years ago I was tutoring a Grade 4 class and asked the students if we communicated enough these days. After I heard what their answers were, I was going to state my opinion, “we communicate way too much – texts that the sender expects a response to within 30 seconds, Twitter messages, Facebook pages, email threads that go on and on, etc. Before I had an opportunity to present my brilliant insight, one of the students noted “we don’t communicate effectively”. A Grade 4 student. I threw my response in the garbage.

      So now the question becomes, “What is the best way for city hall to communicate effectively with the residents?” Perhaps small single-engine airplanes pulling banners across the sky be an improvement over what we’re doing now?

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  2. Ken,
    Your thoughts about making the minutes readily available in a format that is widely accessible remind me of the thoughts of William Tyndale. He thought printing the Bible in English was a good idea.

    Sure – back in 1500s you could get a Bible in England but it was illegal to have one in English. Keeping accessibility to only those that could read Latin kept the powers-that-be in control.

    Do you think the powers at city hall want the public to know what gets said at meetings?

    Tyndale did publish the first Bible printed in English in 1526, maybe by 2026 city hall will be persuaded to print an index with timestamp to go along with the recorded minute.

    4+

    1. You’re in an awful hurry there, Chaz … 2026, you think? There might be some possibility for 2126 but don’t look for a searchable record of the goings-on at city hall in this century.

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  3. Back in my day the minutes of meetings were dictated on a Dictaphone, typed and distributed to members of a committee (be that a working committee or council) within a day (or two) of the meeting. This gave members the hard copy of the business to read and reference. At the start of the next meeting the chair asked if there were any corrections to be made to the minutes as distributed, Any corrections were noted then a motion was made to approve the minutes as distributed (or as corrected).

    Now I am going to ask really, really, really stupid questions:
    – Do they now dispense with approving minutes?
    – If they want to refer to minutes, do they now watch a video?

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    1. Do they even want minutes? After all, anything in a document can and will be held against them. It is much easier to deny and obfuscate when there is little evidence for members of the public to point at.

      It appears that the lessons that the corporate world were forced to learn, such as the nature of board oversight, the quality of the reports provided by management, documenting not just the decisions, but also the discussions leading to those decisions, as a consequence of the fiascoes that were Enron et al have been totally lost on those who populate the council chambers, and the people who report to council.

      Pitiful is the upgrade position from where they currently sit.

      1+

  4. The old public company reporting adage about financial reporting being an art form that discloses everything, but reveals nothing comes to mind. What we see here is a very structured approach to ensure that everything that must be disclosed is, but only those with the secret decoder rings will actually be able to find the reports, let alone understand what is in them.

    1+

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