The depths of the dysfunctional nature of Ottawa City Council have been on full display this past week as the issue of the delayed delivery date of the LRT became public.
Where does one start? There are so many glaring failures. I will focus on open, transparent and accountable, as it impacts everything.
Open? Not a chance. What many surmised in late 2017 was finally acknowledged this week. Senior city staff was aware that the LRT would not be revenue ready by May, but the 2018 budget was not adjusted to reflect the obviously higher operating costs that will be incurred. However, we are assured that they did report the LRT delay, on a timely basis, up the reporting chain, which ends at Mayor Jim Watson’s desk.
In response to public queries by Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Tobi Nussbaum earlier this week, Watson defaulted to his “full petty” tone, chastising the councillor for not asking senior management for the information that he thought he was missing.
How does one know what one doesn’t know? Should Nussbaum have wandered down the hall to the city manager’s office, and coffee cup in hand, sat down with Steve Kanellakos and asked: “So Steve, what have you told the mayor that he hasn’t told me?” Should Nussbaum, when provided with the information, have shared it with all of the other councillors, not knowing which ones knew what? Did Watson expect each and every one of the councillors who did not get a full briefing from the mayor to visit the city manager? How about considering an effective (doing the right thing), efficient (doing the right thing with minimum resources) internal communication of key information to everyone who has the right to know? That is being open.
Transparent? To no one. The memo from Kanellakos that was tabled at this week’s council meeting acknowledged that the 2018 transit budget did not include the extra operating costs that the city can expect to incur, and went on to imply that, but not state explicitly how, the city would recoup the extra operating costs arising from the six-month delay. He states that the city would suffer increased costs, but they remain unknown, even given the three months that his team has had to put together some estimates. However, he was confident that, while the actual contract is silent on the issue of who would be ultimately responsible for the extra operating costs, this would not have any implications on the 2018 budget.
How does the city incur extra operating costs, not have an explicit contractual leg to stand on, and claim that it has no impact on the budget? Are they planning on adding the extra operating costs into the capital budget for the LRT? This would certainly disguise an operating deficit that will arise from higher operating costs. Would these extra operating costs really be part of the LRT budget? I will leave that to the sleight-of-hand artists on Laurier Avenue to decide. Is the 2018 budget, which College Councillor Rick Chiarelli referred to as a “fake budget”, really just a bunch of numbers that bear only a passing resemblance to the actual operations of the city? Transparent means we can see into it, whatever it is. What we have in front of us is as opaque as concrete, and that is no accident.
Accountable? Never. Kanellakos reports to Watson, not council. Kanellakos could publicly state, but that may be career-limiting, that he provided the mayor with all of the information, but that Watson chose to limit its distribution. Watson could acknowledge that, just as he withheld the information about the $10-million Christmas Miracle (thank you again Rick Chiarelli) from council as a whole back in late 2017, he was aware that the discussions circulating around the city about the $1-million penalty were incorrect. Has he? No. Will he? Time will tell, but OLG won’t allow us to bet on things like that.
Instead, the mayor is spending his time pointing his finger in every direction he can think of, not noticing that while one finger is pointing away, three fingers are pointing back at him. Only the naïve would be fooled by this inept effort to distract the public from who is responsible for the LRT contract. It was negotiated and signed under his administration.
So much for three of the key planks that Watson ran on back in 2010. The disclosures of this past week have clearly shown that Watson has no intention of being open, transparent or accountable. Of course, he may have a different definition of those words than are commonly understood. Perhaps he can ask John Manconi to put some thought to what those words actually mean, after all, Manconi’s definition of late is “… an adjustment of the date, for all the right reasons.”
Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association executive for the better part of three decades.
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