Ottawa City Hall Report Card? Failure: BENN

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Open, transparent, accountable. What some consider to be the cornerstones of an optimal governance model. So how is the city doing, a year into the Sutcliffe administration?

Open?

Like many organizations, city hall has shifted to a hybrid meeting model. In person and on-line. This allows the public to choose how they wish to attend. Looks good on the surface. Except … and there is always an except. Participation by the people attending online is controlled by the moderator. Ask your question and listen to the response. That the response has little or nothing to do with the question? Your microphone has been muted. There is no opportunity to ask for a clarification. To point out that the response did not actually answer the question. Next questioner please.

How about that quick shuffle through council of the motion to increase the height limits on minor corridors? The 2022 Official Plan was passed after a long and arduous public consultation process. After what we were told was much give and take, the height limit on minor corridors was set at the equivalent four storeys. Earlier this month, without any explanation about what changed between 2022 and 2023, council decided that there was no need for further public input. Increase the limit to nine storeys.


Where Is The Audit Of The Trillium Line Procurement?

Then there is the Ottawa Police Services Board. It decided that public participation is something that must be put in its place. Which is outside on the street. Next.

Transparent?

Well, there are a lot more memos and reports being issued to the public by some departments. OC Transpo is good for a short book’s worth every month. A lot of words. Little content. Take a look at the reporting on their progress on the recommendations made in LRT inquiry report. We have closed this many. We are making progress on that many. Still working with other parties on a few more. The actual content of the reports contains few if any details on how the actions that management states they have taken have actually addressed the recommendations.

What is new that we can say about departmental reports tabled for council? Still lacking meaningful analysis. Just the same old here is our recommendation, supported by pages and pages of copy-and-paste boilerplate, with a dab of Find/Replace function that hopefully conforms most of the source documents references to the topic at hand.

Then there is Lansdowne. More than $420 million of incremental spending. Many words, lots of references to projected operating profits based on highly optimistic assumptions, that might or might not cascade endless quantities of imaginary cash in the city’s coffers. All sole-sourced. No discussion on why.

Accountable?

The recent decision by the audit committee and the auditor general to defer forever a peek behind the drapery on the award of the Trillium Line procurement says it all. Don’t look under a rock unless you are prepared to step on whatever is crawling there. It does beg the question of what staff, and more likely selected councillors and most importantly the people who lurk behind the curtains, think is under that rock.

So, at the one-quarter point in this council’s term, what’s the report card look like? Marks are anywhere from failing (is that even allowed anymore?) all the way up to, well, failing. In the remarks column, the one along the right hand side: needs improvement is the most flattering statement I can make.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.

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Where Is The Audit Of The Trillium Line Procurement?

 

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5 Responses

  1. Lorne Cutler says:

    Benn is being too generous to the City when it comes to consultation. I have been to virtual consultations where the only way to ask questions was to type them in the Chat function and only the moderator could see them. That way, the City didn’t even have to attempt to answer uncomfortable questions. The City just ignored questions they didn’t want to answer and none of the attendees even knew what questions had been asked. I would also add that Benn only graded the City on openness, accountability and transparency. He was being very kind by leaving out “competency”. If the City had shown competency in dealing with problems, perhaps low scores on the other three measurements might be more palatable, at least to those more interested in results than governance.

  2. sisco farraro says:

    Hopefully, prior to the next municipal election contributors to the Bulldog will provide a report card for each individual councillor. I am too much of a curmudgeon to give out marks other than Fs to this group, although there are a couple of shining beacons on city council who do deserve As. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of the latter.

  3. sisco farraro says:

    Some time ago the word “transparency” crept into the vernacular when discussing politics. Being a tell-it-like-it-is person I prefer the old fashioned synonym, “honesty”.

  4. Ron Benn says:

    Lorne, I appreciate and accept your constructive criticism of my evaluation.

    When it comes to competence, I have two observations.

    First is that far too many recommendations/decisions are based on ideology. Staff start with the desired outcome (e.g. limiting the amount of garbage placed at the curb) and work backwards, presenting evidence to support their preferred decision while ignoring evidence that does not support it. This lack of objectivity undermines the goal of providing objective analyses that may actually solve the problem. In contrast they present the illusion of a solution, that won’t actually solve the problem because staff have willfully ignored the reality of the situation.

    Second, too often we hear variations of a common refrain coming from city hall. “That would be a lot of work.” “We are overworked and underpaid.” “It would be very difficult to complete that type of analysis.” That council accepts the excuse that a complete, objective analysis to present a report designed to support an informed decision is too much work is nothing short of astounding. The combination of “too much work” and “that’s okay, we understand” are recipes for failure in the world outside public service. Career limiting at the personal level. Pointed towards the path to insolvency at the organizational level.

    So, why is this woefully low level of competence accepted. I circle back to the ideology point. Too many people on council are driven by pushing their ideology on the residents of and businesses/organizations in Ottawa. If only the people of Ottawa changed their priorities to conform to mine.

    Perhaps I have been too generous in my choice of words. Perhaps I should replace ideology with zealotry.

  5. Ken Gray says:

    Ron:

    I think I’ve told you this story so bear with me as I tell it again.

    Rob Snow and myself used to do an hour on CFRA about municipal affairs. It was fun.

    The thing is that Rob’s politics and my politics are much different. He is much farther to the right than me.

    But when it came to discussing municipal politics we had trouble disagreeing. That’s because municipal politics is about making things work. It is, or should be, very practical. Streets have holes. Fix holes.

    We were very utilitarian and, if I could be very presumptuous (when has that ever happened?), we need much less ideology and much more practicality. If you are pouring hundreds of millions of extra dollars into light rail, maybe now is not the time to fix Lansdowne. Maybe Lansdowne doesn’t work and never will work. We need to know that before pouring in $419 million for a project designed by OSEG.

    Be careful. Be logical. Be right. Make sure you have the right answer before embarking on a bunch of spending. And keep an eye on the debt. Debt interest is a nasty thing. Better for someone to pay you interest and rather than pay it out.

    The words of the late great Citizen publisher Clark Davey resonate with me. I asked a stupid question to which he responded: “Ken, we pay you good money to make decisions so make one. And make sure you’re right.”

    Good advice for me and probably pretty good advice for city hall. There should be consequences for making mistakes.

    cheers

    kgray

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