September 14, 2014 – Original post on this page
In the Township of Chatsworth in Grey County, Ontario, “openness” and “transparency” seem to be foreign words. Our “Leaders” (a term I use for Mayor Bob Pringle, Deputy Mayor Terry McKay and CAO/Clerk Will Moore) talk about keeping residents and taxpayers informed, but there is an enormous gap between what they say and what they do.
Judging by actions taken and not taken over the last two years since I have been paying particular attention, it would appear that our Leaders prefer to keep the people who pay the bills in the dark to the greatest extent possible.
If you want to see what I mean when I say that our Leaders provide almost no information, visit the Chatsworth website: http://www.chatsworth.ca/. Under the “Government” tab, check out the Agenda for any Council meeting – it doesn’t matter which one – then check out the Minutes for that same meeting. You’ll see that neither the Agenda nor the Minutes have any supporting materials attached, so it is futile to try to find out what is really going on by reading the Minutes of meetings (except that the Council considered a report on something and accepted it).
Can you find the 2014 budget on the website? What are the top half a dozen expenditure items for this year compared to 2013 and 2012 that resulted in the 7% tax increase? How do property taxes here compare to neighbouring municipalities?
What is the Committee structure, and who are the members of each Committee? Can you find even a single report from the Mayor and/or Deputy Mayor on issues supposedly dealt with on behalf of Chatsworth residents at the County level? What about remuneration and expenses for attending meetings? None of this very, very basic information is readily available.
If you are satisfied with what you find on the Chatsworth website, then you won’t need to return to this blog. However, if you want to know more about the business of Chatsworth, please check back here. As time permits, I will provide information that residents and taxpayers are entitled to know but that our Leaders don’t bother to make available.
Credit for the picture of the castle and flag with the Chatsworth logo goes to Paul Lachine at The Owen Sound Hub. I obtained Paul’s permission to use it because it is so wonderfully appropriate for this blog. He created the picture to accompany an article I wrote on this same subject published on that site on September 3, 2014. You can read that article here.
Comments are welcome. Blogging is new to me, so I’m unsure about how much time and effort will be required on my part. And of course the election on October 27, 2014 may ultimately bring about changes that will make this blog unnecessary. Let’s hope … .
October 22, 2014 – Letter to the Editor at The Hub
In her letter posted on The Hub on October 15, Chatsworth resident Joan Albright suggests that I be less adversarial when it comes to trying to find out what is going on in Chatsworth. She also suggests that I volunteer to help with the township’s website to keep costs down.
Taking these suggestions in reverse order, the assumption by Ms Albright that it is costly to make information accessible is wrong. Fancy websites may cost quite a bit, but Chatsworth already has a website; the main problem is that it contains very little in the way of content. Furthermore, Chatsworth produces and exchanges documents in electronic format, every one of which could be posted on the website with nothing more than a click or two of a mouse. By way of analogy, Chatsworth has a kitchen cupboard with lots of empty storage space, but keeps all the dishes, cups and cutlery in boxes and piles on the floor.
The suggestion that I would be more successful with a different approach is based on an assumption that Mayor Pringle and CAO Moore actually want to provide information to residents, but that is demonstrably not the case. For example, I met with the Mayor and CAO on March 1, 2013 and suggested that they provide information about the bio-digester Agreement, my rationale being that it affects every single taxpayer in Chatsworth (it turns out that about half of the 7% tax increase this year is on account of the bio-digester).
I even asked politely, and renewed my request several times. Nothing ever came of it, so I finally created my own blog last month, and posted the bio-digester Agreement myself.
By the way, if someone reading this wants to find out about the bio-digester, simply do a Google search with three words (Chatsworth shining light); this will take you to my blog which I describe as “the place where Chatsworth taxpayers can find out what is going on.”
As for Freedom of Information legislation, Ms Albright discusses the process for obtaining specific information evidently without stepping back to think about the purpose of the legislation.
The main principle of Ontario’s FOI legislation is to ensure that most of the day-to-day business of municipalities is out in the open. Here’s what Wikipedia says about what this means: “The term “freedom of information” refers to public access to general records relating to the activities of government, ranging from administration and operations to legislation and policy. It is an important aspect of open and accountable government.”
In my view, this principle creates an obligation on a municipal council and administration to give more than lip service to the concept of “transparency.” Obviously it would be impractical to provide every little bit of information about everything. Therefore, judgment is needed on the part of a council, especially about what information is made available on a regular basis and what information merits some form of special public attention, and how all of this is done.
It appears that most municipalities in Ontario meet this obligation mainly through use of the internet. For example, every municipality in Grey County (except Chatsworth) posts full information packages prior to Council meetings as a practical way of being transparent. Beyond this, the nature and amount of other information varies from one municipality to another, presumably to meet the needs of the different communities.
There is no valid reason for any of this to be a “big deal.” But it is in Chatsworth for some reason.