Monday, January 10, 2011

Council Work

If you read the local mainstream media you’ll understand that most of us in Burlington have moved past the great Junior Hockey calamity and are fixated now on how a professional football franchise might move to our town to keep us entertained nine and sometimes even ten times per year.

As for me I’ve got bigger worries.

A story on the CBC about Toronto Council got my attention.

No it is not Rob Ford; not this time.

Rather it is some new Councillors who clearly didn’t research the job before applying and are now exercised that certain departing Councillors didn’t leave any files for them.

New Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was surprised after winning Kyle Rae’s old council seat “that there was nothing in the files.” According to the CBC “(s)he had no idea everything would be gone.”

To me this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the job although, truth to tell, I was similarly surprised when first elected to municipal office way back in the early nineties. The person I had defeated left only one small file made up of copies of thank you letters.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my job was about policy. Most of what I needed to know could be found in public documents. A large group of staff were eager, willing and obligated to provide elected officials with background on anything from the Official Plan to cat licensing. There was a lot of confidential information, too, as I remember it but that was stuff that couldn’t and shouldn’t be passed on in a filing cabinet.

It seems that Ms. Wong-Tam did get some help from departing Councillor Kyle Rae. He left of his own free will and was available to Wong-Tam to provide some orientation.

For new Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon it would be more difficult to envision cooperation. McMahon defeated incumbent Sandra Bussin in an acrimonious campaign.
McMahon’s concern seems to be more about having to start anew to build a constituency database. This is a legitimate concern but tricky as I found when "caretaker councilling" in 2006. Politicians being politicians sometimes mix constituency info with supporter info. Protocols would need to be put in place but maintaining a database is doable and necessary.

Councillor Wong-Tam will apparently put forward a motion to require Councillors to pass on files when they leave.

A better idea would be for this Councillor to develop her own files based on the platform she put forward in the election that was endorsed by voters.

No comments: