Sunday, December 20, 2009

Committee Appointments - Once Again, Openness and Accountability Come Up Short

At council meeting this past Monday evening, committee appointments were ratified. These are committees appointed by council, at least, according to The Cities Act, they're supposed to be. One would think that, as such, council as a whole would discuss who is to be appointed to which committee, both council members and members of the public. After all, decisions of council should be made by council, not by a single member.

Under different councils, decisions about which council member sits on which committee have been made in different ways. Probably the most open was the year that the different committees were written on ping pong balls, then drawn out of a box. That ensured turnover on committees, gave everyone exposure to different experiences, evened up the workload somewhat, and removed any suggestion that council appointments are some sort of favour to be bestowed on those who have found favour with the decision makers. In other years, at the very least, council had the opportunity to have a full discussion, as a group, before decisions were ratified. In this way, we had the rationale for which committees we were on, as well as the rationale for decisions about public members.

This is no longer the case. The list of who is on which committee, both council and public members, came out of the mayor's office, and council ratified it without discussion. I have no reason why I was removed from two committees of which I was chair (Library and Housing), why I remain on other committees (Saskatoon Airport Authority, North Central Saskatchewan Transportation Planning Committee, the North Central Waste Management Committee, the Joint School Board Committee), or why I was placed on other committees (District Planning Commission, the Heritage Building Committee). I was placed on the Enterprise Zone Committee and the Peter Ballantyne/City Joint Committee, but declined to be on those committees, because they have never met, nor has council referred anything to them. I don't see the need for agreeing to put my name on a membership list for non-functional committees - it's not like I'm interested in padding my resume.

So that's only six committees - not much, compared to the workload some other councillors have been given. In some cases, I'm surprised, since some councillors' attendance at certain committees has been abysmal, and yet they've been appointed to still more committees. However, if you're one of those who see council appointments as plums handed out in return for favours, and some committees as having higher profile than others, and you're interested in furthering your political career, it might make sense from that perspective. However, we shouldn't be approaching our jobs that way - we should be working on the job at hand, not trying to put ourselves in a favourable light for future jobs or future elections.

And, as is so often the case, the process was flawed. Even though it was apparently all right to everyone else on council, that doesn't make it right. Handing over responsibility to one individual to make all the decisions makes a mockery of why we bother electing, and paying, more than one council member. Perhaps some might feel that the result will be inevitable, so why not just go along. The last time I checked, our oath of office didn't include anything about just going along. Perhaps fear of the repercussions of standing up and objecting is top of people's minds. I can sympathize with that - it isn't pleasant to be treated as a second-class member of a council that one is elected to. But acquiescing out of fear isn't the answer either - it's like dealing with the bully who threatens you in the school yard, but then turns on another kid. If you don't stand up with that other kid, because you hope that the bully will now leave you alone, you're sending a message to the bully that he can have his own way, all the time. We've all been elected to do a job, and not doing parts of it because it's easier this way, shouldn't be an option.

As I've mentioned before, the city has sixty-some committees and subcommittees, many of which have vague reasons for existence, some of which never meet. It might have been a better use of council's time if we had decided which committees are needed, which ones various council members had interest in, and moved on from there. We could have discussed rotating some responsibilities (after nine years on the library board, I can see that some might think that I need a change, although I enjoyed working with the library staff, and will miss working with the new director, who I had encouraged to apply for the job), we could have discussed council members' interests, and shared some of the less glamourous (in some people's minds), appointments. We could have discussed not reappointing some members of the public to committees when they have never attended a committee meeting.

But it didn't happen that way. And everyone but me seemed to be okay with that, for whatever their reasons were.

"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform." - Mark Twain

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