Sunday, January 30, 2011

If We Followed a Sensible Process, We Wouldn't Be in Such a Mess

A couple of things happened at last Monday's council meeting that are good illustrations of how our uncoordinated way of doing things and our inconsistent processes cause us problems. One was the motion from one councillor to bring back to the table the decision made at a previous council meeting about the new licensing bylaw. As you may recall, at a previous meeting the bylaw, which had been prepared by Bylaw Enforcement, after consulting with the SPCA, was abruptly amended by the mayor, who didn't consult with council, or with anyone else. The amendment removed the licensing differential between fixed and unneutered animals, contrary to the advice from the SPCA, and the examples from other licensing bylaws from across the country. Unfortunately, most members of council were fine with this, and voted accordingly. And because it was third reading that night, the bylaw passed.

The reaction was immediate. The SPCA representatives let it be known how disappointed they were, and the comments on various news web-sites were strongly against the amendments made to the bylaw. I think that it was the feedback from the public that caused some members of council to wonder if we needed to rethink the last minute change. And so now we will have the opportunity to review the decision that was made, and possibly change it to something that will accomplish the original purpose of the bylaw, which was to both raise funds for the SPCA through additional licensing, and also to encourage people to get their pets fixed, in order to reduce the number of unwanted animals that tend to end up at the SPCA.

I don't disagree with the need to bring the bylaw back. I just think that it's unfortunate that most members of council don't appear to be aware that we have options when faced with a last minute idea. The first, and most obvious, was to vote down the amendment. Unless we were presented with some brand new information from a reputable source, that would have been the wisest action. Another option would have been to send the bylaw back, asking for further discussion between Bylaw Enforcement and the SPCA, and asking them to investigate the proposed change to the bylaw.

That being said, I hope that when the proposed bylaw comes back for a vote, members of council remember to think through the consequences of their vote before they raise their hands. And I commend any member of council who comes to the realization that thinking for yourself, and listening to the input of the public, is part of doing the job right, and is willing to get up and say that we need to rethink a decision.

While thinking of the SPCA, the animal rescue site is running another contest, through which the SPCA could get money. Just go to to cast your vote.

The other instance of poor coordination occurred when a councillor proposed that we not provide taxpayers' dollars to any organization which doesn't provide a financial report to us on how they spend your money. To me, and some other members of council, this is a no-brainer. But instead of getting agreement that this should be a first step to any request for funding, whether through a grant or an ongoing funding arrangement, we got excuses that this wouldn't be fair to the organizations and agencies (no concern about the fairness to the taxpayer), and a statement from a member of administration that we had no legal way of demanding that information. That excuse just doesn't make sense. If they want to use taxpayers' money, then we have the right, through the budgeting process, to expect an accounting of how they have used the money in the past, before granting further funding. This is particularly key for facilities such as the Rawlinson Centre, which has asked for ever-increasing funds, but hasn't given us the financial report for 2009 yet. Perhaps they legally don't have to give us a financial report - fine. We don't have to give them money. It doesn't seem complicated to me. Our budgeting process should be clear and coordinated between council and administration, and our expectations for all agencies should be consistent. As an example, we expect (and receive) a financial report from the library each year before approving their funding in the budget - we look uncoordinated and inconsistent to have different rules for other agencies.

No Executive Committee this week - SUMA is going on in Saskatoon, so the mayor and a couple of councillors are there. I took a pass on SUMA this year - I didn't see anything on the agenda that was particularly compelling.

It's not a completely meeting-free week though. We are having another strategic planning session on Friday. This will be about the budget, so really should be open to the public, but labeling it as strategic planning allows it to be kept in camera. I don't agree with the secrecy, but I'm glad that, for the first time in four years, we're spending more than just a couple of days on the budget process.

"Openness brings accountability to government, promotes honesty in official dealings, and above all, assists citizens in making the informed decisions that are necessary to democracy." - Lamar S. Smith

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