The other day, I wrote about the massive playground that is to be built at Mooney’s Bay. There’s scant information about the development, itself, but there we’ve learned a lot about the very very flawed process.
CBC’s Joanne Chianello wrote about all the rules that city staff broke. It’s a testament to Joanne’s tenacity and comprehension of the city’s workings that she was able to outline the various ways that staff overstepped their bounds.
River Ward councillor Riley Brockington initially spoke as if he supported the development. At least, that’s the read I get from this article…but maybe I’m reading too much into it.
After the outcry against this bureaucratic misadventure, Brockington adjusted his position (I won’t say he’s changed his opinion–I think he was responding to the wishes of his constituents, and looking to open up debate, both good things, so I’ll offer him the benefit of the doubt on this). Brockington tried to bring a walk-on motion to council to discuss the matter and begin the process of trying to figure out the best site for this playground.
Because he hadn’t given notice of this motion at the last council meeting, he needed to a two-thirds vote to get his motion on the agenda (the last council meeting was on May 11, but the story didn’t break until May 13…the cynical might look askance at that).
As the Sun’s Susan Sherring noted, this was council’s chance to actually partake in a bit of democracy. Representative government shouldn’t be too much to ask of your government representatives.
Brockington didn’t get his two-thirds. His plea for city council to actually debate a matter that they’re supposed debate failed 15-7. (If you’ve been following along, you know this council doesn’t always like having to debate things or make tough decisions.)
By the way, usually to get a walk-on motion on the agenda, you only need a 50%+1 vote. You need a two-thirds vote to for a walk-on motion to overrule staff’s delegated authority. Granted, as Joanne pointed out, staff had no such delegated authority, so you might be able to raise a stink about it, if it wasn’t such a moot point.
Once the story broke and the backlash ensued, Brockington didn’t have a ton of options. If he recognized a bureaucratic abuse of power, he could have taken it to the department manager or maybe up to the city manager, if need be.
Or he could have gone straight to council. At the time he acted, going straight to council was probably the right decision. If he had made some headway going the bureaucratic route, the matter would have just gone to council, anyway. And if the project has the backing of a politician with more political capital than him, he wasn’t going to win anyway.
But that’s a pretty conditional analysis of Brockington’s course of action. Once the story broke and the backlash ensued, Brockington didn’t have a ton of options–but should it have come to that?
Here’s what Brockington is quoted as saying in that original Citizen article:
“The details couldn’t be released because the city was negotiating with this company,” Brockington said. “I didn’t want to get the community’s hopes up on a project that had a fair chance of not coming to fruition.” he said.
Brockington knew about the project before the story broke and before the trees at Mooney’s Bay were cut down (a fact confirmed in the Sherring column). Further, he knew about it while negotiations were going on, so, surely that means he knew about the project more than two days before the work started…before the council meeting at which he could have gotten his motion on the agenda of the next meeting without needing a two-thirds vote.
So Brockington knew about the project, but, for some reason, was compelled to keep it a secret.
I don’t want to dabble in conjecture, here. That’s why I didn’t address this part of the issue in my previous post.
It’s also why I emailed Brockington about it. Here’s what I asked (okay, it’s a bit clunky, apologies):
Was this a legal obligation that you not speak about it? Was it just a promise made by the city (and, if so, by whom)? What were the ramifications if you had spoken about it?
Were you told about this project and then told that you weren’t allowed to talk about it? Or were made to promise not to talk about it prior to you being briefed? Finally, who told you that this was not to be made public?
I sent that email Saturday morning. I certainly didn’t expect a response over the weekend, that’d be unfair (though I know Brockington often does community work on the weekend, which is great), but it’s Thursday night, early Friday morning now. Brockington has no obligation to respond to me (I’m not like a real reporter or anything), but I’m not going to hold my tongue any longer.
Brockington shouldn’t have agreed to remain silent on this project. This is a major project in his ward and a major expense. Everyone, especially the local councillor, should have known that this was the sort of matter that should have been addressed publically.
If his initial statement is accurate, and he didn’t want to say anything because he didn’t want anyone to get their hopes up too soon, well, that’s really not an acceptable excuse. Remember how the mayor got all our hopes up that we’d be getting the Winter Classic in 2017? That was engagement. This smacks of wanting to avoid embarrassment or disappointment.
If city staff told him there was a major project in his ward, but they wouldn’t say give him any details until he promised confidentiality, he shouldn’t have agreed…and he should have raised a stink.
This issue isn’t about the playground; it’s about democracy and transparency. Brockington has let down residents in that regard.
Brockington’s still kind of new to council, and he’s not always had the smoothest ride. Maybe his inexperience allowed other people to work on him behind the scenes. Maybe this wouldn’t have gone down this way in Marianne Wilkenson’s ward or Diane Deans’s ward or Rick Chiarelli’s.
But that’s not really here nor there, is it. The deal is done. Council has, through active neglect, tacitly approved this million-dollar development, but we can’t let this happen again. It’s not appropriate for city staff to overstep their bounds so greatly. It’s not appropriate for councillors or the mayor to keep these secrets from residents. It’s not okay for council to eschew their responsibilities to make life easier for a TV show.