A good thing about having a large number of new councillors on Hamilton council is that they don’t take anything for granted. As a result some of the practices that have been handed down from council to council get questioned and sometimes it results in positive change. The Audit, Finance and Administration Committee is one place where some of these awkward questions can get asked. Today. AF&A chair Cameron Kroetsch took aim at the way confidential material is made available to councillors. He has introduced a notice of motion that will require confidential reports to be made available to councillors in electronic form.
In a recent Tweet he described a situation where he endeavored to get a look at the agreement with HUPEG, the group that are taking over First Ontario Centre and the rest of the city owned entertainment sites. He said he was taken to a room where he was allowed to see the report, but was not allowed to record anything or even make handwritten notes. Councillors take an oath to not disclose confidential information. There is no need for this second layer of cloak-and-dagger security, expecting a councillor to rely on memory in reviewing such materials.
Not only that, and most important, it creates two classes of councillors—those who were on the last council that actually did the deal and the ten newcomers. The returning councillors had the advantage of having the deal spelled out to them in great detail in closed session. They were able to closely question the proponents, staff and the consultants for hours. At the end of the day they were apparently comfortable with the deal, but the new councillors need to have enough information to make their own judgment.
The new council seems to be moving towards finding its feet. Some are learning that a lot of the changes they wanted to make, don’t seem as easy now that they are in office. But they are asking questions and challenging practices and while that may not lead to the drastic culture shift that some hoped for, it can result in positive incremental change for the good, and maybe that’s all we need.
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