Opinion| City Hall Trashes Transparency Experiment

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Well, it appears city council has come full circle in regard to appointing citizens to local boards and committees, the transparency experiment it instituted in 2015 at the instigation of Mayor Christian Provenzano a thing of the past.

Up until 2016, council discussed the citizen applications for boards and committees behind closed doors and then approved them in open session.

In 2016 the names were put forward in open council and councillors voted on them.

On Monday, in making appointments for 2017, council voted on a list that a committee put together behind closed doors.

Coun. Frank Fata saw council as being asked to rubberstamp the list.

The mayor disagreed, saying councillors had the names prior to the meeting and therefore the opportunity to discuss the appointments.

Deputy CAO/City Clerk Malcolm White pointed out to do it now, at the meeting, that under the new rules regarding appointments council would have to go into closed session.

I’m with Fata. So much for transparency.

Although Provenzano was gung ho in regard to transparency shortly after he was elected in 2014 and an appointment process was put in place to ensure this, somewhere along the line that changed when some people got to him with complaints about the new way of doing things.

“A few (people) didn’t think the previous process worked so we changed it, but now we’re finding the new process has some difficulties too,” Provenzano told Elaine Della-Mattia of The Sault Star. “Some people are uncomfortable with their application spoken about in public and governance is important and we want to have the best people possible, with the right skills, on our boards and committees.”

Actually, as I said in a column in October, I was a bit uncomfortable myself in watching the voting aspect of the process play out a year ago this month, seeing some people who had given many years of service to different organizations being unceremoniously dumped without a word of appreciation.

But as for discussion of the merits or demerits of anyone, there was none.

So it seems to me that those who were upset with that new open process simply didn’t want their names mentioned at all unless they were one of the ones being appointed.

It was back in December 2014 that Provenzano in an email to councillors suggested that council appoint people to boards and committees in open session.

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker, who had argued during the election campaign that it was important to have an open council, followed up with a motion that would have instituted Provenzano’s suggestion.

He couldn’t get a seconder.

But Ward 6 Councillors Ross Romano and Joe Krmpotich a couple of months later put forward a motion drafted by the mayor to strike a committee to review how other communities handled appointments and come up with a suggestion for what we should do here.

The result gave us the transparency that lasted for a year.

There certainly was no evidence of it Monday.

On that night Shoemaker suggested that council maybe should start over, in essence going back to square one to take a fourth run at coming up with a process that be more satisfactory.

“I was not in favour of this process from the outset,” Shoemaker told Della-Mattia in regard to the process used this year. “A task force picked the applicants and council got the entire list of applicants last week, including those who were not selected and we could have sent in comments if we had any.”

But he said he wasn’t about to send in comments and keep the process behind doors when he’s been advocating to move it into the public.

After watching the appointment process play out over the past two years, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way council will ever come up with something that will please everyone.

It all boils down to whether council wants the process to be transparent and if it does, whether it has the political will to carry it out.

I can’t see why anyone applying for an appointment to a board or committee would care about some information on their background being made public. After all, I doubt a person would be applying in the first place if he or she had anything to hide.

Councillors bare their lives to public view when running for office.

Maybe this is too much to ask of those seeking appointment to a board or committee, but surely there is some information they should be prepared to share.

If they are not, then they needn’t apply.

By keeping the process open, I believe we might be more assured of getting the best because those who do apply obviously will not be afraid of the scrutiny.

Doug Millroy can be reached at dmillroy@gmail.com.

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