Being transparent is not easy, but it is a sign

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 4, 2011  –  Each of the media in any community look to see what the other guy is doing.  They read us, we read them and the television guys scalp from all of us.

And so it was with interest that we noticed the comment Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring made about the size of the legal bill the city has had to pay regarding the Brant Street Pier.  In an interview with Tina Depko of the Burlington Post, Goldring said he was  “tracking the expenses but was unable to disclose the cost until the legal process has ended.”

What possible impact on the legal process could telling the people who provide the money to pay the bills have on the Court case – if it ever gets to trial?   The real issue here is, the Mayor is worried about the backlash that will come from those taxpayers.

And here is where His Worship sets himself up for that backlash.  If you treat your children like children – they will behave like children.  This happened with the council member pay issue – but that’s another story that we will cover in more detail when it next comes before Council – but we do want to add that the council members are entitled to a pay increase under a formula that was written by a committee of taxpayers.

Back to the Pier and the legal costs.  We have already heard that there has been some very disappointing bad faith on the part of one of the organizations involved in the building of the Pier.  The city didn’t have as strong a dispute resolution as it should have had in its contract and we got caught up with people who chose not to be fair or responsible.  Things like this happen from time to time and your Council is dealing with it – rather well I might add.

But there is still that reluctance to get all the facts on the table, to tell the public what you have done with their money and explain why – and when you make a mistake – tell them.  This city isn’t made up of stupid people, most of them understand that things get complex and are at times complicated.

When Paul Sharman, council member for Ward 5, was asked about the problem with the dispute resolution clause he replied: “… despite the clause, it and the whole contract are never the less legitimate. The City is the buyer and is not in the wrong to any degree. The parties who are responsible to fulfill the contract are obliged to perform and we expect them to do so. The frustrating part for the citizens of Burlington is that they should have been told all this ages ago. I am satisfied that the City is presently doing the right things.”

For the most part Paul Sharman has it right, however he will nevertheless go into yet another closed door council meeting soon and hear what you should be hearing.  It is time to begin treating the taxpayers as intelligent, responsible people who read and understand the issues and also time for the tax payers to inform themselves and understand the complexity of the issue and the job their city council is doing for them.  The Mayor could however make it a little easier for the taxpayers to understand things by being straight with them and stop hiding behind legal excuses.

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