How soon they forget.
Just months after being told that they need to brush up on communications, some city councillors appear to be setting themselves up to get branded as being secretive once again.
It breaks down like this: councillors are complaining that they receive information packages too late prior to Monday night meetings.
Council voted this week to look at making city administrators provide the agenda items a week earlier than normal. Typically a council agenda is released on the Friday before a Monday meeting – councillors want that moved up a full week.
The logic seems sound enough. Councillors want to know what will be on the meeting agenda sooner, so they can have more time to make a solid decision when the item finally gets debated publicly.
But the logic falls apart when a guy like Coun. Andre Rivette stands up and complains that the agenda should not be released publicly at the same time.
Rivette was moaning this week that media queries can often ambush councillors who might not even know what’s on the agenda.
Ok…I can kind of see where he is coming from. But I can’t have much sympathy for him. Rivette’s been dealing with these types of Friday afternoon media queries for years, and we’re not talking about Woodward and Bernstein-type interviews here.
“Andre, (issue X) is coming up Monday night. What do you think of what is being proposed?”
Rarely has any city councillor said they don’t have enough information to answer such a question. I know, because I’m one of the guys asking the questions.
In fact, the first time it happened to me in the last year or so was last Friday when I rang up Maurice Dupelle to answer questions on pigeons (yah, pigeons).
He begged off, respectfully. I have to wonder if he was sending a message by declining to answer my questions, since he's the architect of the plan to get the agenda in the hands of councillors sooner.
It doesn’t matter, because there is a bigger problem. Keeping a lid on the council agenda for a full week, before releasing it to the public and media, creates an uneasy feeling among many.
The idea of city councillors keeping what is essentially a public document under wraps for a week, while they secretly form opinions on that material, can paint a fairly degrading perception among some people.
I’m not suggesting that is what is actually happening, but after you have been accused by many, including an outside investigator (Stephen Fournier), of not being as open and forthcoming as you should, perhaps creating more options for people to question your motives is not the best policy.
Taxpayers have thus far been on the hook for nearly $200,000 in whistleblower cases filed at city hall.
Cornwall finance manager Maureen Adams issued a release earlier this year that spelled out in detail how much money the city has spent to date on a pair of whistleblower complaints dating back to 2012.
A whistleblower complaint filed in March of last year has thus far cost nearly $182,000 to defend against.
Another whistleblower complaint, filed in May last year, has so far cost $7,300.
A pair of investigations by Fournier have cost taxpayers $7,200.
Not exactly the resume of a municipality that will win an award for public disclosure.
And there's another issue at play too.
It's becoming more and more clear that there is a disconnect between city council and its administrators.
Publicly one side praises the other, most recently at Tuesday's meeting when Coun. Bernadette Clement proclaimed Cornwall has "the best" when it comes to municipal managers.
Of course it does, but privately there has been grumbling about the relationship between the two.
One city councillor told me that city managers expect to run the board on the 2014 budget as it is an election year. The councillor indicated to me that managers should think again.
At least a year ago city managers were instructed to provide reports to council "as they became available" instead of waiting until a meeting.
That hasn’t happened, Coun. Denis Carr said at this week's meeting.
And when managers attempt to make things easier for council, like providing info on the pigeon bylaw (yah, pigeons) weeks in advance of the actual vote on the subject (council received it Tuesday for information purposes), some around the table complain that it's a waste of time, since the debate will take place again in two weeks again.
In short, you can’t win regardless of what side of the fence you are on.
Simply put, it looks to me (and plenty of others) like communication – and indeed the relationship as a whole – between city councillors and its managers needs an overhaul.
There's only a year left in this mandate, so don’t hold your breath on it being fixed in the next 12 months.
Unfortunately, by virtue of Tuesday's spectacle, the divide has started to go public.