Monday, 5 November 2012

Are more teeth needed in Ontario ‘sunshine law’?

                                                  A Packed Markham Council Chamber

Dear Readers,

Every so often a pearl of wisdom appears in a newspaper that deserves further scrutiny and debate! One such pearl is Lorne McCool's letter below, verbatim in today's Toronto Star.  Lorne, a former Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Markham brings a unique perspective on this issue and I welcome your comments below......

Re: Municipalities too secretive, watchdog says, Oct. 31

Andre Marin’s critique about municipalities that play loose with the rules by holding closed meetings and keeping information from the public couldn’t have been be more timely. We have just such an example in Markham.

Not only was the city’s GTA arena project planned without public knowledge but council hurriedly voted to approve a draft financial framework committing taxpayers to a half-billion-dollar debt, including interest, with no meaningful notice or public input — this, notwithstanding more than 18 months of secret negotiations and despite the project never being discussed or included in the city’s long-term capital budget. 

Markham has consistently refused to make reports public or explain why it is scrapping accepted competitive bidding processes to hand this massive contract off to one company. We are reassured by the mayor that the city has not signed any binding agreements but the city continues to negotiate cost-sharing and operating agreements in secret.

Incredibly, the city has only committed to inform taxpayers of “the essence” of the agreements it signs but insists it will not make the detailed agreements public. Again, no credible reason has been given.

At a recent open council meeting, in response to ratepayer pleas for transparency, all the city would concede is that no reports will be released until the application is denied or the arena is built. All the while, Markham conducts a thinly veiled marketing campaign to “sell” the project under the guise of public information meetings.

We can only hope the province acts quickly on Mr. Marin’s proposal to put more teeth in municipal government transparency legislation to eliminate abuses such as are now occurring in Markham.

Lorne McCool, Markham

my response.....
Finally, after months witnessing a see-saw battle between aroused and angry taxpayers and a council on the defensive, two Markham councillors have gone on the record for asking the city to take a close look at the business history of the promoter behind plans for a NHL-size arena, despite our Mayor’s strong support of him.

Our Mayor was quoted as saying the promoter's personal credit history was checked but doesn't proper due diligence require full disclosure of the promoter's business history, when $325 million tax dollars are at stake?

                                                         Markham  Mayor Scarpitti

It must be said that Frank Scarpitti has done a wonderful for Markham over the years, representing taxpayer interests capably so it would be a shame for his record to be tarnished by a dubious association. But transparency, and good judgement dictates full and complete disclosure prior to any commitment to build a development of this magnitude and it is apparent that Markham taxpayer's are demanding no less!

With Deputy Mayor Jack Heath now expressing his concerns with the project, and other councillors apparently not pleased with what they are hearing, could two years of city staff time be wasted simply because proper due diligence wasn't performed at the out-set?

                                                        Markham Deputy Mayor Jack Heath

It was reported in the Toronto Star yesterday that, "Councillors Jim Jones and Don Hamilton have confirmed they will ask council within the next two weeks to probe the background of the proposed builders and operators of a $325-million arena near Hwy 407 and Kennedy Rd. “We’re making a phenomenal financial commitment so it’s imperative that we understand who we are dealing with,” said Jones, a council veteran. “I don’t see evidence of any proper due diligence in the project reports so far.” 

                                                           Markham Councillor Jim Jones

“There was no personal information about anyone (in the reports),” added Hamilton. “If we are spending $325 million, we have a responsibility to our residents to do a thorough background check of all our prospective partners. I’m requesting an investigation of our partners take place.”

                                                       Markham Councillor Don Hamilton

Has the time come for our Mayor to join with Councillors Jim Jones and Don Hamilton and declare his support for a full and complete investigation including a thorough background check of all our prospective partners?

And as Mr. McCool so eloquently expressed, has the time come for the province, "to put more teeth in municipal government transparency legislation to eliminate abuses such as are now occurring in Markham?"

What say you.....


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