Change is an uphill battle
There have been two interesting articles published this week so far that shed light on how City Hall works and the challenge that lay ahead for the new councillors and Mayor Jim Watson. Change will not be easy.
First, on Monday, the Ottawa Business Journal published an article by former mayor, Larry O’Brien, O’Brien: the difference between business and politics. In this article, O’Brien discusses the politics of preservation superseding the interests of the voters. One example cited is the 2009 budget deliberations where the mayor’s desire to review the budget line-by-line were torpedoed by the will of some long term councillors. The omnibus motion that imposed a 4.9% property tax increase halted the city from really inspecting where the taxpayer’s money is going and who is accountable.
Then you have today’s article by Sue Sherring of the Ottawa Sun, Smile for the taxpayer. In it, she writes about the city spending $13,000 for a private photographer to take headshots for the new council whilst City Hall has their own in-house photographer available. City staff admit it was a mistake to spend that kind of money.
Sherring also got some councillors and the mayor to concur that this is the kind of spending that needs to be stopped but she only seemingly spoke to new members of council. Conspicuously missing were denunciations from any re-elected members of council. Who knows, maybe she did interview some and the quotes from the new councillors were more interesting or maybe most of the old councillors saw nothing wrong in outsourcing this work. After all, the photo shoot only works out to $540 per councillor and when you factor in the costs of renting the required equipment and scheduling the busy in-house guy (or girl), the difference is only “chump change” really.
Fortunately, the new councillors think a bit differently. To re-quote Councillor Mathieu Fleury from the Sherring article, “I think there’s tons of stuff like that going on… The bureaucracy and the political side need to come together, and say, here’s what the requirements are and what can we do to save money”.
Many of the new councillors campaigned on a line-by-line review of the city budget. Councillor Tim Tierney and others have also vowed not to support any omnibus motions that would circumvent this undertaking.
But Tierney and Fleury will soon learn the road ahead is tough.
Just as Mayor Watson saved $25,000 on the swearing-in ceremonies to the displeasure of Councillor Maria McRae and the some others, the onus is on the ten new councillors and the mayor to carry through with the change mandate on which they were elected. Only they have the power to work with city staff to indentify where the waste is and to change processes to that save the taxpayers money.