The StarPhoenix asks some hard questions about the new City of Saskatoon governance model that seems to more about the lifestyle of the councillors than it is about being good for the city.
When city council holds its next meeting a week from today, it will be the first such meeting in nearly two months after city hall adopted a new governance model that has cut council meetings in half to once a month.
Only a couple of voices on council expressed skepticism over the new system, while most heralded the change as making council’s activities more accessible.
However, there’s reason for Saskatoon residents to doubt whether the new system will improve how the city is run and increase people’s access to decisions and those who make them.
The StarPhoenix examined governance formats in seven other western Canadian cities and found little similarity to Saskatoon’s new model.
Few other municipalities hold council meetings just once a month and, of those that do, appearances can be deceiving.
Regina, for example, generally holds council meetings once a month, but held 23 meetings in 2013 and has held 10 so far this year.
Will Saskatoon’s new approach be flexible and allow for special meetings to be called to address urgent issues?
None of the other councils studied held all the major committee meetings on a single day of the week the way Saskatoon city hall plans to on Mondays (or Tuesdays after a long weekend).
Supporters say the new system will allow people greater access to committee meetings, which will now be held in council chambers and broadcast on the city’s website.
Why hold all the committees on the same day, though? That would seem to limit accessibility – particularly for those who happen to be busy on Mondays.
Is the real motivation access for residents, or convenience for councillors and administrators?
City officials cited Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton as the inspiration for the new system, but Saskatoon’s new approach bears little resemblance to the latter two Alberta cities. Both Edmonton and Calgary hold multiple council meetings each month, making one wonder if Saskatoon is really making an effective transition to becoming a big city.
I agree with questions that The StarPhoenix is asking. Â From the start I have said that this is about the convenience of City Councillors who want to streamline their work load, make themselves less accountable, and make it far harder for the lowly public to participate or communicate with their elected officials. Â Saskatoon City Council took this new arrangement so seriously that they actually drew names from a hat to fulfill one of the committee memberships. Â You canâ€™t do that and tell anyone that you take governance seriously.
Iâ€™ll give The StarPhoenix the last word.
No one can credibly argue these changes came about due to public pressure or through extensive consultation with voters.
It’s now up to the new model’s supporters to communicate how and why the new system is working and to be candid and admit when it’s failing the citizens who are paying for it.
Otherwise, Saskatoon residents will quite correctly feel they’ve been bamboozled and watched democracy get eroded by those who should be defending it.