The debate around Mayor Don Atchison’s journal has gotten a little weird. It started with council asking about him releasing his schedule and quickly went to Darren Hill tweeting in council chambers and some allusions to conflict of interest. It’s not city council at it’s finest.
Gerry Klein suggested that the mayor adopting a smartphone to keep his schedule could help fix the problem and then use it to post it online.
It’s about time that the mayor catches up to the latter part of the 20th century and begins to use a digital device and mobile technology to help him manage his time. When he does that it would be a simple matter to post the information on the mayor’s website, which is remarkable now for being among the most static and uninformative Internet pages on the entire web.
He’s right, we could probably scrounge up an old smartphone that will sync up with Google Calendar pretty easily. I have a Blackberry Curve that I can contribute to the cause. While I am being flippant, this is a problem rooted in transparency and technology.
The real issue is that technology flattens any organization. What used to need to pass through gate keepers, now can be easily assimilated. Councillors have a right to expect this information to go to them while part of the problem is that historically the Mayor’s office (according to Atchison) used to decide who gets to go. This problem is made worse by the fact that both council and the public assume that an invite to the Mayor means that you want the local councillor there as well (which is the Mayor’s defense, I never think that way). The solution is not opening up Atchison’s journal but opening up the invitation process when you ask the Mayor to an event.
The mayor’s website is a static block of text and a contact form. It could be much more than that, especially when you look at the sites for the Mayor of Calgary and the Mayor of Vancouver. In some ways I am surprised that Atchison doesn’t have a better website. He’s a good story teller and evangelist for the City of Saskatoon and it would be a great platform for him to expand his audience.
With Calgary and Vancouver, they use totally different domains from the city page and while I prefer mayor. saskatoon.ca or more personally mayor.saskatoon.ca/atchison/ (there is some method to that madness that I will get into later) but either way works. If you want to invite the Mayor of Calgary to an event, they have a contact form that asks a variety of questions about the event, how to get there, and if you want the deputy mayor in case Nenshi can’t make it. Pretty straight forward.
It would take minutes to change the form to give you an option of inviting other city councillors (or making it clear you only wanted the mayor) to your event. Not all mayor’s adopt this view. To invite Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz to an event, you need to (snail) mail him an invite two months ahead of time and wait for a reply. I am not sure how to invite the Mayor of Edmonton to your event. I am sure there is a way but it’s not on his website. What I am getting at is that there is a really easy way to deal with these kinds of issues, even if not all cities adopt them.
Of course it’s big news because Yahoo! has a new CEO but one could use their Upcoming service to announce which public events the mayor will be attending. A blurb of selected events, contact information for others to attend, and even some follow up photos would extend the Mayor’s personal reach, help him politically, and promote the city. He could also do what Nenshi does and that is tweet about it while he is there but one thing we learned this week is that the Mayor isn’t so fond of social media.
While we are the topic of Nenshi’s website, it is an example of how accountability and privacy can work. Nenshi posts many of his meetings that he hosts. He excludes meetings with City of Calgary employees, staff, media, and government but does include meetings with individuals or small groups. According to the City of Calgary’s Mayoral Office
Publishing the Mayor’s meeting list was something we intended to do on a quarterly basis starting this spring. But while preparing the first list, we received legal advice that we could be contravening the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by publishing people’s names without their consent. So, beginning May 1, 2011, the Mayor’s Office required that anyone meeting with Mayor Nenshi provide a signature approving to have their name published.
Quite a few colleagues have said, “It’s an incomplete list” and they are right. Nenshi needs the privacy to conduct some City of Calgary, personal, and even political business in private yet when he is operating at the Mayor of Calgary, it needs to be made public (even if people like me want to see the complete list)
Here is June’s public meeting list in it’s entirety.
- Debbie Newman, Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre – June 8, 2012
- James Murray – June 12, 2012
- Carlos Salazan – June 12, 2012
- Bhavini Pasel, Standard & Poors – June 26, 2012
- Stepehn Ogilvie, Standard & Poors – June 26, 2012
- Ian Merrit, Fraser Milner Casgrain – June 27, 2012
- Joan Durshinim, Brookfield Properties – June 27, 2012
- Ian Parker, Brookfield Properties – June 27, 2012
- Martin Sparrow, Dialog – June 27, 2012
- Earle Arney, Dialog – June 27, 2012
- Sally Hodges, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
- Karen Huggin, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
- Douglas Roche, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
- Bev Delong, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
- Don Douglas, Calgary Airport Authority – June 28, 2012
- Doug Mitchell, Calgary Airport Authority – June 28, 2012
- Tony Kay, UK Counsel-General – June 28, 2012
The lists are both interesting and what you expect. Dignitaries, politicians, business people, community groups… the kind of people that you expect the Mayor of Calgary to be meeting with. A website like this for the Mayor could be easily powered by WordPress, easily updated and include future trips (like when he is going to Singapore) as well.
As for Atchison’s request that all of Saskatoon City Council do the same thing, he’s right. They should. (and many are willing)
On not making some councillors aware of a trip to Singapore for the World Cities Summit two weeks ago: He said he told CKOM and CTV about the trip in his weekly appearances last month. Other councillor’s make international trips under the same protocol, he said. “By the same token I don’t know what my colleagues are doing either. Their budgets are wide open to use as they see fit. As long as their expenses come in as they’re supposed to, that’s it. They’re all reported at the end of the year.”
He said if he releases his schedule so should all of council, out of fairness. “It’s all or none, ” he said.
Instead of giving out the information for the World Cities Summit to CKOM and CTV, he could announce it the entire city on his website and post his monthly expenses along with the rest of council (also, it’s a pretty big expense not to send out a media advisory for). As for the city, it needs to create mayor.saskatoon.ca/atchison/ for the mayor (and you leave it online when the mayor has retired or has been defeated as an archive of his time in office). For councillors you give them a council website at council.saskatoon.ca/hill/ for Darren Hill, council.saskatoon.ca/lorje/ for Pat Lorje and so on and so on. The U.S. Congress does the same thing. It’s their space for official business on. When the election comes (starting August 31st), they are locked out from the pages until they are re-elected. Each councillor has a choice between a couple of City of Saskatoon templates and a set up install of WordPress. You put the same requirements on them for reporting, expenses, and schedule as you do for the Mayor. Atchison is right that if he has to do it, they all have to do it.
I’ll be honest. I have been at every council meeting of 2012 and there have been some vote changes that have made me wonder what was going on. Who met with who (or even what kind of money exchanged hands). Some transparency is needed. The technology is there, it’s free, it’s easy to use and it would mean a more coordinated council and a better informed electorate. How hard could this be? Everyone else is getting it, why can’t Saskatoon?