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Naheed Nenshi

Let’s Make Calgary Better

When your Mayor has a vision for your city, this is what it looks like.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 1. Cut Red Tape

Saskatoon loves to talk about how it is a business friendly city and touts our lower taxes. As other cities have learned, being business friendly means a lot more than lower taxes, it means less red tape.

In 2010 the City of Calgary created the Cut Red Tape program to reduce red tape at The City of Calgary. The focus of the program was to remove red tape and make changes that result in our citizens and businesses seeing visible improvements. Some of those changes were small, constant irritants and others may be larger, fundamental issues in regulations or business processes. The aim is to shift our culture from a regulator perspective to a facilitator. The program has been supported by Council and funded through approved applications to the Council’s Innovation Fund on a project-by-project basis.

There are some real cost savings both to taxpayers and to the city.  Take a look below.

Cut red tape total savings

Cities around the word are hearing from world class businesses that “business friendly” is a lot more than low taxes, it’s about creating a climate where business can be conducted easily.  It’s something that Saskatoon has a way to go on but as Calgary is showing, it is something that can be improved.

Even Michael Bloomberg thinks Saskatoon is doing it wrong

As Richard Florida points out

As Michael Bloomberg recently wrote in the Financial Times, great urban centres, like New York, London and Toronto, can’t outpace the rapidly growing cities of Asia or Latin America simply by offering lower costs, tax breaks or other subsidies. “For cities to have sustained success, they must compete for the grand prize: intellectual capital and talent,” he said. “I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities.”

Florida also asks the bigger question of why the best and brightest are not thinking about running in municipal politics in some cities.

A while back, at a dinner party, a friend who occupies a vaunted position in Toronto’s entertainment industry asked me: why is it that Toronto can’t attract the best and brightest to local office? World-class global cities face thorny problems that require top-flight leadership. In Boris Johnson, London has a media-savvy, Oxford-educated conservative mayor who cares deeply about the quality and diversity of his city. Rahm Emanuel in Chicago is an immensely experienced, extraordinarily capable former U.S. congressman and chief of staff to Barack Obama who is governing effectively from the left of the political spectrum. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman, is a pragmatic moderate who calls on the best minds from all sectors and strata. Even Newark, the city of my birth, one of the most economically disadvantaged cities in America, now has the dynamic Cory Booker, a Stanford grad and Rhodes scholar with a law degree from Yale University, as its mayor. Here in Canada, Vancouver has Gregor Robertson, a former organic farmer and businessman who’s delivering on a green agenda and actively addressing homelessness, public health and affordable housing. And Calgary—to which Torontonians love to feel superior—has in Mayor Naheed Nenshi a young, Harvard-educated Muslim who’s intent on reforming council and growing his prosperous city in a fair and sustainable way.

While other cities are attracting effective mayors from across the political spectrum, our mayor has become a symbol of Toronto’s plight. Yet that plight is not of his making. Municipal governments across Canada have limited powers. Times are lean, which leads to shrill debate about how best to achieve these goals. Battles about bike lanes and library hours and plastic bags fill the daily media, but they distract us from the reality that the city’s future is being shaped by global forces we ignore at our peril.

Of course he ignores, that many did run but could not beat Ford but he does get around to the answer.

To start, Toronto requires the rudimentary governance tools needed to chart its future course. It makes little sense that this nation’s largest city can’t govern itself and plan its future. The mayors of U.S. cities have considerably more power, which is one reason the Bloombergs and Emanuels are attracted to the job. The political theorist Benjamin Barber has charted the highly innovative, pragmatic solutions on everything from fighting crime and improving schools to economic growth and climate change developed by this new breed of mayoral talent, and argues that much of economic and social life would be better “if mayors ruled the world.” Canada’s mayors cannot even rule their own cities.

Over the years, the federal government and provinces have downloaded many costs and obligations to the cities, but little authority. As the philanthropist and Maytree Foundation chair Alan Broadbent has pointed out, Canada’s cities essentially “rely on the kindness of strangers,” notably the provincial and federal governments. This, he suggests, leaves cities with essentially no control over their destinies. Canada’s cities need to become more like provinces—with real power and real revenue to solve their problems and build their economies.

Toronto has a wealth of city builders and city-building organizations. What it needs is more effective leadership vehicles that can braid their myriad efforts together as a real force for change. Richard Daley Jr., the Democratic mayor who spearheaded Chicago’s global rise for more than two decades, told me recently that the key to much of the success he had was progressive business leadership. In Chicago, that type of leadership goes back more than a century. The 1909 Burnham Plan, which envisioned a revitalized city centre, was supported by the Commercial Club of Chicago, a group of businessmen who responded to the need to make improvements to their fast-growing city. Today, a group of private sector leaders called World Business Chicago, whose mission is to build a “global economic powerhouse,” is focused on attracting new corporations to the city.

He also talks about the need for regional planning

One illustrative example comes from Silicon Valley. Not too long ago, this area south of San Francisco had little long-term strategy or vision, just a welter of competitive entrepreneurs intent on developing the next big thing. After the recession in the early 1990s, the entrepreneurs came together to form an organization called Joint Venture: Silicon Valley. As its name implies, it was formed as an inclusive network of business, political, labour and civic leaders, and organizations from multiple cities and jurisdictions—a stark contrast to the top-down organizations and old boys’ clubs found in older cities. It based its deliberation on data-driven analyses of the local economy, measuring variables that shape the region’s prosperity. Armed with such facts, and backed by many of the major institutions and players in Silicon Valley, Joint Venture became a highly effective agent of change, identifying key issues the region faced, and bringing state and federal attention to problems and opportunities it identified. It focuses on issues like unaffordable housing, transit, growing inequality and a burgeoning class divide. Sound familiar?

Toronto needs to act in harmony as one region, not a city versus its suburbs. Joint economic development would enable municipalities to grow together. It makes no sense for separate towns to compete for businesses that are going to locate in a shared region. Daley organized the mayors of greater Chicago’s municipalities and would actively help them land new business prospects rather than compete against them. By working together as a single region, we can stretch our boundaries, leveraging the broader capabilities that can enable greater Toronto to compete with much larger cities around the world.

There is a path to greater prosperity in Saskatoon but we just don’t want to take it.  Instead we hang on the mantra of lower and lower spending and taxes.  We are the Walmart of North American cities.

Calgary Flood Infographic

Flood 2013 Full

This is fantastic and I don’t know why more cities don’t use these as communication tools for even governance (budget, infrastructure plans).  Another example of world class communications coming out of Calgary right now.

Nenshi on backbench MPs

This is a great response to the election of Joan Crockatt

“I mean, whatever. Not like backbench MPs have any ability to do anything. She’s very nice, she’s shown up at a lot of events [and is] certainly more present after the election than during the election, which is interesting. Most candidates are not like that… Have we seen any real difference in how the federal government treats the city of Calgary now that we’ve returned another Conservative MP? Not yet.

You would be amazed at the amount of non-profits who tell me that their project is making progress because a backbench MP likes what they are doing.  I hate telling that the opinion of a backbench MP has no influence at all on party policy as they are not part of the government.  Cabinet ministers and their staff are the only opinions that matter and that is what Nenshi is getting at.  Today, MPs exist to run to get Diet Coke while the important decisions are made and then sell those decisions to their constituents.

Council for sale?

Some stunning developments coming out of Calgary last night

It is a rare glimpse into some of the backroom politics going on in Calgary, ahead of October’s municipal election.

Global News has obtained a recording of a November meeting hosted by Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes. In the video, Wenzel presents a plan to defeat select members of city council who are perceived to be anti-development.

Some in the housing industry have been clashing with the city over growth and who should be responsible for infrastructure.

In the video, Cal Wenzel tells the group, apparently made up of about 150 industry leaders, that while Mayor Nenshi is unbeatable, that may not be the case for other council members.

“Dimitri asked me the question a little earlier on, ‘Can anyone beat Nenshi?’ And I said ‘no, likely not’. I am not sure what he’s hoping for – I don’t think he can and I had in my notes here, ‘I don’t think he is beatable. But you know when I talked to [former mayor] Dave Bronconnier, Dave is sitting there saying, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the mayor on your side or not. You need eight votes. As long as you have eight votes you can control whatever happens.’

“So for whatever and however, we have to ensure that we end up with the eight votes.”

Wenzel runs through a list of councillors he approves of and says he is supporting with campaign donations including Ward 12 Councillor Shane Keating, Ward 13 Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, and Ward 14 Councillor Peter Demong. He also names those he does not support or is unsure of.

“One time where [Ward 6 councillor Richard] Pootmans was kind of guided as to maybe vote for us, when it comes up he forgot to ask any questions and forgot to vote the right way.”

Wenzel claims millions of dollars a year are at stake for developers.

“Unless we get somebody in there that is you know really going to be on our side, rather than the dark side you know, we are talking another four years after next October.”

So they have raised quite a bit of money and have a celebrity supporter.

Preston Manning’s name is also mentioned at one point in the tape. Wenzel talks about a big donation from members of his group to the right-wing think tank founded by the former opposition leader.

“…in order to bring Preston on board, 11 of us put up $100 thousand, so a million-one, so it’s not like we haven’t put up our money and we are going to be there to put up again, and we are also supporting candidates.”

I love the response by Cal Wenzel

Cal Wenzel has declined Global News’ repeated requests for comment until he sees the video.

Part of the problem may be the lack of campaign finance rules in Calgary.

While candidates pump out press releases and smile for news cameras, Fast Forward has been digging into campaign records from the 2004 civic election and investigating the way these campaigns are financed. Compared to other Canadian cities, Calgary has few campaign finance rules. Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa have rules on how much candidates can fundraise and when, but Calgary candidates fundraise and spend without limits anytime they want — and they can keep whatever’s left over for themselves tax-free.

Candidates aren’t required to report where many of their contributions come from, and their contribution statements are littered with errors. Many candidates don’t file their statements at all. “Basically, there are no rules,” says Naheed Nenshi, of city hall watchdog Better Calgary Campaign. “It’s the Wild West out here.”

How bad was it? (in 2004)

Of Bronconnier’s $673,498 war chest, more than $150,000 came from development, construction and real estate companies. If engineers and architects are added to the calculations, the number reaches almost a third of his total contributions. “That’s tradition,” Bronconnier says. “The development industry is interested in what happens at city hall…. Just like the oil and gas guys contribute to the provincial campaigns, because they’re interested in what happens.”

Most contributions from developers go to incumbents. Ward 10 Ald. Andre Chabot learned this first-hand in the 2004 election, which he lost. “I wasn’t ever viewed as a front-runner by some of these guys that typically will contribute to whomever they think has a chance of winning,” he says. After Chabot won the 2005 byelection, developers regarded him differently. “They’re all coming left, right and centre. I can’t even keep track of all of the contributions that are being given to my office.”

Remington Development Corporation donated to 10 of 13 incumbent aldermen in 2004, with sums ranging from $300 up to $2,500 for Ward 2 Ald. Gord Lowe. Remington donated to only one non-incumbent. President Randy Remington says his company uses “similar principles applicable to finding the best candidate for any job” when deciding which candidates to support. “Both businesses and individuals have a responsibility to the city in which we work and live to ensure the best leaders are in civic office,” Remington says.

All the current aldermen took donations from developers. “They are key partners in building the city, and so access to the political process is hugely important to them,” says Ward 8 Ald. Madeleine King, who got over $16,000 from those in the industry. “We need to recognize that and dignify it.” However, King says voters hold the most power. “I don’t feel they’re getting short shrift.”

In other Canadian cities, many of these donations from developers would be illegal for one reason: they’re too big. A contributor can’t give more than $2,500 to a mayoral candidate in Toronto, and no more than $750 to a councillor. In Winnipeg, the cap for mayoral contributions is $1,500, and $750 for councillors. Contributions are also capped in provincial and federal elections, but in Calgary there’s no such rule.

Some of Bronconnier’s developer donors aren’t based in Calgary, or even Alberta. Trinity Development Group, an Ottawa company currently building a big-box complex in northwest Calgary, donated $7,250 — almost 10 times the amount that would be legal in Ottawa. “There’s a real problem at the municipal level because there are so many people who… contribute to political campaigns who stand to get some kind of benefit out of political decisions being made,” says Danielle Smith, Alberta director for the Canadian Federation for Independent Business (CFIB). “It doesn’t look really good.”

Does growth pay for growth?

Excellent article by Charles Hamilton in The StarPhoenix

It’s a question cities throughout Western Canada have been grappling with for decades: does new development pay for itself ? Does the city spend more money servicing new neighbourhoods than it collects from the developers who buy the lots and build houses?

A new report released by Saskatoon civic administrators that says not all costs of new suburban development are paid for by the service rates charged to developers is stirring up the debate.

“Most of the direct services – most of the capital costs to build a neighbourhood – are included in the overall developers’ fees, but there are a number things that are not covered like leisure centres and fire halls and other things,” said Randy Grauer, Saskatoon’s acting city manager.

Some cities, such as Calgary, have decided to dramatically increase development levies. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it’s an attempt to recoup the real cost of growth.

Some planners in Saskatoon say the same model should be considered here as the city’s population continues to grow at a rapid pace.

“The city has been encouraging developers to go develop on the outskirts, and now we are paying for it because we cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure,” said Avi Akkerman, a professor of regional and urban planning at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Everything that is associated with it is unsustainable.”

Of course developers disagree

“The new areas are paying a large portion of the tax burden,” said local developer Ron Olson, a former president the Canadian Home Builders Association. “The new areas are subsidizing the older neighbourhoods.”

Olson said city planners have to be careful not to “drink the Kool-Aid on this densification.” Restricting development on the outer edges of the city will only force young families to move outside the city – to places like Warman and Martensville – where they can find more housing choices.

“Calgary is a prime example of what we are talking about. The mayor has decided that new growth and suburban growth is a bad thing, and that kind of policy is regressive. You will have a bunch of satellites around Calgary, and those satellites are because young people want to live in single family homes,” Olson said.

Actually I would challenge Ron Olson’s assertions about Calgary.  I would suggest that the Calgary satellite communities have everything to do with house price than a desire to live in single family homes.  The farther you are away from Calgary (or Saskatoon), the less access you have to amenities and then less you have to pay for housing.

Of course the other point is that it isn’t about housing, it is about the cities ability to pay for sprawling infrastructure.  It’s weird but some still see libertarian values as something that needs to be met, even in the city.

This is what progress looks like

A video by the Calgary Homeless Foundation about the progress being made at year 4 of their 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.  Great stuff.

Reining in Sprawl Won’t Be Easy; One of Canada’s Worst Offenders Shows Why

Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star

City-building is never easy, and Alberta’s largest urban centre is a good example why. Despite the efforts of a growing number of people, sprawl in Calgary ranks amongst the worst in Canada.

According to some, fully 95 percent of population growth in this city of 1.2 million happens in the ’burbs, which already occupy vast swaths of land surrounding the downtown core. Calgary is one of those nose-to-the-grindstone cities that empty out at night after workers return home to the hinterland.

On the other hand, this is also the municipality that elected Naheed Nenshi its mayor, a politician as dedicated as any in Canada to urbanism. It is also the city that commissioned Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava to design a footbridge across the Bow River. The Peace Bridge caused outrage when it was announced; most critics were unable to get beyond the $25-million pricetag.

But Calatrava, whose Toronto work includes the Galleria at Brookfield Place and the Mimico Creek Bridge, is arguably the best bridge designer in the world. His projects garner an international audience regardless of where they’re located. Local anger notwithstanding, Calatrava’s beautiful bridge brought Calgary to the attention of many who’d never heard of it, let alone visited.

Today, of course, the colourful structure is one of the most popular in town. Calgarians cross it in droves; they stare, smile and take endless pictures. Wedding parties show up to have photographs taken. A year after it opened, it has become a hugely popular destination.

But as its champion, Calgary Councillor Druh Farrell, likes to say, the scars inflicted during the planning and construction of the project match the cross-bracing of the bridge.
“It was hell,” Farrell recalls. “I’d never want to go through that again.”

She was accompanied to the opening a year ago by four burly men, just in case. As Nenshi asked a planners’ conference this week, “Why do we make it so hard to do good stuff?”

He wasn’t talking about the bridge, but Garrison Woods, a neighbourhood built in recent years on a former military base in Calgary’s east end. With narrow streets, street-level shopping and apartments above, this looks — and functions — like an older part of town. It has a 19th-century scale and sense of connection.

A proud City of Calgary featured Garrison Woods on the cover of a recent planning document. The irony, Nenshi pointed out, is that the neighbourhood everyone loves broke “every single rule” in the planning book. Getting it done took more than a decade as the city fought its own requirements every step of the way.

At the same time, developers continue the discredited and ruinous “multiplication by subdivision” approach that has turned the outer reaches of Calgary into endless tracts of cookie-cutter housing.

It was no surprise, then, that Nenshi and Calgary’s biggest homebuilders group have just ended a nasty spat during which the mayor kicked the association off all city hall advisory committees and demanded an apology. Developers had accused Nenshi of imposing a suburban building freeze; something he, sadly, denied.

“Why do we persist in building stuff people don’t want and that doesn’t work?” Nenshi asked planners.

Saskatoon needs to answer that question as well.

Slow week in city politics

If you are going to be mocked, you might as well be mocked by the best.  Hilary blogs OurYXE’s podcast.

Jordon starts talking about Nenshi and how he’s not afraid to take a stand and defend his causes. In case you didn’t figure it out, I think Jordon really, really likes Naheed Nenshi. If you offered Jordon the choice between being Nenshi for a day or going to any in-camera meeting of the executive committee he would have a difficult decision

Nenshi: Calgary is being treated like a “farm team”

Proving that he can pick fights with all sorts of people, Mayor Nenshi wrote this in the Calgary Herald

Calgary has been accused of being a “bully” for trying to actually enforce our policies (based on the province’s own Water for Life strategy) for responsible water development.

The best example of this occurred in 2011 when the City was asked to provide water and water servicing for a large industrial development outside the city, in Rocky View County. This is precisely the kind of development the Plan envisions, but since the County has not signed onto the Plan, the City’s policy doesn’t allow for it.

But the province, without telling anyone, decided to pay for the water connection itself. The details are unclear, as the province has never publicly released them, but it’s almost certainly true that their solution cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than if they had legislated the Plan, and it’s not at all certain they will ever be able to recoup the cost.

Last week, the Premier met with the council of the Municipal District of Foot-hills (another of the holdouts), and was quoted in the local paper saying that she would not “force” the MD into the Plan (meaning she would not legislate the plan). She also implied that she is not sure the Plan is needed at all. The same day, her Minister backpedalled furiously, saying the Premier’s words did not represent government policy, that the decision was his to make, and that he would continue working to a resolution.

You might forgive me for being a little confused.

What I am not confused about is that the future prosperity of this city is the future prosperity of this province.

Treating the City government as the farm team in this relationship and managing important files as cavalierly as this is not good for Calgary, and it’s certainly not good for Alberta.

It’s weird seeing a mayor take this approach to government relations.  You see it with the provinces and the feds all of the time but rarely with cities and their province (Toronto would be the only other city that plays hardball with the province).  In Saskatoon former mayoral candidate was mocked for this desire to be more aggressive in asking the province for more.  We seem to have resigned ourselves to be reduced to thanking them for government handouts when they are so inclined.  Nenshi took a different approach and not only got his meeting with Premier Redford but also was offered mediation from the province.  

According to this column by Don Braid, there will be a political cost to pay.

Even as Mayor Naheed Nenshi was being invited to meet with the premier, provincial needling continued Thursday over the city charter.

The PCs don’t forgive readily, and they never forget.

Premier Alison Redford implied that Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel co-operates, and Nenshi doesn’t.

She said both Edmonton and Calgary city councils are satisfied with talks on the charter. So is Mandel.

By leaving out Nenshi, she suggests he’s the unreasonable renegade.

In an interview Thursday, the mayor said none of that’s true. He and Mandel agree on most points of the charter, he insists. Nor is he offside with his own council.

The mayor also points out, correctly, that he never called anybody names in this dispute.

He did say in a Herald op-ed piece that the province is fumbling civic issues and treating Calgary like a “farm team.”

Technically, he was only calling Calgary a name. But even that mild comment deeply irked the provincial types who, in recent years, have become almost fanatical about suppressing criticism from local municipalities and authorities.

In the midst of this dispute, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said Nenshi has “an election coming up; he’s going to puff up like a peacock and be tough.”

Answering a question Thursday, Griffiths said: “If there’s tension, it’s on his side. I don’t feel any tension.”

But the PCs do. They have ever since ex-mayor Dave Bronconnier scared the heck out of them 2007, when he accused then-premier Ed Stelmach of a “broken promise” over infrastructure funding.

Facing an election, the government had to back up. Bronco won that contest by a knockout. Everybody knew it — especially the provincials. They fumed, but didn’t forget.

During the 2008 election campaign, Jack Davis, then CEO of the old Calgary Health Region, declared a medical emergency and demanded extra funding from the government. Again the PCs were livid.

Within four months, the health regions were abolished.

There were many reasons for that decision; but one was the growing tendency of the health regions to speak up about local problems.

It will be interesting to see what this is going to cost Nenshi.

Calgary Mayor Nenshi picks a fight with developers

This is interesting

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is reprimanding the top Calgary home builders group for speaking out against the city’s planning department.

In a letter sent Thursday, Nenshi informed the Calgary branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association that its members are sidelined from city advisory committees — until its president recants statements he made to an industry dinner last month.

The advisory work includes cutting red tape and reforming the entire planning department.

Nenshi told the Herald the city would continue to work with the development industry and home builders, but it “will find our representatives from the home building industry elsewhere” until they clarify comments the mayor contends contain “misleading and inaccurate information.”

Nenshi is taking issue with a speech made by Charron Ungar at the CHBA’s Jan. 9 economic forecast dinner, which was attended by Premier Alison Redford.

Ungar was critical of the city’s planning and accused the city of freezing surburban development in favour of increasing density in existing communities.

“Currently, there exists a significant (divide) between city hall and our industry on this issue of how we are going to grow,” the Herald reported Ungar saying at the meeting.

Ungar, an executive with a major homebuilder, called the city’s plan to balance growth by increasing density in existing communities “essentially a suburban development freeze.”

He told the group increasing density in existing communities shouldn’t be done “at the expense of suburban growth. Ensuring proper and adequate housing in all areas of our city should be our main focus – and not a byline of a grand experiment in planning.”

Nenshi said Ungar’s comments to colleagues contradict what CHBA has been saying directly to the city.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, we disagree with one another all the time, but we need to do so in a respectful, thoughtful way,” Nenshi said in an interview.

The mayor also says that Calgary “is up to pre-recession year levels in housing starts.”

Although the group president made passing reference to Nenshi’s past comments about “crap” development applications, the mayor says his reprimand isn’t about a personal grudge.

The CHBA is an influential organization whose members build the houses and condos of Calgary’s suburbia, and also redevelop existing neighbourhoods. They’re a top lobbying force in the city, and its home-builder members are among the top civic campaign finance donors.

If you let the market decide how to build homes, they will build for profit.  One of the roles of a city planning development is to take in considerations on how the development will impact the city and those that live in it.  Most cities abdicate that role because they don’t like fights like this with developers.  It’s a gutsy stand to take, especially with an election next year.  That being said I think it is the only stand a mayor can take here.  Calgary suburb lots are being sold at a lifetime lost.  The city isn’t making back the money needed to install and maintain the sprawling sewers, roads, and other infrastructure during the lots life which means that Calgary is subsidizing quite heavily each and every new suburban lot in Calgary.  That is a path that has taken many American and especially Californian cities to bankruptcy.

Nenshi’s campaign videos

Wow, I love these campaign videos by Calgary Mayor Nenshi. 

Naheed Nenshi speaks on Calgary 3.0

Naheed Nenshi speaking at TEDxCalgary and is speaking on some troubling trends in Calgary that we are seeing in Saskatoon.

Transparency in the Mayor’s Office

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.

image

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?