You aren’t going to believe what Saskatoon City Council is spending your money on now and with the incompetence they are doing it with.
Back when the city moved to their new governance model (the one they say is like all other cities but really isn’t), they created new committees as a part of that. Committee memberships are done in one of two ways. They are voted on or they are decided by seniority. There are many examples of both but when I hear seniority, I tend to think of the U.S. Senate and Congressional committees which are decided exclusively by seniority (the longer you are around, the wiser you become, or at least that is the hope).
You always hear Saskatoon politicians speak of the “made in Saskatoon” solution. Our solution was to draw names from a hat for one of City Council’s committees. It was done in executive committee so it was supposed to be confidential but instead of deciding on a committee by seniority or by merit (as decided by colleagues), names were put into a hat and drawn out. I first heard some rumours from other media and city sources soon after executive was done who didn’t think it was normal (it wasn’t). After confirming the rumour with some people from council (who were less then impressed that I knew), I tweeted it.
That upset some on council who were frustrated that council went down that course of action and others found out about it. As I said to more then one, “If you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns”. From that the city solicitor was asked to draw up a memo/report to remind council that they were not supposed to be leaking confidential executive committee stuff. I assume that the term, “acting like a bunch of clowns” was not used in the report.
A couple of weeks later, I was to appear on the regular Saskatoon Afternoon with David Kirton roundtable with David and Bronwyn Eyre. Show topics are emailed to us by the producer Brittany Higgins. I like Brittany as she does a good job of politely refusing topics that I suggest that would take David, Bronwyn, myself and a panel of foreign affairs experts a week to talk about and instead sticks to her 5 minute topics which are way better radio. That day she sent us a link to Charles Hamilton’s article about the Mayor again mentioning that we should have a Twitter Wall in City Council.
I don’t know why the Mayor is always asking for a Twitter wall in City Council chambers. First of all Twitter is public already. All of the interesting posts can be found at #yxecc and can be read by anyone at anytime. Thirdly and I mean no offense to the Councillors that tweet, it’s pretty boring stuff. You will get the occasional link posted to a report or something but other than that, they may be reading comments but they aren’t making that many comments in council. Whatever it is that the Mayor wants, is already there, all they need to do is turn on a projector and go to the #yxecc link. I doubt very much I’ll get credit for this in Council Chambers.
So Bronwyn and I start talking about the Twitter wall and it wasn’t our best segment. On a good segment there is a sense of flow and cadence and it wasn’t there. I also called out some on the school board for tweeting during meetings which wasn’t expected and in the end I walked out of the CKOM studio and tweeted something like, “I wish the mayor would stop talking about this stupid Twitter wall”. If there is a topic that I never want to talk about again, it is the Twitter wall.
(This is a media roundtable gone wrong. You really haven’t had a fight on air until this or this happens)
Apparently at that exact time, the Mayor was in executive committee and was talking about the Twitter wall. So the conclusion was made by our wise political leadership that someone had to be leaking to me the contents of executive meetings to me. It never occurred to anyone to listen to David Kirton’s show or to read the mornings StarPhoenix or just ask me, “what’s up with that tweet?”
A simple subscription to Google News Alerts would have told city council the truth but they decided they needed a leak investigation to find out the source of the leaks. Or they could have asked me who told me. While my sources are confidential, I would have no problem telling them that the source for the Twitter wall leak was CHARLES HAMILTON, you know since we talked about it on air and it him that published the Mayor’s on the record comments made during an interview to The StarPhoenix.
Well council couldn’t let this stand and decided to hire a private investigator to investigate the leak. After rejecting some local retired cops, they rejected this guy for having too high of travel costs.
They rejected these guys because they couldn’t tell them apart.
They really wanted this group of guys but they couldn’t find them.
So they hired a retired RCMP officer with the ability to question councillors and examine phone, computer and email records to see if they have been the ones that have leaked The StarPhoenix to me. If they were serious (and I don’t think they are), they would have a conversation about the FOI requests that were filed in the lead up to the 2012 elections. Those FOI’s filed by The StarPhoenix and other media outlets covered @saskatoon.ca emails and there was a lot of embarrassing things said in those emails. Since then councillors rarely use @saskatoon.ca email for non constituent communications. Therefore they fall out of scope of the investigation. Also since there are some precedents of government provided phones being able to be FOI’d, some councillors use two phones or don’t have the city pay for their own phone. Thirdly, there is a thing called a manilla envelope and it works really well. Some are just left in my mailbox late at night or mailed to me with no return address.
I have heard the questions that have been asked, the good cop, bad cop routine, and even the follow up questions. I recently found out that I wasn’t supposed to find out about the investigation because that would compromise it (doh!) but that was after councillors phoned up to ask me if they had sent me anything they might have forgotten about. Quite the investigation. The ones that are calling for the investigation then go out and immediately undermine it.
Saskatoon City Council can’t even do a leak investigation properly (someone needs to do a Tumblr for things Saskatoon City Council can’t do properly).
Why is council doing this when most already know the truth? Here are the answers I have gotten so far.
- I need to be put in my place. I am unsure how investigating each other is putting me in my place. I have been accused (along with other media of making city councillors life more difficult before and apparently them attacking each other is supposed to change that. While I am disappointed that they are wasting time doing this, I am unsure how this is putting me in my place. I learn stuff and I write about it. I am not sure how that changes.
- This allows for frank discussions in Executive committee. This is close to the truth. Saskatoon City Council is the most secretive city council and city hall in Western Canada. No one else comes close. Executive Committee’s in camera proceedings are often used to hash out issues away from the public eye to avoid political backlash. With confidentiality clauses, no one can voice the opposing decisions. It’s also why media and people pack City Hall chambers from time to time to see a big issues passed without discussion. John Gormley used to talk about the Gang of Five, now there is a Gang of Eleven. By comparison, take a look at the Manning Foundation’s Council Tracker which looks at a much criticized Calgary City Council’s actions. Saskatoon City Council is so secretive we can’t even track how secretive they are.
- To weaken other councillors. I have heard from a few councillors, “I know who your source is and they will pay”. Umm, again… the source is the Mayor as told to Charles Hamilton? Is this a power play against His Worship, Hamilton, Brittany Higgins, maybe even David Kirton. I can’t keep track anymore. In other words it is an investigation using taxpayer dollars for political games. The truth js that some think that either Darren Hill, Zach Jeffries, or Pat Lorje are my sources. If they are right (and they are not), then those councillors are weakened going up for re-election. Pretty amazing work environment that they have going there.
- The weirdest explanation is that this will keep Darren Hill from running for the federal Liberals in Saskatoon West. Apparently he had so much fun running under Ignatieff and getting 11% he wants to do it again (I could be wrong but I think I was being flippant there). Even with a 15% Liberal bump from Trudeau and the seat stays Conservative.
My favourite is the accusation that I am sort of a shadowy behind the scenes operative because I am never seen at political events. This one makes me angry.
First of all, I am non partisan. I get attacked by liberals and conservatives (often at the same time). I have a bias toward a lot of policies but the politics of council make me bored and sad for the city. One of my most dearly held theological beliefs is best articulated by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens
When politics is brought to the attention of Jesus (Luke 20:20-26), the whole discussion is portrayed with such jocularity as to suggest that we are to take none of this with seriousness. When wanting to trap Jesus and hand him over to the police (Luke 20:20), they ask Jesus, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Note that was our question, not Jesus’.)
Jesus answers (Luke 20:24), “Who’s got a quarter?”
(Note that Jesus’ pockets are empty.)
When a coin is produced, Jesus asks, “Whose picture is on it?”
We answer, “George Washington.”
“Well, if he needs the stuff so badly as to put his picture on it, then give it to him, ” says Jesus. “But you be careful and don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God.”
Okay. We give up. Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?
From this we learn that a primary biblical way or treating politics is as a joke. Certainly, politicians can make much mischief, but it would be a liturgical and ethical mistake to take them too seriously. Idolatry is as big a problem for democracies as for non-democracies.
If you ask me what I think about politics, I don’t take it very seriously. If someone, even a politician wants some advice, I give it to them. I guess it’s why I enjoy commenting on it. I love policy but the politics side is nothing more of a joke. I also like most people and I hate the partisan process. I like going out with people and sharing ideas. It’s gets brutal when partisan lines are drawn and it interferes with friendships.
I want our city, province, and country to be a better place but at the end of the day, I’ll give that advice to their opponent or anyone who reads this blog, my columns, listens to me on air or a podcast. Saskatoon is a weird place in that not only are we largely ignorant of best practices of other cities (even winter cities), when we find out about them, we reject them in favour of a “made in Saskatoon” solution. In other words most of what I suggest is ignored which is fine, even if it does seem to cost us more money as a city. The only piece of legislation I have ever tried to change was a flawed piece of affordable housing policy that myself and other housing providers opposed. That’s it. A public email sent to 10 councillors and the mayor. 10 of the replied. The mayor did not.
Provincially I once wrote a letter Premier Brad Wall about the problems of mental health and homeless. One of his hacks replied with a letter about about hip replacements waiting lists. I learned two things, writing the government is a HUGE waste of time and my lobbying powers aren’t exactly immense. I have some sway with Cam Broten. When I say “sway”, he doesn’t reply back with letters about hip replacement waiting lists. My big piece of advice to him is that is to never by a Rider jersey without a number because they look stupid. I also suggest going with a classic number like Ron Lancaster, George Reed, or Ray Elgaard so if the player you choose gets in trouble with the law, you don’t look like an idiot. There you go. That is my expertise in provincial politics. I hate blank Rider jerseys. That is my shadowy behind the scenes maneuvering. Rider jerseys and homeless issues.
As for why I am never seen, this is a bit more personal. Wendy has long struggled with depression and it is getting worse. She wrote about it here and this has been by far the most difficult year we have ever had as a family. Not only is her depression worse but it affects Mark in more significant ways as he grows older. There are many times that we have plans and either Wendy can’t go out in public or Mark has asked if I wanted to hang out with him and Oliver. The are other times when I come home after just cleaning the house and it is a disaster again. When there is chaos in Wendy’s mind, there is chaos in my world and it hard to keep up. So yeah, it means that I don’t go out a lot because I am trying to keep the family together. (why do you think I write about mental health issues as much as I do. It is largely over how hard it has been to get Wendy good help). It is this and Hauerwas’ writings (which is actually rooted in John Howard Yoder’s writings) that I will never run for political office. That and Mike Duffy has killed many options for fat bald guys from the media. (Full disclosure, I was a long time member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan growing up and ran in 1995 for the Tories in Saskatoon. I was 21. My views, hairline, pant size, and opinions on politics have changed since then).
So after I help Wendy deal with her day, help the kids with their world, I sit down on a chair and I read, write, and research. No shadowy meetings. No late night phone calls. Nothing. Most of it is spent trying to figure out who we get through tomorrow and hoping it isn’t as bad as today was. I don’t drink. Urban planning, systems theory, and photography are my escape. Considering that I have said in many columns that politicians are psychopaths, plotting world takeovers with them isn’t really high on my to-do list.
Yes, politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this… That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow — but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.
As an aside, if any world dominating villain offers me the Denver Broncos, I will accept them with more grace than Homer Simpson did.
I care about homeless issues, affordable housing, and challenging growing inequality in cities. The stuff I write about is what I care about. I don’t care if someone from the right or the left carries that stuff out, as long as it is done.
Maybe that is why I am so disgusted about this freaking leak investigation that isn’t a leak. It’s cheap political games that are a pain to deal with, cost us as the City of Saskatoon citizens, and is a sham right from the start. Plus by the fact that I know about it and councillors are actively undermining it, a city solicitor who doesn’t know realize this a game, and an investigator who doesn’t realize how the game is played, it is a massive waste of time and money at a time when the city has much more pressing concerns than finding out that I read The StarPhoenix (and apparently they don’t read Saskatoon’s paper of record). As I have written and said before, I don’t think we are hiring (or electing) the best and brightest at City Hall. Amateur hour shows it.
Leaks happen all of the time in Saskatoon, Regina, and Ottawa. By the time I have heard something, I know The StarPhoenix has heard it, Rawlco has heard it, and CBC has heard it. Even the television stations with constantly changing reporters hear the gossip because it goes right from counsellors to reporters. It always has, it always will. To stop all of us from finding out about what Council is up to, they have decided to do leak investigation.
My answer is the same as it always has been, if you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns. We deserve more from our City Council than a bunch of silly political games but this is what passes for leadership in Saskatoon.
So in summary
- I follow a confirmed a leak about Saskatoon City Council behaving ridiculously and that embarrassed them.
- Saskatoon City Council is full of a bunch of gossips.
- I read The StarPhoenix and discuss it on the air.
- Sometimes Bronwyn Eyre wins those debates (okay many times) and I tweet about it.
- In summary, it would be cheaper for councillors to sign up for Google News Alerts then hiring private investigators. It would also be helpful to somewhat aware of what you say to reporters of The StarPhoenix.
- If council is going to authorize a sham investigation, telling me about it immediately undermines it.
Oh yeah, I emailed Mark Rhogstad at the City of Saskatoon to ask how much the leak investigation was costing us. He didn’t return my email.