Good Ideas Matter: Deliver Transparency and Accountability

Erin Stevenson standing in front of city hall

We’re not a little city anymore. Our budget is nearly $100 million, and ratepayers deserve to know how their money is being managed. But transparency and accountability is more than just knowing where the money is. It’s about understanding the budget and corporate planning process, what the city is saving in reserves for future upgrades, the cost between operating and capital, what other sources of income the city has, our debt levels and expected debt levels, how council votes on an issue and where councillors stand on accountability to their residents.

This past term saw many wins in terms of bringing new measures of accountability and transparency to the ratepayers, from City Hall and Council. It wasn’t that there was anything to hide, it was simply that much of the info wasn’t being made easily available. That changed in the last term and we’ve seen some extraordinary changes in a short amount of time. Being accountable is a critical piece of being an elected official. Transparency is a part of that accountability. And there’s still some more to do.

The Ideas

There are 3 sections- ideas for going forward, current initiatives in progress, and initiatives that have been implemented

2021 Ideas Going Forward:

  • Explore the creation of a Mayor’s lobbyist registry. It’s important for residents know who is meeting with our mayor and concerning what issues they’re speaking to.
  • Review the city’s street naming policy. Many of our streets used to have a connection to the land and our residents but it is questionable whether this happens now. We should review our City Naming policy.
  • Our city archives currently sit on the Agricultural Society’s lands in a trailer, maintained by a group of small but dedicated volunteers, and not properly protected from the elements. This is our history and we should be finding a way to preserve it. We’re accountable to our residents to not lose our history.
  • There are too many ways for residents to connect with the city because the process on how to communicate with the city isn’t clear. Often many residents come to council as a last resort out of frustration. The process isn’t streamlined. We must focus on making a process that is seamless and easy-to-use. The current systems in place aren’t working for a city our size.

Initiatives Currently In progress:

  • Support and continue to push for reduce red tape, especially in planning and development. There is ongoing work to improve processes and customer service.
  • Continue to work on streamlining the budget/corporate planning process so it is an easier document to follow and isn’t cumbersome to read for ratepayers. 
  • Continuously improving communications and ways to reach our ratepayers, prospective businesses and current businesses. Communications processes have to be modernized (i.e. public hearings posted in the paper are not enough in our digital age). Find ways to get meaningful news to residents in a timely manner.
  • As we move back to in-person meetings and upgrade to Council Chambers carries on, Council meetings should be livestreamed and made available online. It’s important to be as accessible as possible. *

Initiatives that have been implemented:

  • Council expenses are now posted each quarter and made available online.
  • Council adopted a Council Code of Conduct bylaw in 2019.
  • Reviewed and revised the Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) program including covert vs over, operating hours, locations, making statistics available online, maps and daily locations all online bringing much more transparency to the program *
  • Adopted a Committee Code of Conduct bylaw.
  • No hiding behind votes (passed or failed). Now all votes at council meetings are recorded with who voted how and recorded as such (unless passed or failed unanimously) *
  • Council introduced a spring budget adjustment to reflect a true tax adjustment and more accurate budget.
  • Council rolled back their salaries in 2020 to 2019 levels and then continued to keep the 2019 salaries through 2021.
  • In addition, Council reduced council expense budgets by 1/3 in 2020.
  • Council introduced a Stormwater utility to be more transparent with budgets and how money is being spent. A utility fee can only be spent on utilities, so this ensures there is only money to upgrade and maintain the stormwater system.
  • Council also introduced seven reserves into the budgeting process and moved away from the accumulated surplus way of accounting. This is a more transparent model for ratepayers to understand what savings are being set aside for the various reserves over time.

A * denotes this idea was a part of my 2017 campaign platform and was happy to support and vote in favour. It does not mean I was responsible for it as it is a council decision to move any initiative forward.