Victoria city councillors took a major step in the direction of transparency last week.
Voting to compel city staff to hand over to council any third-party reports on assets worth more than $1 million within 60 days is, in essence, a way of showing staff who runs city hall.
City management may feel it is their right to hang on to information that is not in a format meaningful to city council.
The point is that council must answer to the taxpaying public, not staff, and councillors have a responsibility to inform the public about financial pressures facing the city.
The majority of our residents and property owners don’t pay much attention to the day-to-day operations of the city. But most stand up and take notice when information is made public on big-dollar projects that will affect their taxes.
When these big price-tag items are leaked by the media, instead of reported through proper channels, it inevitably sparks mistrust in city staff.
We can’t know the true motivation behind shelving a report on seismic upgrades. It could have simply been a low priority as city staff work to replace the Johnson Street Bridge.
To an outsider, however, the decision to postpone sharing this information can easily appear arrogant and guided by motivation outside the public good. At a time when the public’s relationship to the city has been damaged over issues of transparency, the city can’t afford to be seen as hiding major expenses.
Given that city council ultimately controls the purse strings on major infrastructure projects, it’s imperative that they know as soon as possible when the cost of such undertakings change or are initially determined.
We applaud the efforts of councillors Lisa Helps and Marianne Alto for making an issue of this glaring disconnect between staff and council. The solution is a move in the right direction that will help regain taxpayers’ trust and hopefully help council avoid any more nasty surprises.