Over the past couple of years, I’ve been drilling down into a single City of Victoria issue—the Johnson Street Bridge controversy—trying to learn as much as possible about how the City’s civil service identifies problems, makes decisions and spends money. I’ve come to believe that the people at the top, the highly-paid managers operating the levers of power at City Hall, generally don’t want citizens—or even the citizens’ elected representatives—to know exactly how they do any of these things, especially when their predictions aren’t working out the way they said they would.and this
Instead, possibly to protect their well-paid jobs, they obstruct—as much as is legally permitted—legitimate inquiry into their activities. At the same time, they produce through the City’s PR apparatus an expensive, massaged public narrative about their work, the primary purpose of which seems to be to make the managers look as good as possible. They “juke the stats.” And for the most part, a cadre of obsequious City councillors plays right along with them.
With the record these particular managers have of keeping project costs under control—they pumped a $23.6 million repair job on the bridge into a $77 million new bridge in barely the blink of an eye—that “$500 million” could rise dramatically. According to information obtained from the City through an FOI, of the $4.5 million that had been spent on the Johnson Street Bridge project to June 30 of this year, only $2.1 million had gone toward hard costs contained in the $77 million estimate.and this
In Dr Hartman’s workshop on risks facing the bridge project, City managers saw the mitigating strategy for a surprising number of these risks as “communications” or “public relations.” But the City’s growing use of public relations to manage and manipulate public response is creating a negative reaction in the community. Communications-strategy-weary citizens are calling for less PR and more transparency.
That desire for greater transparency at City Hall recently launched a new electoral organization called Open Victoria. Among the founding members are Ross Crockford, a tireless critic of how the City handled the bridge issue and a constant thorn in the side of Mayor Fortin, and Paul Brown, who is running against Fortin for mayor.
So it wasn’t surprising, just before the official launch of Open Victoria, to see Mayor Fortin attempt to outflank this new political organization. His first maneuver took the form of an odd “news” story in the Times Colonist about councillor Marianne Alto announcing she intended to introduce a motion at a City council meeting to talk about the idea of “open data” at City Hall. But, as the story revealed, “open data” seemed to boil down, for both Alto and Fortin, to recording “yes” votes at council meetings and then a way for residents to search the City’s website for how councillors voted. As it is, this can easily be deduced by looking at who voted “no” in the council meeting minutes published on the City’s website.
The article is much more detailed and at the core of it makes it clear we need an Open Victoria