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Two thumbs down to county for withholding full agenda package

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In Blog
Feb 11th, 2014
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If you happen to drop by the Simcoe County council chambers to see democracy in action, you might find it hard to figure out what’s going on.

There are 32 councillors down there – do you know any of them?

Hard cheese if you don’t, because the little signs bearing their names are facing away from you in the public gallery and towards the staff and warden who presumably have a pretty good grasp of the information, but never mind.

You try to follow the debate. All the items are listed on the two-sheet agenda you picked up on the small table as you walked in, but the correspondence and reports are not available – as they have ALWAYS been up to now.

This is a significant change.

Work through this morning’s agenda with me.

If you want to know what the warden and deputy warden have been up to (or are willing to say they’ve been up to), it’s all there (not a whole lot, actually) in item 3, ‘Warden’s Communications and Petitions.’

But as of this month, you can’t see that report as you sit there in the public gallery. A notice by the table where you picked up the agenda states that the practice of printing the agenda material is finished. Instead, it is all posted online at www.simcoe.ca.

Sorry, that’s not good enough.

My friend Barb has been attending county council meetings for more than a decade, and she doesn’t go online – neither in the public gallery nor at home.

As she listens to the discussion, she is being denied important information that would give her a better understanding of what’s going on.

As the meeting proceeds, support for a Town of Bancroft motion regarding policing costs is discussed and modified. An understanding of the positions being advanced by various parties would be fostered with the letter and the motion in paper in front of us. They’re not.

On to the rest of the Committee of the Whole agenda. Here are some of the items listed, but not discussed, and therefore we glean no hint of the content of the reports:

-County tasks, issues and considerations – whether and how they’ve done what they said they’d do.

-Georgian Manor compliance report – how the inspection system works and what the outcome was.

-Transportation Feasibility Study with the North Muskoka Local Health Integration Network  – about improving access to health services in North Simcoe.

The casual visitor might be interested in perusing these and other reports. The casual visitor would be out of luck. And there you go, a chance missed at engaging a member of the public in the public’s business, which should be a primary goal of government.

Why do councillors always bemoan the fact people don’t vote? Don’t they understand that these kinds of roadblocks to information are exactly what turns people off?

Later came a report from Waste Diversion Ontario on the county’s performance in diverting waste from landfill, compared to other municipalities (more on this on another day). This might be of particular interest to my friend Barb. She’s a Site 41 veteran. Too bad. She has to do the best she can to infer the substance from councillors’ comments.

I, armed with a laptop, have access to the report – but it’s a fact, graphs and tables are much easier to read on paper. This morning, on the screen, I’m not able to get a grasp of the rankings and shall have to take the time later to go through the report. My friend Barb won’t have that opportunity unless she asks.

Barb does complain to the clerk’s department and elicits the undertaking that they can run off any report upon request (no offer is made to run off the whole package).

That’s not the way to go.

First, this diminishes and disrespects people who are not online.

Second, the onus should not be on the public to seek out this information, so pertinent to what’s going on. It should be readily available.

As an environmentalist, I favour eliminating the use of paper wherever possible – and, when using paper, choosing 100 per cent post-consumer waste recycled paper.

In this case, the amount of paper involved, compared to the totality of the county’s paper consumption, is minute – perhaps a dozen full packages were printed off for the gallery, if memory serves. You often had to get there early to nab one.

This one spot, on the table as you enter the public gallery of the County of Simcoe council chambers, is not the place to cut back on paper.

Someone has taken the trouble to attend the council meeting.

That someone is entitled to all the appropriate information to provide a better understanding of what the meeting is about, what councillors are voting on, and what staff is reporting to them.

2 Responses to “Two thumbs down to county for withholding full agenda package”

  1. Ann says:

    Just another way for the county to let us know that they don’t really want us there.
    If they don’t want to print out the full agenda package anymore, why don’t they at least project it on the wall! That way the people in the gallery can follow along like the Councillors do on their laptops.

  2. S Craig says:

    Forcing folks “on-line” makes me crazy. That presumes that there’s decent internet access everywhere….which there is NOT. Downloading large agendas would be impossible for the dial-uppers. Say in Mt St Louis, down in the Teasnusteye valley. How can the County be so obtuse????

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