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GUEST COLUMN: Reforms underway at City Hall important and necessary

Published on

Steve Loxton

At the Jan. 16 city council meeting, two contentious items were dealt with: crossing guard cuts and an update on City Hall renovations to enhance security and separate the “political” from “administrative” areas.

Steve Loxton
Steve Loxton

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Several media reports about the renovations followed. On CTV News (Jan. 17) a citizen appeared, stating inaccurate information about the cost of the renovations.

As for crossing guards, accusations were made of “lying” by city hall staff, regarding whether the school board had been directly notified of the proposed changes.

Concerned about the spread of disinformation, the City issued a news release on Jan. 19 clarifying the facts and offering a closing statement that read, in part:

“… it is highly recommended that … individuals take the time to read the approved policies … and seek clarification and verification of factual information, prior to making any comments.”

On social media, that statement was both criticized as an unwarranted admonition, and praised as merely good advice to prevent the spread of misinformation. For myself, witnessing the current turmoil at City Hall, it was something more telling — a somewhat plaintive plea.

Imagine what it’s like for city staff, working in good faith and being constantly assailed and undermined by under-informed critics.

By all outward appearances, there is a battle happening inside City Hall. It appears to be taking place between those working for reforms and those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo that prevailed before the 2014 election.

This can’t be fun for staff. On top of this internal strife, there are citizens sympathetic to and allied with these vested interests who – innocently or otherwise – are complicit in perpetuating a politicized City Hall culture.

This culture, marked by an administration beset with political interference, is not only improper (according to the Ontario Municipal Act), but – if past history and present developments are any indication – was increasingly dysfunctional and detrimental to the city.

Despite and because of this, council, senior management and many dedicated staff continue to work for a better City Hall. Besides the renovations, the city’s IT department is being overhauled and a new communications co-ordinator is working to increase transparency and public engagement.

Given the resistance to some of these improvements, and the anti-council and anti-management sentiments being propagated, it might pay to heed the plea from City Hall and ask:

Who continues to be most vocal about criticizing this process? Who disparages those undertaking this important and necessary work? And finally, who stands to gain if these critics of modernization are successful?

I can assure you, it isn’t the ratepayers who will benefit if these critics are successful.

Steve Loxton is the founder and moderator of the Facebook group City of Sarnia (unofficial), a venue dedicated exclusively to discussing municipal issues in Sarnia.






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