Decisions affecting our taxes and our neighbourhoods are being made by the City of Fredericton without meaningful public consultation. Open and transparent government became a central issue in the last municipal election. In responding to this concern of the citizens of Fredericton, new “public engagement” forums for the 2013 Budget process were held in September 2012.
Forward to January 9, 2013. The Budget 2013 is being approved tonight at the Special Meeting of City Council to Adopt the 2013 Budget. The final draft of this document has not been made available to the public and there is no call for public presentations to City Council prior to the vote on its approval. My formal request to make a presentation to City Council on the Budget has gone unanswered.
My biggest fear is that citizens who participate in these public forums will become discouraged when they are later prevented from participating in an open and transparent approval process by City Council during 1st, 2nd, and 3rd reading. Instead of encouraging public engagement, the “charlatans of open and transparent government” will cause citizens to opt out of future public forums.
I would encourage residents to attend these public forums and ask the Councillor who is chairing the meeting (1) if the final draft document will be make available to the public for review, and (2) if there will be public presentations allowed at 1st and 2nd reading of the adoption of that document. This is how the process is supposed to work in an open and transparent municipal government, especially crucial when they are for Budget, Zoning Bylaw, and Municipal Plan documents.
Open and transparent government is not a difficult goal. Here are 5 basic measures that our Mayor and City Council can insist on in order to achieve this goal:
1. We need to hear the Mayor during each Council-in-Committee meeting say, “Are there any questions from the public that they wish to ask?”
2. We need to have citizen’s feedback and alternatives, concerning proposed development in their neighbourhood, incorporated into city staff reports.
3. We need to allow public presentations at City Council meetings during the 1st and 2nd reading for developments in our neighbourhood and critical municipal documents, followed by a two-week review period, and then finally comments and voting by City Councillors at the 3rd Reading for these developments and documents. This is the proper voting process of an open and transparent City Council.
4. We need to stop having the Mayor and City Councillors use the Standing Committee system to block public recommendations from moving forward to City Council.
5. We need to have a Public Input Period during City Council meetings so that citizens can speak directly to Council.
Let’s all work together to make the City of Fredericton truly open and transparent.