Transparency and why we need it

In recent years, and especially in the areas of sport and politics, the major buzz word has been transparency. No longer can decisions be made in secret without the public demanding access to information concerning the decision. When the decision affects us, be it politically, financially, or even just with our favourite sport, we want to know why and how something was decided.

In the National Hockey League suspensions have always appeared to be randomly given out with no explanation or clarification for fans. This year, with Brendan Shanahan as the NHL‘s law enforcer, explanations have been given for each and every suspension. Shanahan has made sure that fans know why a player got punished, although there are always those who will find fault with the decision, it is never with the fact that the process has been transparent.

Another good example comes from our neighbours to the North. Mayor Joe Fontana of London, Ontario delivered a State of the City address at a London Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Through transparency though it has been revealed that Fontana paid over $5500 for the speech to be written. An online search failed to find an actual copy of this address, which for $5500 should have been entertaining at least. Given that the average speech is delivered at around 150 words per minute, the speech would have to have lasted 36 minutes to be worth $1 per word. Although it is rare that a politician is sparse with their words so it was probably only 50 cents per word.

This brings us nicely to the current transparency issue in St. Thomas. The decision by the St. Thomas City Council to reject the idea of having an episode of Million Dollar Neighbourhood filmed in St. Thomas. Million Dollar Neighbourhood is shown on the Oprah Winfrey’s network, it is a legitimate show on a legitimate network. The basic idea of the show is, well here is the description from the shows own website. Each week, the entire community comes together to save an average of $100,000 per week in a large-scale challenge that will reduce debt and build assets for everyone. If they reach their goal, one hard-working neighbour’s dream will come true with a bonus cash prize. Whether they’re bartering skills or renovating the home of a family in need, the people of the community are asked to share their time, their talents, their belongings and their aspirations with each other. Challenge by challenge, they collectively struggle to reach their million dollar goal. If they make it, the community chooses one person or household who have gone above and beyond in this neighbourhood quest and rewards them with $10,000 in products, services or cash.

So in essence, the community of St. Thomas would have had to work on their finances and someone worthy would have received $10,000. It is obvious why the City Council wouldn’t want that. Perhaps the Council did not want to portray St. Thomas in a bad light? Perhaps it didn’t think anyone would be worthy of the $10,000? Perhaps the Council believed that the community would fail? Who knows as apparently the decision to turn down the show was made without anyone outside the Councils knowledge.

The reasons did come to light in a May 4th article in the London Free Press. Mayor Heather Jackson is quoted as saying, “I don’t want any more negativity about the city, we certainly have been portrayed in some of the larger media as a municipality, a community that’s been hit really hard and struggling and we’ve got a lot of good things going on so, anything else that’s negative at this time, I’m just trying to avoid.”

Isn’t St. Thomas a community that HAS been really hard? Since when did the opinions of media influence how a City Council went about its business? Most politicians would be out of a job if they worried about the media all the time. Wouldn’t it have been more positive publicity if St. Thomas had not only taken part but been able to help our own community? So in lieu of the ‘negative’ publicity that St. Thomas has been saved from, what exactly is being done to promote positive publicity? Surely having a production crew in St. Thomas would have brought in money? Would the production firm had to pay for permits? What about accommodations, food? Surely St. Thomas would have come out in the black, regardless of publicity. It is hard to see how the Council could promote positive publicity without spending money, tax payers money.

The decision was revealed after some residents had began to campaign to get the show to St. Thomas. There had even been contact with personnel from the show. Things were looking good and yet, for reasons unknown, it was rejected. Without conferring with the residents, without a media release.

It is ironic that on the front page of the City of St. Thomas website that it says, ” If you are searching for new adventures, new opportunities, a business friendly environment and a quality of life that is second to none, consider St. Thomas.”.

Apparently new adventures are only available by approval in secret.

*As usual, these are the opinions of Nathan Leeds, and the opinions expressed may not those of the St. Thomas Blog.

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3 comments

  1. The decision not to participate in the show shows us how our political leaders think of us, and what they think we’re capable of. Unfortunately, that’s not very much.

    The mayor’s decision is based on her opinion. For those in a leadership role, their opinion is the very last thing they get to make a decision on. The chance to move forward, to develop as individuals and as a community has been sacrificed to the short-sightedness of fearing negative publicity.

    We elect these people to make our lives better. That sometimes means difficult choices, hard work and the challenges that come with it. Instead we get treated like we’re incapable of being anything better than we are.

    Effective transparency is a two-way street. In addition to letting people understand a process, it also lets in new information. That would have helped our mayor make a much better decision. Let’s hope the lesson has been learned.

  2. It sounds like the council is ashamed of the community it governs and not willing to show the world that maybe we do need a helping hand, but to turn down a perfectly good opportunity like this is just stupid flat out. But hey its just my opinion and in the eyes of the council I guess it really doesn’t matter eh

  3. yes erik,your right council is ashamed of queen elizabeths community