Special Report: Integrity Commissioner

Accountability and Transparency Subcommittee Passes Gag Order Against Citizen Complainants

An accountability and transparency subcommittee that does not publish its agendas or minutes has now voted to gag citizens from speaking publicly about their integrity complaints.

By Joey Coleman
Published March 30, 2012

Hamilton City Council's accountability and transparency subcommittee met Thursday and acted to decrease both accountability and transparency at City Hall. Among their decisions was a vote passing a gag law against citizens who file complaints to the integrity commissioner.

The accountability and transparency committee does not publish any of its agendas or minutes and there is no streaming of their meetings. Efforts to get City Hall to publish these documents on its website have been unsuccessful.

Instead, the City posts the phone number (but not the email address) of the contact in the clerks' department to request a copy.

Thankfully, CATCH attended the "accountability and transparency" meeting and filed a report about the committee's decisions.

(I could not attend the meeting as I'm in Ottawa to speak at the University of Ottawa about open data this afternoon. There will be a livestream.)

Council sub-committee passes gag order

Among its decisions, the committee passed a motion banning citizens who have filed complaints about council behaviour from talking to the media. If citizen complainants speak to the media, their complaint will be dismissed regardless of merit. It is not clear whether another citizen can file a separate complaint about the same matter.

While not retroactive, this policy would have resulted in the current complaint against Mayor Bratina - spurred on by councillors only days after they voted to maintain the $100 complaint filing fee - being dismissed after the citizen complainant responded to media enquiries.

Lobbying to make the transparency sub-committee transparent

I've lobbied City Council to make the "accountability and transparency" committee transparent by publishing agendas and minutes on the city website so citizens may be aware of what this ironically named committee is debating.

On Saturday, I tweeted every Councillor on twitter to ask publicly if they felt the committee should be transparent. I wrote about the issue on my personal blog.

Councillors promised to action the matter and get the transparency committee to post documents.

On Wednesday morning just after 9 a.m., the clerks' department sent a copy of the agenda without any documents or motions. There is nothing on the agenda to indicate the committee was considering a gag order against citizens.

Agenda for the March 29, 2012 meeting of the Accountability and Transparency Committee
Agenda for the March 29, 2012 meeting of the Accountability and Transparency Committee

Consequences of the gag order

The gag order will not stop the media and public from learning of complaints against members of Council. As noted by now-former city solicitor Peter Barkwell yesterday afternoon, the gag order is unenforceable.

The immediate response to the gag order from the media will be an increase in anonymous sourcing. The only method of protecting citizens who wish to speak out about Council behaviour is to ensure they are not fingered as an anonymous source by the process of elimination.

It's ironic that councillors cite concerns about complaints damaging their reputations and then create conditions that force media to shield critics.

It will further discredit an already discredited process. It appears the only purpose of having the city's ineffective complaints process is to impose gag orders on citizens and shield council from accountability.

Council can't gag their own internal leakers. How do they plan to gag citizens?

In another irony, council can't gag themselves. Everything leaks out of city hall - emails, conversations, behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and pretty anything else of political gain to the leakers.

How can council prove that a citizen is the source of a leak? They can't and they know it. So why pass such blatantly anti-accountability legislation? It appears some members of council just don't get it.

Council promised to do better

Only weeks ago, in light of criticism by the provincial ombudsman about improper closed meetings, council promised to do better. A new era of transparency was upon us. Council had seen the light and were going to amend their ways.

Council decided to censure the mayor this week but instead of obeying the Municipal Act and debating the matter in public, they scripted the meeting behind closed doors. It was a blatant disregard for public accountability and the public record - they are no minutes of why each councillors choose to vote in favour of a historic censure against the mayor.

Decades from now, historians looking back will know there was a censure, but have no record of any debate. To make matters worse, the livestream failed during the meeting and there is no public video record of the meeting. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that council's livestream fails at tense moments such as the censure vote.

Of course, even when the livestream works, it does not work for everyone. But despite using a proprietary technology (Microsoft Silverlight) that doesn't work on mobile devices, tablets, or open source operating systems, city staff have no plans to adopt open standards for streaming.

Councillors moved to meet at 5:00 PM to better suit their schedules, thereby depriving employed citizens the opportunity to exercise their right to attend meetings. The least council can do is immediately fix the livestreaming issues and offer live audio streaming so citizens can listen to meetings during their commute home.

What needs to happen now

It's time make citizen members - completely independent of employment in government - the majority on the "accountability and transparency" sub-committee.

Following this, the accountability and transparency committee must be made accountable and transparent in how it conducts its business. Agendas, motions, and minutes must be posted on the city website.

Council's audit, finance and administration committee must immediately reject the gag order against citizens.

Council must direct city staff to make livestreams available for all modern platforms using open HTML5 streaming standards. If the stream is not working, no committee shall be allowed to meet until it is fixed.

These are simple steps that council can take to fulfill their promise of a new era of transparency.

Alternately, council can continue to write my stories for me. A transparency committee that doesn't publish agendas or minutes - that's a headline that writes itself.

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.

36 Comments

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 08:00:17

Hamilton's home grown version of "democracy" never ceases to amaze me. It's pathetic that we have to put scare quotes around basic concepts like democracy and transparency. Who, exactly, do we have at the helm? And do they understand democracy? Or are they $ driven former business men and radio show hosts? Can we send them for democracy and citizen rights training 101?

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 08:40:13

The accountability and transparency committee does not publish any of its agendas or minutes

You can't make stuff like this up.

Council must direct city staff to make livestreams available for all modern platforms using open HTML5 streaming standards.

I like this idea in theory, but HTML5 isn't a standard yet. It's still being developed.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:19:16 in reply to Comment 75574

Yes, it's a developing standard but there are options for streaming using these developing standards.

The thrust of this point is viewability using tablets and smartphones.

They should provide numerous format options for streaming.

We're a major city, not Vaughan.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 08:50:38 in reply to Comment 75574

HTML5 isn't a standard yet.

HTML5 is a standard in ongoing development, but it is a standard. HTML5 video is still a bit of a moving target, but it's certainly more open and accessible than Silverlight, which even Microsoft admits is not the way forward.

Right now, it is pretty easy to serve HTML5 video in H.264 (supported by IE, Firefox, Chrome, Android and Safari) and VP8 (supported by Firefox, Chrome, Chromium, Android, Opera and Konqueror) with a Flash fallback for older browsers. Certainly it would be a big improvement in accessibilty from Silverlight.

Sidenote: I run Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) at home and am intermittently able to view a city council video stream using Moonlight on Chrome.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-03-30 08:51:26

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:24:26 in reply to Comment 75575

I'm running 12.04 (Precise Beta 2) and with the new version of FF, no stream for me.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:27:53 in reply to Comment 75587

I can't get it working at all in Firefox. I can only get it working in Chrome.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:30:08 in reply to Comment 75588

It's been awhile since it worked for me in Chrome either, but I can't say if its my connection or 12.04.

Not that this matters, the stream should just work.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:35:49 in reply to Comment 75589

It didn't work for me for some months last year. I'm not 100% certain but I think it's because the stream had moved to a newer version of Silverlight and it took some time for Moonlight to catch up.

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By jond (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 09:02:36 in reply to Comment 75575

Agreed, Siverlight is the one platform you would use if you wanted to assure your video stream is seen by the fewest amount of people. I was flabbergasted but not surprised when I heard how much money the city sends to the states for their terrible streaming service. When is that contract up I wonder?

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 09:03:11

This is nuts, and hilariously Orwellian. I agree, Joey, it's time to make citizens the majority on this farcical committee. This is about council control, not transparency or accountability.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:17:10 in reply to Comment 75578

I think we're beyond Orwell and into Gilliam's Brazil or West End Games's Paranoia. This is comedy.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-03-30 10:26:15

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:19:08 in reply to Comment 75581

This is comedy.

It really is, but the sad part is that council probably doesn't get the joke.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:20:22 in reply to Comment 75583

Clearly, they don't.

I've been lobbying them to make the transparency committee transparent.

The fact that we have to convince them to make a transparency committee transparent speaks volumes

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:17:59 in reply to Comment 75581

Your papers, please.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 09:43:19

This is what happens when elections become guaranteed appointments for incumbent councillors.

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By argh (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:07:00

you don't need to know a lot of law to see some holes in this one.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms 2(b) "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: ... freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication."

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By 27B-6 (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:35:31

For all those who kvetch about the carapace of cynicism common to longtime residents of Hamilton, perhaps you are beginning to understand where this phenomenon comes from. If newcomers can grow jaded after four or five years, imagine marinating in this sort of stuff for a decade or more. And consider how transparent/accountable/communicative these institutions were prior to widespread availability to the Internet, to say nothing of social media and all that.

Sad but true: Hamiltonians have never had it so good.

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By j (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:48:19

"It's time make citizen members - completely independent of employment in government - the majority on the "accountability and transparency" sub-committee."

right now it's 50-50, but I don't believe the attendance of either citizens or councillors is often consistent. But as to making citizens the majority, I don't know what that would do. Two of the four citizens voted for this and another was absent. And the more citizens you get the less chance of any councillors being invested in the process and actually supporting its recommendations at council.

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:53:27

Sadly this gag order behaviour also exists within our health care system.

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1034320--hepburn-lawsuit-key-test-of-ontario-gag-order

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By granny (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:07:09

Since the ridiculously named Accountability and Transparency Committee operates on public money but provides no services to the public, it should be dismantled.

They charge us $100 to lay a complaint about their incompetence, and then forbid us to speak to anyone else about it? Ya, right ... I'm gonna pay them $100 to shut me up. LOL

The media do a much better job of exposing the truth and they don't charge you for the service or gag you.

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By Yackety Yacks (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:35:58

This town is being run into the ground by the Brits. These people are not our representatives— they are not loyal Canadians! If they were, they'd give a good God damn about elderly people dropping dead while shoveling their sidewalks for them every winter! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!

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By old observer (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 13:32:15

Joey says in 75584 above, "We're a major city, not Vaughan." Much credit to Joey, but in terms of open, useful, well-made media coverage of municipal affairs, York Region is people's voice heaven compared to here and Dreckel-land, for instance [in busy world incl. Hamilton, Spec has column today Friday on--ta-da--more of same mind-numbing excreta.] We shud be so lucky. yorkregion.com and reporters, plural, who really know their stuff.
CATCH and others have referred from time to time to York region coverage. If only Hamilton [weeklies] News had good consistent postings of its material. Take a look at this News follow-up to last week's piece of theirs (and this week, without byline, the Spec ran the already 5-day old LAST week's article on the subject--hard to believe they are all owned by same company--as is york region) see http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/ministry-vows-to-review-taro-inspectors-fate-in-a-year/

And 27B-6 (anonymous) above is partly right: "For all those who kvetch about the carapace of cynicism common to longtime residents of Hamilton, perhaps you are beginning to understand where this phenomenon comes from," but mainly partly hopeful at the end.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2012 at 13:39:10 in reply to Comment 75596

The note about Vaughan is a reference to the problems they've had with Council infighting and coverups.

It's a bit of an inside reference.

Kevin Warner of Hamilton Community News is by far the best reporter at City Hall, it's too bad his articles are buried on hamiltonnews.com

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 13:35:03

Please e-mail and talk to your Councillors if you oppose this horrible and dangerous law folks. This city is dropping deeper and deeper into the sink-pit of fascism.

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By old observer (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 14:06:08

Joey 75598--We knew and know the "inside" ref well--yorkregion and the Star covered this fully, and CATCH brought it to Hamilton's attention, but/and York Region's reporting still deserves special note, esp. within the same empire as the Hamilton daily thing. Recall that York council events were very much about actual prosecutions--the real thing, Linda Jackson & others involved.
Thanks for your reply. Though, Kevin Werner could use a proofreader/fact clarifier/helper on some occasions--maybe that's on his bosses, not him--since you mentioned it. They've also got Leitner, Craig Campbell, and several others, who are ALLOWED to do a good & useful job. The editors there are open to interesting, valid ideas. They often scoop the Hamilton daily even with limited space--over years, that is.

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By Seriously? (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 14:09:38

So if you have a complaint, you can pay your $100, take it to the Integrity Commissioner and sit and quietly wait for your response. If it gets thrown out for bogus reasons (as has happened in the past), you can then go to the media about it, but by that point the story will likely cold and not picked up because at least 2 months have gone by.

Given the options, this makes me want to skip the official process and go straight to the media.

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By Palooka (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 14:27:36

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Ralph Dickinson (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 18:34:40

Frankly, I'd rather move the heck out of this crazy town and let it rot into the ground than lift a finger to help any of you whether reporters or government because you all feed into the malaise. You all like the perks of letting it rot under your noses because you have no clue what you're doing and a bunch of idiots and fools voting makes little difference. Go play with yourselves and let the place rot into the ground.

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By Pull (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 19:28:45

Made in Hamilton Solution.

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By Brian hatch (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2012 at 19:42:50

Free Speech ?

“I am both profoundly saddened and disappointed that the members of the Accountability and Transparency Subcommittee (Lloyd, Sam, Terry & ???) truly believe that when I filed my complaint I should have been required to give up my fundamental right to free speech. More later……
Regards Brian Hatch”

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By notAprilfool's (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2012 at 15:49:15

The Sat Mar 31 2012 Hamilton Spectator editorial on exactly this topic,
"Transparency, accountability in name only?" is really a Spec MEA CULPA: it [Spec] should have been covering this stuff themselves--they're, like, a news-paper, it says. http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial/article/696437--transparency-accountability-in-name-only

It goes, "Fortunately, the Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) watchdog group attended the meeting and reported on it, and local blogger and activist Joey Coleman has been campaigning for more transparency around the activities of the subcommittee. Good for them. But it shouldn’t take that for the subcommittee to live up to its name.

Howard Elliott"

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By we'refree;April first (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2012 at 16:18:41

News, April FIRST, 2012
Media giant Torstar Corp announced today that the Hamilton Spectator will cease publication after Monday’s edition—which is already printed and so a waste of advertising not to distribute.

Torstar says smaller Hamilton news providers are doing a swell job, and the weekly Hamilton papers cover the advertising better. Electronic news hunters and gatherers are noted by Torstar’s chair as “superbly more than adequate.” He notes that a recent Spectator editorial itself emphasized this fact, thus helping to seal the Spectator’s fate.

Publisher Dana Robbins will take shelter in a monastic retreat on an Italian mountain. Editor Paul Berton has taken an investment interest in a Kleinburg, Ontario coffee shop. And one-time reporter A. Dreschel has been re-located by security forces to Guantanamo Bay, on a pending charge of intellectual (and possibly urban) terrorism.

Dreschel in what is believed to be a brown shirt was seen last night with his old ideological comrade Roy Green—believed to be wearing a black shirt—attempting to occupy and defend the Spectator grounds against Torstar-sent sheriffs. Democracy for Hamilton (Demoham) led a counter-demonstration, leading the occupants to quickly give up.
(more to follow as news develops)


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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 03, 2012 at 20:17:39

Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse is scheduled to make a presentation to city council at the GIC meeting tomorrow morning on the subject of what constitutes a conflict of interest. Perhaps he can also address the accountability and transparency issue relating to complaints made to his office. One hopes that the media will be in attendance in person or online to hear Mr. Basse's presentation and report on it.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 05, 2012 at 08:27:02

There is no coverage in the local media today about the scheduled presentation by Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse to city council at yesterday's GIC meeting.

If anyone from RTH viewed yesterday's GIC meeting in-person or online, please let us know whether Mr. Basse actually made a presentation to council yesterday and whether it was public or in-camera. If his presentation was public, a brief synopsis of what he said would be appreciated.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 05, 2012 at 21:57:05

A video recording of the April 4, 2012 Hamilton GIC meeting is available on the hamilton.ca website: http://hamilton.siretechnologies.com/sir...

Something odd happens at the 23:54 mark of the recording. Item 7.1 (the scheduled presentation by Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse on conflict of interest policy) has been entirely edited out of the video/audio recording. The only remnant of Item 7.1 is a short video/audio segment (approximately 45 seconds in length) including a statement by city clerk Rose Caterini basically stating that each councillor is responsible for monitoring his or her conflict of interest situations. Council then votes unanimously to receive the report and they move on to Item 7.2 (the Lynwood Charlton Centre)at the 24:38 mark of the recording and break for lunch.

Item 7.1 was not designated on the Agenda as private and confidential. Is there a compelling reason why Mr. Basse's presentation to council is not part of the public record? Who authorized the editing of the GIC meeting recording? Who did the actual editing? Where is the accountability and transparency? Where is the integrity?

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2012-04-05 22:02:51

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 17, 2012 at 18:30:01

Update-

The report on the April 4, 2012 Hamilton GIC meeting confirms that Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse did make a presentation to city council on conflict of interest policy at that meeting (see page 4 and page 9 of the report): http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/650B...

Yet his presentation is still missing at the 23:54 mark of the official video/audio recording of the April 4, 2012 GIC meeting: http://hamilton.siretechnologies.com/sir...

Mr. Basse's presentation was received by council on April 4, 2012. It is officially part of the public record. No city representative has come forward to explain why Mr. Basse's presentation has been edited out of the video/audio recording of the meeting or who authorized the edit. One hopes that the local media looks into this.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2012-04-17 19:29:50

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