Burlington Governance Material? What happened to it? The way we govern ourselves matters

By Anne and Dave Marsden

November 15th, 2022



270 (1) (5) of the Municipal Act states:
A municipality shall adopt and maintain policies with respect to the following matters:
The manner in which the municipality will try to ensure that it is accountable to the public for its actions and the manner in which the municipality will try to ensure that its actions are transparent to the public.

November 4, 2022 we sent an email to Burlington Clerk Kevin Arjoon, members of his staff, all elected members of Council and Kwab Ako-Adjei Director Corporate Communications and Engagement. The purpose was to put the Clerk and Council that gets sworn in on November 15, 2022 on notice that Clerk Kevin Arjoon has been derelict in his duties associated with Council’s need to ensure accountability and transparency to the public.

The review was to take place last April. It has yet to take place.

Most members of the electorate, who do their due diligence in terms of researching candidates, utilize the website for researching how incumbents have performed in terms of decisions that are close to their hearts. The webcasts in particular, are very useful given our research since 2010 shows the minutes often don’t reflect an accurate or full picture of discussions that took place. The Burlington ombudsman Amberley Gavel, in a report that went before council December 2014 set out support of this statement with: “It appears that they (the minutes of the October 2, 2013 CSC – Community Services Committee) are not compliant with Section 239 (7) (Municipal Act) with respect to the recording of committee minutes.” This is something that our in-depth review of Report CL-23-14, webcasts and minutes, all contained on the website previous to May 2022, showed Council have yet to address. How could Council avoid responding to its Ombudsman’s negative observation? It’s beyond belief but the city website backed this position pre May, 2022.

Former Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin is at least one of the persons, if not the person, we can thank for having webcasts made available to us. We don’t think the former Ombudsman who is on the record likening some members of municipal councils to “gangrenous limbs” who make provincial politicians look like choir boys, will be happy to hear about the Burlington dearth of information that suddenly occurred just as nominations opened. Marin and many others worked hard to ensure public have the right information available to us all the time and especially immediately before a municipal election.

We, use the website Agenda and Minutes services frequently regardless of election time or not, and we believe many others, especially media, do too. We mainly used the older minutes to research the quality of public engagement for changes to governance materials covered by 270 (1) of the Municipal Act For example in 2016 the definitions of accountability and transparency were removed from the Procedure By-laws and changed in terms of .the previous definitions that are now part of 270 (1) Municipal Act Corporate Policy. Expired review time for corporate policies is the subject of a past Marsden opinion piece. However, it is important enough to repeat in case it was missed the first time around. The Clerk who is responsible for reviewing and amending the corporate policy that sees council ensure that it is accountable to the public for its actions and the manner in which the municipality will try to ensure that its actions are transparent to the public was the responsibility of the Clerk to review and amend if required previous to April 2022. Something which the new web site showed never happened.

The Clerk has assured us that Council knew and agreed to the replacement of the web site and thus access to all the associated minutes etc. so close to election day. We are, however, not convinced of that.

Mr. Arjoon as at November 4, 2022 has been asked to advise when all webcasts, minutes, agenda and attachments July 2016 – present will again be available to us through the City website. We are also asking for the opportunity to search previous Committee and Council Agenda and Minutes that have been available to us on the city website for at least the last ten years as we did before; i.e. without having to go through staff.

Policies are debated at length – they are in place for a reason. Staff are directed by these decisions.

We believe the absence of this information that was previously and easily available to residents and media alike significantly affects public engagement. It clearly affects the right to access decisions made by our council and committees and determine if they are being made as they should be in a manner that positively affects the well-being and best interests of families and businesses of Burlington. Further, whether the responsibility for the disappearing information should be the subject of a complaint on reduced accountability and transparency immediately prior to an election, that seriously affected ability to determine council incumbents’ performance.

We have repeatedly raised these issues with Mr. Arjoon and he simply passes us on to Mr. Ako-Adjei who has been unable to answer our questions as to when, or indeed if, the website information will be restored to what it was prior to 2022 municipal election nominations opening

While too late to use for election candidate research, public and media access to the same level of information we had before nominations opened is a must prior to a new council term beginning.

Accountability for such a dearth of information the last few weeks of our municipal election that is continuing right into Council’s next term must occur. Mr. Arjoon is well paid for the level of competence that is expected of him in terms of securing access to council and committee decision making processes for whoever and whenever public and media access is required.

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1 comment to Burlington Governance Material? What happened to it? The way we govern ourselves matters

  • Mr. Arjoon’s response to our November 4, 2022 email states emphatically the missing videos, minutes, agenda etc. July 2016 – December 18, 2022 will not return to the city web site. Further, we will have to request staff to provide access to minutes, agenda etc. with no videos July 2009 – June 2016. Part II of this Gazette opinion piece will concentrate on why this is an abberation of democracy that the City Clerk supports right after we have just spent time remembering the cost of our democracy “Lest we Forget”.