Glitches and irresponsibility prevent public from hearing critical debate at city council today

By Pepper Parr

September 11th, 2023



Council Standing Committee news will be a little slower getting to the press room today. The city kept running into technical problems.  The communications systems must have gone rusty while council had all of August without any council meetings.

They started late and weren’t really back on line with both voice and video until pretty close to 11:00 am.

We contact the City Clerk and advised him – twice – there was no response.

Councillor Paul Sharman

We sent along a note to Councillor Sharman who is prompt just about all the time and he did get back to us.

The following is the email traffic between Sharman and the Gazette

10:14 Gazette to Sharman: There is no sound. I have confirmed it with two other people.

10:27 Sharman to the Gazette: The technical problem is a disappointment. The meeting needs to proceed because there is important work to be done. It is being recorded and that will be published with the minutes as soon as possible.

10:40:  Gazette to Sharman: That’s not acceptable.

The back and forth is a critical part of understanding the debate.  You were doing quite a bit of chatter with Laura Boyd

I will take a formal complaint to the City Ombudsman.

This borders on being recklessly irresponsible.

The meeting needs to be adjourned until the problem is resolved.

With the issues on this agenda – one would think there is something being hidden.

TIME Sharman back to the Gazette

As you wish Pepper.

Council chambers are open to the public and interested members are welcome to attend.

I appreciate that members of the public have become dependent on technology to listen in, however it was not regulated that technical difficulties should cause a meeting to be delayed. Schedules are already made and need to be maintained.

Personal attendance is more reliable. But, nothing is perfect.

At just after 9:30 the video portion was being broadcast – a nervous looking Chair kept glancing left and right.  An unhappy looking city manager said nothing.  The City Clerk was never seen until the very end.

During the difficult phase we would see messages on the screen:

It is our view that if voices cannot be heard then the City Clerk should have called for a recess until the technical problems had been resolved.

There have been consistent technical problems ever since the city moved to a hybrid format a the start of the pandemic.

The only way to describe the repeated technical problems is poor maintenance of the service being used by the city or just rank incompetence.

Quite why the City Manager has not ordered that the system be made fool proof – technical staff had all of August to repair, revise and test – is beyond any reason we can think of – he tends to delegate but this has become ridiculous.

Given the number of problems with the service one would think that the technical people would do a short test before the start of every meting.

During the meting there were a number of matters that are critical – the change in the way the budget is going to be debated and delivered now comes under the Mayor Strong Powers: it is no longer a council budget – it is the Mayor’s’ budget.  And given the difficulty Meed Ward has with financial statements and the tendency to spend the clearest possible public understanding is vital.

City Clerk Kevin Arjoon

When Councillor Sharman says “there is important work to be done” he is absolutely correct – which is all the more reason to ensure that the public is able to see and hear what is said.

When someone wants to take a complaint to the City level Ombudsman they must first put the concern before the City Clerk – we can then take the complaint to the Ombudsman.

We are waiting for a response from the City Clerk.

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6 comments to Glitches and irresponsibility prevent public from hearing critical debate at city council today

  • Jim Thomson

    Burlington is Broken.

  • Joe Gaetan

    City and country on a self inflicted death spiral.

  • PS we always attend in Council when delegating. It is not the perfect solution as Sharman suggests.. The sound is an issue and we often cannot hear what is being said and cannot read the screens no matter that we sit in the front row. We have discussed this several times with those responsible, nothing changes.

    • Jim Thomson

      About the screen’s, it is impossible to read a normal font size in a word document, on the main displays. Council and staff don’t get it because they all have screens in front of them.
      Definitely something to bring up at the review of the engagement charter.

  • Sharman is right, no system is perfect. However, when the City has chosen to invite the public to join the meeting from home or office or council chambers, they must ensure that they achieve this. If Council Chambers was flooded the meeting would have had to be rearranged. This is going behind closed doors without the authority of the Municipal Act and all are clear on that is not allowed. If it was they could have a technical blip any time they wanted to pull a matter from the public attention.

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