Thanks to our Grimsby council’s budget deliberations on Feb. 18, we can get a sense of the way democracy is going to fare in the new Committee of the Whole system.
In two words: not well.
Grimsby’s 2020 budget was introduced by three senior staff members: CAO Harry Schlange; chief financial officer Steve Grunninger; and Rec, Parks, and Culture director Sarah Sweeney.
Each presented budget items which, for the most part, were immediately considered with a yea or nay vote.
Unlike previous years, there was no substantial back and forth between department personnel and councillors asking for insight into any particular spending request.
So, it continued, until consideration of funding of the Welcome Centre tourist information kiosk.
Suddenly, discussion with depth; options other than those presented by staff, were being explored. Still, this debate was a pale substitute for budget preparation discussion of previous years.
There seemed to be no contribution from standing committees.
There was no time for consolidating department budgets into a preliminary budget; let alone, time for an initial priority setting session by the Committee of the Whole. Instead, Grimsby gets one night of budget consideration and then immediate passage.
For the first time, Grimsby residents had no opportunity for input into the preparation of the department budgets, for the setting of priorities, or for even a bit of time to mull over these choices.
The implication of council’s embrace of the Committee of the Whole approach to governance in Grimsby is now clear: Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.
Council abdicated its responsibility to openly, publicly and transparently arrive at its budget decisions. Grimsby’s budget is now essentially crafted in the back rooms of town hall.
Staff, in its new role as “Team Grimsby,” now develops and is the filter for information, rightly introduced and considered by elected officials.
Do you remember voting to allow town staff to decide things for you, without your input? CAO Schlange noted the budget document brings “aspirations to implementation”. As Grimsby residents, we should ask whose aspirations?
The metrics cited by staff are cockeyed. A budget unveiled 45 days early, but with no meaningful input by residents, and formed from staff’s interpretation of “Council’s Strategic Priorities and Resolutions (requests)” is not democracy in action.
Where exactly was the “community engagement” trumpeted by CAO Schlange. “Several meetings, some off site”, were held by staff of the various departments to develop the budget. Do you remember an invite? Me either.
And this budget, approved by the Committee of the Whole, is the model for how democracy is going to unfold in Grimsby, now and in the future? Really?
Now is the time for residents of Grimsby to stop telling me you totally agree with my letters to the editor, and council deserved the rant I gave them on Feb. 3, 2020. It’s time for you to make phone calls, write emails (phone numbers and addresses available at grimsby.ca), and attend the council meeting on March 2, 2020. Let them know what you think.
As a community, we need to tell council open democracy is essential to the people of Grimsby. We didn’t vote for, and were not consulted, on the change to this faulty Committee of the Whole.
They say, “you get the government you deserve”.
If you do nothing, then, you deserve what you get.