Opinion: Info flow needs improving

By Mike Williscraft

Think of all the arguments, discussions, debates you have ever had with a friend, wife/husband, common law spouse or any other configuration of relationship you can conjure in your memory.

When the “just tell me one time…”, or, “give me a for instance…” line comes out, the conversation comes to an abrupt halt, if not significantly sidetracked.

It is always hard to think back to one occurrence which may have precipitated an issue. Typically, an issue arises over time to the point where it becomes a focal point with which it must be dealt.

The point, as is typical, of a motion offered by Grimsby Coun. Dorothy Bothwell on Monday was completely missed when she asked if a process could be initiated to have department heads make regular presentations to council to keep them at least connected to the information pipeline that is town hall.

The answer from CAO Harry Schlange, nope, we’re good.

If you think back several meetings to Dec. 21 during debate regarding the Heritage Conservation District issue for Main Street East, it was first brought up that a five-storey parking garage had been discussed between a developer and staff. Councillors knew nothing about it until a rumour floated their way and then a question could be asked.

It was also noted in debate that a developer had submitted a plan already to town hall which far exceeded height requirements according to bylaws for Main Street East. This, too, was news to councillors at the time.

Meanwhile, the Main East heritage issue had been burning hotter than Canada Day fireworks, yet no communication was forthcoming on either of these particular potential projects.

Yet the Town’s CAO’s comment to the request for a regular stream of information was, “I find as your CAO, I am responsible to operational measures…This notice of motion is operational in nature.”

This is code for – go away.

Of course, Team Harry’s crew took the bait.

“When I look at the video screen, I see a host of names,” said Coun. John Dunstall. “They’re all there. This is wonderful to see us doing this team approach.”

This is the first complete miss in that, if staff are parked there already, how much more of a burden could a few-minute overview of department happenings be?

Even those few minutes of investment would help, as Bothwell and Coun. Lianne Vardy both mentioned the negative impact to council of the new committee of the whole format. Gone are the days when some give-and-take with staff could be done during sub-committee meetings. Staff are now largely removed from that connection with council and wrapped in their CAO cocoon.

Coun. Dave Kadwell said Monday all is great, now that staff are there, council doesn’t have to defer items like they used to.

“I am very happy we’re on this path with committee of the whole,” he trumpeted.

Now, just looking at the last couple of meetings, both the HCD matter and a rather tragic economic development outline for downtown were both deferred with council determining they needed more thought – and there have been others.

By going to COTW and details not presented, worked through and discussed, the Town of Grimsby is in a considerably more weakened position as a result; to the point where Coun. Dave Sharpe wondered aloud if council should revert back to the sub-committee system

“It might be valid to say go back to the standing committees,” said Sharpe, with his most on-point comment in some time.

One can go back and forth on this all day. The simple issue is, do you want to work with people, communicate, and move the municipality forward? Or do you want to play games, put up walls and make councillors dance just to get themselves in an informed position. It really does boil down to that.

To take the position of the CAO and Grimsby 5 amigos, it creates a similar position with which I am familiar, which arises when dealing with regional police. I have to know about 60-70 per cent about an incident before I can extract more information. If my queries are too general, I may get a tidbit, but I really don’t know enough to push to serious details.

Now, Grimsby councillors are in a boat they should not be in. They should not have to know what is happening just to flesh out details from staff. Information should be forthcoming, always.

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