It's a new year so it must be time for Coun. Brian Skakun to make headlines.
Skakun believes it's not enough for the city's expenditure list to simply name the companies that supply goods and services to the city. He'd like to see an itemized breakdown of what those goods and services were.
Heading into Monday's first city council meeting of 2013, Skakun is back on his endless quest for more financial transparency at city hall. Just because he hasn't found any impropriety behind his previous search missions doesn't mean there isn't any shenanigans going on, it just means he hasn't dug deep enough to find it.
But how much digging do you allow before you call off the dogs?
Skakun's search for media attention and nefarious spending at city hall starts with the notion that there isn't enough transparency regarding city spending currently in place. But is that really true?
Does increased transparency equal increased efficiency and accountability within city bureaucracy or does it equal increased staff time wasted on groundless fishing expeditions by city councillors apparently not busy enough with the job of actually setting municipal government policy and direction?
Well, that's the real question, isn't it?
If you believe that a dark cabal of senior city bureaucrats, all working together, are covertly allied with area business leaders, also all working together, to line all of their pockets at the expense of the rest of us, you're entitled to your beliefs but some proof would be nice, rather than pointing to shadows at the wall.
Skakun's demand for answers is likely not just a waste of his time and staff time (that equals tax dollars, by the way, in terms of other duties city staff could be doing on behalf of the rest of us), it is also overstepping his bounds as a city councillor.
Under the Community Charter, every council member is asked "to contribute to the development and evaluation of the policies and programs of the municipality respecting its services and other activities."
In other words, the councillor is free to evaluate city policies and programs, including asking who the city is doing business with, but his power does not necessarily extend into asking what kind and how much business the city is doing with these private enterprises. The city already employs bureaucrats to make sure local government receives good value for the goods and services it asks the private sector to provide and those bureaucrats are overseen by managers and ultimately by the city manager.
If Coun. Skakun wants to manage city finances on a daily basis, then perhaps he should apply for the job of director of corporate services, which will be open if council decides to move Kathleen Soltis, into the city manager chair on a full-time basis.
It is his job as a councillor to set the direction for the city manager and oversee the job done by the city manager. Mayor and council oversee the budget but not the operation of the financial department, that's what the city manager and the corporate service manager get paid to do. In other words, it is not the job of a councillor to do the work of city bureaucrats.
Perhaps Skakun should be treated like an out-of-bounds skier that gets lost. Search And Rescue will show up and save your butt but then they'll rightly pass on the bill. Since Skakun seems to have no problem governing outside the bounds of his duties as a city councillor, then perhaps he should cover the costs of staff time wasted on breaking down those numbers, since all it will do will simply confirm that the city manager and the city's financial manager had already provided that level of oversight as part of their daily responsibilities.
-- Managing editor Neil Godbout